“Greet each other with a Holy kiss” is a phrase used at least 4 times in the New Testament.1 Each time it is used, it is issued as an imperative, urging the readers to greet their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ with a Holy Kiss. But what is this “Holy kiss” and why don’t we practice it any more?
When I was younger man I used to laugh along with my friends at this sentiment, imagining it to be some sort of first century dating scheme or pick-up line. While this notion of what a holy kiss is is still enough to produce giggles even from mature adults, I wonder how many people realize how important these commands are and why it is imperative that we at least learn what a “holy kiss” meant in the first century and how, if properly practiced, such a sentiment could lead to much needed healing within the Christian community.
To begin with, the concept of kissing someone on the cheek by way of greeting is not particularly new or uncommon in many cultures. Many of us may think about the popular Hollywood, European, and middle eastern greetings which often involve a kiss on both cheeks. Some of us have even haven even seen (or have at least heard of culturally awkward stories which include) greetings involving a kiss on the lips. While these modern-day greetings come close, they don’t quite capture what Paul and Peter were trying to convey in their letters.
To get a good understanding of how we are to treat each other we need to take a closer look at James, specifically James chapter 2 where James discusses the equality of everyone who is a member of the body of Christ and how partiality and preferential treatment are out of place among a people who have all been graciously adopted into the family of God.
Next we need to understand that there exists strong evidence that the type of greeting advocated by Paul and Peter was normally reserved for close family and friends. In fact, a strong case can be made that many modern day greetings which utilize a kiss are really pale replicas of the genuine and heart-felt greetings performed in the first century.
A good example of how the greeting kiss can be (and was) perverted into a false display of kinship is seen in how Jesus himself was betrayed by Judas in the garden of Gethsemane2. What made it worse is that by many accounts the kind of kiss given by Judas was one which was sloppy and on the lips, two major social violations and displays of ingratitude
In fact, Jesus pointed out the failure of his hosts to greet him properly and points to a woman who not only poured out expensive perfume on Jesus but kissed his feet while drying them with her hair as an example they ought to follow.3
The best example, however, of a proper kiss in the right can be seen in the greeting the father gives his son in the story of the prodigal son.4 Hoping to merely be treated as a servant (an improvement from the situation in which he found himself) the son is surprised to be greeted as a son and given a ring displaying his restored status.
With this in mind let’s turn back to Paul and Peter’s admonitions to greet each other with a holy kiss and ask ourselves the simple question; “Do we really see our brothers and sisters in Christ as our family?” We certainly like to proclaim that we do, but as James also points out in his book, our actions speak far louder than our words.
What would we look like, as the body and bride of Christ, if we learned to truly embrace, love, and care for each other? How would it transform our discussions, debates, arguments, and our general attitude towards each other?
I can only dare to dream what such a change in heart would produce and look like, but I dare to say it would mean we would look a lot more like the church we read about in Acts which “had all things in common”5.
Such an authentic community might even be the answer to Jesus’s prayer in the garden right before he died for our sins.6