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Does Paul teach the giving of a “holy kiss”? 

Holy Kiss 

The custom of giving a holy Kiss was practiced in ancient times, and in different parts of the world today. It was especially an Eastern mode of greeting. It originated in Old Testament times. We read that “when Laban heard the report about Jacob, his sister’s son, that he ran to meet him, and embraced him and kissed him” (Genesis 29:13).  The Oriental holy kiss conveyed love (Genesis 27:26, 27; 1 Samuel 20:41), reconciliation (Genesis 45:15), farewell (Ruth 1:9, 14; 1 Kings 19:20), and respect (1 Samuel 10:1). 

In the New Testament, it came into common use among early believers as a symbol of peace, good will, and a common way of expressing friendship. It was a token of charity (Luke 7:45) and a symbol of Christian affection (Acts 20:37). The apostle Paul taught the believers to “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12 also 1 Thessalonians 5:26). He seemed to have wanted the Corinthian Christians to give this token to one another when they received his letter, as a vow of their new Christian union and love. Likewise, the apostle Peter taught the believers to, “Greet one another with a kiss of love” (1 Peter 5:14).   

Apparently, giving a holy kiss became a practice with early believers at the special time of the Lord’s Supper (Justin Martyr First Apology 65). Later literature shows that it was not the practice to give the “holy kiss” to one of the opposite sex (Apostolic Constitutions ii. 57; viii. 11).  This tradition was for men to greet men, and women to greet women. According to Palestinian usage, the kiss was on the cheek, forehead, beard, hands, or feet, but not on the lips. 

The modes of greetings may vary from culture to culture according to the tradition and customs of people. Therefore, we can’t say that Paul taught that the believers should give a holy kiss to express their love to each other. Wisdom and courtesy are to be applied in this matter.

Unholy Kiss 

The kiss that the believers are to express their love with is called “holy” to distinguish it from a sexual one and from a hypocritical and deceitful one. The unholy kiss was illustrated by Joab, who greeted Amasa with a kiss, then, killed him. “Then Joab said to Amasa, “Are you in health, my brother?” And Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him. But Amasa did not notice the sword that was in Joab’s hand. And he struck him with it in the stomach…Thus he died” (2 Samuel 20:9).   

Another example of giving an unholy kiss was by Judas, who greeted Jesus with it then betrayed him. The Bible tells that “he who was called Judas, one of the twelve, went before them and drew near to Jesus to kiss Him. But Jesus said to him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:47,48 also Matthew 26:49). Giving a kiss with the motive to harm a friend is an abominable act.

In His service, 
BibleAsk Team

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