Catholicism, the Ten Commandments and Idolatry

Many Christians don’t realize that Roman Catholicism teaches the Ten Commandments in an altered way, and this change makes room for a subtle (or not so subtle) form of idolatry. How does this happen? Take a look at the picture in this post and see if you can notice the difference.

Catholic catechisms group and present the commandments in a unique way, overlooking the second commandment (in red below), while subdividing the tenth (in blue below), ensuring they have ten commandments instead of nine. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the Catholic catechism and the actual Ten Commandments:

  • Roman Catholic Version
  • 1. I am the Lord thy God…Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.
  • 2. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
  • 3. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
  • 4. Honor thy father and thy mother.
  • 5. Thou shalt not kill.
  • 6. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  • 7. Thou shalt not steal.
  • 8. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
  • 9. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.
  • 10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house.
  • Standard Version
  • 1. I am the Lord thy God…Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.
  • 2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.
  • 3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
  • 4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
  • 4. Honor thy father and thy mother.
  • 5. Thou shalt not kill.
  • 6. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  • 7. Thou shalt not steal.
  • 8. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
  • 10. Thou shalt not covet.

What is the reason for this deliberate change? Roman Catholicism notoriously incorporates images, carved and otherwise, into their worship: the crucifix, the virgin Mary and the saints (800 or more!). This directly contradicts the second commandment, which they will deny.

To support their use of statues, paintings and carved images in worship, they will point to God’s command for a set of golden cherubim in the Temple (Gen. 25:18-20) and the bronze serpent on the pole in the wilderness (Num. 21:8-9). These two examples of God-ordered images served very specific purposes that do not contradict the clear command of Exodus 20:4-5. And these isolated Old Testament examples hardly justify the rampant use of images by Roman Catholicism today. Furthermore, in the New Testament you find no use or encouragement of statues, paintings or carved images of any kind in worship, making the Catholic propensity for using and emphasizing these things today extremely questionable and clearly unbiblical.

So does the Catholic church practice idolatry? They insist that they do not. But they practice, instead, what they call “the veneration of a sacred image.” What does this mean? It means to show great respect to an object out of respect for what that object represents, whether it represents Christ, Mary or one one of their so-called saints.

How do they venerate an image? They do this by featuring them throughout their church buildings and other Catholic places. Then they kneel before them in prayer, touch or kiss them and gaze at them in contemplation, among other things.

So do we find this practice of veneration encouraged in Scripture? No. In fact, the Israelites developed a practice of venerating the brazen serpent on the pole, and so it was destroyed in a nationwide purge of idolatry to put an end to this pagan practice (2 Kin. 18:4).

John 4:24 makes clear the kind of worship God desires – the kind that is in spirit and in truth. What does this mean? It means that proper worship interacts with God directly, apart from physical objects and locations. And we do this through the true ideas and words expressed in Scripture, through Jesus Christ.

So whether you call the Catholic use of carved images idolatry or the “veneration of sacred images,” your conclusion should be the same. It’s an unbiblical practice. Furthermore, the way Catholicism teaches the Ten Commandments conveniently overlooks Exodus 20:4-5, a command from God that teaches against this.

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