In today’s reading we find one of the references to the famous “holy kiss” (1 Corinthians 16:20). It is a favorite passage of those who like to argue over the need for biblical authorization. They believe they can claim folks who believe in the need for authority don’t practice it because the holy kiss is not practiced today. My response to that is simply, I believe the holy kiss authorized. I believe this passage authorizes it. I simply don’t believe this passage binds it as the only form of greeting, especially since this letter itself contains a greeting that is not a holy kiss (see 1 Corinthians 16:19-21).
However, with the events of the past couple of weeks, this passage and the other references (Romans 16:16; 2 Corinthians 13:12; I Thessalonians 5:26) have been weighing heavily on my mind. I think these references are apropos for consideration when we think about sexual boundaries in our relationships with others, especially with our brothers and sisters.
I know there is disagreement about what this “holy kiss” is. One of my friends believes we can’t practice it because we don’t know what it is. That is, in his mind the holy kiss was a special form of a kiss, a kind-of secret handshake if you will, among Christians that hasn’t been passed on to us. I guess that could be right. But I think the point is actually more mundane and yet more profound than that.
A kiss was a common form of greeting in that culture, just as it is in some cultures even today. Note what Spiros Zodhiates says about “worship” and how it impacts our understanding of this kiss: “The ancient oriental (especially Persian) mode of salutation between persons of equal rank was to kiss each other on the lips; when the difference of rank was slight, they kissed each other on the cheek; when one was much inferior, he fell upon his knees and touched his forehead to the ground or prostrated himself, throwing kisses at the same time toward the superior” (The Complete Word Study Dictionary, Spiro Zodhiates, AMG Publishers, Chattanooga, TN, 1993, p 1233-34; Strong’s Number 4352). The “kiss” of worship was to be offered only to God. However, there was a kiss offered to each other. It was that kiss of common greeting, perhaps on each cheek, perhaps full on the mouth.
Why does Paul make reference to a “holy” kiss? I believe it is because this greeting can very easily become unholy. Can’t you image the number of men who might get just a bit too much pleasure out of kissing some of the women? I think that would have been the case in Bible times as it is today. A kiss was a common form of greeting. I have not doubt that men in the world with eyes full of adultery looked for opportunities to embrace and kiss the objects of their lust. However, in the church, while this greeting was practiced, it was not to be about lust. It was to be about respect and holiness.
Let’s fast forward to American culture. We rarely kiss in greeting, though I have known some who do. However, we often hug. I remember once after a very pretty mid-20s sister responded to the invitation with confession to the congregation and wishing to be restored to fellowship. One of the brothers said to me later, “I sure hope I didn’t enjoy that hug too much.” That is a problem.
We need to greet one another with a holy hug. We need to greet one another with a holy handshake. Yes, even that can be taken in the wrong direction when those who wish to take from others make the handshake an opportunity to caress the person’s hand or even rub their back. Those actions are not in themselves wrong, but can be opportunities for improper thoughts and lust.
Here is the point. Paul established a boundary. Greet with a kiss, but keep it holy. We need to do the same. All of our contact with others needs to be governed by this desire for holiness and uprightness. Do not use any of our interactions as an opportunity to lust. Keep it holy.
***Question: How do you keep your relationships with others holy?
Keep the faith and keep reading,