Exodus xx.

Notes & Commentary:

Ver. 1. The Lord now, by his angel, delivers in an intelligible manner, the ten words, or commandments, which contain the sum of all the natural law, and may be reduced to the two precepts of charity, Matthew xxii. 40; Mark xii. 31. How these commandments are to be divided into ten, the ancients are not perfectly agreed. We follow the authority of St. Augustine, (9. 71,) St. Clement of Alexandria, (strom. 6,) and others, in referring three of the precepts to God, and seven to our neighbour. Protestants adopt the Jewish method, of making four commandments of the first table, and six of the second; as they divide our first into two, and unite the 9th and 10th; though it surely must appear rational to admit a distinct precept, for an internal as well as for an external object; and the desires of committing adultery or theft, require a distinct prohibition no less than the external actions. Whereas the forbidding to have strange gods, or to worship images, or creatures of any description, is exactly of the same tendency. For no one can worship an idol, without admitting a strange god. The latter part, therefore, of the first commandment, or the second of Protestants, is only a farther explanation of what had gone before, as Moses himself clearly insinuates, ver. 23, You shall not make gods of silver, &c.

Ver. 2. Thy God. By this endearing title, we are all required to consecrate our whole hearts and souls to our only Maker and Redeemer; and therefore we must love God sincerely, and comply with all his commandments. This preface to the Decalogue, enforces the acts of faith, hope, charity, religion, &c. (Haydock)

Ver. 3. Before me, or in my presence. I shall not be content to be adored with idols. (Calmet)

Ver. 4. A graven thing, nor the likeness of any thing, &c. All such images or likenesses, are forbidden by this commandment, as are made to be adored and served; according to that which immediately follows, thou shalt not adore them, nor serve them. That is, all such as are designed for idols or image gods, or are worshipped with divine honour. But otherwise images, pictures, or representations, even in the house of God, and in the very sanctuary, so far from being forbidden are expressly authorized by the word of God. See Exodus xxv. 15, &c.; chap. xxxviii. 7; Numbers xxi. 8, 9; 1 Chronicles xxviii. 18, 19; 2 Chronicles iii. 10. (Challoner) — Protestants insidiously translate “any graven image,” though pesel, eidolon, glupton, and sculptile, in the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, denote a graven thing or idol. They will, however, hardly condemn his majesty for having his representation stamped upon the coin of the nation, nor so many of our wealthy noblemen, who adorn their rooms with the choicest efforts of painting and of sculpture. They know that the object of prohibition is the making and adoring of idols. But they probably wish to keep the ignorant under the stupid delusion of supposing, that Catholics are idolaters, because they have images, and that they themselves are not, though they have them likewise at home; and even in their churches admit the absurd figures of the lion and the unicorn, stretching their paws over the tables of the law, instead of the pious representations of Jesus expiring on the cross, &c., which were set up by their Catholic ancestors. Let them read, and adopt herein just weights and measures, proposed to them by Thorndike, one of their most discerning and moderate teachers. In the mean time, we will assure them, that we abhor all idols; both those made with hands, and those which are formed by the head of heretics, who set up their own fancies and delusions, to be adored instead of the true God. Our general councils of Nice and of Trent define what we ought to believe on this head; and the matter is so fully explained in our catechisms and books of instruction, as well as from our pulpits, that no person can well remain in ignorance. If we perform various actions of respect before pictures, which are also done in honour of God, can any man of sense infer, that we look upon both with equal respect? Do we not read of the people falling down to shew respect to the king, and supreme worship to God, by the same act of the body? (Haydock) — Altars and sacrifice we reserve solely for God, as St. Augustine (contra Faust. xx. 21,) well observes. Other indifferent practices must be determined by the intention. — Latria, or supreme worship, can be given to none but the Deity. But we shew our respect and veneration for his servants in glory, by an inferior service called Dulia, giving honour to whom honour is due. How profane and impious must the words of the first reformers appear, who, after saying most falsely, that “papists make the Virgin Mary a god, (Luther. postil.) and worship images in heathenish manner,” (Melanct. Loc. com.) attribute various fictitious crimes to the blessed Virgin and other saints! (Centuriators of Magdeburg; Calvin, &c.) They knew that all the saints abhorred their impiety; and therefore, in revenge, they vilify the saints, and condemn all the doctors and fathers of the Church, since the death of the apostles, as guilty of superstition and idolatry. (Haydock) — “By this occasion, dead creatures, and bloodless half worm-eaten bones, began to be honoured, invocated, and worshipped with divine honour. All which the doctors of the Church not only winked at, but also set forward.” (Centuriators of Magdeburg, C. vi.) What is then become of the promises of God, to teach all the truth by the mouths of his pastors? (Matthew xxviii, &c.) Let others judge, whether we ought to pay greater deference to Saints Jerome, Augustine, Gregory, &c., or to Luther, Calvin, and the Centuriators of Magdeburg. But some will even admit that images were commanded by God, chap. xxv. 18, &c. Hence they lay great stress upon the words to thyself; as if all images were forbidden that man should make, without the express sanction of God. So Parkhurst Lexic. But those who are conversant in Hebrew, know that these words have no such import; and if things were inseparable from idolatry, they could not be sanctioned by God. (Haydock) — No creature must be represented as a deity. But sovereign worship, both internal and external, must be given to the great Author of all good, while we abstain from every superstitious act, and from all dealings with the devil and false religions. (Calmet) — Protestants, therefore, who only forbid images, diminish God’s law. Were not the idols of Chanaan, Chamos, &c., which represented nothing in nature, also condemned?

Ver. 5. Adore. Protestants translate again, with the same view, as in the preceding verse, “thou shalt not bow down thyself to them,” in condemnation of Catholics, who kneel before the cross. But do not they kneel, when they receive their sacramental bread, or when they ask for their parents’ blessing? Did not St. John, and other saints, bow down out of respect to angels? And were these all idolaters! We are forbidden, therefore, to shew any respect to strange gods. But we must honour the true God in his saints, referring all the glory to him. (Haydock) — Hate me. Those who do not imitate their wicked ancestors, need not fear being involved in their punishment. (Menochius) (St. Augustine, q. 42; St. Gregory, mor. 15. 22; St. Jerome in Ezechiel xviii.) — Sometimes, indeed, God takes away the lives of children and of subjects, to punish the sins of parents and of kings; but this may be no real detriment to the deceased. (Haydock) — Grotius thinks, that this menace is directed against idolaters. Others believe, it may be placed at the conclusion of each of the commandments. (Calmet)

Ver. 7. In vain. On trifling occasions, rashly, or falsely. “Those who swear often, diminish their credit among the wise.” (Philo)

Ver. 8. Sabbath day, on which rest from servile work is prescribed, that we may worship God with greater fervour. Saturday was kept holy by the Jews, in honour of God’s resting. The apostles have authorized us to keep Sunday instead, to commemorate the mysteries of Christ’s resurrection, &c.

Ver. 9. Six, &c. This must be understood if no festival of obligation occurred. For many were in force in the old law; such as the Passover, Encenia, Purim, &c., as there are still in the Church. (Haydock)

Ver. 10. Stranger. Of some other nation. Good policy required, that all should conform to this regulation, whatever their religion might be. (Grotius) — Maimonides says, without any probablility, that “a Gentile observing the law, was guilty of death. (Calmet)

Ver. 12. Honour. Love, respect, feed, if requisite; support the infirmities of parents. See Numbers xxiv. 1; 1 Timothy v. 3, 17. They are ministers of God, in the production of children; and those who offer an affront to his minister, irritate God. (Philo) — Land of Chanaan. The promises are of a temporal nature; but they should bring to our reflection the eternal rewards which attend the virtuous. The duties of parents are not specified, as nature would shew their extent, and as the obligations of parents and children are reciprocal. (Calmet)

Ver. 13. Kill. These precepts are to be taken in their full extent, as prohibiting not only the ultimate act, but every thing which leads to it. Magistrates are authorized to inflict capital punishments. We are allowed also to defend ourselves against an unjust aggressor. But we must never intend to kill him. (Calmet) — The laws will not condemn us, perhaps, if we do; but God sees the heart, and judges. A night thief may be slain, because we know not how far our own lives may be endangered, chap. xxii. 2. (Haydock)

Ver. 14. Adultery. This precept is placed before the former one, in the Septuagint; St. Mark x. 19; and St. Luke xviii. 20. Adultery was punished with death, Leviticus xx. 10. All civilized nations have held it in abhorrence, as destructive of all peace, Job xxxi. 11. All other impure actions are forbidden, under different penalties.

Ver. 15. Steal; by which name fraud of every description is condemned. Some have erroneously restrained this prohibition to the stealing of men for slaves, chap. xxi. 16. (Calmet)

Ver. 16. False. Calumniators were subjected to the law of retaliation, and were forced, by the Egyptians and others, to undergo the same punishment, which they would have inflicted upon others. This law is the guardian of good faith and honesty in all our dealings. It is explained more in detail [in] chap. xxiii. 1, and Leviticus xix. 11.

Ver. 17. House. Septuagint places wife first, as all do, Deuteronomy v. 21. The express prohibition of lustful and unjust desires, might suffice to have obviated the mistake of Josephus, and of the Jews, in our Saviour’s time, who looked upon them as indifferent, provided they were not carried into effect. They render us guilty in the sight of God, (Matthew v. 28,) whenever we give consent to them, as even Ovid and the pagan philosophers acknowledged. (Grotius) — At the conclusion of this 10th commandment, we find five verses in the Samaritan copy and version, as well as in the Arabic, and a sufficient vacant space is left in an ancient Syriac manuscript translated from the Hebrew, which induce Kennicott (Dis. 2. p. 97,) to conclude that they are genuine; particularly as they explain what law was to be engraven on the two stones set up by Josue, which the Hebrew leaves ambiguous. They are as follows, repeated, for the most part, Deuteronomy xxvii. 2. “And it shall come to pass, when the Lord thy God shall bring thee into the land of the Chanaanites, whither thou goest to possess it, then thou shalt set thee up great stones; and thou shalt plaster them with plaster, and shalt write upon the stones all the words of this law. — And it shall come to pass, when ye are passed over the Jordan, ye shall put these stones, which I command you this day, upon Mount Gerizim. — And thou shalt build there an altar to the Lord thy God, an altar of stones; thou shalt not lift up any iron tool upon them. — Thou shalt build the altar of the Lord thy God of whole stones, and shalt offer thereon burnt-offerings to the Lord thy God, and shalt sacrifice peace-offerings; and thou shalt eat there, and rejoice before the Lord thy God. — That mountain is on the other side Jordan, by the way where the sun goeth down, in the land of the Chanaanites, which dwell in the flat country over-against Gilgal, beside the plain of Moreh, near Sichem.” This particular designation of Gerizim, makes Calmet suspect, that it is an interpolation of the Samaritans. But Kennicott hesitates not to lay the blame of omission upon the Jews; as he endeavours to shew, that they have corrupted Deuteronomy xxvii. 4, substituting Hebal, instead of Gerizim. “Certainly the Jews might omit, as easily as the Samaritans might insert.” (p. 100.) (Haydock)

Ver. 18. Saw. The Hebrews often substitute one organ of sense for another. (St. Augustine 9. 72; Jeremias ii. 30.) — The Samaritan reads, “the people heard the thunders and the sound of the trumpet, and beheld the lightning.” Henceforward till chap. xxiv., Moses and Aaron alone heard the voice of God; and the laws delivered, chap. xxv. to xxxi., were revealed to Moses only.

Ver. 19. Die. The Samaritan copy inserts here what we read [in] Deuteronomy v. 24, 25, 26, 27.

Ver. 22. Seen: no visible form; (Calmet) but I have spoken from the top of Sinai. (Haydock)

Ver. 23. Make. Hebrew adds, “with me,” ver. 3. This people was prone to idolatry, and stood in need of having the first commandment often inculcated. (Menochius)

Ver. 24. Earth, which may be destroyed with ease, to prevent any profanation. — Place. Where the tabernacle shall be fixed, you shall offer sacrifice, and I will hear you. The ark was afterwards deposited in the temple, where alone the Jews were, consequently, allowed to sacrifice. (Haydock) — Samuel offered victims at Mespha and Ramatha, by the dispensation of God, 1 Kings vii. 9, 17. (Menochius)

Ver. 25. Defiled; because done in opposition to God’s order, who required, on this occasion, the utmost simplicity, to prevent any undue veneration. Iron was not used about the tabernacle or temple, as brass was more common. Altars raised in haste, like that, Deuteronomy xxvii. and Josue viii. 30, and that which was designed for the ratification of the covenant, (chap. xxiv. 4,) were required to be of this construction, unpolished and simple, as was the altar erected, 1 Machabees iv. 47. But other altars were not built after this model. (Calmet)

Ver. 26. Steps. These were afterwards allowed in the temple, Ezechiel xliii. 17. The Egyptians made use of their pyramids for altars; and some suppose, that the high places of Juda were of a similar nature, and exposed the priests, who wore long robes without breeches, to the danger of being seen, chap. xxviii. 42. The steps allowed by God were therefore very low, and enclosed with boards, after the Greek fashion. Such were used by the priest and priestess of Jupiter. (Servius in ├ćneid iv. 646.) Linen breeches, or girdles, were afterwards required, Leviticus xxxix. 27. and Exodus xxviii. 42. (Calmet)

Bible Text & Cross-references:

The ten commandments.

1 And the Lord spoke all these words:*

2 *I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

3 Thou shalt not have strange gods before me.

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.

5 Thou shalt not adore them, nor serve them: I am the Lord thy God, mighty, jealous, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me:

6 And shewing mercy unto thousands to them that love me, and keep my commandments.

7 *Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain: for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that shall take the name of the Lord his God in vain.

8 *Remember that thou keep holy the sabbath day.

9 Six days shalt thou labour, and shalt do all thy works.

10 But on the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: thou shalt do no work on it, thou nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy beast, nor the stranger that is within thy gates.

11 *For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them, and rested on the seventh day: therefore the Lord blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it.

12 *Honour thy father and thy mother, that thou mayst be long-lived upon the land which the Lord thy God will give thee.

13 *Thou shalt not kill.

14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.

15 Thou shalt not steal.

16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

17 *Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house; neither shalt thou desire his wife, nor his servant, nor his hand-maid, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is his.

18 And all the people saw the voices and the flames, and the sound of the trumpet, and the mount smoking; and being terrified and struck with fear, they stood afar off,

19 Saying to Moses: Speak thou to us, and we will hear: let not the Lord speak to us, lest we die.

20 And Moses said to the people: Fear not; for God is come to prove you, and that the dread of him might be in you, and you should not sin.

21 And the people stood afar off. *But Moses went to the dark cloud wherein God was.

22 And the Lord said to Moses: Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel: You have seen that I have spoken to you from heaven.

23 You shall not make gods of silver, nor shall you make to yourselves gods of gold.

24 *You shall make an altar of earth unto me, and you shall offer upon it your holocausts and peace-offerings, your sheep and oxen, in every place where the memory of my name shall be: I will come to thee, and will bless thee.

25 *And if thou make an altar of stone unto me, thou shalt not build it of hewn stones; for if thou lift up a tool upon it, it shall be defiled.

26 Thou shalt not go up by steps unto my altar, lest thy nakedness be discovered.



1: Year of the World 2513.

2: Deuteronomy v. 6.; Psalm lxxx. 11.

4: Leviticus xxvi. 1.; Deuteronomy iv. 15.; Josue xxiv. 14.; Psalm xcvi. 7.

7: Leviticus xix. 12.; Deuteronomy v. 11.; Matthew v. 33.

8: Exodus xxxi. 13.; Deuteronomy v. 14.; Ezechiel xx. 12.

11: Genesis ii. 2.

12: Deuteronomy v. 16.; Matthew xv. 4.; Ephesians vi. 2.

13: Matthew v. 21.

17: Romans vii. 7. and xiii. 9.

21: Deuteronomy xviii. 16.; Hebrews xii. 18.

24: Exodus xxvii. 8. and xxxviii. 7.

25: Deuteronomy xxvii. 5.; Josue viii. 31.