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I was talking to a missionary in Mexico the other day and he mentioned that Catholics use a different set of 10 commandments than we use.  I was shocked (and didn’t believe him really) because I have been around Catholics all my life and had never heard anything about this.  I went home and did some research, and in fact he was right.  While most Protestants describe the first two commandments as “You shall have no other gods before me” and “You shall not make an idol to worship it,” Catholics since Augustine consider these to be one commandment and split the final Protestant commandment about coveting into two different prohibitions against coveting.

We could sit and argue all day about the numbering, but what really concerns me is the results.  I don’t care which is the historic numbering or whether some people think that Catholics are trying to hide something by “changing” the second commandment.  What I’m most worried about is the effect on obedience to the commandments, and especially how our Spanish-speaking Catholic friends are attempting to obey them.

I am not an expert on what Hispanic Catholics believe, but I have found two things very troubling when it comes to the 10 commandments.  The short form (I would assume the one that most people know) does not prohibit making graven images or bowing down and worshiping them.  If this exact thing were not a problem in Latin America, I wouldn’t care so much about the short form.  However, making idols, bowing down and worshiping them are extremely prevalent in Southern Mexico.  We can quibble about whether these people are paying homage to a saint or whatever other words you would like to use, but the truth is that many Catholics here are worshiping, praying and offering sacrifices to wooden images, all with the support of the Catholic Church.  I’m afraid many of them have never been told the long form of their first commandment, and therefore their religious practice plays out in what appears to be idol worship.

The other troubling item in the 10 commandment only applies to Hispanics.  That’s because the English version found online is significantly different (and much more biblically faithful) than the Spanish version.  Here’s the difference, straight from the Vatican: “Remember to keep holy the LORD’s Day” vs. “Santificarás las fiestas.” Most Americans can probably tell the difference between these two after our two years of high school Spanish.  The short form of the 10 commandments in Spanish completely loses the idea of Sabbath rest in favor of keeping the fiestas holy.

This may not seem like that big of a deal until you understand what a Southern Mexican or Guatemalan thinks of when he hears “Santificarás las fiestas.” The church’s holy days may be a great reminder of a real biblical celebration in some countries, but around here it’s a little different.  A fiesta is likely to be for one of the apparitions of the Virgin or an extra-biblical saint.  And I have had Hispanic Catholics tell me straight from the horse’s mouth that they felt uncomfortable at the fiesta because they were forced to drink more alcohol than they wanted to.  They live with the idea that if they don’t get drunk enough, they are not good members of their community and are disobeying the church.  And the church promotes this idea through the blatant changing of the command to show that the Bible says that fiesta participation is mandatory.  That’s right – Catholics around here believe it is their religious duty to get drunk on holy days.  If they don’t, they’re violating the 10 commandments.

I’m not here pretending that I can reform the Catholic Church and get them to change their numbering of the commandments.  I do, however, see how the Spanish version of the 10 commandments is helping to support a system that keeps Hispanics in bondage to drunken fiestas and idol worship, all the while distracting them from the saving grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  After all, He’s in their Bibles too.