I learned something new about the Ten Commandentments yesterday.
You may ask, what's new about them? Haven't they been sitting there in Exodus 20 for, roughly, ever?
The ten commandments are not specifically numbered, and in fact span 15-16 verses in chapter 20, depending on whether or not you count the introduction. Exodus 34, among other places, refers to them as "the Ten Commandments," so there isn't really any disagreement that there are ten. However, it turns out that not everyone divides the Ten Commandments the same way. Significantly, Roman Catholics combine the First Commandment, "Thou shalt have no other God's before me," with the Second Commandment, "Thou shalt not make unto thyself any graven (i.e. engraved) images," into a single commandment. They make up for it on the back end by breaking the 10th Commandment, "Thou shalt not covet," into two parts: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house," and "Thou shalt not covet they neighbor's [everything else]."
The Catholic division, while originally made by Augustine, wasn't made official until the Council of Trent, i.e. the high-water mark of the counter-Reformation. It is not hard to see the motivation. The prohibition against the use of images in workship presents a prima facie problem for Catholic iconography. Yes, properly schooled Catholics understand that they are not worshipping the statues and whatnot, but this is a pretty fine distinction with what they are doing, and anyway, not all Catholics are properly schooled.
This came up because my daughter, a well-catechized Calvinist, had an argument with her best friend, an evidently well-catechized Catholic. I found out about this later, but supposedly her friend was reduced to tears upon hearing that the Second Commandment was not "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain."
The fun part is that when the adults were asked to resolve the dispute, friend's mom consulted a Catholic catechism. And guess what: it didn't say word one about graven images. I had a hard time believing this when I heard it, so I dug up my own Catholic Catechism from twenty years ago. Sure enough, not one word on graven images.
Now, this isn't the Catholic Church's final word on the subject. The Catholics have several catechisms. They tend to be quite lengthy, and they aren't "catechisms" in the proper sense of being in a question-and-answer format, but are rather confessions, or statements of faith and doctrine. The U.S. Catholic Bishop's online catechism does address the prohibition, though of course it gives a psss to the veneration of images. And at least two Catholic translations-in-good-standing of Exodus 20 contain the passage intact.
But evidently one can be a Catholic in good standing without ever actually, you know, reading the Bible. Friend's family, for instance, are very devout, yet friend's mom hadn't even heard about "graven images" and, upon not finding it in the catechism, said rather decidedly that it wasn't part of the ten commandments!
So . . . the point of this post wasn't to take a whack at Catholics. The point was to use this example as an illustration of how the power to set categories and definitions is also the power to control the discussion. In this instance, by submerging the prohibition on worshiping images as a mere application of the commandment to "have no other Gods," it becomes possible to have it ignored almost completely. So the categories influence the outcome.
This insight has all kinds of applications.