by Walter Beutler
It seems that Paul’s injunction, Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss, I Thess. 5:26, has been both much misunderstood and much neglected. This has led some to adhere to the letter of the Word without grasping the spirit, others to discard it as out of date and neither practical nor applicable today. However, an examination of the scripture in question, will reveal that both of these views are unfortunate in that they deprive us of a much needed lesson.
The first thing to be considered is that ALL scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable, II Tim. 3:16. If it was profitable then, it must be profitable now. If the letter of the Word cannot or need not be carried out, such as foot washing, there must still remain some lesson applicable and profitable at all times. That Paul did not intend to institute a form of greeting seems clear from the fact that kissing among men was, and still is, a custom of oriental greeting to which the scriptures give ample proof. Joseph kissed all his brethren, Gen. 45:15, and Jonathan and David kissed one another, I Sam. 20:41. From this old custom, kissing was carried over into Christianity, and generally practiced. Therefore, there would be no need for writing the brethren to kiss each other, since they were already doing this. Furthermore, the institution of such a standard form of greeting would hardly be compatible with the general tenor of the Word of God. The whole difficulty regarding this passage is one of misplaced emphasis, brought about by focusing our attention on the noun “kiss” instead of the adjective “holy.”
Paul’s concern was not their particular form of greeting, nor does he necessarily imply a neglect on their part in this matter, but his concern was the lack of sincerity and uprightness as they were greeting each other in their accustomed manner. Then as now, their greeting was not always as holy as it should have been, but was a sad mixture of formality and hypocrisy with various shades of degrees. His other exhortations in the epistles warrant such a conclusion. For instance, a casual perusal of the two letters to the Corinthians shows that all was not well in their relationship. Although they were still greeting each other with a kiss, it ceased to be holy. Paul was saying, “Greet all the brethren with an HOLY kiss”, the emphasis upon the holiness of their greeting rather than their manner. Would Paul be speaking today on the subject, he would probably say, greet all the brethren with an HOLY “how do you do”, with an HOLY hand shake, with an HOLY “I am glad to see you.”