The Holy Kiss

The holy kiss has been a subject of puzzlement for many in the Lord’s church (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Thess. 5:26).  Misunderstanding abounds on the subject in regard to its practice and whether it has a role in the church today.  Many write it off as a cultural practice or ancient tradition without approaching the subject with an open mind.

Kisses Mentioned In Scripture

Opening the Word of God, one very quickly notices several different types of kissing mentioned.  Each has its purpose and place.  Early in the Biblical account one discovers kissing as a family greeting.  When Jacob first met his mother’s family, it reads, “And it came to pass, when Laban heard the tidings of Jacob his sister’s son, that he ran to meet him, and embraced him, and kissed him, and brought him to his house” (Gen. 29:13).  The same type of greeting is found in the famous parable of the prodigal son.  The lost boy had squandered his inheritance in riotous living. Coming to his senses he returns home to be graciously welcomed by his father with compassion and kisses (Lk. 15:20).

Solomon, known for his great wisdom, also contained a very romantic and passionate side to his personality.  He was a true “ladies’ man” who understood the need to fulfill the desires of those he loved.  In the steamy exchange found in the Song of Solomon, his lover expresses her passion: “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine” (1:2).  This kind of kiss is an expression of love and respect in the proper relationship.  It plays an important and wonderful role in one’s life-long marriage bond.

Just as the kiss can be an intimate expression of love and nurturing in a sanctified relationship, it can be seductive as well.  Proverbs 7:12-13 states, “Now is she without, now in the streets, and lieth in wait at every corner.  So she caught him, and kissed him…”  Within the context of this passage the woman, whose husband was gone away conducting business, plays the harlot.  By the manner of her dress and actions she found one she could seduce to fulfill her sinful desires.

Perhaps the most famous kiss of history is one of betrayal.  The proverb writer remarks, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful” (27:6). The kiss, as a sign of friendship, can be hurtful, even detrimental, when an enemy bestows the action, for it is a deception.  The deception fosters a false sense of security and at a later time the treachery is revealed.  Judas chose this means to identify and betray the Savior.  “And he that betrayed him had given them a token, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he; take him, and lead him away safely.  And as soon as he was come, he goeth straightway to him, and saith, Master, master; and kissed him.” (Mk. 14:44-45).  Jesus questioned Judas, “…betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?” (Lk. 22:48).

The New Testament also mentions another kiss practiced by first century Christians.  Paul instructs, “Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you.” (Rom. 16:16).  Similar statements are found in 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12 and 1 Thessalonians 5:26.  Peter mentions a “kiss of charity” (1 Pet. 5:14).  These five references have prompted many questions as to what it is and how, if at all, it should be practised by Christians today.  Let us examine the holy kiss further.

What Is The Holy Kiss?

The first step in determining the meaning of a subject is to grapple with basic definitions.  In the Scriptures detailing the holy kiss all state to “greet” or “salute” with a “holy kiss.”  The term “greet” and “salute” both come from the same Greek word, aspazomai, which Thayer defines as, “to salute one, greet, bid welcome, wish well to.”  It is the general acknowledgement of another upon meeting.

The prerequisite for the kiss is to be “holy.”  The word “holy” (hagios) is defined by Thayer as, “pure, sinless, upright, holy.” He goes on to state, “…such a kiss as is a sign of the purest love.”  Such a definition declares the action to be pure and sinless, devoid of any romantic emotion.

The term “kiss” (philema) is defined as, “a kiss.” Thayer comments, “…the kiss with which, as a sign of fraternal affection, Christians were accustomed to welcome or dismiss their companion in the faith.”

Thus, one can reach the conclusion the holy kiss was an action by which Christians would, in a sincere and pure motive, greet one another.   Historically, such kissing was practiced by early Christians and is still practiced by many in Eastern cultures today.

Is The Holy Kiss An Exclusive Greeting?

Is the holy kiss an exclusive greeting for the Christian today?  In other words, must I, as a Christian, greet another brother or sister in Christ with a holy kiss whenever we meet?  If the holy kiss is the exclusive greeting, then one commits sin every time they greet another Christian without performing a holy kiss.  The answers to such questions are found in the Biblical “Law of Harmony.”  The Law of Harmony teaches us to harmonize the entirety of New Testament teaching before reaching a conclusion on any given subject.  The Scriptures will never teach less than what we find in one passage, however, may teach more or provide qualifiers elsewhere.  When other teaching on a subject is ignored we are not rightly dividing God’s Word.

A simple illustration from the modern religious world will suffice in showing this law.  It is believed by many in the denominational world that salvation comes by faith.  Any good Bible student cannot deny salvation based on faith for the Scriptures are full of teaching concerning faith and redemption (Rom. 5:1, Jn. 3:16).  Many, from the bottom of their hearts, believe faith is all that is necessary for eternal redemption.  The problem is not with the Biblical teaching of faith; rather, it lies with those promoting the “faith alone” or “faith only” position.   When teaching about faith and salvation is harmonized with the remainder of the New Testament, it is clear that faith saves in conjunction with repentance (Lk. 13:3), confession (Mt. 10:32-33) and baptism (Mk. 16:16; 1 Pet. 3:21).

If one can study the Scripture and find any other greeting or salutation then it can be rightly concluded the holy kiss is just one option and not the exclusive manner.  Thus the question must be proposed, “What saith the Scriptures?”

Paul authored thirteen epistles directed to early congregations as well as particular individuals.  Found nestled in these writings are a handful of greetings or salutations of various sorts.  As we read the letters to the Philippians and Colossians, we understand Paul offers greetings through ink on parchment without being present.  Philippians 4:21-22 reads, “Salute every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren which are with me greet you.  All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household.”  We also read, “Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you.” (Col. 4:14).  Both instances record greetings sent on behalf of others who were not present.  Thus, we can conclude it is acceptable to greet each other through the written word.

From the day of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 2, until the conversion of Cornelius and his house in Acts 10, the gospel was preached to the Jews.  However, with Peter’s vision and the events that transpired around Cornelius (Acts 10), the gospel was made available to the Gentiles.  Paul was selected to take the gospel to the Gentiles, “For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles…” (Rom. 11:13).  According to Galatians 2:7-8 “…the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles).”  Paul’s mission was primarily to the Gentiles while Peter’s was to the Jews.  They recognized it as such, and “when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.” (Gal. 2:9).  Here we read of “the right hands of fellowship” or an exchange of shaking hands.

The disciple whom Jesus loved wrote, “But I trust I shall shortly see thee, and we shall speak face to face. Peace be to thee. Our friends salute thee. Greet the friends by name” (3 Jn. 14).  At the conclusion of this short letter John mentions greeting the friends by name.  To greet by name is to acknowledge the other party by mentioning their name.  This indicates an individual acknowledgement and effort on part of the Christians.

Demetrius the silversmith, concerned his livelihood could be at stake, started a riot.  What could have been a very unfortunate circumstance was defused by the town clerk and Paul was able to escape Ephesus.  On his departure Luke writes, “…Paul called unto him the disciples, and embraced them, and departed for to go into Macedonia.” (Act 20:1).  As Paul parted from this great city he embraced the disciples.  The term “embraced” (aspazomai) is described by Robinson in his Word Pictures as, “to greet, to draw to oneself in embrace, either in greeting or farewell.”

Through the written word, calling by name, extending the hand, embracing and kissing, Christians found themselves greeting in a variety of ways.  Noting the various manners in which Christians greeted or parted one can rightfully conclude the holy kiss is just one of many ways Christians can greet one another.  To claim it is an exclusive greeting is to ignore the harmony of the New Testament Scriptures.

Is The Holy Kiss Binding Today?

Inquiring minds often ask if the holy kiss is binding today.  If so is it to be an act of worship or just an everyday event.  Let us consider each separately:

1. Is The Holy Kiss An Item of Worship?

In the passages mentioning the “holy kiss” or “kiss of charity,” there is no indication that it has to do with worship or is an item of worship.  The contextual settings for all five passages fail to apply such a command to the worship services.  In order for something to be part of worship we must know when and how to perform the action.  In all five items of worship: singing, praying, teaching, giving and communing, we have a specific pattern set forth.

Consider the example of the Lord’s Supper.  The church knows when to set the Lord’s table: “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight” (Act 20:7).  The Scriptures plainly teach such an action is to happen on the first day of the week.  Through the hermeneutical principal of “necessary inference” we rightfully understand such an action must take place on the first day of every week.

The church is also instructed how to set the table.  Following the example of Jesus we use one loaf of unleavened bread and one cup containing unfermented fruit of the vine.  Jesus instituted as so, “And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body.  And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it.” (Mk. 14:22-23).  The usage of singular pronouns in this and all other passages describing the institution of the Lord’s Supper leaves no other acceptable manner to fulfill this item of worship.

On the other hand, in regard to the holy kiss, the questions of “when” and “how” are impossible to answer.  When would the church practice the action? Lord’s Day only?  Every time the doors are open?  How would it be implemented? A kiss on the hand, on the cheek, or on the lips?  Would men only kiss men while women only kissed women or would men and women kiss each other?  Such questions cannot be answered from Scripture. Therefore, to implement the “holy kiss” as part of the worship service would be going beyond the Word of God.

2. Is The Holy Kiss An Everyday Event?

If the holy kiss is not to be an item of worship then would should it be practiced? Any and every time two Christians meet?  The answer is found in the example found in Scripture.  We only have one instance in the New Testament where Christians are seen putting the holy kiss in action.  “And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all.  And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul’s neck, and kissed him, Sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more. And they accompanied him unto the ship.” (Act 20:36-38).  At a very sorrowful parting, realizing they would never meet again, the Ephesian elders put the holy kiss into action.

Is it appropriate to practice the holy kiss?  Yes, not only appropriate but scriptural, if the situation calls for such. However, implementation does not have to happen every time two Christians meet.  The reality is that there are several ways in which Christians can scripturally greet and salute each other; the holy kiss is just one.


Article by: Brad Shockley