I lived fifteen years in Argentina. My wife is from there, as are my kids. I’ve had the privilege to learn a lot about the culture of Argentina.
80% of the population of Argentina is of Italian and/or Spanish descent. The Mediterranean culture has had a tremendous impact on Argentina. That can be helpful at times when looking at the New Testament, for it was principally written by and for people of that region.
In Argentina, no one argues that the “holy kiss” of the New Testament is something restricted to the past. As in the culture in general, Christians greet one another with a “kiss,” though in most cases only the cheeks touch. There’s nothing remotely sexual about it.
But if we examine the holy kiss in New Testament writings, we’ll find some interesting things about this “command.” It’s only found in the final section of letters, in the midst of other greetings. It took me a while to realize that this is not a command at all.
Romans 16:16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.
1 Corinthians 16:20 All the brothers send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
2 Corinthians 13:12 Greet one another with a holy kiss.
1 Thessalonians 5:26 Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.
1 Peter 5:14 Greet one another with the kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ.
Imagine getting a letter from a friend that says, “Tell your mom I said hello.” How would you interpret that command? It’s not really a command, is it? It’s doubtful that your friend will quiz you later on your fulfillment of that order.
When I receive letters from friends from Latin America, I often receive hugs and kisses, sometimes for other people. It’s common to end a letter with the phrase “un abrazo” (a hug) or “un beso” (a kiss). Some will write “un abrazo fraternal” (a brotherly hug). Sometimes they will send you a hug or a kiss for someone else.
When Peter and Paul ask Christians to greet one another with a holy kiss, it’s not a command for the church. It’s not some new instruction they hadn’t thought of, some sort of law that they will transgress if they don’t obey. There was no fear that (a) they wouldn’t greet one another; (b) they wouldn’t kiss; nor (c) it wouldn’t be holy. Saying “Greet one another with a holy kiss) was a courteous expression.
There are commands in the New Testament that we don’t follow. Many who obey the commandment in 1 Corinthians 16:2 to collect money on a weekly basis disobey the instruction in the same passage to save said money until Paul comes to take it to Jerusalem. And other commands are understood to not be intended for us today.
But don’t point to the holy kiss as an ignored command. That’s not what it is.
And by the way… tell the members at your church that I said hello.
photo from Wikimedia user Zil