A Simple Test: Holy Kisses and Today’s Church

Do peo­ple at your church greet each oth­er with a kiss? If not, why? Do you not know every­one inti­mate­ly enough? If that’s the case, per­haps your church is too big. Are you afraid of per­verts or germs? Per­haps you don’t fear the Lord enough.

I men­tion this because as I’m giv­ing an increas­ing amount of thought to house church­es, it occurs to me that greet­ing one anoth­er with a kiss would be much more prac­ti­cal in that situation. 

Holy kiss­es: Just anoth­er ele­ment of “church” — along with bap­tism, the remem­brance meal, and foot wash­ing — that Jesus and/or the apos­tles called for. Why have we let it fall by the wayside?


  • The kiss does­n’t have to be a mouth-on-mouth liplock, but can be some­thing as sim­ple as a peck on the cheek. A kiss is a kiss, of course, of course.

  • There is no bib­li­cal lim­i­ta­tion on who may kiss who. In oth­er words, fun­da­men­tal­ists who are ter­ri­fied of men so much as shak­ing hands with a woman before they are mar­ried need not apply. They’re already miss­ing plen­ty of fun any­way. But this also means that men should kiss men and women can kiss women. Sex­u­al inse­cu­ri­ty be damned.

  • Many cul­tures through­out the world still greet each oth­er with a kiss. Who in Amer­i­ca first thought it was a good idea to drop that? Now I feel as though I can’t even hug my friends because I think every­one takes that sort of thing the wrong way these days. Absolute­ly lame, all around.

  • notes






21 responses to “A Simple Test: Holy Kisses and Today’s Church”

  1. John Avatar

    Actu­al­ly, in many coun­tries (such as in Europe), hug­ging is con­sid­ered very inti­mate, while kiss­ing is com­mon even for two men in a busi­ness rela­tion­ship. I tend to agree with that.

    And what hap­pened to the old cus­tom of men shake hands, women curt­sey, men kiss women’s hands?

  2. Rick Beckman Avatar

    Gala­tians 2:9 shows that shak­ing hands (“the right hand of fel­low­ship”) was indeed prac­ticed back then. There’s no bib­li­cal man­date for women curt­sy­ing, though — indeed, it is ques­tion­able whether we should be bow­ing before any­one but Jesus Him­self. Like­wise, I would­n’t be sur­prised if the kiss­ing of hands came about because peo­ple became too prud­ish about kiss­ing each oth­er on the face. (No evi­dence of that, just a theory.)

    Roman­ti­cized, old-fash­ioned cus­toms can be fun, but I’d be just as hes­i­tant equat­ing them to any­thing in the Bible as I would today’s customs.

  3. Jair Avatar

    With Ital­ian Chris­tains I know, cer­tain­ly I do this, with North Amer­i­cans a holy hand­shake seems to suf­fice. While I find the for­mer cul­ture to be prefer­able, I’ve nev­er been inclined to impose a holy kiss on the later. 

    Still, 4 men­tions in scrip­ture is quite a bit, the kiss pho­bia is prob­a­bly some­thing that should be reformed. It seems like a side note, but holy kiss­es may have more impor­tance than I know, and it is always safer to go with scripture.

  4. Rick Beckman Avatar

    You’re absolute­ly right, Jair. Peo­ple seem so inti­ma­cy-pho­bic. Just look at the Scrip­tures’ exam­ples of friend­ship (such as David and Jonathan… or Ruth and Nao­mi) and then com­pare them to today’s throw­away rela­tion­ships (includ­ing marriages).

    It real­ly is shame­ful. Look at the inti­ma­cy shared between Jesus and the apos­tles. Between Mary of Magdela and Jesus. And so on. The refor­ma­tive pow­er of God cre­at­ed sanc­ti­fied bonds between these peo­ple that would not let go. I can imag­ine the joy they expe­ri­enced in fel­low­ship with one anoth­er. Yet today far too many Chris­tians are com­fort­able “fel­low­ship­ing” in a church with hun­dreds or thou­sands of mem­bers, half or more of which they may nev­er even inter­act with.

  5. John Avatar

    I total­ly agree with you, Rick, on your com­ment on my first com­ment. I guess I kind of went off on a tangent—I wasn’t talk­ing about whether cer­tain cus­toms were biblical.

  6. Kurt Avatar

    I’m not inti­ma­cy-pho­bic, but I do have a prob­lem with the whole ” Alright, it’s fel­low­ship time, now turn around and hug your neigh­bor.” It’s awk­ward, espe­cial­ly if I’m sit­ting with my wife, and my neigh­bor hap­pens to be a sin­gle woman. 

    Even if I’m next to some­one who isn’t female, the forced “inti­ma­cy” is not appre­ci­at­ed. Why do we have to have this fake friend­li­ness in church? Some peo­ple aren’t recep­tive to a hug, or even a handshake. 

    The guys in my Bible Study all hug, for the most part, and we don’t have to be told to do so. It’s a real expres­sion, not some­thing man­u­fac­tured in the moment. The holy kiss is not a prob­lem. The prob­lem is that fake inti­ma­cy over­shad­ows the real thing.

  7. Rick Beckman Avatar

    Oh I agree that the “turn and greet your neigh­bor” schtick ought to go. Church should be much more organ­ic than that, but too many pas­tors are con­tent to con­duct it like a busi­ness meet­ing, with every func­tion arranged in a nice order­ly man­ner — we would­n’t want to do any­thing that might offend some­one who’s been used to doing func­tion B direct­ly after func­tion A for 25 years, after all.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    Oh, and what what’s with the C major scale? Just curious.

  9. Senior Avatar

    C major scale?

    Look at the last word before the bul­let­ed points begin.

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    Ha, that’s funny—so thick of me. Thanks.

  11. Wayne McGregor Avatar

    I heard some­where that the holy kiss was giv­en to a man’s beard as a sign of respect. Since we ignore the com­mand about not mar­ring the edges of our beard I am guess­ing kiss­ing it went out too.

  12. Brandon Avatar

    I am in South Bend, Indi­ana (where is that? I dont know) next June with my wife, and our to-be child. I will greet you with a holy kiss. You won’t like it, ’tis not so fab as it sounds.

  13. Derek Avatar

    There is no bib­li­cal lim­i­ta­tion on who may kiss who. In oth­er words, fun­da­men­tal­ists who are ter­ri­fied of men so much as shak­ing hands with a woman before they are mar­ried need not apply. They’re already miss­ing plen­ty of fun any­way. But this also means that men should kiss men and women can kiss women. Sex­u­al inse­cu­ri­ty be damned. 

    I’d have to dig it up, but I’m fair­ly sure the ancient church only per­mit­ted holy kiss­es between those of the same sex. So there were bound­aries in place.

    Ques­tion is, what do you do with some­one who is strug­gling with homo­sex­u­al­i­ty? Then I think a holy kiss would be a stum­bling block.

  14. Rick Beckman Avatar

    I’ve read of the ear­ly church’s restric­tions, but I would­n’t require any­one to fol­low them just for the sake of fol­low­ing them; if some­thing is not demand­ed by the Scrip­tures, then it sim­ply is not demand­ed. The ear­ly church exist­ed with­in a quag­mire of sex­u­al immoral­i­ty (ah, the glo­ry that was Rome…), and so the restric­tions may have been put in place by pro­tec­tive pastors.

    I can see what you mean about homo­sex­u­als too, but at the same time, it’s pos­si­ble that treat­ing every­one with­in the church as fam­i­ly may help them to grow into a healthy view of sex­u­al­i­ty — that the men or women around them aren’t to be regard­ed as prospec­tive dates but as broth­ers, sis­ters, fathers, and moth­ers. Treat­ing them accord­ing to a dif­fer­ent stan­dard may cause them to repress the feel­ings rather than work­ing them out, and repres­sion is almost nev­er a good thing. Still, a case-by-case basis may be in order, with great care tak­en on the part of the elders to ensure no one is put in any dan­ger of sin.

  15. Derek Avatar

    I’ve read of the ear­ly church’s restric­tions, but I wouldn’t require any­one to fol­low them just for the sake of fol­low­ing them; if some­thing is not demand­ed by the Scrip­tures, then it sim­ply is not demand­ed. The ear­ly church exist­ed with­in a quag­mire of sex­u­al immoral­i­ty (ah, the glo­ry that was Rome…), and so the restric­tions may have been put in place by pro­tec­tive pastors. 

    I guess I should state my posi­tion then. I’m not a believ­er in Sola Scrip­tura. I believe Scrip­ture has a his­tor­i­cal con­text and when that is neglect­ed, here­sies abound (look at all the denom­i­na­tions of Chris­tian­i­ty float­ing about!). I fig­ure it is bet­ter to go to the ancient author­i­ties on the sub­ject, those who heard the apos­tles speak direct­ly, when inter­pret­ing dif­fi­cult mat­ters. But only where they use the Scrip­tures as a “rule”.

    So in oth­er words, I don’t think Paul nec­es­sar­i­ly expound­ed upon what a “holy kiss” was when he already taught it to them in person:

    So then, broth­ers, stand firm and hold to the tra­di­tions that you were taught by us, either by our spo­ken word or by our let­ter (2 Thes­sa­lo­ni­ans 2:15).

    This is the rea­son I have start­ed study­ing the writ­ings of the Church Fathers, in an attempt to keep “pri­vate inter­pre­ta­tions” (2 Peter 1:20) out of the Bible, and to under­stand the Scrip­tures as the dis­ci­ples under­stood them. 

    I don’t think many peo­ple real­ize that it was the oral tra­di­tions of the apos­tles that held the church togeth­er until coun­cils gath­ered togeth­er the apos­tolic writ­ings and can­on­ized them to guard against doc­tri­nal heresy. So to neglect tra­di­tion is to neglect the canon.

    Although, again, all tra­di­tions must agree with that “rule” or “mea­sur­ing rod”. That’s where I think the Catholics screwed things up. So I con­sid­er myself a “catholic” with a low­er-case “c”, in that I think doc­tri­nal uni­ty is PARAMOUNT to prop­er faith in Christ. :)

  16. Rick Beckman Avatar

    I’m not reject­ing tra­di­tion as worth­less, but to say that “sola Scrip­tura” is at fault for the vari­a­tions in Chris­tian­i­ty is mis­lead­ing. What makes the var­i­ous groups in Chris­ten­dom dif­fer is the tra­di­tions they adhere to. “Sola Scrip­tura” can only lead to one place: bib­li­cal faith and prac­tice. Those who don’t make it (and I admit, none of us com­plete­ly do) fail to do so because of tra­di­tions which are kept, prac­tices which are clung to despite not being com­mand­ed or encour­aged in the Scriptures.

  17. Derek Avatar

    I’m not so sure. For exam­ple, Rick, how would you describe a “holy kiss”? Is it straight out neck­ing (French kiss­ing), a kiss on the cheek or some­thing else?

    This is where I feel tra­di­tion is impor­tant, because the recip­i­ents of the epis­tles would have known what he was talk­ing about. And as stat­ed, in the infan­cy stages of the church, the fol­low­ers held to both the apos­tle’s oral and writ­ten traditions.

    As one exam­ple (not relat­ed to the holy kiss), ear­ly Church his­to­ry teach­es us that the apos­tle John kept the Chris­t­ian Passover on Nisan 14. There was a huge issue on this, known as the Qua­trodec­i­man Heresy and Rome excom­mu­ni­cat­ed the East­ern church­es because they would­n’t keep it on Sun­day like the Apos­tle John. Ire­naeus argued for a more inclu­sive view, allow­ing the East to fol­low John’s view, but also acknowl­edg­ing that Poly­carp him­self, a dis­ci­ple of John, fel­low­shipped with those who kept the Passover on Sunday.

  18. Derek Avatar

    “There was a huge issue on this, known as the Qua­trodec­i­man Heresy and Rome excom­mu­ni­cat­ed the East­ern church­es because they wouldn’t keep it on Sun­day, even though the Apos­tle John’s tra­di­tion was the same as their own.”


  19. Rick Beckman Avatar

    The issue with the Passover is side­stepped by the fact that, well, we’re not even bound to keep it — much like Sab­baths. Such days find their ful­fill­ment in Jesus Christ.

    And giv­en the num­ber of kiss­es between friends and fam­i­ly through­out the Scrip­ture — and giv­en the long-time tra­di­tion of famil­ial kiss­es or kiss­es-as-greet­ings — I think we can be pret­ty con­fi­dent that the kiss was not “neck­ing.” That is much more than just a “kiss” and I think you know that, exag­ger­a­tion notwithstanding.

  20. Gil Avatar

    Just my two cents on this issue: I have been to a few coun­tries in which men kiss one anoth­er as a greet­ing, and women kiss one anoth­er. I’ve also been to one in which the oppo­site sex­es kiss one anoth­er in a sib­ling-sort-of-way at church. It’s much nicer than a cold, prud­ish hand­shake (although I’ve had warm hand­shakes, and real­ize that the scrip­tures also men­tion the right hand of fellowship).

    I’ve asked myself why Paul made a point to remind believ­ers in the ear­ly church to greet one anoth­er with a holy kiss. Why was a quaint, friend­ly cus­tom even wor­thy of his men­tion? Did he feel that it was dying out? Did he have some per­son­al rea­son to push the con­tin­u­ance of this par­tic­u­lar cus­tom? The scrip­tures don’t fill in the blanks on this one, but my per­son­al feel­ing (per­haps prod­ded by the HS?) is that Judas had noto­ri­ous­ly used the kiss of friend­ship to betray Jesus, and Paul (and I feel cer­tain oth­er church lead­ers) want­ed to encour­age the believ­ers to “take it back”. “We’ll show the world how a kiss of greet­ing is sup­posed to be used! What Judas cor­rupt­ed, we will open­ly con­tin­ue and redeem!”

    Just a thought.


    P.S. I have enjoyed read­ing the thoughts and opin­ions on this site. It’s remark­ably rare to find believ­ers actu­al­ly read­ing the Bible and hon­est­ly dis­cussing its con­tents. Sad­ly, it’s incred­i­bly com­mon to find peo­ple who have NOT read the Word claim­ing loud­ly to under­stand God’s wish­es in areas of mod­ern moral­i­ty, liv­ing under rules, etc. It’s heart-breaking.

  21. Tesseract Avatar

    In part a reply to the com­ment about “strug­gling with homo­sex­u­al­i­ty”, as a Chris­t­ian who hap­pens to be gay, I kin­da feel that vom­ment rein­forces the author’s com­ment about “sex­u­al inse­cu­ri­ties be damned,” and the cor­rect infer­ence that Amer­i­can cul­ture is so hung up with equat­ing inti­ma­cy with sex­u­al­i­ty or homo­pho­bic fears. The real­i­ty is that much of these inac­cu­rate assump­tions stem from the het­ero­sex­u­al con­di­tion, not the homo­sex­u­al one. I know the dif­fer­ence between a HOLY kiss and a sen­su­al one. In fact, many homo­sex­u­al Chris­tians are more mature and open about express­ing holy inti­ma­cy with­out wor­ry­ing it might be mis­con­strued than our het­ero­sex­u­al breth­ern. The same fear could be applied to the “strug­gling het­ero­sex­u­al” in that there is a risk of con­fu­sion if his moth­er, Aunt, sis­ter, or more-to-point any woman at church gives him a holy kiss. Hense, so many still preach against oppo­site-gen­der holy and inno­cent demon­stra­tions of affec­tion. The bless­ings and lessons that can be learned from an unin­hib­it­ed and inti­mate Chris­t­ian church are indeed a won­der in heal­ing the soul. It’s a type of ink-blot test to be sure … if fol­low­ing Jesus’ exam­ple makes one uncom­fort­able (i.e., if the world’s human­is­tic cul­ture teach­es us, espe­cial­ly we Amer­i­can men, from our child­hood that male holy initi­ma­cy threat­ens our mas­culin­i­ty), as with all our strug­gles to renew our hearts and minds in the Lord … if we take that step of faith and be obe­di­ent despite our ini­tial car­nal uncom­fort, the lib­er­a­tion and joy will come from Above. We start out rather open and joy­ous, but as we grow many of us are taught to only shake hands and shun demon­stra­tions of affec­tion. Like­wise, instead of being taught that it is indeed nat­ur­al to have holy affec­tion with the oppo­site sex, we are taught to fol­low a sep­a­ratist line that only ends up rein­forc­ing the wrobg think­ing that all forms of inti­ma­cy leads to sensuality.
    Rarely more true than in holy init­ma­cy do the words of Jesus ring, when he observes that we need to receive the King­dom with the hearts of chil­dren. Holy affec­tion rein­forces our ear­ly inni­cence if mind and motive, while bring­ing a matu­ri­ty and drpth to our walk and relationships.
    I ask your for­give­ness for my ram­bling and run-togeth­er typ­ing (I’m using obe of those chal­leng­ing tiny cell­phone keyboards).

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Rick Beckman