Saturday, 14 June 2014

The Unspecified Number of 10 Commandments

It does not often happen that something shocks me to the core. Questions the whole basis of what I take to be true. But it's happened today. And I'm not quite sure how I have missed something this fundamental, for so long.

I blame Bruvver Eccles, of course. And, in this particular instance, his list of 10 British-Values Commandments.

Now I realise I will not always agree with everything Eccles says. Not surprising, as one of us is a member of the longest-established Christian tradition in the British Isles, and the other is a Roman Catholic. Eccles, to take one example, would not join me in congratulating Colin Coward on his award (he's in there somewhere). But then we're entitled to disagree. That's a British Value, is disagreement without actually fighting. Except on Friday nights in Dunstable. And then, Eccles may not know how tall and distinguished Colin is.

But I digress. My point is, Eccles punctuates his commandments, if I may put it so, differently than me. His number 1 (or I, if you're checking this against the list on your church wall) includes my number I and II. Or possibly omits number II altogether, depending upon whether you think he's just a sneaky Papist hoping to get away with some idol worship (or even idle worship, which is less like hard work) on the side.

But then to make them add up to X, Eccles splits out X into his own IX and X, thus separating out coveting one's neighbour's wife from coveting his/her lawnmower, tea spoons, goat and conservatory.

Whereas if you look at the way they're parsed in Exodus (see below), if you were going to divide up X, you'd surely have the house as IX and the rest, including one's wives or wives, chickens and Ford Grand Cmax as number X.

Now I'd like to think that the reason Catholics do this is as a recognition of a wife being more important than one's fig tree, Indian takeaway and 3D telly. It's a human rights issue, isn't it? So they make a special case of the wife - as they should. I also hope that in the next English translation (there's bound to be one along in a minute) they expand this to include husband, otherly-designated spouse, Civil Partner with no intention of upgrading and Handfasted Significant Other. Although I realise I'm probably in a different camp to Eccles on this as well. And I realise that he's probably basing his list on Deuteronomy 5, and not, as I am, on the list behind the altar in Cranfield Church.

But as I look at what I have always thought of as the X Commandments, under the influence of this dangerous Papist concept of being able to number them differently to the way King James did when he actually wrote the Book of Exodus , I realise there are all sorts of ways of parsing them. In fact, if you crunch together both "only one God" and "no idols", and leave the coveting all in one place, you get the IX Commandments. If you split out everything that has a " you shall", you get as high as XIV. For you could, logically, if your profession was idol-maker but you were not a practising idolater yourself, make unto yourself graven images, but not bow down to them.

And if you took the list in Deut 5, it's perfectly reasonable to argue that the wife-coveting is separate. Though by dividing up the Sabbath instructions, you could even get as high as XVI.

So why do we think there's X Commandments? Does the Bible says there's X, and not XII or XIV? Not that I can see - the headings to chapters were not part of the original text, and I don't know of anyone elsewhere in Scripture referring to the "Ten" as such.

Which leads me to an uncomfortable thought. They're the basis of the rest of Biblical morality, they're foundational to the way Christians think about the world. But we don't really know how many there are.

Next time Drayton Parslow quotes the X Commandments at me, as he frequently does, believing I am a shocking libertine, I shall tell him that his numbering is not inerrant, but merely a tradition taught by man. That'll show him who the fundamentalist really is.

Here they are in the NRSV (Anglicised Catholic Edition)

Exodus  20

Then God spoke all these words: 2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery;

3 you shall have no other gods before me.
 4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
 7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
 8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.
9 Six days you shall labour and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
 12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
 13 You shall not murder.
 14 You shall not commit adultery.
 15 You shall not steal.
 16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
 17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.


  1. Being lazy, I took my list directly from the CCC, as found at

    This is based on Deuteronomy and Exodus. Admittedly, there are probably 11 or 12 commandments, really. Bruvver Bosco seems very upset because of the "graven images" rubric being omitted (see his comment), but he thinks Anti Moly's photo is an object of idolatory, so he's not totally reliable.

    Now what was that about the longest-established Christian tradition?

    1. Beaker Folk have been throwing eggs at a statue of Anti Moly since 43BC.

  2. Oh... the irony of someone who promotes "equality" accepting an award that makes him unequal had escaped me until now...

    1. I like that. Still glad he got it.

  3. On moving to the Catholic church I was surprised at the number of murderers coming to confession. Then I realised that the sixth commandment wasn't what I was used to.

  4. I'm now seriously worried that the country is going to the dogs in a hand cart, particularly as that seems to be frowned on by both Michael Gove and Lord Prescott.

    Surely British values are the ones demonstrated by Lord Prescott (2 ags).

    1. Be larger than life (keep eating the buns).
    2. Marry a woman who needs to be carried 5 yards in a Chauffer driven limo to stop her hair being blown.
    3. Be capable of delivery a straight left to anyone who gets on your wick, particularly those who egg you on your way.
    4. Ensure that your office staff, are nubile females and cooperative.
    5. Ensure that people do as you say, not as you do.
    6. Ensure nepotism in public appointments and succession planning.
    7. Build a whole government Non-Department for a Non-appointment as deputy prime minister.
    8. Take every opportunity to Lord it over the commons when TB or GB is away by announcing that you're in charge.
    9. Demonstrate your credentials as an idiot every time you open your mouth.
    10. In retirement try to get on the public speaking gravy train and singularly fail.


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