Greet one another with a holy kiss. (LITV)Rom 16:16
- Paul exhorts them to greet each other in Christian love. (NTL)
- Holy embraces all around! (MSG)
- Be sure to give each other a warm greeting. (CEV)
There is much debate in some circles about this. It always helps to go a literal version if you don’t have access to the original languages. Or another method at your disposal in E-Sword is to click on the verse in question and then hit the compare button on your tool bar at the top of the screen. That will give you a comparison of all the versions you have loaded. Of all the versions I have available and that’s 34 with New Testament readings only 8 do not have mention of a kiss. As you can see above some try to skilfully get around the matter with innovative translations but bottom line is the Greek word used is φίλημα [philēma] – a kiss, the kiss with which Christians were accustomed to welcome or dismiss their companions in the faith as a sign of brotherly affection. This is the noun that comes from the verb φιλέω [phileō]. We have covered that already at an earlier time in Bible Gems.
Paul concludes with the recommendation for them to love and embrace one of another: Mutual expressions of love, so they increase and strengthen love between them. Therefore Paul encourages the use of the kiss but directs that it must be holy – a chaste kiss. Not one which is wanton or lustful or has any other motive behind it. A sincere kiss as opposed to that which is treacherous as was Judas. Then Paul adds in closing a general salutation to them all, in the name of the churches or gatherings or assemblies of Christ. That is the churches which Paul was with at the time in Corinth and which he was accustomed to visit personally.
There is nothing wrong with a holy kiss as long as it is that – holy; and fits the cultural context in which it is used or practised. It is clear from a quick read through the book of Romans how strong the love and affection was between Paul and the church in Rome and for the love of the individuals for one another. This early Christian form of greeting may correspond to the ancient Hebrew practice of greeting one with a kiss. Though the Scriptures provide no details, the “holy kiss” or “kiss of love” evidently reflected the wholesome love and unity prevailing in the Christian congregation. In apostolic times Christians greeted one another with “a holy kiss” or “a kiss of love.” Truly an expression of brotherly affection! Paul told the Romans to “greet one another with a holy kiss.” However, he was not here establishing a new Christian custom or religious rite. In Paul’s day, a kiss on the forehead, lips, or hand was often given as a sign of greeting, affection, or respect. Hence, Paul was merely referring to a cultural custom that was common in his day.
Guests in Holy Land homes expected to be kissed as they entered. When entertained by a Pharisee, Jesus commented on his reception by saying to him, ‘You gave me no kiss’ (Luke 7: 45). The difference between the Oriental and the Western way of greeting each other is made clear by one who lived in Palestine many years. ‘Here men shake hands when they meet and greet, but in Palestine, instead of doing this, they place their right hand on their friend’s left shoulder and kiss his right cheek, and then reversing the action, place their left hand on his right shoulder, and kiss his left cheek…’” (Manners and Customs of Bible Lands, pg. 74).
Greeting, by means of a kiss, appears to have been a common practice in the early church, and to have been followed for some centuries after the beginning of the Christian area. The custom is mentioned by Justin Martyr, Tertullian…Augustine, and numerous other early writers….According to the historians of the early church, the abuses to which the practice would ordinarily lead were avoided by the separation of the sexes when the church assembled for worship, an arrangement inherited from the synagogue.
Questions regarding the holy kiss:
- Are Paul and Peter binding the kiss on all Christians, in all cultures, and for all ages?
- If universally binding, how do we determine how to administer the kiss (neck, cheek, lips, etc., left to own preference)?
- If universally binding, is the kiss generally practiced in gender segregation?
- Is the holy kiss simply attempting to require salutation without binding a particular form and then regulating the then prevailing form?
Let’s let the kids teach us:
When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth.Billy, age 4
When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That’s love.Rebecca, age 8
If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend you hate.Nikka, age 6
You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.Jessica, age 8