A close-up shot of an open Bible, showcasing the highlighted verse "Keep my precepts and live" (Proverbs 7:2), emphasizing the importance of following God's commandments and teachings.

What Does Precepts Mean In The Bible?

The concept of precepts is an important one in the Bible that relates to rules, commands, and instructions given by God. If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Precepts in the Bible refer to divine principles, guidelines, statutes, and instructions that God has set forth for righteous living.

In this comprehensive article, we will explore the meaning of precepts in depth by looking at definitions from original Biblical language sources, examine various verses that illustrate how precepts are used in context, study their characteristics and functions, and summarize the vital role they play according to Scripture.

Defining Precepts from Original Biblical Languages

The word “precept” in the Bible originates from the Hebrew word “mitsvah” and the Greek word “entole.” Understanding the meaning of these original words provides valuable insight into what precepts represent in Scripture.

The Hebrew Word Mitsvah

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word mitsvah is most often translated as “commandment.” However, mitsvah has a broader meaning including divine decree, law, ordinance, and even customary practice. Fundamentally, mitsvah refers to authoritative instruction from God.

The Ten Commandments represent central mitsvot (plural) from the Torah.

The Talmud, an ancient Jewish commentary on biblical law, characterizes two classes of mitsvot:

  • Mishpatim – statutes aligned with human reason and common sense.
  • Chukim – decrees not obviously rational, representing divine wisdom.

This distinction highlights how mitsvot include both logical and mysterious divine precepts. Overall, recognizing mitsvah as the original term underscores how Old Testament precepts represent God’s binding instructions for righteous living.

The Greek Word Entole

In the New Testament, the primary Greek word translated as “precept” is entole. This word denotes an authoritative order or injunction, often from a master to a servant. The reference manual Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary defines entole as “a charge, command or precept which imposes prerogatives and responsibilities.”

Entole shares similarities with mitsvah but contains added emphasis on the authority behind the precept. Greek scholar Spiros Zodhiates explains that entole implies “a direct order” with “the full authority of the one who commands.”

The New Testament usage of entole highlights how divine precepts represent authoritative mandates from God for His people.

Notably, Jesus affirmed the Jewish precepts from the Torah, while also extending their application beyond external obedience into matters of inward heart attitude (Matthew 5:21-48). The Apostle Paul also emphasized inner righteousness by the Spirit over legalistic adherence to precepts (Romans 2:29).

Key Verses Using Precepts in Context

The word “precept” appears several times throughout the Bible, often in the context of God’s laws, decrees, and instructions. Here are some key verses that discuss precepts:

Psalm 119

Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible, frequently mentions God’s precepts. The author expresses his devotion to following and delighting in God’s precepts:

  • “I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, as much as in all riches.” (Psalm 119:14)
  • “Your testimonies also are my delight and my counselors.” (Psalm 119:24)
  • “Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, for I delight in it.” (Psalm 119:35)
  • Psalm 19

    In Psalm 19:7-9, David describes the perfection of God’s law and precepts:

  • “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.” (Psalm 19:7)
  • “The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.” (Psalm 19:8)
  • Deuteronomy

    Moses instructs the Israelites to carefully follow God’s precepts as they enter the Promised Land:

  • “Be careful to observe the precepts that I am commanding you today.” (Deuteronomy 7:11)
  • “You must diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, His testimonies, and His statutes, which He has commanded you.” (Deuteronomy 6:17)
  • 2 Kings

    After finding the Book of the Law, King Josiah seeks to fully align Judah with God’s precepts:

  • “Now it came to pass, when the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, that he tore his clothes.” (2 Kings 22:11)
  • “Go, inquire of the Lord for me, for the people and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found; for great is the wrath of the Lord that is aroused against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.”

    (2 Kings 22:13)

  • These verses demonstrate that God’s precepts are meant to guide, refresh, enlighten, and revive His people. Following biblical precepts leads to spiritual prosperity and alignment with God’s desires.

    Characteristics and Functions of Biblical Precepts

    Biblical precepts refer to principles, instructions, and guidelines that are found throughout the Bible. They serve an important function in teaching believers how to live according to God’s standards and design.

    Provide Guidance for Right Living

    One of the main characteristics and functions of biblical precepts is to provide guidance for right living. The Bible contains hundreds of precepts covering a wide range of topics – from marriage and parenting to honesty and generosity.

    By studying and following these precepts, Christians have timeless principles to guide their values, decisions, and behaviors.

    For example, the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 offer foundational precepts regarding our relationship with God and our neighbors. They instruct us not to worship idols, steal, lie, or covet. Applying such precepts enables believers to make wise choices that honor God and serve others.

    Reveal God’s Standards of Holiness

    Biblical precepts also reveal God’s magnificent holiness. Through them, we catch a glimpse of His perfect laws and standards for human life. Even when God’s precepts confront our human weakness, they remain an expression of His loving desire for our best.

    For instance, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 is filled with precepts that seem impossible to follow perfectly – such as loving our enemies, giving generously in private, and judging ourselves before others.

    Still, these high ideals give us a vision of what a righteous heart and life can look like with God’s help.

    Provide Promises and Blessings

    One of the most encouraging aspects of biblical precepts is that they often come packaged with divine promises and blessings. God does not just tell us what we should do but also assures us of what He will do when we walk in obedience to His ways.

    This provides powerful motivation to follow His precepts.

    The book of Deuteronomy 28 offers an extended example of this. As the Israelites are preparing to enter the Promised Land, God gives them a long list of precepts. Then He attaches concrete blessings they will experience for obeying each one – such as health, prosperity, victory over enemies, and good harvests.

    Cover All Areas of Life

    It is important to note that the Bible contains precepts covering every major area of human life and experience. There are precepts about marriage roles, raising children, employment matters, church leadership, loving enemies, using words edifyingly, governing authorities, conquering sinful habits, and hundreds more.

    With such thorough guidance, believers are equipped to handle all of life’s choices and challenges with biblical wisdom.

    The Vital Role of Precepts According to Scripture

    Precepts play a vital role in the Bible by providing divine guidance and instruction for believers. Here are some key ways that precepts serve a crucial function according to Scripture:

    Precepts Reveal God’s Will

    Precepts in the Bible communicate God’s desires, priorities, and expectations for His people. They unveil aspects of His perfect will that He wants His followers to know and embrace. As Psalm 119:4 (ESV) states, “You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently.”

    God gives precepts so that His people will walk in obedience to His will.

    Precepts Guide Conduct

    Biblical precepts provide clear direction for how God’s people should live. They set forth moral standards and ethical parameters that enable believers to make wise decisions that honor God. As Psalm 119:9 (ESV) declares, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.”

    Precepts function as a lamp for guiding one’s steps (Psalm 119:105).

    Precepts Promote Wisdom

    Following the precepts and commands in Scripture cultivates greater wisdom in God’s people. As they meditate on God’s perfect law, they gain heart-level understanding of His ways. Psalm 119:98 (ESV) states, “Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me.”

    Immersing oneself in God’s precepts imparts true wisdom for living.

    Precepts Lead to Blessing

    When God’s people observe and adhere to biblical precepts, it leads to divine blessing and favor. Many psalms connect the notion of clinging to God’s precepts with experiencing His goodness. Psalm 119:2 (ESV) states, “Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart.”

    Obeying God’s wise commands draws His people into deeper relationship with Him.


    In closing, we have explored multiple angles regarding the important biblical concept of precepts – from definitional analysis using original languages, to seeing precepts illustrated in context, understanding their qualities and purposes, and grasping their indispensable part in living according to God’s intentions.

    The wisdom contained in biblical precepts is as relevant as ever for righteous living today.

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