A precept (from the la, præcipere, to teach) is a commandment, instruction, or order intended as an authoritative rule of action.

Religious law

religion Religion is a social system, social-cultural system of designated religious behaviour, behaviors and practices, morality, morals, beliefs, worldviews, religious text, texts, shrine, sanctified places, prophecy, prophecies, ethics in religion, ...
, precepts are usually commands respecting moral conduct.


The term is encountered frequently in the Jewish and Christian
Scripture Religious texts are texts related to a religious tradition. They differ from Literature, literary texts by being a compilation or discussion of beliefs, mythologies, ritual practices, commandments or Religious law, laws, ethical conduct, spiritua ...
s: The usage of precepts in the Revised Standard Version of the Bible corresponds with that of the
Hebrew Bible The Hebrew Bible or Tanakh (; Hebrew: , or ), is the Biblical canon, canonical collection of Hebrew language, Hebrew scriptures, including the Torah. These texts are almost exclusively in Biblical Hebrew, with a few passages in Biblical Aramaic ...
. The
Septuagint The Greek Old Testament, or Septuagint (, ; from the la, septuaginta, lit=seventy; often abbreviated ''70''; in Roman numerals, LXX), is the earliest extant Koine Greek translation of books from the Hebrew Bible, various biblical apocrypha, an ...
(Samuel Rengster edition) has Greek ''entolas'', which, too, may be rendered with precepts.


Roman Catholic Roman or Romans usually refers to: *Rome, the capital city of Italy *Ancient Rome, Roman civilization from 8th century BC to 5th century AD *Roman people, the people of ancient Rome *''Epistle to the Romans'', shortened to ''Romans'', a letter in ...
Canon law Canon law (from grc, κανών, , a 'straight measuring rod, ruler') is a set of ordinances and regulations made by ecclesiastical jurisdiction, ecclesiastical authority (Church leadership), for the government of a Christian organization or churc ...
, which is based on
Roman Law Roman law is the legal system of ancient Rome In historiography, ancient Rome is Roman people, Roman civilization from the founding of the Italian city of Rome in the 8th century BC to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th c ...
, makes a distinction between ''precept'' and ''law'' in Canon 49: In
Catholicism The Catholic Church, often referred to as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with approximately 1.3 billion baptised Catholics worldwide . As the world's oldest and largest continuously functioning internation ...
, the " Commandments of the Church" may also be called "Precepts of the Church".


Buddhism Buddhism (, ) is the Major religious groups#Largest religions, world's fourth-largest religion with over 520 million followers, or over 7% of the global population, known as Buddhists. Buddhism encompasses a variety of traditions, beliefs and ...
, the fundamental code of ethics is known as the Five Precepts (''Pañcaśīla'' in
Sanskrit Sanskrit (, attributively , ''saṃskṛta-'', nominalization, nominally , ''saṃskṛtam'') is a classical language of South Asia belonging to the Indo-Aryan languages, Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European languages. It arose in South Asia ...
, or ''Pañcasīla'' in Pāli), practiced by laypeople, either for a given period of time or for a lifetime. There are other levels of precepts, varying amongst traditions. In
Theravada Theravāda (; Pāli, lit. "School of the Elders") is the most commonly accepted name of Buddhism's oldest existing school. The school's adherents, termed Theravādins, have preserved their version of Gautama Buddha's teaching or '' Buddha Dh ...
n tradition there are Eight Precepts, Ten Precepts (Buddhism), Ten Precepts, and the Patimokkha. Eight Precepts are a more rigorous practice for laypeople. Ten Precepts are the training rules for ''samaneras'' and ''samaneris'', novice monks and nuns, respectively. The Patimokkha is the basic Theravada code of monastic discipline, consisting of 227 rules for monks, (''bhikkhus'') and 311 rules for nuns (''bhikkhunis'').

Secular law

In secular law, a precept is a command in writing; a species of writ issued from a court or other legal authority. It is now chiefly used of an order demanding payment (in the UK, for example, the term is applied by local Council Tax#Precepting authorities, precepting authorities as part of the Council Tax system). The Latin form ''praecipe'' (i.e., to enjoin, command) is used of the note of instructions delivered by a plaintiff or his lawyer to be filed by the officer of the court, giving the names of the plaintiff and defendant.

Higher education

Princeton University uses the term ''precept'' to describe what many other universities refer to as recitation#Education, recitations: large classes are often divided into several smaller discussion sections called precepts, which are led by the professor or graduate teaching assistants. Precepts or recitations usually meet once a week to supplement the lectures and provide a venue for discussion of the course material.Aaron Sommers, ''The Nature of Time''. Preceptorial University of New Hampshire]


See also

* Preceptor



*Article ''entolē'' in ''Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament'', H. Balz and G. Schneider (ed.), Edinburgh 1990, Vol. I, pp. 459–60, which also cites sources for a discussion of the term's distinction from Greek ''nomos''/"law". *'' The 1983 Code of Canon Law, Code of Canon Law'', 1983, in the English translation prepared by the Canon Law Society of Great Britain and Irelan

*The Oxford English Dictionary lists the origin of precept as from the Latin roots of pre-septum. Thus precept is a pre coming-together/closure. * {{Authority control Statements Canon law of the Catholic Church