How the Bible Shaped Manners

In 1922, Emily Post became a household name when her book, Etiquette, In Society, In Business, In Politics, and At Home, soared to the top of America’s bestseller list. Over the years, the work remained popular as her descendants updated it to fit changing times and social customs. Yet notably, some of the work’s foundational principles have not changed. In fact, they parallel an ancient source, the Bible. Indeed, Scripture has shaped manners in the West—a reality evident from even a cursory reading of Emily Post. Consider the following excerpts and some corresponding wisdom from the biblical book of Proverbs:

  1. “Nearly all the faults or mistakes in conversation are caused by not thinking or by lack of consideration … The burden of thinking before speaking is our own.” (Proverbs 21:23, “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.”)
  2. “Conversation should not be about someone else, especially in a group, even a group of close friends.” (Proverbs 11:12, “Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.”)
  3. “There is a big difference between sharing the accomplishments of ourselves or our loved ones with close family members and extolling their virtues to anyone we happen to meet…even when bursting with pride, the good conversationalist does not go on and on about what a wonderful job he did, or how bright his son is.” (Proverbs 27:2, “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.”)
  4. “There are seldom regrets for what you have left unsaid. ‘Better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than open it and remove all doubt.’ Don’t pretend to know more than you do. No person of real intelligence hesitates to say, ‘I don’t know.’ People who talk too easily are likely to talk too much and at times imprudently.” (Proverbs 18:2, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.”)

Of course, Emily Post’s book of etiquette covers many details not addressed by the Bible—the placement of knives, forks, and spoons for a dinner party, the use of titles in formal correspondence, and the seating of relatives at a wedding. But many of the basic principles are the same in that they are matters of thoughtfulness, amiability, and stewardship of our influence—all of which are issues of divine concern.

Did You See It?

There are passages in the Bible that should cause Christians to be especially glad. Many of them are ones that cause us to rejoice in God’s grace or be comforted by His shepherd-like care. But there are also moments where God decides to show the nature of who He is more clearly than other parts of Scripture; where God pulls back the clouds, so to speak, to give a glimpse of who He is for our joy.

One of those moments is Luke 3:21-22:

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Now there are plenty of moments in the Bible where people recognize Jesus for who He is and call Him Lord or even the Son of God. But notice here that this is God identifying who Jesus is. “You are my beloved Son.” And the Holy Spirit descends upon the Son.

Now we shouldn’t rush over passages like these too quickly. This isn’t simply a passage where Jesus gets baptized, as if He’s just graduated from high school and the Father shows up to say something nice. There’s something wonderful here that every Christian should stop and notice.

You see, Christians believe in one God. But God is not simply an ultimate personality or one great man, but God is actually three persons. He’s not three gods, but one God in three persons; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

And what’s unusual—but wonderful—about this passage is that all three persons are on active display here. The Father speaks, the Holy Spirit descends, and the Son is baptized and identified. These moments in Scripture are not as common and we should not rush past them.

Let me try to give a picture of what I mean. In the Spring, as you walk through a park the grass is green, the flowers are blooming, and the trees are getting their color back, but for good portions of the Spring season, it’s cloudy and rainy. You don’t quite see the beauty that’s really, truly there. But when the sun comes out and shines on everything, you see the gush of color. You see Spring! You see the green! And when those moments come, you pause and you take in all that is exposed.

In the same way, as you read the Bible, God is always there, showing himself—never fully, but truly. But there are moments in Scripture, like Luke 3:21-22, where God shows us a greater picture—a clearer picture—of who He is. He sheds light on what is not always seen clearly. And when we see it, we should pause.

This is our God—The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Salvation in the Old Testament

Q: How were people saved in the Old Testament times since they lived before the coming of Jesus Christ?

The short answer is, “The same way we’re saved today – by faith.”

Just look at the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, where the writer explains how “the people of old received their commendation.” He doesn’t say that they were made holy by their circumcision, their fastidious attention to the dietary rules, their response to demands of the festival calendar, or the quality of the animals they brought to the temple for sacrifice. Indeed, in chapter ten, he’s already said that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Those were merely ceremonies pointing to the real thing to come, Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice on the cross.

As chapter eleven demonstrates in stirring detail, such ancients as Abel, Enoch, and Noah distinguished themselves by their trust in God’s revelation of Himself. In Noah’s case, this meant building an ark on dry land in anticipation of a flood no one else expected. And then came Abraham, who, in his old age, with a supposedly barren wife, received a promise from God that all the world would be blessed through his offspring. He didn’t know Jesus by name, or the details of His saving work, but he and others in his line were looking forward to wonderful things to come, “seeing” and “greeting” them “from afar.”

The big test of Abraham’s faith came when God told him to sacrifice Isaac, his only hope of a legacy. Abraham passed that trial with flying colors, confident that if God let him follow through with the killing, He would then raise Isaac from the dead, and make sure that he in turn would have children of his own, leading up to the Promised One. (Happy to say, the angel of the Lord stopped Abraham just short of sacrifice, when it was clear the old man was willing to do it.)

That same chapter eleven gives more good examples of faith in action: Moses walked away from the safety and comfort of Pharaoh’s court; the Israelites marched around the doomed city of Jericho according to God’s instructions; and many unnamed people of God went to prison for their stand. But the point is not that we’re saved by walking away from luxury, by making public displays of piety, or suffering abuse by those who hate God. The point is rather the disposition of souls toward what God shows us, our trust in what He has disclosed and our willing submission to His leadership.  As Paul says in Romans 2:29, it’s essentially a matter of the heart, not the physical externals. And in Romans chapter 4, he uses Abraham as the perfect example of one whose “faith was counted . . . as righteousness.”

Today, that certainly means that we accept Christ as Savior and Lord. We receive His death on the cross as the payment of our sin debt and His resurrection as guarantee that He has the power to rescue us from the grave and take us to heaven. In a sense, we’re looking back to Calvary, while the Old Testament saints were looking forward to Calvary (and the centurion in Matthew 27:24 was looking right at Calvary, where he said, “Truly this was the Son of God”). In other words, there’s always been one plan of salvation, trust in God’s provision in Jesus, whether we’re anticipating Him imperfectly in Old Testament days, observing Him as earthly contemporaries in the first century A.D., or reflecting on Him (as He is revealed in the New Testament) in the 21st century. It’s been faith in Jesus, to the extent that God has revealed Him, from first to last.

The Bible Is To Be Believed & God Is To Be Adored

Madonna and Child

Giovanni Bellini's "Madonna and Child" (circa late 1480s) located in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY.

Dick Lucas, Rector of St. Helen’s Bishopgate Church in London from 1961-1998, once told a story about a man who walks into the Metropolitan Museum of Art, goes into the Renaissance exhibition and, with those who are alongside him, he begins to give critical remarks of the works: what the artist should have done, what would have brought more color to Giovanni Bellini’s “Madonna and Child,” how Jean Fouquet could have been more discreet, and on and on and on. And, of course, this was about as much as the curator could handle and he walked straight up to the man and said, “Sir, these works are not up for evaluation, you are.”

It’s easy, especially today, with books like The Da Vinci Code or documentaries like James Cameron’s “Lost Tomb of Jesus” to come to the Bible with a skeptical eye.

Can we really trust it?

Isn’t it just a myth-filled book?

What in the world does the Bible, a book that’s over 2000 years old, have to do with me today?

But let’s assume for a moment that the Bible is indeed God’s Word just like 2 Timothy 3:16 says,

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

And let’s also assume that its contents are true because God does not lie, just like Numbers 23:19 says,

“God is not a man, that he should lie; nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.”

And since God is the Creator of this world, He has authority over you to direct your life and all authority is established by him (Romans 13:1). And since He’s kind, He’s provided a way of salvation to reconcile the world to Himself (Ephesians 2:5).

Let’s assume all that is true, that the God of the universe has revealed truth about Himself, guidelines to shape our lives, and grace for salvation.

Do you not see the audacity to come to the Bible with a critical eye, to judge whether you believe it’s true or not, whether it’s worthy of your attention or not? God has revealed Himself and His great salvation. It is not up for evaluation, we are.

But, even for Christians, who believe the Bible is true, we sometimes can make a similar mistake. We can treat the Bible as only a bunch of problems to be solved, questions to be answered, theological conundrums to work out—and that’s it. We spend all of our time excavating the contents of the Bible, without letting it excavate our hearts.

But God comes to us through His Word and says: I will not simply be analyzed; I will be adored.

Now, I am not against analyzing and close study of God’s Word. If we believe God’s Word is true, then every word, every phrase matters. And we should pay careful attention to all that it says.

But just like the author of Psalm 119 finds that the Lord is his portion (his delight, his joy, all that he needs) by meditating and pondering God’s Word (Psalm 119:57-64), so we also analyze—not as an end to itself—but in order to adore.

The Christian Origins of Hospitals

Contrary to Kevin Drum’s blog at Mother Jones hospitals, at least historically speaking, are not secular institutions. In fact, the modern hospital system owes its existence to people of faith.

Christians have been leaders in medicine and the building of hospitals because their founder, Jesus of Nazareth, healed the sick during his ministry on earth (see Matt. 9; 10:8; 25: 34-26). The early church not only endorsed medicine, but championed care for the sick.

Rabbinic sources often cite the second century BC apocryphal book Ecclesiasticus as a reminder that medicine owes its origins to God:

“Honor the physician . . . from God the physician gets wisdom . . . God brings forth medicines from the earth and let a prudent man not ignore them” (38:1).

Admittedly, the Greeks and Romans made great contributions to early medicine, but as Albert Jonsen, University of Washington historian of medicine, maintains:

“the second great sweep of medical history begins at the end of the fourth century, with the founding of the first Christian hospital at Caesarea in Cappadocia, and concludes at the end of the fourteenth century, with medicine well ensconced in the universities and in the public life of the emerging nations of Europe.”

This extraordinary, formative period in medicine was characterized by intimate involvement by the Church. Jonsen argues:

“During these centuries the Christian faith . . . permeated all aspects of life in the West. The very conception of medicine, as well as its practice, was deeply touched by the doctrine and discipline of the Church. This theological and ecclesiastical influence manifestly shaped the ethics of medicine, but it even indirectly affected its science since, as its missionaries evangelized the peoples of Western and Northern Europe, the Church found itself in a constant battle against the use of magic and superstition in the work of healing. It championed rational medicine, along with prayer, to counter superstition.”

St. Basil of Ceasarea (330-379), founder of the first hospital in 369.

As a means of caring for those who were ill, St. Basil of Caesarea founded the first hospital (c. 369). Christian hospitals grew apace, spreading throughout both the East and the West. By the mid-1500s there were 37,000 Benedictine monasteries alone that cared for the sick. It was not until four centuries after St. Basil’s hospital that Arab Muslims began to build hospitals.

Furthermore, as Charles Rosenberg shows in his volume, The Care of Strangers, The Rise of America’s Hospital System*, the modern hospital owes its origins to Judeo-Christian compassion. Evidence of the vast expansion of faith-based hospitals is seen in the legacy of their names: St. Vincent’s, St. Luke’s, Mt. Sinai, Presbyterian, Mercy, and Beth Israel. These were all charitable hospitals, some of which began as foundling hospitals to care for abandoned children.

Similarly, in Europe, great hospitals were built under the auspices of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Indeed, an ancient French term for hospital is hôtel-Dieu (“hostel of God”). In 1863, the Société Genevoise d’Utilité Publique called on Swiss Christian businessman Jean Henri Dunant to form a relief organization for caring for wartime wounded. Thus, the emblem of the Red Cross was codified in the Geneva Convention one year later. In Britain, Dame Cicely Saunders founded the hospice movement by establishing St. Christopher’s Hospice in the south of London in 1967.

So it seems natural that Christians might find it historically naïve to say they don’t have a stake in what goes on in hospitals and whether or not, especially in religious-operated hospitals, contraceptive distribution is mandated by the federal government.  See Michelle Malkin’s commentary “First, They Came for the Catholics”

*In 1800, with a population of only 5.3 million, most Americans would only have heard of a hospital. Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Hospital was founded in 1751, New York Hospital in 1771, and Boston General did not open until 1821. But by just after the mid-century mark, hospitals were being established in large numbers, and most of them were religious.  Charles E. Rosenberg, The Care of Strangers: The Rise of America’s Hospital System (New York: Basic Books, 1987), especially Chapter 4.

 

BibleMesh aims to help people understand the big picture as well as important facts of the Bible. The first BibleMesh resource is “The Biblical Story,” a course that presents Scripture as a cohesive narrative of God’s work in the world from Genesis to Revelation. It utilizes an interactive quizzing tool that helps people remember what they have learned. And finally, it includes a social networking platform which will allow pastors and church leaders to host their own online Bible studies and contribute their own resources. Forthcoming content will include courses in Biblical Greek and Hebrew.