Counting the Ten Commandments

by Feb 5, 2009Exegesis, Theology2 comments

Were you aware that different groups enumerate the ten commandments differently?

Knowing about alternative interpretations helps me ask questions of my own interpretations that I haven’t yet thought of.

The major crux interpretum I’m aware of in this passage regards the enumeration of what Protestants (except Lutherans) call the first two commandments. If “you shall have no other gods before me” and “you shall not make for yourself a graven image” are one commandment, then it is acceptable to make images of God—just not of false gods.

Interestingly, many Protestants who view these as separate commandments still explain them as meaning the same thing: “don’t have any other gods.” But if they are two commandments, then they must mean “don’t have any other gods” and “don’t worship the true God using images.”

Click on the image below for a helpful chart displaying the basic enumerations of the “10 words” from Logos’ new Bible Study Magazine.

Counting the Ten Commandments -- at

Note: I would object only to naming the first column in the chart “Hebrew Bible,” as if that interpretation is encoded somehow into the Hebrew text. I believe it should instead read, “Jewish tradition.” I checked BHS, and I think I’m right!

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  1. Phil Gons

    Hmm. That’s strange. When I wrote the post, the chart said “Judaism” in the first column. Not sure how (or why) it changed. At any rate, I agree with your point.

  2. bcollins

    Against the Roman Catholic and Lutheran position is the order of the prohibitions in the 10th commandment. The RC/L 9th commandment is transposed with the first part of the RC/L 10th commandment in Deut. 5.

    As to the implications of combing commandments 1 & 2, the conclusion you draw is one that Roman Catholics evidently have drawn, but I believe orthodox Jews still prohibit images of God.


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