The denominational disagreements about what qualifies as a commandment in the famous “Ten Sayings” (known today as “The Ten Commandments”), strike me as peculiar, to say the least. As a public service, I here break down Exodus 20, from the King James Version, trying to come up with a count. (See an earlier and similar breakdown, sans commentary, here.)
Only three of the commandments give us counting problems: the Graven Image prohibition, the Sabbath set, and the final commandment, on Covetousness. Compare traditional breakdowns (see “The Ten Commandments List“) with mine, below.
As I read it, there are 14 separate words or phrases of command. (I have bolded those commands.) One of them strikes me (but not Catholics) as an obvious rhetorical repetition. The others strike me as distinct commands, worthy of separate attention. I have placed the Lord’s explanatory passages in red type: these are not commands, but statements that give more weight to the commands. The sub-heads are my interpolations into the text.
And God spake all these words, saying, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
- Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
- Thou shalt not make unto thee
- any graven image, or
- any likeness of any thing that is
- in heaven above, or
- that is in the earth beneath, or
- that is in the water under the earth:
- bow down thyself to them, nor
- serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
- thou, nor
- thy son, nor
- thy daughter, nor
- thy manservant, nor
- thy maidservant, nor
- thy cattle, nor
- thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
- thy neighbours house, thou shalt not covet
- thy neighbours wife, nor
- his manservant, nor
- his maidservant, nor
- his ox, nor
- his ass, nor
- any thing that is thy neighbours.
And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off. And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die. And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not. And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was.