Question: My wife, who is not Catholic, says that in her Protestant denomination they count the Ten Commandments differently because we Catholics eliminated the Second Commandment forbidding graven images so we could worship statues. I know she is wrong, but I’m not sure how to answer.
— Name withheld, via email
Answer: It is true that there are two different numerations for the Ten Commandments, but it is not as simple as saying Catholics and Protestants have different ones, because both Catholics and Lutherans follow the same numerations, which are based on the Jewish Talmud and St. Augustine. Baptists, Presbyterians and Evangelicals follow a different numbering system based largely on the classifications of the Jewish philosopher Philo and the Greek Septuagint.
The difference is based in the fact that the original biblical text does not assign numbers to the commandments and some of the commandments go on for several verses. There is a further difficulty since the reciting of the commandments is given twice (in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21) and the wordings are close but not exactly alike. Thus, how to divide the 17 verses into 10 commandments is a matter that has two traditions.
The Calvinist/Baptist/Evangelical tradition takes the traditional First Commandment and breaks it into two: one forbidding the worship of other Gods and a second about not carving images and worshipping them. But the Catholic/Lutheran numerations see the worshipping of graven images as simply part of the First Commandment. We do not worship statues, being that it is silly to worship statues or trust in them because they cannot see or hear us and have no power. Perhaps your wife mistakes us for fools. We are not.
The Calvinist/Baptist/Evangelical tradition combines our final two commandments about coveting into one commandment.
Either numeration is fine at the end of the day so long as we remember that our division of the 17 verses in 10 commandments is not part of the original biblical text but is merely a traditional way to make them stand out.
Question: I was told that we can’t sing the song “Yahweh, The Faithful One” anymore. I haven’t heard anything from the Church magisterium about this issue.
— Craig Kappel, Dickenson, North Dakota
Answer: In 2008, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops did send word that the tetragrammaton YHWH should not be said or spoken aloud in Catholic liturgy. In Jewish times, it was held to be unpronounceable and was replaced by an alternate name: Adonai (Lord). Similarly, Greek translations of the Bible have used the word Kyrios, and in Latin, Dominus, both of which also mean Lord. This request to avoid speaking this particular form of the divine name is a way of remaining faithful to the Church’s Tradition, stretching back even into Jewish times. The original Roman directive was given in Liturgiam Authenticam, the 2001 document on liturgical translations.
It seems clear that songs and biblical translations that use “Yahweh” should be adapted so that this form of the holy and divine name is not said or sung.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.