A few weeks ago I offered a quick survey of the Ten Commandments, also known as the Decalogue or Ten Words, for the Tuesday Morning Men’s Bible Study as a prelude to the Sermon on the Mount and for the Rector’s Forum as a prelude to our use of these Ten Words in several liturgies during this penitential season of Lent.
One of the things that most interested people was the variety of ways that those Ten Words can be outlined. Since the 1552 Book of Common Prayer, Anglican Christians have read them in the same way that Orthodox Christians and Reformed Christians have done so: The first commandment refers to having no other gods, the second commandment refers to a prohibition against making idols or graven images, and the last commandment speaks against covetousness. This way of reading them follows the pattern in the Book of Exodus. Following the lead of Saint Augustine, however, Roman Catholics and Lutherans look to the pattern that is implied in the Book of Deuteronomy. There the words about no other gods and not making idols are combined into the first commandment. The last one about covetousness is then split into not coveting a neighbor’s spouse and not coveting the possessions of a neighbor. Confusing matters further, Jewish tradition counts as the “first word” the introductory statement, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Like Roman Catholics and Lutherans, Jews then combine no other gods and not making idols into a single command. Finally, like Orthodox, Anglican, and Reformed Christians, they end with a single command against covetousness. Who knew it could be so complicated to count to ten?