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Head Covering and the Holy Kiss

Headcovering & The Holy Kiss

The holy kiss is commanded in the New Testament five times by two different authors. 1) See Rom 16:16, 1 Cor 16:20, 2 Cor. 13:12, 1 Thess. 5:26, 1 Pet 5:14 This is the greeting we’re told to give one another in Christ. Much like head covering, the holy kiss is a rare sight in the North American church since it’s culturally out of step. We are accustomed to greeting with handshakes and hugs instead. Some object that this is inconsistent treatment of two New Testament practices. How can we insist on head covering yet leave behind the kiss? After all, both are commanded in the New Testament. In this article we’d like to address this objection.

The Difference

While it is true that both practices are commanded in the New Testament, there is a significant difference between them. In his book “Knowing Scripture” R.C. Sproul teaches us when it’s appropriate to fill in the gaps with our cultural knowledge. He says:

“If Paul merely told women in Corinth to cover their heads and gave no rationale for such instruction, we would be strongly inclined to supply it via our cultural knowledge. In this case, however, Paul provides a rationale that is based on an appeal to creation, not to the custom of Corinthian harlots.”  2) Quote taken from http://www.headcoveringmovement.com/articles/head-covering-and-hermeneutics-an-excerpt-from-knowing-scripture-by-r-c-sproul

Sproul tells us that if something in Scripture has no explanation then cultural knowledge can aid us in understanding why it is mentioned. What he warns against is doing this when the author explains the practice himself. This brings us to the major difference between head covering and the holy kiss. When it comes to head covering, the apostle Paul explains the practice in depth. He appeals to the creation order, nature’s witness and angels, all which transcend culture. In contrast, the holy kiss is never explained, never defended, and has no theological underpinning. Now this doesn’t mean one of theses practices is valid today and the other is not, that’s not the question we’re trying to answer right now. What I am saying is, it isn’t inconsistent to treat them differently because only one of these practices is explained to us with a transcultural foundation. So headcovering can’t be cultural whereas the holy kiss may or may not.

To help illustrate the difference between them further, let’s apply the same wording found in the head covering passage to the holy kiss command in 1 Thess 5:26 (ESV).

  • For this reason I want you to greet God’s people with a holy kiss, because of the angels. (1 Cor 11:10b)
  • Every man or woman who does not greet God’s people with a holy kiss brings dishonors to themselves. (1 Cor 11:4-5)
  • If anyone is inclined to be contentious about greeting God’s people with a holy kiss, we have no other practice, nor do the churches of God (1 Cor 11:16)
  • Since it is disgraceful for a woman to refuse to greet God’s people with a holy kiss, let her do it. (1 Cor 11:6)
  • [Appeal to the creation order], that is why a woman ought to greet God’s people with a holy kiss (1 Cor 11:7-10a)

If this type of explanation, defense, and theological underpinning were applied to this form of greeting, we’d have no choice but to insist on it being practiced today. I’d probably even start a holy kiss movement :) But since that type of language is never used, we cannot act like it’s the same as head covering. Now that we’ve established that it isn’t inconsistent to treat them differently, let me give you my take on if we should greet one another with a kiss today.

Should We Greet With a Kiss?

Alonzo Rodriguez painting (16th century) of Paul and Peter wishing each other farewell with a kiss.
Alonzo Rodriguez painting (16th century) of Paul and Peter wishing each other farewell with a kiss.

There have been a few times in my life when I’ve greeted brothers with a kiss. It was usually after a prolonged period of not seeing them. I’ve also been kissed a few times myself by other brothers. These experiences in my own life have been rare, but memorable. As I reminisce on these experiences the thought that floods my mind is love. Their love and care for me or mine for them. It was a sign that they were more to me than an acquaintance or a friend, they were my brother, whom I loved. When I think about what the Bible says about the church, this matches perfectly. The church is a family and we’re to treat each other accordingly. We are to “treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.” (1 Tim 5:1-2) This includes practical expressions of love and care like bearing one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2) and sharing our possessions with those that have need (Acts 2:45). While we are to show love to everyone, Paul teaches us that it’s the family of God that comes first. He says, “let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith”. (Gal 6:10) If we are a new family in God, it makes sense that we should greet one another like we’re family. So while it is possible that the kiss was a culturally appropriate first century greeting 3) The evidence seems to point against the culture viewpoint. “Traditionally in the Graeco-Roman world, an intimate practice such as kissing would have been reserved only for close family members…” – Ehorn, S. M. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Kiss. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press. , it is also possible that the Apostles may have been setting forth a Christian greeting. 4) ”In the generations following the apostolic era the kiss of peace came to occupy an established place in liturgical worship. In the latter part of the 2nd century Justin Martyr spoke of the exchange of kisses throughout the congregation following the conclusion of prayer. Eventually the church placed the ceremony immediately prior to Holy Communion.” – Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (p. 1291). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.  They may have been saying “you are brothers and sisters, so greet one another like the family that you are.”

Megan Hill (Author, Praying Together), writing for the Gospel Coalition says on this topic:

“We might be tempted to think of the holy kiss as a practice for a particular first-century culture, too fraught with issues for our day. But this imperative covers the wide diversity of the New Testament church. Paul commands it, and Peter commands it, too. It is required of the Jewish-background diaspora recipients of Peter’s epistle, and also of the Roman and Thessalonian churches—bodies largely composed of Gentile converts. Twice, the holy kiss is commanded for the Corinthian church, a church so beleaguered by sexual impropriety that you’d think the apostle Paul would ban touch altogether.”

So should we greet one another with a holy kiss? I think local churches would be healthier if they did. However, it is difficult to implement practically since it requires another’s consent. If a woman is convinced she needs to cover her head, she can just show up to church wearing a veil. But just imagine how difficult the head covering command would be if you had to place a veil on someone else’s head (when the majority are likely against it). That’s the problem with the holy kiss since it’s something you do to someone else. Many people are uncomfortable with this form of affection due to various reasons and would recoil if someone tried to greet them in this manner. So I think the only way this practice could be implemented in our “non-touch” culture is from the top-down 5) Meaning from the church leadership to the laity. , church by church. A pastor would have to preach through a text like 1 Thess 5:26 and exhort the congregation to implement it. Everyone needs to be on the same page for it to work and preaching is the only way for everyone to be unified at the same time. Until then (or if it never happens), I think we should try to at least fulfill the principle. I think at minimum brothers and sisters of the same gender 6) Scripture doesn’t specify if men and women kissed each other or if it was only between those of the same-sex. Since it’s not explained it would be fine to limit it in this way. Having said that the early church did not limit the kiss to those of the same gender. should greet one another with warm, physical affection. A wave or a handshake should not be the only way we greet one another. It just doesn’t communicate the same closeness there is among family. A hug or some other form of warm embrace is a step in the right direction to the Scriptural ideal.

Summary

Head covering and the holy kiss are similar in that they are both New Testament commands. Even though they share that similarity they are different in that head covering is defended and explained for fifteen consecutive verses whereas the holy kiss is never explained or defended. It is impossible to assign cultural reasons for head covering because the author’s own reasons are given, and they are non-cultural in nature (creation order, angels, etc.) but the same cannot be said about something without explanation like the holy kiss. This means that it is not inconsistent to hold to head covering but not the holy kiss. Having said that we personally see the benefits of greeting with an actual kiss as a way to demonstrate brotherly or sisterly love.

[DISCUSSION: Have you ever been greeted with a holy kiss or have you done it yourself? What was the experience like? Do you think we should use this greeting or is it too fraught with issues? Tell us by leaving a comment below.

References

1.
 See Rom 16:16, 1 Cor 16:20, 2 Cor. 13:12, 1 Thess. 5:26, 1 Pet 5:14
3.
 The evidence seems to point against the culture viewpoint. “Traditionally in the Graeco-Roman world, an intimate practice such as kissing would have been reserved only for close family members…” – Ehorn, S. M. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Kiss. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
4.
 ”In the generations following the apostolic era the kiss of peace came to occupy an established place in liturgical worship. In the latter part of the 2nd century Justin Martyr spoke of the exchange of kisses throughout the congregation following the conclusion of prayer. Eventually the church placed the ceremony immediately prior to Holy Communion.” – Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (p. 1291). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
5.
 Meaning from the church leadership to the laity.
6.
 Scripture doesn’t specify if men and women kissed each other or if it was only between those of the same-sex. Since it’s not explained it would be fine to limit it in this way. Having said that the early church did not limit the kiss to those of the same gender.

Jeremy Gardiner

Jeremy is the founder of the Head Covering Movement and the author of Head Covering: A Forgotten Christian Practice for Modern Times. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and is a member of Fellowship Baptist Church. He is a husband to Amanda and father to four young children. Jeremy is also the founder and operator of Gospel eBooks, a popular website that provides alerts for free and discounted Christian e-books.

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  • Joyce

    Yes I have… it’s a little uncomfortable… Now some thoughts…There
    was homosexuality in Paul’s time too – so not sure our culture has
    anything over them in that regard in terms of ‘being fraught w/ issues’.
    If it’s a command – can we dismiss it or change it (to a handshake for
    example) just cause we’re uncomfortable with it? I agree that there’s
    not an exposition of teaching about the holy kiss like there is for head
    covering. But I’m also assuming it WAS done by churches in our past –
    just like head covering. (and I don’t know this for a fact…) I’ve
    always kinda dismissed it as – since there is no teaching regarding it
    -( rather it’s just a statement at the end of a letter, etc.) – we can
    assume this is a command that was specifically given to the persons he
    was writing to. And that it doesn’t necessarily extend down thru the
    generations. Sorta like – ‘oh – and tell Judy I’m thinking of her and
    give her a hug for me’. However – that fact that ‘holy’ is used – makes
    it seem like a church thing and not just a social thing. So I don’t
    have answers… But I will sometimes – like you – give a sister a kiss
    (on the cheek!) when I’m especially wanting to bless her, or it’s been a
    while, etc. This is coupled w/ a hug and just fits naturally in that
    pose. I also know that people who dismiss headcovering see us that
    uphold it as being inconsistent if we don’t practice the holy kiss… It
    becomes ammunition against the headcovering… Is this then kinda like
    making someone stumble maybe? If so – that’s kinda serious. Lots to
    think on….

  • Dwight Gingrich

    Thanks for this post. Your readers may also find Craig Keener’s summary of the first century history of kissing informative, as I did: http://dwightgingrich.com/kissing-in-first-century-craig-keener/ Blessings!

    • Joyce

      finding historical documentation about the practice is not convincing one way or the other for me in terms of if we should be practicing it now. If the command transcends time or not we need more. Yes – they had a cultural practice of kissing… but Paul didn’t say ‘greet one another w/ a kiss’ he said ‘holy’ kiss. Why is holy in there? As tho is had Christian – not just social – significance. Historically – they washed feet too – but the rite that was performed in the Upper Room had a very different meaning and Jesus said to ‘do as He had done’… it wasn’t about the cultural/social rite of cleaning feet. It’s all very interesting – and glad we’re taking a look at it :)

      • Dwight Gingrich

        I agree that historical documentation doesn’t answer all our questions. But I do think a solid knowledge of first century practices can (a) help us see how many peculiarly modern assumptions we are bringing to the relevant Bible passages and (b) see more clearly where Paul or Jesus are building on or adapting the normal practices of their own time. Both of these can help us gain a clearer understanding of if or how we should practice things like the holy kiss (or kiss of love) today.

        In my Mennonite church background, for example the holy kiss has been elevated to the status of being one of seven “ordinances” (along with communion, baptism, marriage, the headship covering, and more). That extra-biblical classification, along with our “cold” German ethnic heritage, has turned the holy kiss into a very formal, serious ritual–something almost certainly very different from what the first Christians practiced.

        Thanks for engaging!

  • Carl och Jenny

    It is nice to see that so many care for the head covering!

    When it comes to the holy kiss, I have tried to figure out this question by looking up verses which include kisses in the bible. So far I have not found any good examples of kisses between the opposite genders except that between married couples. However there are many good examples of holy kisses between the same gender. For example: David and Jonathan.

    1Sa 20:41 And as soon as the lad was gone, David arose out of a place toward the south, and fell on his face to the ground, and bowed himself three times: and they kissed one another, and wept one with another, until David exceeded.

    Exo 18:7 And Moses went out to meet his father in law, and did obeisance, and kissed him; and they asked each other of their welfare; and they came into the tent.

    Luk 15:20 And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.

    I have found one example of a kiss between different gender outside marriage it is an adultress:Pro 7:12 Now is she without, now in the streets, and lieth in wait at every corner.)

    Pro 7:13 So she caught him, and kissed him, and with an impudent face said unto him,

    Pro 7:14 I have peace offerings with me; this day have I payed my vows.

    Example of kisses between married couple: Son 1:2 Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine.

    I think the integrity of marriage requires the holy kiss to stay between same gender.

    1Co 7:4 The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.

    • Hi @Carl och Jenny:disqus, when we search the whole Bible for references on a topic it presumes that the practice has been the same throughout the ages. This would lead to erroneous conclusions if a practice is a strictly new covenant practice (which we believe this is). I think the only relevant passages would be greetings appearing in the New Testament (of which there are no “real life” examples—only the command).

      • Carl och Jenny

        Hi Jeremy! We believe that the whole bible is good for correction and doctrine and the study of 2000 years of church history gives us some perspective and “real life” examples. Our present culture has a way more liberal view of physical contact between male and female than previous generations in general, although these practices have varied.

        God is love and it is not loving to offend your brothers and sisters, so we think previous bible verses could be useful to understand the whole perspective of Gods word.

        We think that the level of purity that the Church is obligated to maintain is too often ignored which hurts the body of Christ in more ways than we can imagine, hence the very strict doctrine for the new covenant church when it comes to this area.

        Let us not forget that God is a jealous God who has very high standards of marriage and faithfulness in general, so to be very clear we can not find any endorsement for hugging and kissing between men and women who are not married to each-other from the bible, but it could be done more frequently brother to brother.

  • Ruthie

    I’m a fairly demonstrative person in the fact that when growing up, we always greeted each other with a kiss among family members (fathers, mothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles,cousins, etc). Even among our church family, hugs were the norm. I didn’t realize that some sisters and brothers in Christ just weren’t comfortable with this type of affection until we moved into a different area. My normal inclination is to give a hug in greeting or leave taking or in weddings or funerals to celebrate or comfort as the case may be. My husband and I attended a wedding of our friends’ daughter.While in the receiving line, I gave him, the father of the bride, a hug and congratulate him and also his wife, mother of the bride, and my husband did the same. Then I hear him murmur to himself, “She’s my sister in Christ. It’s okay.” I was kind of taken aback because in my mind I wasn’t coming onto this man at all, but he must have felt really uncomfortable. So, from that point on, I’ve become very sensitive to whom I greet in this manner.
    All that being said, actual holy kisses is not an act that we in my circle of believers have ever enacted. I would really need to study up on it more.

  • Vicki Hassessian

    My husband is a Christian from the Middle East. This practice of kissing each other in greeting, for the most part, was only practiced among the family members. If a woman was in a public setting, she and other women would greet each other with a kiss, and the men at church might greet each other with a kiss, but the sexes would not share the kiss. The exception would be if the two families were extremely good friends, but bodies would never touch. The hugging that we do today is not practiced in the Middle East as there is too much body contact.

  • I remember a brother in Germany when I walked into the church, I got a holy kiss from him. A total stranger! But I felt so loved and one with the brother in the Lord after this. We are truly the family of God, no matter what nation, language we are. I praise God for this truth.

  • Bonnie

    Thank you for the great article! It has given me much to think about; I honestly had never thought about it before. You are right; the best way for this concept to be fully accepted and embraced in a church is have it taught and demonstrated by the pastor of the church. However, I realize there are steps I, personally, can take. I have many close sisters-in-Christ in my life who are very comfortable hugging me and saying, “I love you.” Next week at our ladies Bible study, I plan on bringing up these verses and starting a discussion on the topic of the “Holy Kiss.” I will ask if they are willing to step slightly outside of their comfort zone for a cheek-to-cheek kiss with our normal hug. (I know at least one of my girlfriends will appreciate it since she enjoys French culture.) Please pray for my courage. I know they love me, but I also know I am already viewed as the head-covering radical. Thank you!
    Hugs and Holy Kisses, Bonnie

  • Troy Jantz

    Having been a member of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, the Holy Kiss is practiced. Brothers greet brothers, sisters greet sisters. I remember my first time, after baptism. I was greeted by the minister and then different ones came forward and greeted me as well as they welcomed me as a brother in Christ. Often when visitors come, they are greeted with the kiss. Sunday mornings a brother may greet another brother or a sister greets another sister. It is left up to the individual when he/she feels compelled by the Holy Spirit to greet another with the kiss….It is a humbling experience, and I don’t know how to really describe the holiness of it all…I just think a person has to experience it to really get it!.. There was a mention of feet washing I noticed. The Church of God in Christ , Mennonite also practices this when partaking of the Lords supper. The minister and deacons wash the male members feet, and the misters wife and deacons wives wash the female members feet. Another humbling experience and is good for us.

  • Regina

    Thank you for this post. I have been greeted with the holy kiss and I really don’t have a problem with it. I’ve only seen this done in Mennonite churches. It’s sad that many churches today don’t practice it. It’s amazing to me how churches today ignore head covering and the holy kiss.

  • Susan

    If all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, then both the Holy kiss and the covering are just as valid. I have done both and know it is God’s way of getting us to obey and to love beyond flesh. There is a Scripture that says God kisses on the lips those who give a right answer.

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