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The original commandments debating the numbers

In the past, the Catholic Church was accused of having changed the 10 commandments, abolishing the second commandment on ‘not making for yourself an idol…’ (Ex 20:4). In part this is true, and by what authority could this be done? Exodus tells of an escape from Egypt, three months travel to the foot of Mt Sinai, and the giving of the commandments amid thunder, fire, and earthquake.
Twelve commandments
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1.  You shall not have other gods aside from me (Ex 20:3)
2.  You shall not have any statue or image (v.4)
3.  You shall not prostrate before it or give it homage (v5)
4.  You shall not take the name of Yahweh your God in vain (v7)
5.  Remember the day of the Sabbath (v8)
6.  Honour your father and mother (v12)
7.  You shall not kill (v13)
8.  You shall not commit adultery (v14)
9.  You shall not steal (v15)
10. You shall not give false testimonies against your neighbours (v16)
11. You shall not desire the house of your neighbour (v17a)
12. You shall not desire the wife of your neighbour (v17b).
Jews and Christians debated how to count these in order to have 10 commandments. Both Philo of Alexandria and Josephus (both first century) gave as first the one that asks the faithful to recognise only one God (v.3). The second prohibits making images and prostrating before them (vv4-5). The third orders not taking God’s name in vain (v7). The fourth prescribes making holy the Lord’s day (v8). The fifth to the ninth are numbered as cited (vv.12-16). The tenth would be from v17, the warning not to covet the neighbour’s wife or someone else’s goods. This gives four commandments to God and six to the neighbour, and was accepted by Origen, Tertullian, and St Gregory Nazianzus, as well as Lutheran, Calvinist and Anglican Protestantism.
Judean proposal
Official Judaism proposed another listing, considering v2 not as a commandment, but a prologue to the Decalogue (10 words). The first commandment then became ‘I, Yahweh, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.’ For the second commandment, they combined the following three: the prohibition against having other gods, making images, and prostrating before these images. The third commandment was against taking God’s name in vain, while the tenth combined the precept against desiring a neighbour’s wife and someone else’s goods.
All Jews accepted this second set, also consisting of four commandments concerning God and six concerning society.
Christian proposals
In the fifth century, St Augustine proposed a third classification. As with the Jewish order, he asserted the precepts against having other gods, making images, and not worshipping them, were actually one commandment, told in different ways. The three became one (vv2-6).
Unlike the rabbis who considered all that to be the second commandment, Augustine saw it as the first. The precept against taking God’s name in vain then became second, and the sanctification of feasts came in at third. As this arrangement lacked one item to make up the ten, Augustine split the ninth commandment in v17 into two, the first to separate the two.
Now Augustine had only three commandments focused on God and seven on the neighbour. This arrangement was adopted by medieval scholars and was later chosen as the official list to be adopted by the Catholic Church.
Reference
Valdes, A A The Bible: Questions People Ask (Claretian Press, 2005). Used with permission. Next month: ‘From’ but not ‘by’ Moses’.