“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Depending on who’s counting, that’s the Eighth or Ninth of the Ten Commandments. Either way, it’s part of the Ten Commandments, which makes it both ironic and unfortunate that so many falsehoods are spread about the Catholic Church and the Ten Commandments. Here are three that you might have heard.
1. No, Pope Francis Didn’t Change the Ten Commandments
There’s an Internet hoax claiming that Pope Francis is going to revise the Ten Commandments. As should be obvious from (a) an ounce of common sense, or (b) actually reading the article, this is false. I mean, here’s what the article is claiming:
Pope Francis said the Seventh Commandment, prohibiting adultery and, among other things, homosexuality, has been removed entirely, as instructed by God, in order to extend “God’s grace to all His children.” […]
Lastly, the Eleventh Commandment disallows personal idolization and the glorification of one’s self over God. Using the Kardashians, a highly publicized celebrity family, as an example, Pope Francis said, “Selfies are an abomination in the eyes of our Lord.”
You think that if Pope Francis had announced something like this, changing the Ten Commandments and declaring adultery and homosexuality no longer sins, you would be reading about in on a single website that you’ve never heard of before? You don’t think that might be headline news?
Plus, the Kardashian pop shot (pope shot?) is obviously a joke. And not a joke that the pope would make, given that he hasn’t watched TV since 1990, and thus hasn’t exactly been keeping up with the Kardashians.
According to the story, Francis said this during Mass in Guayaquil, Ecuador, on July 6, with over a million people in attendance. If you fell for this story, ask yourself: wait, there weren’t two people who thought, “Hey, I should say something about this online”?
Or maybe ask, “Does the Vatican publish the pope’s homilies online?” Because yes, they do. Here’s his homily in Guayaquil, Ecuador, on July 6. Sorry to disappoint, but it’s got exactly zero references to the Ten Commandments.
As ten seconds of research would have revealed, the website that ran this story, Real News Right Now, is also running stories claiming that the White House and Capitol were evacuated on Wednesday because of UFOs, and that yesterday, “American and European Protestant leaders met with Pope Francis last week to finalize the reunification of the two churches under the Holy See.” According to the article, the Anglican Church, Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, etc. all joined the Roman Catholic Church. You can read all about it here, or save your time and not bother, because it’s obviously a stupid hoax.
Given how stupid this is, and that sites like Snopes have already debunked it, you might be wondering why I’m bothering. Two reasons. First, because it’s been shared over 34,000 times on Facebook, and “liked” more than 44,000 times. To me, this means that some of us will still apparently believe anything that’s written on the Internet. So here I am, writing on the Internet: use your brain, and stop spreading this stupid garbage. Now you have to, because I said it on the Internet. No more excuses.
The second reason is because the comments on both the original article and the Snopes link showed that people were willing to believe this obvious falsehood because they already believe a lot of ridiculous tripe about the papacy and the Church. One of the commenters explained that the story was believable because Catholics think the pope’s words are equal to the Bible (nope, nope, nope: the pope is infallible under very particular circumstances, and Dei Verbum 10 explicitly states that “This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.”). Another commenter added that the Church removed the Second Commandment (which I’ll discuss in a moment). In other words, having believed a whole pack of lies about the Church, they were primed to believe another, no matter how ridiculous.
That’s not just stupid, it’s evil. In the digital age, it’s so easy to share first, fact-check later. Don’t. Jesus Christ says in Matthew 12:36-37, “I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” You don’t want to stand before the Judgment Seat of God explaining why you falsely witnessed against Pope Francis because you were too lazy or incredulous to figure out that this sort of junk is slander, not news.
2. No, the Church Didn’t Remove One of the Ten Commandments.
Okay, so what do we make of this claim that the Catholic Church “removed” one of the Commandments? Groups like this one often claim that the Catholic Church removed the Second Commandment, and I’ve been asked about it by enough Protestants to know that this is a widespread error.
So here’s what you need to know: the Ten Commandments are listed twice in Scripture (Ex. 20 and Deut. 5), but the ordering is slightly different. Either way, more than ten things are commanded, and the Bible doesn’t number them. Take a look at Deuteronomy 5:6-21:
- I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
- Thou shalt not have strange gods in my sight.
- Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of any things, that are in heaven above, or that are in the earth beneath, or that abide in the waters under the earth.
- Thou shalt not adore them, and thou shalt not serve them. For I am the Lord thy God, a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon their children unto the third and fourth generation, to them that hate me, And shewing mercy unto many thousands, to them that love me, and keep my commandments.
- Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain: for he shall not be unpunished that taketh his name upon a vain thing.
- Observe the day of the sabbath, to sanctify it, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee.
- Six days shalt thou labour, and shalt do all thy works.
- The seventh is the day of the sabbath, that is, the rest of the Lord thy God. Thou shalt not do any work therein, thou nor thy son nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant nor thy maidservant, nor thy ox, nor thy ass, nor any of thy beasts, nor the stranger that is within thy gates: that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest, even as thyself.
- Remember that thou also didst serve in Egypt, and the Lord thy God brought thee out from thence with a strong hand, and a stretched out arm. Therefore hath he commanded thee that thou shouldst observe the sabbath day.
- Honour thy father and mother, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee, that thou mayst live a long time, and it may be well with thee in the land, which the Lord thy God will give thee.
- Thou shalt not kill.
- Neither shalt thou commit adultery.
- And thou shalt not steal.
- Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbour.
- Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife:
- nor his house,
- nor his field,
- nor his manservant,
- nor his maidservant,
- nor his ox,
- nor his ass,
- nor any thing that is his.
Recall that chapter and verse numbers don’t come around until the second millennium of Christianity. So Christians and Jews were left with the task of grouping those into Ten Commandments, in order to figure out where the numbers belong. And guess what? Different people and groups came up with different conclusions. On the Jewish side, Philo, the Jewish Talmud, and the Septuagint all number the Ten Commandments differently. On the Christian side, Augustine, Luther, and Calvin all disagree with one another.
Bear in mind: this is literally a dispute over the numbering, numbering which isn’t found in the inspired text itself. The conspiracy theorists claim that the Church removed the Second Commandment to make idolatry okay. But the prohibition against idolatry is still in the Ten Commandments: we just list it as part of the First Commandment. Look, read for yourself: this is Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 in the Douay-Rheims, the traditional English-language Catholic Bible. See Exodus 20:4? “Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, nor of those things that are in the waters under the earth.” It’s still there. We just filed it under a different number.
So why do we treat it as part of the First Commandment? Two reasons. First, because worshipping someone besides God is idolatry, and idolatry is worshipping someone besides God. So Deut. 5:7-8 are dealing with the same sin. Second, because Deuteronomy 5:21 deals with both coveting your neighbor’s wife (lust) and coveting your neighbor’s property (greed). These are different kinds of sins: women aren’t property, and lust and greed aren’t the same thing. So we traditionally treat them as two separate commandments: the Ninth Commandment, against lust; and the Tenth Commandment, against coveting goods.
So our dispute is literally just over where we would pencil in numbers, if we were to annotate the Scriptures. By any reasonable measure, this just isn’t worth getting worked up over.
Nevertheless, there are those who think that we’re heretics for grouping the Ten Commandments like this (GotQuestions stops short of this, sort of, but claims that this organization of the Ten Commandments opens the door to idolatry). I’ve got bad news for them. You know who else grouped the prohibitions against worshipping someone other than God and idolatry as a single Commandment? Martin Luther, in his Large Catechism. In fact, Luther actually omits the verse regarding making graven images in his listing of the Ten Commandments, so all of these anti-Catholic arguments work better as anti-Luther arguments. Or better yet, not as arguments at all, because it’s not even a debate over Scripture.
3. No, the Ten Commandments Don’t Forbid Images.
At the heart of the seemingly-trivial debate over the numbering of the Ten Commandments, there’s actually something deeper at work. There are Protestants who believe that this re-numbering was done to justify Catholic veneration (or in their view, worship) of images.
As a conspiracy theory, it’s not a very convincing one. After all, the Eastern Orthodox consider the prohibition against idolatry a separate Commandment, and yet their churches are full of icons. So clearly, eliminating one of the Ten Commandments wasn’t necessary for either Catholics or Orthodox to venerate icons. And you know why? Because the “Second” Commandment never forbade images. It forbade idolatry. Images, including images used in worship, are repeatedly ordered: Exodus 25:17-22, Ex. 28:33-34, Numbers 21:8-9, 1 Samuel 6:5, etc. The Temple had images engraved on its walls (1 Kings 7:40-44). And Christ uses a coin engraved with Caesar’s image to teach about rendering to Caesar and God what belongs to each of them (Matthew 22:20-21).
I’ve actually addressed this before, so I’ll just summarize those points:
- The Old Testament prohibits idols, not images;
- God sometimes commanded religious images in worship;
- In using religious images, we’re not to worship them (obviously);
- The mere fact that religious images could be (and sometimes were) abused as idolatry didn’t stop God from ordering them;
- The one major religious image taboo the Jews had, about the creation of Images of God Himself, is resolved in the Incarnation, since “the Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Col. 1:15).
- Iconoclasm (the total rejection of images) has prevented untold scores of people from coming to Christ;
- The Church, in a Council accepted by Catholics, Orthodox, and many Protestants, orders the use of religious images.
For more on those points, I’d refer you over here.