The Ten Commandments

In 7th grade Confirmation we only focus on three of the six chief parts of the the Catechism, and the Ten Commandments is not one of them. Though some of the students may already be familiar with Luther’s meanings, in this class we will only memorize the commandments themselves. The challenge? You need to know them ALL the same week!

The 10 Commandments


 Why do different churches have different 10 commandments?

In reality, the commandments are not “different,” though they are numbered differently. Most Christian bookstores selling pictures, posters and memorabilia number the commandments according to the American Protestant/Evangelical tradition (also dating back to Josephus). The Lutheran church follows the historical tradition of numbering the commandments, which has been the longstanding “system” since the early days of Christianity dating back to St. Augustine. What’s the difference?

Many American denominations in Christianity number their commandments one behind our numbering system. This is the result of: 1) combining the 9th & 10th commandments into one, 2) inserting “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image” as their second commandment. This “Second Commandment,” among other things, emphasizes the desire to not put too much stock or unbiblical significance into “things” and symbols, even if they might be beneficial in the life of the church (crucifix/cross, icons/images, etc).

Lutherans did not change the numbering of the commandments. Instead they retained what they had inherited from the Roman Catholic Church. The “Second Commandment” above could be explained as an unnecessary addendum to the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods.” That would also include having no “graven images.” Also, allowing the Ninth and Tenth Commandments to stand alone emphasizes a difference between coveting possessions versus coveting people–as well as the different sins each leads to. It also allows the Tenth commandment (You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor) to highlight that we can wrongfully lead others into sin.

Also interesting to note is the Jewish (according to the Talmud tradition) numbering which not only combines the 9th & 10th commandments into only one on “coveting,” but their First Commandment highlights Exodus 20:2, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” This system begins with pure Gospel, namely, that God saves. He delivers! Then what follows is our joyful response to God’s redeeming action for us (you might say 3rd Use of the Law).

Which system is the best? There’s no need to argue that one numbering system is better than the other. But there is no need for us to change the way Lutherans memorize and hold to the 10 Commandments. There is also good reason why we use the “system” we do. No apology necessary!