AskDefine | Define precept

Dictionary Definition



1 rule of personal conduct [syn: principle]
2 a doctrine that is taught; "the teachings of religion"; "he believed all the Christian precepts" [syn: teaching, commandment]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A rule or principle, especially one governing personal conduct.
    • 2006, Theodore Dalrymple The Gift of Language
      • I need hardly point out that Pinker doesn’t really believe anything of what he writes, at least if example is stronger evidence of belief than precept.


rule or principle governing personal conduct

Extensive Definition

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


In religion, precepts are usually commands respecting moral conduct.


The term is encountered frequently in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures; e.g.:
Thou hast commanded thy precepts to be kept diligently. O that my ways may be steadfast in keeping thy statutes! (Psalm 119(118):4-5, RSV).
The term given in the RSV as "precepts" corresponds with the reading in the Hebrew Bible. The LXX/Septuagint (Samuel Rengster edition) has Greek entolas, which, too, may be rendered with precepts. Roman Catholic Canon law, which is based on Roman Law, makes a distinction between precept and law in Canon 49:
"A singular precept is a decree which directly and legitimately enjoins a specific person or persons to do or omit something, especially in order to urge the observance of law."
see monastic rule


In Buddhism, the fundamental code of ethics is known as the Five Precepts (Pañcaśīla in Sanskrit, 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 Theravadan tradition there are Eight Precepts, Ten Precepts and the Patimokkha. Eight Precepts are a more rigorous practice for laypeople. Ten Precepts are the training-rules for samaneras (male) and samaneris (female), novice monks and nuns. And the Patimokkha is the basic Theravada code of [monastic] discipline, consisting of 227 rules for monks (bhikkhus) and 311 for nuns (bhikkhunis).

Secular law

In secound law, a precept is a command in writing; a species of writ or process issuing from a court or other legal authority. It is now chiefly used of an order demanding payment. The Latin form praecipe (i.e. 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.
"this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of man." (v. 13). Isaiah 29:13 taken from the King James Version of the Holy Bible.


The precept is a unique component of the Princeton University education. Large classes are divided into several smaller discussion sections called precepts, which are led by the professor or graduate teaching assistants. These precepts meet once a week to supplement the lectures and provide a venue for discussion of the course material.


  • Article entolē in Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, H. Balz and G. Schneider (ed.), Edinburgh 1990, Vol. I, p.459-60, which also cites sources for a discussion of the term's distinction from Greek nomos/"law".
  • The Code of Canon Law, 1983, in the English translation prepared by the Canon Law Society of Great Britain and Ireland
  • Oxford English Dictionary lists the origen of precept as from the Latin roots of pre-septum. thus precept is a pre coming-together/closure)
precept in Bulgarian: правна норма
precept in Italian: Ordinanza

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

a belief, adage, ana, analects, aphorism, apophthegm, apothegm, article of faith, axiom, behest, bench warrant, bidding, byword, canon, capias, catchword, caveat, charge, code, collected sayings, commandment, current saying, death warrant, decree, decretum, dictate, dictum, direction, directive, distich, doctrine, dogma, edict, epigram, expression, fiat, fieri facias, fundamental, general orders, gnome, golden saying, guide, guideline, habere facias possessionem, injunction, instruction, interdict, law, mandamus, mandate, mandatory injunction, maxim, mittimus, moral, mot, motto, nisi prius, notice, notification, oracle, order, ordinance, phrase, pithy saying, prescript, prescription, principle, process, prohibitory injunction, proverb, proverbial saying, proverbs, regulation, rule, saw, saying, search warrant, sentence, sententious expression, slogan, sloka, statute, stock saying, sutra, teaching, tenet, text, ukase, unwritten law, verse, warrant, warrant of arrest, warrant of attorney, wisdom, wisdom literature, wise saying, witticism, word, words of wisdom, writ
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