Sculpture representing the Ten Commandments is displayed outside a courthouse...

Sculpture representing the Ten Commandments is displayed outside a courthouse in Clarksburg, WV. Credit: Dreamstime

Q: A Catholic priest told me that the Ten Commandments are for Jewish people. Is this true? — V. from Buffalo

A: Get a new priest. Perhaps it is time to revisit the Nine Commandments. Yes, nine!

Here is the Jewish (and Anglican) counting:

1. I am the Lord your God

2. No idolatry

3. Do not take God's name in vain

4. Keep the Sabbath

5. Honor your parents

6. Don't murder

7. Don't be an adulterer

8. Don't steal

9. Don't commit perjury

10. Don't covet anything.

The Roman Catholic counting combines the first two commandments of the Jewish counting, which I agree with because "I am the Lord your God" is not a commandment. It then divides the coveting commandment into two, which I disagree with since it is all "coveting."

The Gellman version

Prologue: Do the following because I am the Lord your God.

1. No idolatry

2. Do not take God's name in vain

3. Keep Shabbat

4. Honor your parents

5. Don't murder

6. Don't be an adulterer

7. Don't steal

8. Don't commit perjury

9. Don't covet anything

A kid-friendly version

1. There's just one God!

2. Don't even think of having another God!

3. Don't curse with God's name!

4. Do something special on the Sabbath!

5. Do what your mom and dad tell you to do, and do it right away, unless what they tell you to do is really bad!

6. Don't kill anyone who isn't trying to kill you!

7. Only sleep with the person you marry!

8. Don't take stuff that isn't yours!

9. Tell the truth (almost always)!

10. Don't want what other people have just because they have it.

Notes and homework

What one change would you make in the Ten/Nine Commandments?

1. Idolatry is at the root of every sin because idolatry is worshipping anything less than God. God is our highest love, and if idols like power or money or anything replace God, we have no chance to pursue the highest and best in us.

2. We ought to stop swearing as much as we do. Using God's name and then "damn" is the worst swearing because it makes our highest love a source of insult and damnation.

3. Rest on Saturday (or Sunday). Do things on the Sabbath that lift you spiritually; don't do things on the Sabbath that pull you down into the materialistic swamp in which we live. Connect to some religious community and study God's word on the Sabbath.

4. Honor your parents even if you cannot love your parents. They gave you your life, and if that is not enough of a reason to honor them, then you should examine your capacity for simple gratitude.

5. This is a commandment against murder, not killing (that is clear in the Hebrew text). All murder is killing, but not all killing is murder. Murder is morally unjustified killing. Killing animals for food may not be morally right, but meat is not murder. Capital punishment may not be morally right, but capital punishment is not murder. Killing to defend your family or nation in self-defense is not murder.

6. Adultery breaks a promise that is necessary for marriages to survive. Adultery breaks the connection between love and sex (so does pornography). Love and sex are meant to go together and to strengthen each other.

7. There are many forms of theft. Deception is a form of theft that is both more common and more destructive to our culture than simply taking something physical that you do not own. Advertising is built on the sin of stealing knowledge. Every time we tell a lie to manipulate someone to buy something or agree with something, we erode the public trust that depends upon us not stealing from one another.

8. There is no commandment to tell the truth, but this one comes close. It is a commandment against perjury in court. We need to trust that testimony in court is truthful or else we have no justice. People who were hiding Jews in the Holocaust had to lie to save lives. You should always say, "The bride looks beautiful!" because you want her to feel pretty. Basically, if lying helps someone it might be OK. If it just helps you, it is never OK.

9. It is not a sin to want things. It is a sin to want things you do not need and that you want only because you see them advertised or in your neighbor's driveway.

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