Commandment (ethics)

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A commandment is a binding instruction that can be formulated as a positive command or a negative command, i.e. a prohibition . In general, commandments are not simply laws , since not every commandment is inherent in or ascribed to the force of law.

Religious and ethical commandments are often derived from natural law or the golden rule . Their influence on action is also related to upbringing and personal conscience .

Judaism / Old Testament


The Ten Commandments (the Decalogue) of the Hebrew Bible are a condensation of the moral contract (covenant) God concluded with the people of Israel on Mount Sinai . These commandments, mostly formulated as prohibitions , are an important part of the Jewish covenant tradition with God and are to be seen as recommendations for a life in connection with God.

A mitzvah is a commandment in Judaism, which is either mentioned in the Torah or established by the rabbis . According to the Talmud , there are a total of 613 mitzvot, composed of 365 prohibitions and 248 commandments.

According to the Jewish view, the seven Noachidic commandments apply to both Jews and non-Jews.

Relationship to ancient oriental legal collections

Law and ethos in ancient Israel can fall back on older legal traditions (Codex Hammurapi [18th century] or the even older Sumerian laws of the Ur-Nammu of Ur, the Codex of Esnunna and the Codex Lipit-Istar). A particularly striking difference to other collections of law is that not a single one in the Old Testament refers to the authority of a king. Through the narrative embedding in the Sinai story, the pre-state, sometimes even anti-royal character of the collections of laws is underlined.

Casuistry, apodictics and prohibitive

There are three basic distinctions:

  1. casuistic and apodictic law
  2. apodictic law and apodictic prohibitions
  3. apodictic prohibitions in the form of a prohibitive and everyday prohibitions

1) Casuistic and apodictic law

In principle, one can differentiate between casuistic and apodictic law (A. Alt). Casuistic commandments come from the everyday law of the elders in the city gate and regulate specific individual cases (casus) as precisely as possible. They are formulated conditionally, i.e. the basic upper cases with כי and the assigned sub cases with אמ. Examples would be:

  • Mayhem
  • Law of obligations
  • Liability
  • Compensation
  • embezzlement
  • ...

Casuistic law is therefore much more differentiated and geared towards the specific reparation of damage. The apodictic law, on the other hand, wants to mark general boundaries that endanger human coexistence. Apodictic commandments mostly concern either God directly or the most important gift of God - life. Examples would be:

  • sorcery
  • Sodomy
  • Sacrifice for foreign gods
  • Necromancy
  • blasphemy
  • Murder / manslaughter
  • Human theft
  • Abuse of parents
  • ...

2) apodictic law and apodictic prohibitions

For A. Alt these categories fell into one because they pursue the same legal ideal: the almost exclusively negative wording ("You shouldn't ...") makes it clear that it is not a positive ideal that is portrayed, but rather the absolute Gos are marked to protect an existing order. However, the apodictic prohibitions are not practical legal instructions, but rather aim to prevent legal cases in the best possible case. So you are in the forefront of law (education, teaching, ethics ).

3) apodictic prohibitions in the form of a prohibitive and everyday prohibitions

The factual weight and the divine authority mean that the apodictic prohibitions are grammatically marked separately by the prohibitive (לא + indicative). Commandments and prohibitions in everyday language (e.g. in education), on the other hand, are formed with על + Jussiv.


Christianity takes over a large part of the stock of general Jewish commandments, such as the Decalogue , but not numerous regulations of the Jewish rite, purity and dietary laws. Particular emphasis in the New Testament is given to certain commandments from the Old Testament : the commandment to love God ( 5 Mos 6.5  EU ) and the commandment to love one's neighbor ( 3 Mos 19.18  EU ). Most Christian denominations also include certain concrete instructions, for example in the Roman Catholic Church the Sunday commandment , the obligation to worship every Sunday.

When Jesus Christ speaks of commandments, he often relates them to the love of God , for example in John 14:21: He who has my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me. But whoever loves me will also be loved by my father.


In the Buddhist teachings there are ethical guidelines or recommendations that the Buddha gave to his students. Different aspects are emphasized in the different Buddhist schools. Examples of these guidelines are the Five Silas (moral rules of practice), through which a Theravada Buddhist follower takes a vow, or the Six Liberating Acts ( Six Paramitas ) of a Bodhisattva .

Indian traditions

In yoga , the Yamas Niyamas correspond to specific commandments.

State commandments

In contrast to ethical requirements, state regulations and laws are predominantly based on prohibitions . The character of commandments have e.g. B. some rules of the German and Austrian road traffic regulations , for example to maintain a speed appropriate to the situation (see also recommended speed ). However, this is not about ethics, but about legal norms.


Individual evidence

  1. A list of the 613 do's and don'ts in the discussion portal
  2. a b c d Jörg Jeremias: Theology of the Old Testament . S. 55 ff .