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.