About forty years ago, when I was about 19 years old, I was challenged to prove my religious beliefs. I was raised Catholic, and up till then I had accepted Catholic doctrine, but now I began to study the Bible to see if what I was taught was consistant with what the Bible said. I was taught by the Catholic Church that the Bible was indeed inspired by God, but that only the Catholic Church could interpret it. At this point in my life, I wanted to know if this was true, if the Catholic Church really believed and followed the Bible, or if the teaching that only the Catholic Church could interpret the Bible was an excuse for not believing and not following it.
I found the answer in the Ten Commandments, and the answer was so plain, it needed no interpretation.
Some Christians do not know this, but Catholics number the Ten Commandments differently than most Protestants in the United States. Catholics will tell you that "You shall not commit adultery" is the sixth commandment while most Protestants will tell you that it is the seventh commandment. This may seem trivial, but the reason for the difference and the cause of the difference are far from trivial.
The Ten Commandments are listed in the Bible in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. Some commandments are short and some are long. Although there are slight differences in the wording, the commandments are the same and they are listed in the same order in both places. But in neither list are they numbered, "one," "two," "three," etc. So it is not possible to tell from numbering where one commandment ends and the next one begins. You have to tell from the logic of the way they are worded. In most cases, there is agreement.
If they are not numbered, how can we know if there are ten? Could there be nine, or eleven?
Exodus 34:28 and Deuteronomy 4:13 specifically say that there are ten commandments.
The difference in numbering between Protestants and Catholics starts with the first commandment and ends with the last.
In Exodus 20, verses 2 and 3 say, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me." Verses 4 through 6 say, "You shall not make for yourself a carved image-any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments."
Catholics count all of verses 2 through 6 as one commandment against worshipping false gods. Most Protestants count verses 2 through 3 as the first commandment against worshipping false gods but verses 4 through 6 as a separate commandment against using images in worship. So Catholics count verses 2 through 6 as the first commandment while Protestants count verses 2 through 3 as the first commandment and 4 through 6 as the second commandment. So by the time you get to the commandment not to take God's name in vain (verse 7), the numbering is one different. Protestants count the commandment against taking God's name in vain as the third commandment, the Sabbath as the fourth commandment, etc. while Catholics count the commandment against taking God's name in vain as the second commandment, the Sabbath as the third commandment, etc.
Yet both Catholics and Protestants agree that there are ten commandments.
How is this possible? How can they be one off in their numbering of the commandments, with Protestants counting two commandments in Exodus 20:2-6 while Catholics count one, and yet both end up with ten commandments?
The answer is at the end of the Ten Commandments. Catholics count verse 17 as two commandments, the ninth commandment being "you shall not covet your neighbor's wife" and the tenth commandment being "you shall not covet your neighbor's goods," while Protestants count verse 17 as one commandment against coveting, the tenth commandment. That is how both groups end up with ten even though they number the commandments differently.
That is also why Catholics use images in worship, such as images of Jesus Christ, while most Protestants do not. Because Catholics believe that Exodus 20:4-6 is part of the first commandment against worshipping false gods, they believe the prohibition against using images only applies to images of false gods, not the true God. Those who believe verses 4 through 6 are a separate commandment generally believe that the prohibition against images includes even images of the true God.
Who is right? That is, what does the actual wording of the Ten Commandments in the Bible show?
You can compare Exodus 20 with Deuteronomy 5, and in Deuteronomy 5:21 the prohibition against coveting names "wife" before other property such as "house," "field," "male servant," etc. So conceivably, one could logically say that Deuteronomy 5:21 could be two commandments with one being a command against coveting your neighbor's wife and the other against coveting your neighbor's goods. The commandment against coveting your neighbor's wife would then be the ninth commandment and the commandment against coveting your neighbor's property would be the tenth commandment.
But you cannot do that with Exodus 20:17: "You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s." Notice that "wife" is listed AFTER "house" but before "male servant." There is no way you can separate this verse into two commandments, the ninth commandment against coveting "your neighbor's wife" and the tenth commandment against coveting "your neighbor's goods" because "wife" is listed in the middle of "goods." Exodus 20:17 and Deuteronomy 5:21 must be ONE commandment against coveting.
This is confirmed by Paul who wrote about the command against coveting as one commandment that can be summarized as "You shall not covet" - see Romans 7:7 and Romans 13:9.
And this means that Exodus 20:2-3 and Exodus 20:4-6 are TWO commandments, not one. They are not both talking about worshipping false gods. Only the first commandment, Exodus 20:2-3, is a commandment against worshipping false gods. The second commandment, Exodus 20:4-6 is a commandment against using images to worship even the true God.
There are other scriptures that show that it is wrong to use images in the worship of God, and I cover this subject in my website The True Gospel and the Ezekiel Warning.
Here is a link to the section that covers that subject in detail: Using Images in Worship.
When I researched this, I learned that it would be wrong to use images of Jesus Christ as an aid to worship as I had been taught to do by the Catholic Church, and I did not do so after I learned this. But I learned soemthing more important than even this. I learned that I could not put my trust in that church, or any other church for that matter, to "interpret" the Bible for me.
It is not possible to logically interpret Exodus 20:17 as two commandments, yet that is exactly what the Catholic Church does.
As I studied the Bible, I found many other discrepancies between the teaching of the Bible and Catholic doctrine. I also found that the Bible interprets itself for those who are willing to trust and believe what God says. I learned to let clear scriptures interpret unclear ones. I also learned an important principle, that God helps us to understand the Bible as we choose to believe what God says. I cover this lesson in my blog post dated June 11, 2009, entitled Whose Interpretation of the Bible?
God tests our faith in Him just as He tested Abraham (Romans 4:3, James 2:21-23, Genesis 15:2-6, Romans 4:16-22, Genesis 22:1-18). When we study the Bible, we may find something that seems different from what we were taught by our church growing up. We have to make a choice. Do we believe God or do we believe our traditions? Who do we trust more, God or our ministers? If we believe our traditions, we become like the Pharisees who chose their traditions over the word of God (Matthew 15:1-9), and like them, we become blinded to the truth (Matthew 15:12-14). We have made our choice. From that point on, we will interpret everything we read in the Bible according to our traditions, our opinions, or the teachings of our ministers, even if it means twisting the scriptures, and we will probably not even realize what we are doing. But if we choose to believe God, then we pass a test, and when God sees we are willing to believe Him, He will open our minds to understand more of the Bible, one point at a time (1 Corinthians 2:10-16, John 14:26). Then, each time God tests us with a point of doctrine, if we believe what God says in the Bible, God will help us understand more, one point at a time.
But if at some point we stop believing God, the understanding stops also, and we can even lose the knowledge we have and become blinded by Satan with the rest of the world (2 Corinthians 4:3-4, Romans 11:19-22, Hebrews 3:7-19, Hebrews 6:4-8).
It is a serious thing to choose to believe man more than God.