Greet One Another with a Holy Kiss

by Glenn Conjurske

We have never greeted anybody with a holy kiss. We have always been content to greet our friends and brethren with a handshake, and we have supposed that in so doing we are doing all that this scripture requires of us. Some there are, however, who insist that we must obey this scripture literally, that we must greet one another with a literal kiss, that this “holy kiss” is an ordinance of the Lord, and that if we do not greet one another with a kiss, we are in fact disobedient to a plain command of the Lord.

We think quite the contrary. We think that those who contend for a literal obedience to the letter of this injunction do not actually obey it half so much as I do with my holy handshake, and indeed I will be so bold as to say that they do not obey it a tenth as much as I do—-though they kiss and I shake hands. There is such a thing as keeping the letter of the law, while we fail altogether to keep its spirit, and this I believe to be exactly the case with those who think to keep the letter of this law. They kiss indeed, but how their kisses could be called a greeting is hard to tell.

I have been present among certain godly people who use this so-called “holy kiss.” I have observed it. My readers may be certain that I did not participate in it, but I have seen it, and I must say that—-with one exception, to be rehearsed shortly—-it was the coldest kissing I have ever beheld in my life, the exact reverse of anything warm or affectionate, and such as in its very nature could serve only to nullify the spirit of the apostolic exhortation to “greet one another.” In the nature of the case a greeting must be warm and affectionate, not cold and cautious, but all the holy kisses which I have ever seen were so cold and cautious as to be absolutely devoid of anything remotely resembling a warm greeting.

Only one other time in my life have I ever beheld a kiss so cold and cautious, and that was certainly an unholy kiss. Half a dozen years ago I was ministering to a little congregation in Massachusetts. One of the women there had a prodigal son, and she begged me and another fellow to find him. We had heard that he was in a certain city, and had heard also that he was living at a shelter for the homeless. We went there to search for him, but found him not. We went several times, and spent many hours waiting and watching for him, with the result that we eventually found him, and took him home to his mother. Meanwhile, we became acquainted with some of the inhabitants of the shelter. One of them was a man of about sixty, and an evident leader among them. With him we had some conversation. He pointed out to us a prostitute who lived across the street from the shelter, and who often went to the corner liquor store to buy liquor for the men at the shelter, evidently paying for it herself. On one occasion I watched her give a bottle of liquor to this man, after which they kissed each other. It was as cold a kiss as I ever saw, a very cautious peck on the lips, both of them appearing to be afraid they would catch something—-for she was a prostitute, and he a pervert, as I had good reason to believe. Yet this frigid unholy kiss was the exact epitome of those equally frigid holy kisses which I have seen among the godly. And to all such kissing I say, if you mean to greet one another with a kiss, then by all means kiss, in good earnest, with warmth and affection. If this is a greeting, by all means make it a real one, a warm and affectionate one, a greeting worthy of the name. You will shake my hand warmly and heartily. Why must you kiss each other so coldly and cautiously?

Ah! but here arises an insuperable difficulty. The men who thus kiss each other cannot make these kisses warm and affectionate. I repeat, they cannot. This kissing of men, and on the lips besides, is so repulsive to their masculine natures, that they cannot do it with that heart which is absolutely indispensable to a greeting. The men themselves who engage in this unnatural kissing profess that they must “crucify the flesh” in order to do it at all. But I tell them, it is not the flesh which they must crucify, but nature. Alas, the hyperspirituality—-for such it really is—-which will have no greeting but a kiss, actually delights to crucify the nature which God has created. They profess that they must overcome their feelings in order to engage in such kissing at all, but I tell them they have no right to overcome those feelings. When they fight thus against nature, they fight against God.

Not that I expect them to acquiesce in this. No, for those who advocate this kissing are commonly of the hyperspiritual sort, who suppose that they do God service to fight against the nature which he has created, supposing this to be the apex of spirituality, and supposing it acceptable to God in just the proportion that it is difficult to men. It is really no coincidence that some of the same folks who advocate these holy kisses stand also for the most extreme hyperspiritual notions of courtship and marriage, marrying on the supposed spiritual basis of the will of God, rather than the natural basis of love. It is nature which they seem determined always to undermine. To kiss another man on the lips is against nature. They would have no such feelings of repugnance if it were women they were kissing, though they might very likely have some feelings of another sort. While their kisses between men and men are much too cold to constitute a greeting, those between men and women would very likely be much too warm—-and meanwhile, certainly much too dangerous. We may shake a woman’s hand without danger, where kissing is out of the question. Indeed, I have heard one of the hyperspiritual teachers who insists upon these kisses actually advise the young ladies to walk up to a young man and shake his hand—-as a prelude, of course, to “spiritual conversation”—-but why does he not tell her to kiss him? What Bible authority does he have for a handshake? When they greet their own sex, nothing but a kiss will do.

Well, but they will tell us that it is God who has commanded that we greet one another “with a holy kiss,” and it is God who has created human nature, and surely he has not commanded anything which is against the nature which he has created. Our nature is corrupted by sin. When we have overcome that corruption, we shall then be glad to kiss one another. All this they say, and on this basis they strive to overcome those feelings of revulsion which one man feels towards kissing another.

To this I may answer in the first place, that custom and culture become to us as it were a second nature, and this may be quite as impossible to overcome as our first nature. Whatever the men of the East may have felt two or three thousand years ago, the men of our day and culture feel a revulsion to kissing other men. Those who practice this so-called “holy kiss” feel this revulsion as strongly as anybody, as is manifest by their cold kissing, and also by their frank acknowledgements.

Our nature as it now exists (though this may be second nature, and the result of our culture) is repulsed at the very thought of men kissing men. But this is not all, for I believe it is our first nature, as God created it, which is revolted by the thought of kissing another man on the lips. Neither do I believe that Paul ever contemplated any such thing when he said, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” When the prodigal son returned home, his father “fell on his neck and kissed him.” When Jacob returned to the land of Canaan after an absence of many years, “Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.” Kissing was the common form of greeting among them, and it was warm and affectionate, but we have no reason to suppose they kissed each other on the lips. This we think to be the invention of modern hyperspirituality, which seems always determined to fly in the face of nature to the full extent that it can.

To kiss another man on the lips is against our nature as God created it. And to kiss another man at all, whether on the cheek or the neck or anywhere else, is so far against our acquired nature, or culture, as to give us all a strong revulsion against it. For these reasons this kissing cannot be used as a common form of greeting among us, as it was among the men of the East in another day. I cannot speak for women. I suppose few of them would have such a revulsion against kissing another woman, as men naturally have against kissing other men. Yet I suppose that even women must be repelled by the thought of kissing other women on the lips. This is unnatural even to the affectionate natures of women, and it cannot be comfortably used as a common greeting.

For these reasons, then, we contend that those who practice this “holy kiss” do not fulfill the apostolic injunction at all, and cannot do so after the manner in which they attempt it. They do it with a kiss, but it nothing resembles a greeting. They keep the letter of the law, but not its spirit.

We ought, of course, to observe both the letter and the spirit of the law, wherever this is possible. We contend, however, that in the present instance it is simply not possible. To keep the letter, we must sacrifice the spirit. To keep the spirit, we must sacrifice the letter. If we aim at the letter, we may kiss, but it has nothing in it of the nature of a warm and affectionate greeting. The spirit is sacrificed to the letter. On the other side, if we keep the spirit, we must sacrifice the letter. If we greet one another indeed, with a warm and affectionate greeting, we cannot do it by a kiss. We must use such a form of greeting as we are comfortable with—-and nothing will suit so well as a handshake, which has always been our common form of greeting, as it is in most of the world. We ought, in every instance, to keep both the letter and the spirit of the law if we can, but in this instance we simply cannot. Those who keep the letter sacrifice the spirit. Those who keep the spirit sacrifice the letter. We frankly doubt that anybody in our culture either does or can keep them both.

But observe, when we are obliged to sacrifice either the letter or the spirit of the law, it is always the letter which is to be sacrificed. This is an axiom. It is never right to sacrifice the spirit of the law in order to keep the letter, though it is sometimes necessary to sacrifice the letter in order to keep the spirit.

But supposing the advocates of this cold greeting could find some form of kissing which was not repulsive to them, and which could therefore actually answer the purpose of a warm greeting, still they would fail to fulfill the apostolic injunction by half, for the fact is, all those that I know who insist upon fulfilling the letter of this command greet only half of those whom Paul commands them to greet. Paul says, “Greet one another with a holy kiss,” but these folks have never yet done so, and I hope indeed they never do. The men among them greet the men, and the women among them greet the women. The men never greet the women with a kiss, nor the women the men, so that while they suppose themselves alone to be actually obedient to the divine command, they actually disobey it by one half.

We hope none will be found to pretend that when Paul says, “Greet one another with a holy kiss,” he means no more than that the men should greet the men, and the women the women. He certainly means that all the saints should greet each other. When the Bible tells us to “love one another,” this certainly means that all of us should love all the rest, whether male or female. When it tells us “by love” to “serve one another,” this certainly means all, of either sex. So too when it requires us to “forbear one another in love.” Could anyone dream that the men are only to bear with the men, and the women with the women? So likewise of “admonishing one another,” “forgiving one another,” etc. All these injunctions are to be carried out by all the saints towards all the others, regardless of their sex. And so also, most certainly, when the same Bible exhorts us to “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” We are to greet all the saints, as much as we are to forgive or admonish them.

But here another insuperable difficulty arises. Though we have no doubt that kissing was the common form of greeting in Paul’s day, and that it was certainly used between men and women, our culture and manner of thinking will simply not allow it. When Jacob met Rachel, he kissed her. This was no romantic kiss, but simply the common greeting. If this was a romantic kiss, he was unprincipled to give it, and she worse to receive it. He would have kissed her mother in the same manner, and her father too.

But we of the present day and the present culture are simply not capable of such things. The practice of these people, in greeting their own sex only with a kiss, is the fullest proof we could ask that a kiss is not suitable as a common greeting. However we may wish to explain the fact, or whether we leave it unexplained, the fact remains that such kissing cannot stand in the place of a common greeting among us. It will almost always be too warm or too cold—-certainly too cold when men kiss men, and almost certainly too warm, or too dangerous, when a man kisses an attractive woman, especially if he thinks no “holy kiss” is valid unless it be on the lips. And we suppose such a kiss would be at least as dangerous to the woman who received it, as to the man who gave it. Godliness will not exempt a woman from feminine susceptibilities. Neither will she be safe if he kisses her cheek, or her neck. Men may kiss men forever, and their kisses remain cold and cautious, but we fear that if men and women were to begin kissing, those cold and cautious pecks would easily evolve into something longer and warmer—-in the thought, if not the act, in the wish, if not the deed. Yet we do not believe that any man obeys the apostolic command to “greet one another” by greeting men only.

Paul seems to imply a danger in the business by his always specifying a holy kiss—-which must certainly mean a kiss untainted by any romantic intents or feelings, a kiss not exciting any physical desires. We think such a kiss a virtual impossibility in modern America. It may be possible between men and women who could not feel any romantic attraction for each other, but in a myriad of other cases it is simply impossible.

Now if those who contend for these holy kisses as an ordinance of the Lord, which cannot be dispensed with without direct disobedience to an explicit command of God—-if they are still of the same mind after reading the preceding pages, then we ask them to show us their faith by their works. Let us see warm, affectionate kisses between men and men, such as actually merit the name of a greeting. And let them show us warm, affectionate, and holy kisses between men and women, for no otherwise can they obey the apostolic injunction to “greet one another with a holy kiss.” For our own part, we believe we fully carry out the spirit of this command by a holy handshake, and we think it outside the realm of possibility to fulfill the letter.

Glenn Conjurske