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Sarah Hinlicky Wilson

I Want

Thou shalt not covet

It wasn't till I got to seminary that I discovered there was more than one way of counting the commandments. I'd learned the method of Luther's Small Catechism, used by Roman Catholics as well, wherein commandment number two prohibits taking the Lord's name in vain. But the Orthodox, the Reformed, Anglicans, Baptists, and sundry others on the American scene say that the Lord's-name commandment falls into third place; second place is reserved for the prohibition against graven images.

This discovery having taken place at a Reformed seminary, it necessitated a great deal of argumentation. On the side of the graven-image people was the fairly forceful argument that the commandment is in Exodus and Deuteronomy, and furthermore that's how the Jews number their commandments—and if anyone knows how the commandments go, it's the Jews. The reason for Lutherans and Catholics doing otherwise is that, since the incarnation, there are doctrinally sound, even doctrinally imperative reasons for engraving an image of God in the person of Jesus, and therefore old commandment two is now obsolete. Take whichever reason you like: I see the reason in both, though naturally I favor the latter over the former.

However, as it turns out, the graven-image business never really was the sticking point for our debate. It was that if the magic number ten were to remain in the Lutheran and Catholic reckoning, you had to have two commandments about coveting. The original Hebrew contains two distinct sentences forbidding the coveting of the neighbor's spouse and the coveting of the neighbor's property respectively, but the point still stands that the Jews themselves don't split them into two like we do.

As such, my interlocutors found it quite bizarre to fill up a full 20 percent of the tablets of the Law with covetousness, of all things. Idolatry, murder, adultery, theft: now there were some serious sins. But coveting—simply to want something not your own, not even actually taking it away yet, which ...

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