What is the “Holy Kiss”?

Q.  Do the Scriptures require Christians to “greet one another with a holy kiss?”  And if so, what does this mean?  Should the men kiss each other, should the men also kiss the women?   Is this commanded or just a suggestion?  

In the New Testament we have only 5 verses that talk about Christians and “kissing.”

Rom. 16:16

Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.

1 Cor. 16:20 

All the brethren greet you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.

2 Cor. 13:12

Greet one another with a holy kiss.

1Thess 5:26

Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss.

1 Pet. 5:14

14 Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace be to you all who are in Christ.

The way the word “kiss” is used in the Bible:

(qv”n: [nashaq]; [phileo], [kataphilo], [philema]): The kiss is common in eastern lands in salutation, etc., on the cheek, the forehead, the beard, the hands, the feet, but not the lips. In the Bible there is no sure instance of the kiss in ordinary salutation.

We have in the Old Testament naschaq, “to kiss,” used 

(1) of relatives (which seems the origin of the practice of kissing; compare (Song of Solomon 8:1), “Oh that thou wert as my brother …. I would kiss thee; yea, and none would despise me”); Genesis 27:26,27 (Isaac and Jacob); 29:11 (Jacob and Rachel); 33:4 (Esau and Jacob); 45:15 (Joseph and his brethren); 48:10 (Jacob and Joseph’s sons); 50:1 (Joseph and his father); Exodus 4:27 (Aaron and Moses); 18:7 (Moses and Jethro, united with obeisance); Ruth 1:9,14 (Naomi and her daughters-in-law — a farewell); 2 Samuel 14:33 (David and Absalom); 1 Kings 19:20 (Elisha and his parents -a farewell); see also Genesis 29:13; 31:28,55; Tobit 7:6; 10:12.

(2) Of friendship and affection; compare 1 Samuel 20:41 (David and Jonathan);2 Samuel 15:5 (Absalom and those who came to him);19:39 (David and Barzillai — a farewell); 20:9 (Joab and Amasa); Proverbs 27:6 (“the kisses ([neshiqah]) of an enemy”); 1 Esdras 4:47 (“the king stood up, and kissed him”).

(3) Of love; compare Song of Solomon 1:2, “Let him kiss me with the kisses ([neshiqah]) of his mouth”; Proverbs 7:13 (of the feigned love of “the strange woman”).

(4) Of homage, perhaps; compare 1 Samuel 10:1 (Samuel after anointing David king); Genesis 41:40, “Unto thy word shall all my people be ruled,” the Revised Version margin “order themselves,” or “do homage,” the King James Version margin “Hebrew be armed or kiss” ([nashaq]); Psalm 2:12, “Kiss the son” (American Standard Revised Version), the English Revised Version margin “Some versions render, `Lay hold of (or receive) instruction’; others, `Worship in purity’ “; some ancient versions give `Kiss (or, do homage) purely.’

(5) Of idolatrous practices; compare 1 Kings 19:18; Hosea 13:2 (compare 8:5,6; 10:5); Job 31:27, probably, “kissing the hand to the sun or moon” (compare 31:26,27).

(6) A figurative use may be seen in Psalm 85:10; Proverbs 24:26; Ezekiel 3:13, where “touched” is [nashaq] (see the King James Version margin).

(7) In Additions to Esther 13:13 we have “I could have been content …. to kiss the soles of his feet,” and in Ecclesiasticus 29:5, “Till he hath received, he will kiss a man’s hands” — marks of self-humiliation or abasement.

In the New Testament we have (phileo), “to kiss,” “to be friendly,” and

[kataphileo], “to kiss thoroughly,” “to be very friendly” — the first in Matthew 26:48; Mark 14:44; Luke 22:47, of the kiss with which Judas betrayed his Master. This was probably meant to be taken as an expression of special regard, which is expressed by the [kataphileo] of Matthew 26:49; Mark 14:45;  the same word is used of the woman who kissed the feet of Christ (Luke 7:38,45); of the father’s greeting of the returning prodigal (Luke 15:20); and of the farewell to Paul of the Ephesian Christians (Acts 20:37);

[philema], “a kiss,” “a mark of friendship,” is used by our Lord as that which Simon omitted to give him (which may refer to ordinary hospitality), but which the woman had bestowed so impressively (Luke 7:45); of the kiss of Judas (Luke 22:48); and of the “holy kiss” wherewith Christians greeted each other, which, according to the general usage we have seen, would be as the members of one family in the Lord, or as specially united in holy love (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14).

There is reason to believe that, as a rule, men only thus greeted men, and women, women. In the Apostolical Constitutions (3rd century) it is so enjoined. W. L. Walker (ISBE)

Questions regarding the “Holy Kiss”

1.  Are Paul and Peter binding the kiss on all Christians, in all cultures, and for all ages?

2.  If universally binding, how do we determine how to administer the kiss (neck, cheek, lips, etc., left to own preference)?

3.  If universally binding, is the kiss generally practiced in  gender segregation?

4.  Is the holy kiss simply attempting to require salutation without binding a particular form and then regulating the then prevailing form?  (“Holy,” “kiss of love.”)

According to Vine:

“There was to be an absence of formality and hypocrisy, a freedom from prejudice arising from social distinctions, from discrimination against the poor, from partiality towards the well-to-do.  In the churches masters and servants would thus salute one another without any attitude of condescension on the part of or disrespect on the other.  The kiss took place between persons of the same sex” (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, by W. E.Vine).


From Manners & Customs of the Bible Lands:

“Kissing.  Guests in Holy Land homes expect to be kissed as they enter.  When entertained by a Pharisee, Jesus commented on his reception by saying to him, ‘Thou gaveth me no kiss’ (Luke 7: 45).

The difference between the Oriental and the Occidental way of greeting each other is made clear by one who lived in Palestine many years.‘Here men shake hands when they meet and greet, but in Palestine, instead of doing this, they place their right hand on their friend’s left shoulder and kiss his right cheek, and then reversing the action, place their left hand on his right shoulder, and kiss his left cheek…’” (Manners and Customs of Bible Lands, pg. 74).

Guy N. Woods:

“Greeting, by means of a kiss, appears to have been a common practice in the early church, and to have been followed for some centuries after the beginning of the Christian area.  The custom is mentioned by Justin Martyr, Tertullian…Augustine, and numerous other early writers….According to the historians of the early church, the abuses to which the practice would ordinarily lead were avoided by the separation of the sexes when the church assembled for worship, an arrangement inherited from the synagogue…” (A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles by Guy N. Woods, Vol. 7, pg. 136).

According to the church fathers:

“Then let the men give the men, and the women give the women, the Lord’s kiss.  But let no one do it with deceit, as Judas betrayed the Lord with a kiss” (The Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, Book 2, 57, page 422, Vol. 7, The Ante-Nicene Fathers).

Moses E Lard:

“…Upon the whole, the view I prefer to take of the case is this:  The apostle, by his injunction, did not create the custom; for it was prevalent at the time.  He meant merely to purify it.  He hence says, ‘Greet one another with a holy kiss.’  Only therefore where the custom exists, is his injunction applicable.  Where the custom does not exist, his injunction is not designed to create it.  He hence does not bind it upon us.  If we do kiss, it must be a holy kiss; but we are not compelled to kiss…” (A Commentary on Romans, by Moses E. Lard, pg. 460).

Questions for those who believe the kiss is universally binding on all Christians (males/males; males/females):

1. Are you not troubled by the apparent lack of strong, decisive teaching in a binding circumstance?

2. How about the absence of specificity, if binding?

3. Do you view those who do not thus kiss as cold…?

4. Are you prepared to make the kiss a requirement or test of fellowship?

5.  Do you have any concern at how incongruous the act of male/male kissing would appear in the U.S. and the possible effects of male/female kissing?

Comments are closed.