1 Thessalonians: 5:25-26

map of greece1 Thess 5:25

(1 Thess. 5:25 ESV) 25 Brothers, pray for us. 

This short verse is striking in its poignancy. I mean, here we have Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, who prays for so many others, who is so close to God that he’s been entrusted with a history-changing commission, asking the poor Christians in Thessalonica, new converts all, for their prayers.

Such an incredibly humble request. Paul is declaring that, even when it comes to his own relationship with God, even he — an apostle! — depends on other Christians, even new converts. Nothing could more powerfully make the point that we all depend on each other. There is no individual autonomy and no true individual spiritual formation. We grow in Christ together.

We see a very human Paul in this request to his friends (he calls them Brothers) for prayer (see also Rom. 15:30; Eph. 6:19; Col. 4:3–4; 2 Thess. 3:1–2, and cf. Phil. 1:19; Heb. 13:18). Although he had great gifts and was of undoubted eminence in the church, he needed the prayers of his friends.

Leon Morris, 1 and 2 Thessalonians: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale NTC 13; IVP/Accordance electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 109.

1 Thess 5:26

(1 Thess. 5:26 ESV) 26 Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.

This command is found five times in the NT, in essentially these same words.

‘In the ancient world one kissed the hand, breast, knee, or foot of a superior, and the cheek of a friend. Herodotus mentions kissing the lips as a custom of the Persians. Possibly from them it came to the Jews.‘ In New Testament times it might be expected from a host to a guest (Luke 7:45), and it was a gesture of goodwill which made Judas’s kiss so heinous (Luke 22:48).

Leon Morris, 1 and 2 Thessalonians: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale NTC 13; IVP/Accordance electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 109.

On the lips? Seriously?? This just will not do! Fortunately,

Not much is known of kissing in the early church, but it is usually held that men kissed men and women women, and that the kiss was on the cheek. But Tertullian (at the end of the second century) speaks of a wife exchanging a kiss with ‘any one of the brothers’ (To His Wife, ii. 4). The New Testament does not connect it with liturgical practices, but the kiss would naturally be exchanged when Christians came together to worship, and it is not surprising that in time it came to be included in the service of Holy Communion (though not confined to this). Clement of Alexandria complains of those who ‘make the churches resound’ with their kissing, and goes on to say, ‘the shameless use of a kiss … occasions foul suspicions and evil reports’ (Instructor iii. 12). Such abuses led to restriction and, for example, the Apostolic Constitutions (4th century, but containing older material) direct men to kiss men and women women.

Leon Morris, 1 and 2 Thessalonians: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale NTC 13; IVP/Accordance electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 109.

Although some tract writers have assumed that the church abandoned this practice in the early centuries, this is  not true. It’s still part of the Catholic liturgy and is practiced by some Orthodox churches. The Landmark Baptists practiced it in the 19th Century and, I’m sure, there are other small denominations that adhere to the teaching.

So we can’t let this verse pass without asking why the Churches of Christ do not obey it as written. It’s helpful, I think, to compare the logic by which we escape the requirement to kiss with the logic by which many conclude that instruments of music are sinful.

I’ll refer to a couple of sermon outlines posted at the website for the Shelbyville Church of  Christ, just to demonstrate that the teachings I refer to are truly taught in the Churches of Christ, but the logic of these articles has been followed in countless Churches of Christ. The Shelbyville articles on the Holy Kiss and instrumental music merely repeat standard Church of Christ teaching from the late 19th or early 20th Centuries, but they lay out the arguments with great clarity. I commend these outlines to your reading. (I agree with the article on the Holy Kiss but not the one on instrumental music).

First, let’s compare the two arguments in a highly summarized form.

  1. Why kiss? Because it’s repeatedly commanded, in express words, in the form of a command. We also know from history that the early church in fact practiced the holy kiss. (And yet we don’t honor this express command.)
  2. Why refuse to use the instrument? Because a prohibition is inferred from a lack of express authority. We also know from history that the early church in fact did not use the instrument. (And we do honor this inferred command.)
  3. Obviously, the case for the Holy Kiss is stronger, and yet it is rejected while the weaker case is accepted.

So what excuses not obeying an express, direct command? Quoting from the sermon outlines,

  1. As to the Holy Kiss,

A distinction must be made between the essence of a command and its circumstances
a. The essence is the principle God wants for man to understand and apply in life.
b. The circumstance is like a vessel in which the principle is conveyed. …

[W]e don’t bind or even practice the “holy kiss” because we understand the essence of the command. … GREET ONE ANOTHER
1. The Apostle’s intent was not to institute a new ordinance in the church.
2. He gave a command, told how to carry it out and the way in which it was to be done.
a. His command : Greet one another ( Essence )
b. Instrument of implementation : Kiss ( Circumstance )
Appropriate to their culture
c. Way command is to be carried out : Holy ( Character )
3. It is only the immature who get hung up on the exact replication of physical acts.

2. As to instrumental music,

We have a clear, positive N.T. command : Sing and make melody with your heart [Eph 5:19] …
Early church leaders were unanimously opposed to adding an instrument. …
The absence of a negative command does not consent to anything not forbidden.

3. Comparison of the two —

There’s a clear, positive N.T. command to greet with the Holy Kiss. There is no such command as to instruments or a cappella. Rather, there is a participle (verb ending in -ing) in Eph 5:19 modifying the actual command “be filled with the Spirit” indicating one of several consequences of being filled with the Spirit. It’s not a command; it’s a statement of what happens when you let God fill you with his Spirit. Obviously, the case for the Holy Kiss command, being built on an express command, is stronger as to this part of the analysis.

It is true that in the Third and later centuries church leaders opposed instrumental music. It is not true that Justin Martyr opposed instrumental music. The quotations attributed to him in 19th Century Puritan arguments re the instrument were copied by Church of Christ preachers even though scholars have now known for over 100 years that those quotations are not from JM and belong to the 4th or later centuries. See Danny Corbitt, Missing More Than Music: When Disputable Matters Eclipse Worship and Unity, which demonstrates this.

As to “The absence of a negative command does not consent to anything not forbidden,” once you sort through the double negative, the teaching is that silence is a prohibition. This is hardly an obvious proposition except when there is a command being violated. If God tells Noah to build an ark out of gopher wood, then he may not use pine, but God was hardly silent on the point. We would not be not inferring a prohibition from a silence but a prohibition that contradicts an express command!

Now, we are not told to sing a cappella or to sing with instruments. Just that if we are filled with the Spirit, we’ll be singing (it’s a participle in the Greek, that is, an “ing” verb).

Obviously, the Holy Kiss is a stronger case as we are told not only to greet one another but how to do it — with the Holy Kiss. This would seem to ban all alternatives, such as shaking hands or hugging.

We can test this conclusion by using the logical progression by which the author rejects the necessity of the Holy Kiss and asking whether the same logic reaches the author’s result as to instrumental music.

A distinction must be made between the essence of a command and its circumstances
a. The essence is the principle God wants for man to understand and apply in life.
b. The circumstance is like a vessel in which the principle is conveyed. …

[W]e don’t bind or even practice [a cappella music] because we understand the essence of the command. … [BE FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT]
1. The Apostle’s intent was not to institute a new ordinance in the church. [The Jews had sung with instruments in both worship and secular settings for centuries, and nothing indicates an intent to change.]
2. He gave a command, told how to carry it out and the way in which it was to be done.
a. His command : [Be filled with the Spirit] (Essence)
b. Instrument of implementation : [neither instruments nor
a cappella specified] ( Circumstance ) Appropriate to their culture [Both Jewish and Gentile culture approved both a cappella and instrumental worship. It is unknown whether the Jewish synagogue included singing before 70 AD.]
c. Way command is to be carried out : [singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart] ( Character )
3. It is only the immature who get hung up on the exact replication of physical acts. [Amen]

So the author is applying two very different standards to the Holy Kiss and instrumental music. If you apply the Holy Kiss logic (which I agree with) to instrumental music, you are forced to conclude that the essence of the “command” is to be filled with the Spirit and the circumstance is not part of the command, much less a command that excludes all other possibilities. The entire logical scheme used to insist on a cappella music collapses.

Or else we have to start kissing each other at church.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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10 Responses to 1 Thessalonians: 5:25-26

  1. There is another possible meaning to the command about the holy kiss. In many languages (especially Latin-based languages), it’s common at the end of a letter to include phrases like “greet all the brothers,” “Hugs for all the brothers,” and even “kisses for all the brothers.” (I should note than in most of these same countries, it’s common to say hello and goodbye with a kiss.)

    The command to greet one another with a holy kiss always appears at the end of New Testament letters. It’s part of the signing off. It really seems to me that Westerners make WAY too much of this “command.”

    It’s just a greeting, folks. Or so it seems to me.

  2. Dwight says:

    Yes, the exclusion of direct command and the exclusion of “inferred commands” as law has always been a problem to me, to which it is true of this verse and I Cor.11, which most conservative, non-instrumental churches don’t do. It is called pick-and-choose philosophy and we won’t require of ourselves of that which we require of others.
    I would argue that we may not spend much time thinking about what it means to be holy in relation to another person and how to show it. We may not make enough out of this command in some ways, even if a conclusion to a letter. In conclusion it tell us how to accept others when we meet them.
    My thoughts on this verse is that we should apply the Holy kiss concept and largely I think we do.
    When Moses came before the burning bush, God told him to remove his shoes because the ground was holy. This holiness was defined by God and then by how Moses regarded the ground, but it didn’t change the make up of the ground itself. The approach to the Holy kiss is dependent upon us, being holy, approaching our brother or sister in holiness with a greeting…of which a kiss was a type. When we offer a handshake or a hug this can be done in holiness as well and fulfill the command, otherwise the command would limit us to only just a holy kiss.

  3. Jay Guin says:


    It’s easy to imagine Paul saying something like “Give everyone a kiss for me.” But I can find no commentary that sees “Greet one another with the Holy Kiss” as a request that the members be kissed on Paul’s behalf. The “one another” argues against that interpretation, as does the use of “holy” as an adjective. The church must have had some preexisting understanding as to what a “holy” kiss is vs. whatever kissing was common in their culture. If it’s just the cultural greeting, what does “holy” add? We can only speculate.Also the early church seems to have read this as liturgical — which may not be right but is a long way from “greet the brothers for me.”

    That the kiss was to be ἁγίος (“holy”) indicates that it was of religious significance and may point to a setting in the liturgical life of the community (Stählin, op. cit., 139f.), possibly the Eucharist, as Bruce (133f.) suggests. Bruce points out that Justin Martyr (ca. AD 150) speaks of the exchange of a kiss during the eucharistic part of the service. He also borrows from Marshall (145) to show that 1 Cor. 16:20–22 seems to presuppose that a kiss was given as a holy greeting at the time of the Eucharist in the Pauline churches. On the strength of this he suggests that Paul may have intended the letter to be read at the eucharistic meal of the community. Although our knowledge concerning the liturgical practices of the Pauline communities is not extensive, Bruce’s suggestion is plausible, especially because Paul insisted that the letter be read to all the members of the church (v. 27), and the eucharistic service was probably one of the best opportunities for this to happen. Whatever may be the case with this suggestion, the holy kiss served to symbolize the unity of the community as the family of God.

    Charles A. Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1990), 208.

  4. Dwight says:

    What do “Holy hands” look like in I Tim.2:8 “I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting;”
    It almost appears that the “without wrath and doubting” creates the condition of holiness when the hands are raised.
    I would suggest that holy indicates our approach to ourselves or something as being set apart.
    The ground around the burning bush was holy only because God said it was and Moses had to approach it that way. The Temple was holy to the Jews, but not the Romans. Otherwise it was just dirt and a building. We must have a internal reference point that may not be visible to other people.
    We are to be holy as God is holy, which doesn’t mean changing our mode of dress, but changing how we perceive God and ourselves in relation to God. Thus if God is set apart, we too are set apart and the we approach the world like that.
    It is notable that how to do a “holy kiss” is not given either by command or example and we have no example or commands to give a kiss in general, so if a kiss, then it is to be special to us to a brother or sister. And the brother or sister should receive it as such.

  5. Jay, while I can’t get away from the sheer folly of disagreeing with the early church, I still can’t get past the placement of these statements. They are uniformly, without exception, not in the “teaching” section of the book but in the final greeting. (Yes, there is teaching done in the final greeting)

    Do any of the commentators you have studied take that into account?

  6. I also have to say that much of the discussions that we get into make absolutely no sense in kissing cultures. It’s like the gringos who return from Latin America wanting to explain to other gringos how, when, and who to kiss. Try describing the technique for a handshake: when, in what way, how much pressure do you apply, etc.

    It’s easiest in Argentina… everybody kisses everybody. And nobody gets hung up about it.

  7. Jay Guin says:


    I’ve not seen a comment noting the position of the verb as affected its being binding in future years in different cultures.

    (1 Thess. 5:14-28 ESV) the weak, be patient with them all. 15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil. 23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. 25 Brothers, pray for us. 26 Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. 27 I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. 28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

    I agree that v. 23 reflects a change in tone. V. 23 is not a command but a prayer to God. 24 is praise of God. V. 25 is a request for prayer, and not a command.

    v. 27 is a command and one of the more direct and plain ones. V.28 is a prayer.

    So v. 26 is adjacent to a command and written in the language of a command, the imperative voice. Most of the other moral injunctions are also in the imperative. That does not, by itself, necessarily make it a command, much less a command for all time, but the parallels and structure clearly make it a command to the church — which is how the early church read it.

    The commentary that most relies on the book’s rhetorical structure is —

    This practice of the holy kiss was, however, perpetuated and became widespread in the mainstream early church in connection with the Lord’s Supper, beginning at least in the late second century (Justin Martyr, Apologia I 65; Tertullian, De Oratio 18; Apostolic Constitutions 2.57; Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechism 23; Chrysostom, Homily 22 on Matthew; Clement of Alexandria, Paedagogus 3.2.81). By the time of Hippolytus it came in some circles to be called the kiss of peace (Apostolic Traditions 4.1; 18.3; 22.6), but was segregated by sex. In Paul’s world a kiss was also a sign and means of reconciliation and so served as a deterrent to factionalism. Outsiders in attendance would see in the kiss that the church was some sort of familial group or association. Chrysostom notes “Because absent [Paul] could not greet them with the kiss, he greets them through others, as when we say, ‘Kiss him for me’ ” (Homily 11 on 1 Thessalonians). Finally, the kiss was also a token of how Paul thought his converts should appropriately express their love for each other.

    Ben Witherington III, 1 and 2 Thessalonians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006), 176.

    Chrysostom is often quite insightful in his homilies, but he lived centuries after Paul and the grammar does not support his theory that Paul “greets them through others.” The church had long before adopted the view that the command is a command and so they practiced it as an act of worship during communion.

  8. Monty says:

    It would seem a kiss was just how their culture greeted one another, among friends. Judas betrayed our Lord with a kiss. A sign of friendship and shalom. I think holy kiss is the same as lifting holy hands. A kiss that holds no animosity, gossip, back biting, or deceit. Holy hands are basically the same. Hands that are used to in God’s service, not in violence, anger, or for evil deeds of any sort.

  9. dwight says:

    Monty, I believe you are right. It could be argue that the kiss of Judas was an unholy kiss and it was, but not because it was done in some strange way, but because of what it conveyed by the one kissing.

  10. laymond says:

    I wonder how spirits kiss or clasp hands.

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