With the downfall of morality in the nation, some Americans (in types of Christians and Jews) think that the lack of knowing The Ten Commandments of God, as given to Moses, is part of the reason for the decline. Our young people know less of what is right from wrong, at least from a Biblical knowledge of it, and its challenge in their Faith to live it out. (So also is true of our present young adults and adults.) It used to be a part of American education to know this fundamental list, but that was way back years ago, and there are movements now to put it back in, to counter the last two generations’ full separation of religion from our public schools.

I write this article because the Ten Commandments is getting into the recent news for mandatory placement in some USA schools. You might like a Catholic review of things pertaining to it. So, here goes…

First off, you can find The 10 Commandments in our Catholic schools and in our church religious education classes, and you can find the practice of prayer and the reference to God to all things in these Catholic institutions.  For those who can afford the parochial school education, it is worth it to have God included in your child and youth’s classroom.  It did a lot of good for me.

Would you like it (or not) to have the 10 Commandments up in a public school classroom wall?  What if I were to tell you that the ones going up by mandate of the State of Louisiana are not the ones you know as a Catholic but of an off translation/listing?

This article here is less about whether or not to make our 10 Commandments or Bible study or religion re-introduced into American public schools, but it is about the difference of the listing itself. What are the ‘True’ Ten Commandments? There are at least three major different Ten Commandments listings! Which one are we advocating for? (Did you know the triple differences?) With this push to get the 10 Commandments posted again in schools and taught there, you should know that it’s not much of the orthodox Jewish or Catholic 10 Commandments that are being put on the approved re-introduction plan, but of the traditional Protestant one (as from the King James or New King James Bible) that they want put in. This past week, Louisiana became first US state to demand the Ten Commandments be back in schools. Their law says that an 11×17 sized 10 Commandments list must be up in every state classroom. (It was in 1980 that the Supreme Court ruled that right as unconstitutional for a Kentucky case.  Thus, less and less since then, has the 10 Commandments been up in public schools or public buildings or spaces. Even when they have been put up on private property, they get destroyed by vandals often—google Capitol Hill or Arkansas monuments to 10 commandments destroyed. )

In Louisiana, they demanded the Elizabethan-style King James version be the one used officially for this public view everywhere. Yet its representation of the 17 verses in the Bible, condensed into 10 laws, ends up looking fairly different than the Catholic ones, which one-fifth of the state’s population follow, whom are Catholic. It also would differ from the Jewish listing, which also traditionally is in Hebrew. We’ll get to those differences in this article, and explain how the original laws of Moses were not specifically ten but devised into ten laws. (If you read the text, then you might count thirteen laws to follow, by the way—in the Jewish figuring.)

If you have seen all the versions of Bibles out there, then you’ll realize how they also have different wordings or list of Commandments.  A Catholic New American Bible (or any Catholic version) will record a listing of The Ten that differs from any Protestant based ones. You can especially note it in the first two Commandments and the last two Commandments on the list. They don’t match up between Catholic and Protestant. Catholic lists of The Ten Commandments goes back to the early Church; Protestant ones go back just five hundred years in a protestors Bible that changed a number of things to Scripture and the canon, even the number of books from its 73 ones (Catholic history) to 66 ones. The commandments were shuffled around, too, and you’ll see later in this article some reasons for it, to change with these Protestant’s new theology or doctrines or interpretations—in departure from the Mother Church.

Here are the Catholic Catechism’s traditional presentation of the 10 Commandments:

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

I show you a public Catholic version below in the photo. It’s more extensive and adds on the Two Greatest Commandments, as told by Jesus, and in Scripture in Matthew 22. It is a

Catholic one. It’s in Arizona.




How well do you really know the 10 Commandments? Do you know it is recorded actually in two places in the Torah: Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5?

This list and its ten applications for living is explained in deep detail in the Catechism.  When, if ever, have you read it all for yourself, for keeping your knowledge keen on them?  Can you recite them easily?

The Lord says: Those who love Me will keep My commandments.  So if we want to grow in love with God, we know we have a rich source in the 10 Commandments and other moral teachings in God’s Word.  Obedience and love go together. They pair up to help us grow more deeply in The Lord.  To realize that we have sinned before God (and disobeyed), brings us to realize our need of ongoing repentance and conversion in our Faith. It tells us that practices such as going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation are for the obedient lovers of God (which is everyone’s call to be so).

We can all agree that The List (of the 10 Commandments) comes from the God of Israel’s encounter with Moses on Mt. Sinai. It is told about in two key books of the Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible), which are called Exodus and Deuteronomy. Why is it told twice/thrice in the Hebrew Bible? It comes about due to the further revelation given for the Chosen People to follow (as then the later book of Deuteronomy is a development teaching in the Torah, building upon the first Exodus revelation). ‘Got that?!  We Catholics, like the Jews of our ancestry, believe in development of faith for God’s people. The Commandments come up three times in Moses’ Torah; we as well have had a few Catechisms in the Catholic Church. The Council of Trent Catechism was written in 1566 but we have had updated ones, such as the one written in 1992. It’s known by the three letters of CCC.

I will make few my comments on the present Hebrew Faith and of their take on the topic, to rather focus on the difference of the Catholic to non-Catholic listings of the 10 Commandments. The Jewish leaders in the USA are not making much fuss over the people’s publically seeing Moses’ Law; it’s mostly an in-house matter to them to keep teaching it to their own religious members.  But with the Christian revelation and its mandates (seen in Matthew and Mark’s gospel) to “go out into the whole world and preach the gospel,” and then be asked to be “a bright city on a hill” and as “salt to the earth” and a “leaven to society”—the Scriptures (including the 10 Commandments) are meant to be told in public (as Matthew’s gospel insists for witness). The thing is—must they be legally mandated for Americans to learn or see in public places? Or is that alone the job of families and churches/synagogues to teach it at home and church?  We also might wonder: What’s all the fuss against their depiction? Are they too convicting? Or is it that we’ve become a pluralistic society that needs to curb one religion’s favor by the government, or else that all other of the many religions or humanistic or atheistic groups would be given equal time, such as on a classroom wall?

Yet in 2024, we can easily assess how we are in a growing climate against Judeo-Christian religious faith and expression going on in the culture. It’s hard to find the 10 Commandments anymore in public, outside of churches’ property. Any mention aloud of them (in casual or planned conversation) as their being binding to humankind, is abhorred in some situations. For instance, that sexual intercourse outside of marriage is a serious sin (according to the 6th and 9th commandments), is taken sometimes as passing on “hate speech” now. Why? Because many are engaging in such acts, hetero or homo, and they don’t like being told they are in any wrongdoing. (At least not said to be wrong as a free citizen, outside of religious ideas.)  Here’s a scenario. Who dares say that to me—that I am gravely in error? Says the ‘victim’ of ‘hate.’  The Christian replies: God says that in His Word. It’s been known for 3,500 years!  The wrongdoer answers back: Well, it’s outdated.  The Christian wonders aloud: Does God need updating, you say? Isn’t He the Author and Designer of Human Life? The wrongdoer rebuts: Stop judging me! Does not your Bible say not to do that?!  The Christian says: You are quoting the Bible now?! Read it, and you’ll see that God will be your judge, and to Whom you should aim to please. Let His Word help you. He’s not first condemning you: He is calling you to work with Him in your life.

So where can that discussion be held?  No longer at a workplace or institution!  So where and how do Christians evangelize and talk of God’s law and call to repentance?

It’s mostly Christians that are pondering how to re-evangelize the nation. The Jewish religion has 6 million Jews in the USA (with 600,000 alone in Brooklyn NYC), and there are more than 7 million Jews in Israel itself. The Hebrews list of the Ten Commandments is often written in Hebrew, so the average American knows not what it says, but just assumes it’s close to our own version of The Decalogue. (When I gave a preaching series on the 10 Commandments here at Resurrection, I used an illustration of them in Hebrew letters and going right to left. I still have the prop.) But the Jews today are not speaking up much about it. It’s really first their Scriptures. Our forefathers getting the nation started did not have many Jews in the nation; it was mostly Christians, with some of them identifying as Deists (God exists and leads us in reason). Certainly the forefathers were much in agreement that The 10 Commandments (in whatever form) served as a good moral guide for the new nation. Take a look atop the Supreme Court building in Washington and you see Moses there with the two tablets of the Decalogue (*another name for the 10 Commandments). It shows where we are coming from as a nation. Knowledge of God’s law and the Natural Law was important so that it would be “self-evident” for us in how to practice in being a United States of America people. That is in the Declaration of Independence for one nation under God. Moses with the 10 Commandments is carved by sculptor Adoph Weinman, and it is located atop on the east pediment of the Supreme Court building, and it is the center statue of law giving/keeping there. We do know, with woke society, that this is a statue that is no longer “politically correct” to them.  A similar Moses statue is also depicted on the south courtroom frieze. If you look closely then you’ll see how there are tears in Moses’ eyes in these statues. No, not really, I just put the comment in for effect!

I was a visitor to an out-of-state parish not long ago, and the matter of the 10 Commandments being important was certainly evident, as they had erected a large double tablet of them by the front entrance of the church. It inspired me enough to write about the 10 Commandments and preach about them at that time to our parish in a ten-week series.

Presently, the news in America has stories of people wanting to put The List back up in public, but they are finding some resistance to it. (I guess a church placement is private property and not the same matter to the government.) I recall when in the news many Autumns ago, it focused on a judicial building in Alabama with its display in granite of the Ten Commandments, sponsored and installed by then Alabama chief justice, Roy Moore. Judge Moore defied a ruling for its removal, and by year’s end both the monument and the judge were gone. Sincere Christians of all denominations and even some representatives of Judaism protested their removal, but in vain.

A Universal Significance of the Decalogue

The Ten Commandments, or Decalogue, are rightly revered and practiced by those of Judeo-Christian heritage. But Catholics maintain that the Decalogue can be honored by all peoples and citizens of a country because it is natural law and not just revealed law. Therefore, there is universal application of the requirements of these commandments, regardless of religious affiliation. The Decalogue can hold a fundamental place along with the opening words of the U. S. Declaration of Independence, which also makes an appeal to natural law: “We hold these truths to be self evident . . .”

The Church Father Irenaeus writes of the natural law of the Decalogue: “Their fathers were righteous: they had the power of the Decalogue implanted in their hearts and in their souls. . . . Through the Decalogue he [God] prepared man for friendship with himself and for harmony with his neighbor” (Treatise against Heresies).  We just honored St. Irenaeus’ feast day in this past week.

Surely those of us who study the Bible know that the law Moses gave was not his – it was God’s law. We all indeed live under God. The founders felt we had that in common.  How important was God’s law to those who drafted the laws of our nation? Thirty-four percent of the citations found in the writings of America’s founding fathers came from Scripture. The majority of those citations were from the book of Deuteronomy. Moses wrote the book of Deuteronomy to teach the Israelites how a strong and godly society should be governed. In many ways, the book of Deuteronomy is a constitution for the Promised Land. Moses wrote, “What other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?” (Deuteronomy 4:8)

Here are some of those laws Moses “set before them” in the book of Deuteronomy. See if you think they sound familiar.

Every person has the right to be physically secure and protected. (24:7)
Every person has the right to be protected from false accusations and slander. (19:15-21)
The weaker person is not to be mistreated or taken advantage of by the stronger.  (21:10-14)
No one should be punished excessively or for the purpose of demeaning that person. (25:1-3)
Every person should be treated with dignity. (15:12-18)
Every person has the right to work, own land, and pass the land on as an inheritance to their family. (25:5-10)
People are allowed to own property and no one is allowed to take it from them unlawfully. (22:1-4)
Every person has the right to worship and rest from their work. (5:12-15)
Every person is allowed to have their marriage protected. (22:13-30)
No one should be allowed to exploit the disabled and those who are disabled should receive the care they need. (24:6)
Everyone is allowed a fair trial. (19:15-21)
Every person should be given a fair and honored position is society. (21:15-21)
The laws apply to all people, even the kings. (17:18-20)
All living things should be cared for and treated as one of God’s creations.(22:6-7)

When the founding fathers decided to form our new nation, I think they knew they had a divinely-inspired book to work from in setting some common laws to follow for a decent government.

The Ten Commandments in the Bible

The heritage of the Old and New Testaments is our primary and truest source for reception of the Decalogue. In both the books of the New Testament, Revelation and Hebrews, the preciousness of these tablets are reconfirmed. In the vision of John (Rev. 11:19) there was seen in the heavenly temple the Ark of the Covenant, within which, as tradition holds (Heb. 9:4), were the tablets of the covenant. They were believed to be the crumbled rock remnants of the original copy off of Mt. Sinai (at least of that second copy Moses got, since he smashed the first one). Do you remember that account? Moses shattering the Tablets of the Covenant (Exodus 32:19) is one of the most dramatic events described in the Torah (5 Books of Moses). This is only one is a series of actions Moses takes in response to the Israelites’ worshipping the Golden Calf. The Torah’s account as a whole presents Moses’ actions in a positive, even heroic, light. According to Exodus 32, the Israelites sin with the Golden Calf (vv. 1-6), God becomes furious (vv. 7-8) and threatens to destroy them (vv. 9-10), but Moses intercedes with prayer on Israel’s behalf and averts their destruction (vv. 11-14). Moses heads down the mountain with the tablets (vv. 15-16); when he gets close enough to the camp that he can see the Golden Calf and the Israelites dancing, he flings the tablets from his hands and shatters them.  Thus, he has to go back up and get another copy. From then on, the 10 Commandments seem to be associated with staying close to God, and those on the other end of things are in idolatry, with their modern version of the golden calf.  People think that a return to the Decalogue will help right versus modern idolatry.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms the greatness of the Decalogue and its demonstration of the natural law: “The ‘deposit’ of Christian moral teaching has been handed on . . . alongside the Creed and the “Lord’s Prayer” –the basis for this catechesis has traditionally been the Decalogue which sets out the principles of moral life valid for all men” (Catechism CCC 2033).

Whether it would be Judge Moore’s version back some time or a new alike one, the below list might be what some non-Catholic Christians are crying for. Their rendition reads:

  1. I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt have no other gods before me.
  2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.
  3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.
  5. Honor thy father and thy mother.
  6. Thou shalt not kill.
  7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  8. Thou shalt not steal.
  9. Thou shalt not bear false witness.
  10. Thou shalt not covet.

Whereas the Catechism’s traditional presentation of the commandments for memorization are:

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

The early Christian church, received this catechetical tradition from the Church Fathers, especially Augustine. He relied heavily on the Decalogue as presented by Moses in Deuteronomy 5. Thus, until the late Middle Ages, children memorized the commandments in the order as we still know it from the Catechism. Even after the Reformation, Lutherans and Catholics agreed on this enumeration and arrangement. But what happened? Calvin and others wanting to Reform or change away from the Catholic Christian tradition, relied more on their new interpretations of Exodus 20, to use it against the statuary and icons in the Catholic Church, and it led to their numeration of the commandments in a different way. Commandment two was now, for them, all about not having graven images. Thus they attacked the use of statues, icons, rosaries, even altars. All this was an exaggeration by them, and in complete opposition to God’s approval of Israel building Him a Temple, or carrying precious things in an ark, or holding the law in a Shema tiny tablet over their heart. It was to attack Catholics and to show their own Protestant ‘superiority ’for abstaining from such images, and a mistaken second commandment interpretation.
By doing interference to the opening couple of commandments, these reform minded separatists then had to change the last two commandments into one about coveting (for it to fit into Ten). . What they failed to see was that God never combined the two on coveting sins, for then it would equate women (and coveting such) to the same level of things, like pearls or clothes. Yet covetousness is quite different in action of doing so involving a person or thing.  This change (made by the reform) to the Ten Commandments produced these kind of poor results. The ninth and tenth commandment should have remained separate.

The Decalogue’s presentation in Exodus shows an earlier cultural mindset in putting the wife and household objects as common possessions together under one command against covetousness in (Ex. 20:17), but you can see the development of the Jewish faith to the Deuteronomic times. Moses, in Deut. 5:21, in separating the wife from household objects with a separate word for coveting in Deuteronomy 5:21, creates a new dignity for marriage, monogamy, and women that corresponds to the understanding reflected in the New Testament and in subsequent Church teaching (especially the writings of Pope John Paul II). Thus it seems right that the Catholic Christian tradition was correct in making the end of the Decalogue two separate commandments by following Deuteronomy 5.

Let’s look at American Public Life and Mosaic law and such considerations over using things to honor or remember God. In our national consciousness, the distinction between admiring, imitating, or honoring someone and worshiping him is easily made (we hope) by Americans visiting the Lincoln or Jefferson memorials or Mt. Rushmore. The men honored in these places are national heroes. So why is it difficult for many to acknowledge Christians as making such a distinction with images of their heroes and heroines of faith, the saints of history worthy of admiring, imitating, and honoring? The severe interpreters against use of holy things for our religious life would have to acknowledge that they cannot, then, have photos of their family or other loved ones on their phone or in frames or photo books around the house. This would be idolism or idolatry practice, then, in drawing comparison to our love of a Sacred Heart picture being so bad to them. Is it now seen as an odd position or interpretation of Moses’ law?!   In fact, since many Christians treat their Bible will some reverence and care, would that be a form of making a book as an idol, getting in the way of God Himself? By no means, but now you get the point.

Someone gave me a hard time for being a priest amidst all these forms of supposed idolatry in the Church.  I asked them: Where in the book of Exodus is the 10 Commandments? The answer was Exodus 20. I said: Do you know what is in Exodus 25 for Moses to carry his tablets of law in? “And you shall make two cherubim of gold… The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another…. And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark… There I will meet with you (Ex. 25:18-22).” I asked: Do you think God was asking for idolatry from Moses and the people, or of reverence and beauty and some man-made vessel to represent in material what is holy?

The Ten Commandments in Modern Context

Since both Exodus and Deuteronomy open in basic agreement on observing or remembering to keep holy the Sabbath, there is little controversy today between denominations on this commandment’s meaning that a special day of the week is to be kept holy. However, the Catechism emphasizes the Christian tradition that the special day to be kept holy is called the Lord’s Day (Latin, Dies Domini), which is Sunday, the day of Jesus’ resurrection. The early delineation of Sunday as the Lord’s Day is seen already in Revelation 1:10. (Our neighbors down Rt. 29 called the Seventh Day Adventists go for holding to Saturday, as if the Lord Jesus had not established a New Covenant, nor had the authority to do so.  They think that the choice of Saturday could never change; that it was set in stone. That’s why they totally miss what the Last Supper was about, or the Presentation of Jesus for all of us in a New Passover, which now is heralded in Holy Mass, since Jesus rose of Easter morn, Sunday, the first day of the week.

So if the 10 Commandments were displayed all about, what would “Keep Holy the Lord’s Day” mean?  I dare say it means contradictory things among us in Christianity!

For we Catholics to Keep Holy the Lord’s Day it is to treat the day of Sunday differently and to make plans for going to Sunday Mass as our high form of worship to God, and our presentation of Jesus as our Lamb of God and Mediator of our lives.  Since the Jews once had vigils on Friday nights to the Sabbath, as directed by God, then we can hold Saturday vigils, as needed, for Catholics to start their Sunday worship as such, in the vigil time.

For a Protestant or independent Christian believer, they don’t have the Holy Mass, their “Keeping the Holy Day” sometimes means for them in just going on some Sundays to a contemporary service of Christian rock music and a sermon. That’ll suffice in making it holy. It doesn’t really invoke the Sacrifice of Christ Jesus at their services.  (Episcopalians were once Catholic so they come closest to imitation of our Mass, but it’s still not the same.)

So with a 10 Commandments up on a wall in school or a public court—what differences are there in interpretation in them? Will we just settle on the Elizabethan one of King James Bible text for us differing Catholics? Whose list of commandments shall prevail? We do not know the future but it seems that we will continue to see these two versions in the mixed religious scene of American life.

But a good reason for us Catholics to see The List is to help us have it traditionally memorized, bringing to mind our behavior before God is to be lived out rightly. The 10 Commandments is traditionally used by people of The Mother Church so that we might have advancement in the moral truth for all humanity that these commandments represent. They are God-given. God has absolute truths and we will one day live in His Love and Truth forever. His reign is not just in Heaven and our future, but God’s reign is now over us on earth. We pray “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven…”  We Catholics are called to obedience and discipleship in Jesus Christ. Unlike some evangelical positions around us in America, we Catholics believe that we are not done and saved out of responsibility to live moral lives. Our choices still matter a lot, and we are still choosing Christ each day. If we have fundamentally chosen Christ Jesus as Lord, then this is good. But we are not finished in the journey. St. Paul spoke of living his call in Christ fully out to the end, of laboring at it. In Colossians he explains it up front: “That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me… So let your roots grow down into Him, and let your lives be built on Him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” Ch. 1:29; 2:7.

We Catholics take to moral living as important, as we progress in our conversion to God’s Ways and to full conformity to Christ Jesus.  There are a lot of Evangelicals in America that give themselves free passes from moral absolutes of God.  That’s not good.  It means that they can lie to my face, and not be bothered about it, since they are already saved in Christ. Their offense to me is not an issue for them. But it IS for God!  (And it is for me, too! I don’t want to be duped and deceived by a ‘brother’ in the Lord.)  As for the moral law and following 10 Commandments, it does help guide me to find what God’s designs are for the human race to be holy as God is holy.  If I break one of the Ten Commandments, such as using God’s Name in vain, then I have the Sacrament of Reconciliation to visit for speaking to God about it sacramentally.  If I tell a ‘white lie’ then I need the saving grace of Holy Eucharist to help me back to peace with God, rather than sit comfortably with my sin.  We say prayers together in Holy Mass such as “Lord, Have Mercy… Forgive Us… Lamb of God, grant us peace.. Son of the Father, have mercy on us…and Lord, I am not worthy—but only say the word, and I shall be healed.” Speak us into virtuous lives, Lord! Call us to holiness!


We believe the Catholic Church alone has the authority to give to God’s people an authoritative list of the Ten Commandments. And the Catechism of the Catholic Church does exactly that. At least, it gives us a list as a sure norm for us.

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