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Does Anyone Have the Right to Change God’s Law?

It’s a question of human versus Divine authority.

By Betsy Mayer

The Roman Emperor Constantine had a problem—how to maintain unity across his far-flung empire. Despite centuries of persecution, Christianity was still growing. Admittedly, Christians were peaceable citizens who worked an honest day and paid their taxes. Who wouldn’t want an empire filled with such good people?

But the pagans feared that the growing Christian population might revolt and take over the empire. So, they barred Christians from many occupations and opportunities for advancement. In defense, Christians developed their own communities where they could control their lives. Constantine believed this tension was fostering instability in his empire.

Then the wily emperor hit upon an idea that changed the history of both Christianity and the Roman Empire. Why not combine the best features of both religions? In essence, form a new religion, one in which both pagans and Christians could find common ground. 

Constantine’s idea won the day. The old pagan gods became Christian saints, pagan festivals were changed to religious holidays, pagan rituals were given Christian explanations, and pagan concepts were blended with Christian doctrines. In the process, Constantine’s catholic, or universal, church was born. 

Because the new church was not established on strictly biblical principles, when differences arose in doctrine or practice, they could not be resolved by appealing to Scripture. Instead, Christians appealed to church councils. This eventually became a significant distinction between Constantine’s church and groups considered heretical. “Heretics” were always appealing to the Bible as the final authority in spiritual matters. A safer course lay in trusting a council of experts trained to oversee such matters.

In regards to the Ten Commandments, the church council felt it prudent to modify them. Because pagan temple statuary across the Empire was now representing Christian saints, the second commandment was a bit of an embarrassment, so it was omitted. Then, there was the obvious problem of the fourth commandment with its specific mention of the seventh-day Sabbath. 

In AD 321, Constantine had decreed that all city dwellers should rest on the day dedicated to the worship of the sun god. Although not specifically a command to worship, Constantine’s intent was to foster a spirit of harmony between his pagan and Christian subjects. Yet, the majority of Christians still observed the Bible Sabbath of the seventh day. But by AD 364, the Church Council of Laodicea forbade the observance of the Bible Sabbath: “Christians shall not Judaize and be idle on Saturday [Sabbath, original], but shall work on that day; but the Lord’s day [Sunday], they shall especially honor, and, as being Christians, shall if possible, do no work on that day. If, however, they are found Judaizing [observing the seventh-day Sabbath], they shall be shut out from Christ.” Logically, the fourth commandment had to be modified to reflect this new Sabbath. 

Because the council had eliminated the second commandment, only nine commandments remained; the awkwardness of “a missing commandment” was resolved by splitting the last commandment into two parts, restoring the count to ten. 

Compare the two versions of God’s Law in the box below: one, as given by God; the other, as changed by man.

Human Authority vs. Divine Authority

The Catholic Church honestly maintains and teaches that her authority supersedes the Bible. Speaking of the fourth commandment: “Sunday is a Catholic institution…. From beginning to end of Scripture there is not a single passage that warrants the transfer of weekly public worship from the last day of the week to the first.”

The Bible prophesied that a world power known as the “little horn” would “think to change times and laws.” Dan. 7:8, 24, 25. This is the same power that John identified as “the beast” in Revelation 13:1–3.2

As Given by God

Exodus 20:3–17

1. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.

2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in Heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me, and keep My commandments.

3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.

4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made Heaven and Earth, the sea and all that in them is and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

5. Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.

6. Thou shalt not kill.

7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.

8. Thou shalt not steal.

9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

The King James Version of the Ten Commandments is taken directly from Hebrew manuscripts, preserved for thousands of years by the Jews.

As Changed by Man

Exodus 20:3–17

1. I am the Lord your God: you shall not have strange Gods before Me.

2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

3. Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day.

4. Honor your father and your mother.

5. You shall not kill.

6. You shall not commit adultery.

7. You shall not steal.

8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

9. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. 

10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.

A catechetical formula of the Ten Commandments from the 1997 Catechism of the Catholic Church, modified and promulgated by John Paul II, 2nd English Edition. The catechetical formula is used to teach Catholics the official positions of the Catholic Church. The Ten Commandments as quoted in the Catholic Douay-Rheims edition is not widely different from that found in the King James Version. It should be remembered, however, that Catholics are taught that church tradition is equal or even superior to Scripture, and that the abbreviated, modified catechetical form of the Ten Commandments is binding upon them, not the Law as it reads in their Bibles.


  1. The Catholic Press, Sydney, Australia, Aug. 1900

  2. See also “The End-time Beast of Revelation,” and “The Mark of the Beast,” in this issue.

Image credits

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About the author

Betsy Mayer is the managing editor of Last Generation magazine.