John Piper says Christians shouldn’t 'rule out’ giving family, friends ‘a holy kiss’

John Piper at Sing! 2022 Conference | Screengrab: Sing! 2022 Conference

Notable Bible teacher and author John Piper said this week that modern-day Christians should not "rule out" the New Testament command for followers of Christ to give each other a "holy kiss."

In a "Look at the Book" video posted to YouTube on Thursday, Piper examined if Christians should still give greetings to each other through holy kissing.

Piper, the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota, focused on 1 Thessalonians 5:23–28, which includes the command to "Greet all God's people with a holy kiss." This is Piper's fifth session on that Bible passage.

The command was not culturally restricted to just Thessalonica, Piper said, as it can be found elsewhere in the New Testament, in epistles written to churches in other cities.

Piper viewed the holy kiss command as showing "there should be a family affection in the Church" that includes "appropriate expressions — outward expressions — of that affection."

"That's at least what a 'kiss' means," said Piper. "And the word 'holy' means don't make it a romantic kiss. Don't let there be any sexual element in it."

Piper referenced 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, which reads in part that "you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable."

"It's just as clear as day that putting 'holy' here in front of this kiss rules out every hint of manipulation, or sexual advance, or romantic kindling," he said. "It is not that way; it is family affection."

The Bible teacher pointed to 1 Timothy 2:8, which reads, "therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing."

"Does that mean the only proper way for men to pray is with their hands in the air? I doubt it," Piper commented. "I think it means it was a very common practice, and Paul wanted to say, 'whenever those hands are in the air in prayer, let them be holy hands.'"

"If you're going to lift your hands, lift holy hands. Come to God with clean hands."

Piper believes the command to give each other a "holy kiss" did not include "a specified number of times you must kiss each other, places you must kiss each other, but rather every time you do kiss each other, to show brotherly or sisterly affection. Let it be holy."

"This cannot be broken down into a quantitative or regulatable command," Piper continued. "This is a command to experience and to show family affection to each other. And kissing is one significant way to do it."

Piper suggested that those who may have been raised in a home where family affection was uncommon may "need to grow."

"When was the last time you ever kissed anyone in a non-sexual, holy, brotherly affectionate way?" Piper asked. "And you may say 'never! I haven't done that in 20 years.' That's probably not good."

Piper said he occasionally kisses family and others, recalling one time he kissed a friend on his deathbed at a hospital.

"We all grow in what this would look like, and I doubt that we should rule out that word and say, 'oh, really, it's just a hug,'" he said. "As you say goodbye to people in some long-term decisive way, give them a kiss on the cheek, and look them in the eye and say, 'I love you. You are a precious, precious friend and brother to me.'"

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