Is the Holy Kiss a Command?

There are many areas in God’s Word that give commands but are they strictly of letter or do they contain spirit of the letter?  Are they descriptive (explaining something) or prescriptive (prescribing as a command)?  Is the holy kiss mentioned in God’s Word (Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:26) a prescriptive command of the letter to literally kiss one other?  Or is it a descriptive manner in the spirit?

In the above mentioned verses, Paul is writing greetings/salutations to those fellow believers of whom he was discipling and leading in the ways of Christ.  Inside those greetings and salutations he says to salute/greet one another with a holy kiss. 

In their culture they would kiss as a sign of greeting.  God’s Word in Old and New Testament does not tell us where exactly to place the greeting kiss but history shows many forms of kissing in the historic Israeli/Greek culture.  Lips, beards, cheeks etc.  We do see examples in scripture of it being on the neck (Genesis 33:4, Luke 15:20 and Acts 20:37) but no specific command on how to kiss, how many kisses or where the kiss is placed.

Paul also lists greetings to both men and women, listing them by name and goes on to say ‘greet one another’ with a holy kiss. Is he saying to men and women to kiss one another and if so, where does one place this kiss? 

Let’s look at what the word ‘holy’ means in reference to the kiss.

The greek word for holy is:
From ἅγος hagos (an awful thing) compare G53, [H2282]; sacred (physically pure, morally blameless or religious, ceremonially consecrated): - (most) holy (one, thing), saint.

What we see is the comparison of something awful to something sacred/pure/blameless etc.  A comparison of an unholy greeting to a holy greeting.

When Judas kissed Jesus, it was an unholy kiss, it was not pure or sacred, it was one of hypocrisy and deceit. 

The greek word for greet or salute is:
From G1 (as a particle of union) and a presumed form of G4685; to enfold in the arms, that is, (by implication) to salute, (figuratively) to welcome: - embrace, greet, salute, take leave.

Paul’s salutations referring to greeting one another with a holy kiss is to a culture where kissing was their form of greeting.  Depending on the situation and culture, there were various forms of greetings and we see in history there was meaning in many of the Jewish rituals (using the right hand instead of the left) as well as the Greek, but that does not mean they were commanded by God.  Paul is saying that that the brethren are to greet/salute one another in a ‘holy manner’ and their cultural manner was to kiss, therefore a ‘holy’ kiss.

We are not dictating that we can use culture to decipher God’s Word but once we decipher what God’s Word means we can use the spirit of it in our culture.  That brings us to letter and spirit and merging the two.

There are many areas in which we see the letter merged with the spirit such as 1 Timothy 2 and women being instructed to wear ‘kosmios katastole’ (neat and orderly long robes).  If one adheres to the letter then women would have to find out what sort of material they used in biblical days and get the pattern of how exactly they made the katastole.  The spirit of the letter shows us that women are to wear long, loose clothing like a robe or similar type garment.  In our culture we have sewing machines and can now sew long loose clothing (to hide ones form) that will fit the spirit of katastole.
Another spirit vs letter command would be in Matthew 18 where Jesus says if your eye causes you to sin to pluck it out.  Does that mean if you sin one time with your eye you should literally pluck it out?  What about Matthew 5, should we literally cut off our hand?  Colossians 4 says our speech should be seasoned with salt, does that mean a literal salt shaker?  Paul says run the race, (1Corinthians 9)?  Get the plank of of our eye (Matthew 7)? Circumcision of the heart (Romans 2:29)?  Don’t let your right hand know what your left hand is doing (Matthew 6)? Should men only pray with lifted hands(1 Timothy 2)? Literally born again (John 3:3)? Abiding where someone is called (1 Corinthians 7) what about the prostitute or bar owner?

We see through the above scriptural examples that God wants His people to use discernment when it comes to scripture being letter vs spirit, descriptive vs prescriptive and the times we live in today.  We are to obey all of God’s Word when they are direct commands (prescriptive and letter) but we also see much discernment needed when they are descriptive and spirit.  We can use the spirit of the letter to meet the letter in the culture by which we live.

An example of taking the letter over the spirit would be in the Mennonite and Amish (plain) religions.  They adhere to the letter of kissing and foot washing while making up their own kissing and foot washing rituals (because it is not depicted in God’s Word how to do them).  Many also follow the letter of the katastole yet sew their dresses using today’s cultural tools but making them very tight and immodest, thereby neglecting the spirit. (They also adorn themselves with patterns on their dresses against 1 Peter 3.) They name themselves after men (ex:Menno Simon) whereas Paul says not to do so and it is sinful before God.

We find these two views to be opposing (hypocritical) and contradictory to God’s Word.  On one hand you have to kiss but on the other you can use a man’s name instead of Christ’s to identify yourself? Biblically we would give someone liberty to choose to greet with a holy kiss, but it is sinful to create it as a man made rule and force everyone in a body to do so if they choose not to.  It was a descriptive instruction, not prescriptive.

This is the problem we find with all man made denominational religions, they teach of man’s traditions, not the truth of God’s Word.  Jesus warned about that in Mark 7.

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