I was recently reading through all the “one another” verses in the New Testament. There are lots of these verses. Many of them are about loving one another and not judging one another. I was surprised to see that several state that we are to greet one another with a kiss.

Wifely Submission and Holy KissesDid you know that there are five verses in the New Testament where believers are instructed to greet one another with a kiss? Five! Four were written by Paul, and one by Peter (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12b; 1 Thess. 5:26; 1 Pet. 5:14b). I didn’t realise there were that many.

In Australia, it is very unusual for men to kiss other men as a form of greeting. And I personally don’t know of any church where all the believers, both men and women, greet each other with a kiss despite the clear instructions from the apostles Paul and Peter.[1]  Moreover, I have never heard a sermon emphasising or elaborating on the clear biblical principle of holy kisses.

Wifely Submission and Holy KissesDid you know that there are five verses in the New Testament where wives are instructed to be submissive to their husbands. Five! Four are found in the later Pauline letters of Ephesians, Colossians, and Titus, and one is in Peter’s first letter (Eph. 5:22, 24; Col. 3:18; Tit. 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:1).[2] Unlike the instructions for holy kisses, these instructions about wifely submission are unduly emphasised and elaborated on in too many churches.

Holy kisses and wifely submission are clearly mentioned in the New Testament, but one concept is largely ignored while the other is highlighted. Why is that?  Perhaps “culture” is part of the answer.

Some churches have decided that, since the kissing instructions were given to people in a culture that already used kisses as a form of greeting, and since men in some cultures today don’t usually kiss one another, the apostles’ instructions are no longer culturally relevant, therefore we no longer have to apply them literally.

I suggest that the wifely submission verses in the New Testament were given as a concession to Greco-Roman culture, a culture where the subordination of women was deeply ingrained. Furthermore, I suggest that both kisses-as-greetings and wifely submission are cultural phenomena, and neither are culturally relevant today in many modern societies.

It is important to note that Jesus, in the gospels, and Paul, in his early letters, never mention anything like one-sided wifely submission. Moreover, all of Jesus’ instructions for kingdom living and relationships apply equally to men and to women. In Jesus’ kingdom, the humble are exalted, the lowly are the greatest, the last are first, and there is no place for hierarchies, including a gender hierarchy in marriage. The relationships within the New Creation community of the church should be marked by mutual submission and equality between all people. These dynamics extend to Christian marriage.

The New Creation principles, or kingdom principles, concerning relationships have not always been socially acceptable to outsiders, and some new Christians may have implemented some of their new found freedoms unwisely. So in a few later letters of the New Testament, there are corrective (rather than didactic or doctrinal) instructions to both slaves and to women limiting their freedoms. Slaves are told to respect and obey their masters, including their female masters (Eph. 6:5; Col. 3:22; 1 Tim. 6:1-2; Tit 2:9; 1 Pet. 2:18), and wives are told to respect and submit to their own husbands.[3] In some verses we are given the reason for these instructions: so that the church would not get a bad reputation among non-believers (including non-believing masters and husbands) in a society where slaves and women were regarded as lesser people (in comparison with freeborn men), and in a society where slavery and wifely submission were considered social norms.[4]

In twenty-first century Australia, and some other western-style nations, patriarchy and slavery are generally frowned upon—in fact, slavery is illegal. Yet some churches are still teaching that patriarchy and one-sided submission from wives are God’s ideals. These congregations have failed to see that wifely submission was a compromise for the first-century church. One-sided submission from wives compromises and distorts the relationship dynamics of the New Creation.

It doesn’t make sense to take a verse that was a concession to first-century culture and apply it today in a society which mostly sees equality and mutuality as the ideal between husbands and wives. It also doesn’t make sense that some churches choose to uphold the instructions about wifely submission but choose not to uphold the instructions about kisses. They are allowing their own church culture to influence their decision about what verses they want to implement and what verses they want to ignore.

I believe that those who truly think that one-sided wifely submission is a timeless apostolic principle should also start taking seriously other apostolic instructions that are usually ignored (e.g., 1 Tim. 2:8). I suggest beginning with greeting one another with a holy kiss. After all, there are just as many instructions about kisses as there are instructions about wifely submission given in the New Testament.


Endnotes

[1] In The Apostolic Tradition, attributed to Hippolytus of Rome and written sometime in the third century, there are several statements about the “kiss of peace” which must be “pure”. 18:3 states, faithful shall greet one another with a kiss, men with men, and women with women. Men must not greet women with a kiss.” In other documents, such as the Martyrdom of Perpetua (written in 202 or 203), we read that Christian men and women kissed each other. These circumstances, imminent martyrdom, were exceptional; nevertheless, it is likely that in first-century churches men and women kissed each other irrespective of gender. In chapter 65 of his First Apology (written around 150-160), Justin Martyr wrote that Christians greeted each other with a kiss just before sharing the sacrament of communion. Canon 19 of the Council of Laodicea (held sometime during 343–381) contains later regulations surrounding the kiss of peace.

[2] The verb “submit” is found in numerous verses and contexts throughout the New Testament. It is also found in the context of women speaking and learning in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12. These verses are not about wifely submission. More on these passages here and here. Furthermore, the verb “submit” has a range of nuances. I do not think a strict a military sense of the word is comparable to the way it is used in New Testament verses about marriage.

[3] The verb “submit” has a range of nuances. I do not think a strict a military sense of the word is comparable to the way it is used in New Testament verses about marriage, especially as Paul’s instruction for wifely submission in Ephesians 5:22 follows his instruction for mutual submission.

[4] The apostolic instructions for slaves to obey their masters included adult men obeying their female masters (cf. Rhoda and Hermas; the Shepherd of Hermas, Vision 1:1). More on this here.

Postscript

“An American missionary couple went to Greece for their first assignment. A local church invited the husband to preach, although he had just arrived in the country. Everything went smoothly until the translator invited him to stand at the back of the church to greet the people as they left the service. He put out his hand to shake hands with the first man leaving. Imagine the missionary’s surprise and shock when instead of shaking hands, this man and every man following him reached up and kissed the missionary on the mouth. Paul and Peter repeatedly commanded early Christians to greet each other with a holy kiss (Rom. 16: 16; 1 Pet. 4: 14). Though the command was never cancelled, most Western believers today do not practice this kiss. They believe the instruction applied to that specific culture and group at that time in history, then and there, not here and now. The task of interpreting the Bible presents some complex challenges. Sincere, dedicated, born-again Christians sometimes arrive at different conclusions about the same passages. Some people use only ‘proof texts’ they have memorized and exclude other factors. Others combine their experience or lack of experience with teaching they have received about the Scriptures.”
Deborah M. Gill and Barbara Cavaness, God’s Women—Then and Now  (Grace and Truth Publishers, Kindle Edition) Kindle Locations 233-243.


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