“Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you” (2 Corinthians 13:12-13).
The “kiss” referenced in this passage represented a customary form of greeting in the Biblical era and remains common among many Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures today. Biblical allusions to this form of greeting appear quite regularly within the pages of the Scriptures as one source observes…
“Other references to (this form of greeting) in the New Testament are Rom. 15:16, 1 Cor. 16:20, 1 Thess. 5:26, and 1 Peter 5:14. Peter called it the “kiss of love”; but it is called the “holy kiss” elsewhere. This form of brotherly greeting, however, existed long before Christianity. Jesus rebuked the Pharisee for withholding the customary kiss of greeting (Luke 7:45), and Judas used it treacherously in the betrayal (Mark 14:44f)…” (1)
This portion of Scripture provides us with an opportunity to review the concept of “principle vs. practice” that we referenced earlier in book of 1 Corinthians. For instance, let’s consider this directive to “Greet one another with a holy kiss” in a 21st century context. Do we violate this Biblical imperative if current-day social or cultural norms prohibit us from greeting one another in this manner? Well, one scholar addresses that question in the following way…
“…there is a difference between command and culture. The commands of Scripture are absolute—culture is relative. For example, few believe that Jesus’ command to His disciples not to have an extra pair of sandals with them while on an evangelistic tour applies today. And most Christians do not literally ‘Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss’ anymore (1 Thes. 5:26). Nor do they believe that ‘lifting up holy hands in prayer’ is essential to public prayer (1 Tim. 2:8).
There is a principle behind all these commands that is absolute, but the practice is not. What Christians must do is absolute, but how they do it is culturally relative. For example, Christians must greet one another (the what), but how they greet each other will be relative to their respective cultures. In some cultures, as in the NT, it will be with a kiss, in others with a hug, and in still others with a handshake.” (2)
So our interaction with other Christians should be conducted in a manner that is suited to both the culture and the individual. You see, a greeting that makes another person uncomfortable is hardly one that conforms to the idea of a “holy kiss.” In those instances, it would be suitable to use an alternate form of greeting that signifies mutual acceptance and respect.
(1) Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on 2 Corinthians 13”. “Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament”. <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=2co&chapter=013>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
(2) When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved.