Short Versions of the Ten Commandments

Protestant Ten Commandments

The 10 Commandments
RapidEye/E+/Getty Images

Protestants (which here refers to members of the Greek, Anglican, and Reformed traditions — Lutherans follow the “Catholic” Ten Commandments) usually, use the form which appears in the first Exodus version from chapter 20. Scholars have identified both Exodus versions as having probably been written in the tenth century BCE.

Here Is How the Verses Read

Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work –you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Exod. 20:1-17

Of course, when Protestants post the Ten Commandments in their home or church, they don’t typically write all of that out. It isn’t even clear in these verses which commandment is which. Thus, a shortened and concise version has been created to make posting, reading, and memorization easier.

Abbreviated Protestant Ten Commandments:

  1. You shall have no other gods but me.
  2. You shall not make unto you any graven images
  3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain
  4. You shall remember the Sabbath and keep it holy
  5. Honor your mother and father
  6. You shall not murder
  7. You shall not commit adultery
  8. You shall not steal
  9. You shall not bear false witness
  10. You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor

Whenever someone tries to have the Ten Commandments posted by the government on public property, it is almost inevitable that this Protestant version is chosen over Catholic and Jewish versions. The reason is likely the long-standing Protestant dominance in American public and civic life.

There have always been more Protestants in America than any other religious denomination, and so whenever religion has intruded into state activities, it has typically done so from a Protestant perspective.

When students were expected to read the Bible in public schools, for example, they were forced to read the King James translation favored by Protestants; the Catholic Douay translation was forbidden.

Ten Commandments: Catholic Version

The use of the term “Catholic” Ten Commandments is meant loosely because both Catholics and Lutherans follow this particular listing which is based upon the version found in Deuteronomy. This text was likely written in the seventh century BCE, around 300 years later than the Exodus text which forms the basis for the “Protestant” version of the Ten Commandments. Some scholars believe, however, that this formulation could date back to an earlier version than the one in Exodus.

Here Is How the Original Verses Read

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work –you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.

Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. You shall not murder. Neither shall you commit adultery. Neither shall you steal. Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor. Neither shall you covet your neighbor’s wife. Neither shall you desire your neighbor’s house, or field, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. (Deuteronomy 5:6-17)

Of course, when Catholics post the Ten Commandments in their home or church, they don’t typically write all of that out. It isn’t even clear in these verses which commandment is which. Thus, a shortened and concise version has been created to make posting, reading, and memorization easier.

Abbreviated Catholic Ten Commandments:

  1. I, the Lord, am your God. You shall not have other gods besides me.
  2. You shall not take the name of the Lord God in vain
  3. Remember to keep holy the Lord's Day
  4. Honor your father and your mother
  5. You shall not kill
  6. You shall not commit adultery
  7. You shall not steal
  8. You shall not bear false witness
  9. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife
  10. You shall not covet your neighbor's goods

Whenever someone tries to have the Ten Commandments posted by the government on public property, it is almost inevitable that this Catholic version is not used.

Instead, people chose the Protestant listing. The reason is likely the long-standing Protestant dominance in American public and civic life.

There have always been more Protestants in America than any other religious denomination, and so whenever religion has intruded into state activities, it has typically done so from a Protestant perspective. When students were expected to read the Bible in public schools, for example, they were forced to read the King James translation favored by Protestants; the Catholic Douay translation was forbidden.

Ten Commandments: Catholic vs. Protestant Commandments

Different religions and sects have divided the Commandments in different ways — and this certainly includes Protestants and Catholics. Although the two versions they use are quite similar, there are also some significant differences that have important implications for the two groups’ varying theological positions.

Abbreviated Protestant Ten Commandments:

  1. You shall have no other gods but me.
  2. You shall not make unto you any graven images
  3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain
  4. You shall remember the Sabbath and keep it holy
  5. Honor your mother and father
  6. You shall not murder
  7. You shall not commit adultery
  8. You shall not steal
  9. You shall not bear false witness
  10. You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor

Abbreviated Catholic Ten Commandments:

  1. I, the Lord, am your God. You shall not have other gods besides me.
  2. You shall not take the name of the Lord God in vain
  3. Remember to keep holy the Lord's Day
  4. Honor your father and your mother
  5. You shall not kill
  6. You shall not commit adultery
  7. You shall not steal
  8. You shall not bear false witness
  9. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife
  10. You shall not covet your neighbor's goods

The first thing which to notice is that after the first commandment, numbering starts to change. For example, in the Catholic listing the imperative against adultery is the sixth commandment; for Jews and most Protestants it is the seventh.

One other interesting difference occurs in how Catholics translate the Deuteronomy verses into actual commandments. In the Butler Catechism, verses eight through ten are simply left out. The Catholic version thus omits the prohibition against graven images - an obvious problem for the Roman Catholic church which is rife with shrines and statues. To make up for this, Catholics divide verse 21 into two commandments, thus separating the coveting of a wife from the coveting of farm animals. The Protestant versions of the commandments retain the prohibition against graven images, but it seems to be ignored since statues, and other images have proliferated in their churches as well.

It shouldn't be ignored that the Ten Commandments were originally part of a Jewish document and they too have their own way of structuring it. Jews begin the Commandments with the statement, "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." The medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides argued this was the greatest Commandment of all, even though it does not command anyone to do anything at all because it forms the basis for monotheism and for all that follows.

Christians, however, just regard this as a preamble rather than an actual commandment and begin their lists with the statement, "You shall have no other gods before Me." So, if the government displays the Ten Commandments without that "preamble," it is choosing a Christian perspective of a Jewish perspective. Is this a legitimate function of the government?

Of course, neither statement is indicative of genuine monotheism. Monotheism means belief in the existence of only one god, and both of the quoted statements are reflective of the true situation of the ancient Jews: monolatry, which is the belief in the existence of multiple gods but only worshipping one of them.

Another important difference, not visible in the above-abbreviated listings, is in the commandment regarding the Sabbath: in the Exodus version, people are told to keep the Sabbath holy because God worked for six days and rested on the seventh; but in the Deuteronomy version used by Catholics, the Sabbath is commanded because "you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm." Personally, I don't see the connection — at least the reasoning in the Exodus version has some logical basis. But regardless, the fact of the matter is that the reasoning is radically different from one version to the next.

So in the end, there is no way to "choose" what the "real" Ten Commandments are supposed to be. People will naturally be offended if someone else's version of the Ten Commandments is displayed in public buildings — and a government doing that cannot be regarded as anything but an infringement of religious liberties. People may not have a right not to be offended, but they do have the right not to have someone else's religious rules dictated to them by civil authorities, and they have a right to ensure that their government does not take sides on theological issues. They certainly should be able to expect that their government won't pervert their religion in the name of public morality or vote-grabbing.