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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Courtesy

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COURTESY.—The courtesies of life have always received more strict and formal recognition in the East than in the West. The people of Palestine in Christ’s time were no exception to this rule. They were punctilious about those conventional forms which hedge in and govern social life, and were not slow to resent the breach or neglect of these forms when it affected them directly (Matthew 22:2-7, Luke 14:16-21). A remarkably complete picture of the ordinary forms of courtesy observed by them may be made up from the Gospel narratives. The incidents of Christ’s life, together with His sayings and parables, show us the marked deference paid to authority, position, and learning (Matthew 17:14; Matthew 22:16; Matthew 22:24; Matthew 23:6-7 etc.), the elaborate and somewhat burdensome hospitality bestowed on friends and strangers when received as guests into a house (Luke 7:44-46), the embracings and prolonged salutations practised (Matthew 26:49, Mark 14:45; cf. Luke 10:4 f., Luke 15:20; Luke 22:47, Matthew 10:12), the formalities observed in connexion with feasts in rich men’s houses (Matthew 22:12, Luke 14:17).

These courteous habits must not be regarded as mere superficial forms. The fact that the neglect of them, especially if believed to be intentional, caused such serious offence to the suffering party, is a sufficient evidence that they were more than surface forms. At the same time the courtesies practised were not always sincere (note the kiss of Judas), and were, moreover, occasionally violated in a peculiarly flagrant manner, as we learn from the treatment Christ received once and again from those who opposed Him, especially the treatment He received immediately before His death. The warm Oriental temperament, indeed, which had so much to do with creating these courtesies, and which found so much satisfaction in observing them, was ready, under certain circumstances, to violate them to an extent that the colder Western temperament would never have done.

Christ’s attitude towards the established rules of courtesy is a question of interest and importance. His relation towards these time-worn rules was the same as His relation towards the Law of Moses. He observed them in the spirit and not in the letter, and only in so far as they sincerely revealed His thoughts and feelings. They were never mere forms to Him, much less forms used to hide the real intents of His heart. That His attitude was not the conventional attitude of others, but was peculiar to Himself, like His attitude towards the Law (Matthew 5:17), is evident from the following considerations: (1) He recognized and followed the customary laws in so far as they served to express His real sentiments (Luke 7:44-46; Luke 10:5, John 13:4 ff.); (2) He transgressed them boldly at times, as in His cleansing of the Temple, His injunction ‘Salute no man by the way’ (Luke 10:4), and His intercourse with tax-gatherers and sinners; (3) He gave a larger and more humane interpretation to them by His generous and considerate treatment, not only of tax-gatherers and sinners, but of women, children, Samaritans, and others who were regarded as more or less outside the ordinary rules of courtesy.

There are two instances where Jesus seems to fail in the matter of courtesy—in His reply to His mother, ‘Woman, what have I to do with thee?’ (John 2:4), and in His reply to the Syro-Phœnician woman, ‘Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs’ (Matthew 15:26 || Mark 7:27). It is only in appearance, however, that He offends against courtesy in these instances. The study of the passages with the aid of a good commentary will clear up any difficulty attaching to them.

Literature.—Van Lennep, Bible Lands, their Modern Customs; G. M. Mackie, Bible Manners and Customs; Geikie, Holy Land and the Bible; Robinson, Biblical Researches in Palestine [contains passim personal experiences which throw light on the tedious courtesies of the East]; Martensen, Christian Ethics, i. 202 ff.; T. Binney, Sermons, ii. 226; Paget, Studies in the Christian Character, p. 209 ff.; Dale, Laws of Christ for Common Life, p. 107 ff.; Expositor, Ist. ser. iv. [1876] p. 179 ff.

Morison Bryce.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Courtesy'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/c/courtesy.html. 1906-1918.

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