“Greet one another with a holy kiss”

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time with the social kiss. Kissing girlfriends as a teenager, this I figured out fairly quickly, and, besides, it was done in the dark without witnesses. The social kiss, however … I’m still awkwardly working on that one. Maybe I should practice in front of the mirror. The problem is that social kissing techniques differ widely. My favorite is when women draw their faces closely together, careful not to touch, then they both say almost in unison,”muu–waaaA!” and slowly back away so no one gets hurt. When it happens to me–I view myself as an unwilling participant here, a victim–I kind of stare at bystanders with that desperate-plea-for-help look in my eyes, but they just stand there doing nothing. And to further complicate things, I go and read in the bible that this kind of thing was an early Christian ritual. Paul keeps reprimanding people all the time to “Greet one another with a holy kiss.”(see Romans 16:16; I Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; and 1 Thessalonians 5:26). Which leads me to my question: How come this ordinance was never a part of the Restoration of All Things?

Naturally I turned to the JST to find the answer. Test your JST knowledge–which of the following is the correct JST version of Romans 16:16, et. al?

1. Greet one another with a holy kiss but not the holy tongue.

2. Greet one another with a holy kiss AND the holy tongue.

3. Greet one another with a holy fist pump.

4. Greet one another with a “Holy Smoke!” As for this greeting, it is to be given and taken only in a figurative sense.

5. Greet one another with a holy salutation.

If you guessed no. 5, you’d be right. It seems Joseph Smith placed the NT holy kiss in heinous acts rankings right up there with the OT genitalia grasp and changed both of them in the JST to more innocuous readings. Perhaps he foresaw some of the practical problems of such a ritual, speaking about the holy kiss that is. And we thought rampant speaking in tongues would cause problems at church? If Joseph had restored the ordinance of holy kissing, the entire church building itself would become like a giant mistletoe. Of course, vicarious holy kissing for the dead would need to be instituted sooner or later. Heck, if that caught on, you’d even have to kiss your spouse in the temple wedding ceremony. Perhaps it’s like consecration–we’re just not ready to live such a higher law.

Some other Christians apparently still use the holy kiss as a greeting in church. After the NT, several church fathers mention it as a part of the Eucharist, sometimes called the “sign of peace.” Most churches nowadays have opted for the simple hand shake, reserving a moment at the beginning of each service to encourage each other to stand and greet their neighbors.

The closest I ever came to the holy kiss ordinance in a Latter-day Saint setting was at a youth activity. Our leaders gathered us all outside the Relief Society room and a couple of guys and gals went inside with them. Curiousity filled the hallway as we wondered what they were doing in there. One by one we were admitted inside, in boy-girl order. After admission, strange periods of silence were followed by raucous laughter, and then another was allowed behind the closed door. Once inside, you saw a big line in front of you in boy–girl order. As you were placed at the end of the line, those in front of you turned around, smiling coyly, and kissed the person behind them right on the lips, each after the other, a kind of lip smacking relay, as you quickly realized that the person in front of you would eventually turn around, their lips seeking yours. A little racy, I thought, but hey, I wasn’t against it. After all, I had been raised by liberal Liahona parents. In any event, I figured it was better than that clumsy game where you tuck the orange under your chin and pass it to your neighbor. This kiss relay game skipped the pretense, got right to the point. Then my moment came and I leaned forward, lips pursed, my eyes squinting, and Kim Mitchell slapped me on the cheek, not hard, but playfully. Laughter filled the room. There was a point to all this, although I don’t remember exactly what the theme of the activity was. Dating? Marriage prep perhaps?

No doubt this youthful incident lies at the heart of my current issues with social kissing. I doubt LDS Social Services can help me. Perhaps recovery begins with forgiving the perpetrators? Kim, where ever you are, I forgive you. To the girl I slapped afterwards (whoever you were)–I’m really sorry. As a token of my attempts at reconciliation, I’m going to blow to each of you a holy kiss–perhaps that would have been a better JST alternative in the first place.


  1. We passed life-savers down the line using only a toothpick in our mouths. I can’t imagine youth going along with equal opportunity kissing. “I’ve got to do what to who?”

  2. Ed, you have obviously not been to Church in France or Belgium, where depending on the region you get 1, 2, or 4 kisses from everybody (including men to men in Belgium).

    In the US, there are certain social circles in which kissing those of the opposite sex as a greeting or goodbye is quite common. Having lived in france it is quite natural, but I can see how for many american Mormons this would be viewed as problematic.

    Also, is that JST change to salutation, in part, a reference to the School of the prophets?

  3. …btw, hilarious post!

  4. I clicked on “read more” stretched and looked around and glanced on the screen (I’m on dial up) and cracked up.

    The only people I kiss besides my husband are my grandkids and I smother them with kisses. Soft little cheeks and sqeals, I love those bodies.

    You made me remember my first kiss. We went in the laundry room of our apartment place and sat on the washer. We were going to kiss. I was underwhelmed. He said, “shall we?” And I, “ok.”
    And he leaned over and kissed me.

    Oh, gross, slimy, yuck. I never wanted to do that again. I broke up with him and didn’t kiss anybody for three years. Till I was the ripe old age of 16.

  5. Girls in my ward growing up just greeted me with the holy glare.

  6. Accusations of their indulging in something more than a “holy kiss” were levelled against early Christians (and later against the Templars).

    BTW, I wonder where this “holy kiss” came from, especially considering Judas’s use of a kiss to betray Jesus. (Of course, Paul is writing before the Judas incident was written down.)

  7. Part of the story with the JST revision may be the fact that some early Mormon branches–far from headquarters–actually practiced the “holy kiss.” This was a source of some intermittent controversy.

  8. My wife learned in her New Testament class at school that ancient Christians used the Holy Kiss to share the mysteries of Christianity. While they were close to each others faces, they would whisper things to each other.
    If you think about our experience at the veil in the temple, one could argue that the ordinance of the Holy Kiss was restored in these Latter Days.

  9. vicarious holy kissing for the dead would need to be instituted sooner or later


  10. I remember when I was a teenager at priesthood session of general conference and one of the apostles had a bunch of family members sitting in the row in front of us. He walked over to them before the meeting started and kissed them all, I remember thinking how wierd it was at the time. As I look back on it now, it doesn’t seem quite as wierd. As J. Stapley said, in certain regions it is very common.

  11. I think the sexed-up utopian Oneida community started with a holy kiss.

    They started near Syracuse just decade after us. JS was so close…

  12. Ed Snow says:

    Thanks for all of the comments.

    Ronan, I don’t have the sources available, but some think Jesus himself started the holy kiss idea. I was reading up on this in the Anchor Bible Dictionary last night and found this interesting. It was fairly common in the ANE to do this as a social custom, as I understand it. It was more common in the US apparently until the time of Joseph Smith when US social customs diverged from European social customs.

    Ronan, you also make some good points about early Christians. The rumor mill was fueled by misunderstood Christian practices: (i) they called each other brother and sister, (ii) they kissed each other, (iii) they ate a meal which consisted of the body and blood of the son of God and (iv) they met in private. So, after looking at this on a superficial level, you can see how rumors might start that early Christians practiced incest and ate children sacrificed to God.

    Apparently, when Jacob walks up and kisses Rachel out of the blue in the OT it disturbed later commentators. There seems to have been several Jewish guidelines developed over time when a kiss was appropriate or not.

    Klear, apparently President Kimball used to grab other apostles by the neck or ears, tell them he loved them and give them a big kiss on the cheek.

    Finally, on this topic I always think of Bugs Bunny kissing Elmer Fudd.

  13. Kevin Barney says:

    Yes, I recently read the latest Ed Kimball bio of SWK, and he talks about how he was pretty free with kisses.

    On at least two occasions that I can remember, I kissed women on the cheek immediately after giving them a blessing. This really surprised me; it was not a premeditated action. But I was so filled with compassion for these sisters (one suffering from cancer, the other from a debilitating intestinal problem) that it was just the natural thing to do.

    In the case of the sister about my age (the other was older), her husband was standing right there. But I think they actually appreciated it, as they are a Latino couple, and such social kissing is part of their culture. (Ozzie Guillen, a Venezuelan manager of the White Sox, is well noted for kissing his players regularly. They don’t seem to mind at all.)

  14. jothegrill says:

    I think the essential part of the phrase is “holy.” We should greet each other in a way that is holy, and I also think that kisses should be holy. I hate the way the world has desecrated intimacy of every kind and made it about lust.
    There is definately a weirdness with Americans and physical non-sexual closeness (ie: kissing, hugging, or holding hands.) But I think we need to respect people and their boundries.

  15. Times and Seasons, Vol.2, No.7, p.306:

    CONFERENCE MINUTES. Minutes of a Conference held in the city of New York, on the 4th of December, 1840.

    At a Conference meeting, of the branch of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in the city of New York, held at the house of Elder G. J. Adams agreeable to previous appointment, on the evening of December 4th, 1840. Elder Orson Hyde was unanimously chosen Chairman of the meeting, and Elder L. R. Foster, Clerk.

    The meeting was opened by singing, “Guide us O, thou great Jehovah,” &c. and by the President addressing the throne of grace.

    The President then read from Rev. 2nd chap. 12th verse, and onward: after a few preliminary remarks the President proceded to give his reasons for believing that the spirit which had been manifested among us, since the coming of Elder Sidney Roberts, was not from the Lord.

    The items objected to are having a revelation that a certain brother must give him a suit of clothes, and a gold watch, the best that could be had; also, saluting the sisters with what he calls a holy kiss, taking them on his lap, and putting his arms around them, &c.

    After concluding, the President invited Elder G. W. Harris to speak on the subject, he declined, but afterwards did speak.

    The accused, Sidney Roberts, answered for himself, he spoke at some length, and attempted to justify himself concerning these things; after remarks by several brethren, the President proposed that if he would confess his transgressions, he might retain his membership, but that his license must be demanded. He arose and stated that he knew the revelations which he had spoken were from God, and that he had no confession to make, whereupon the Conference cut him off from the church, and demanded his license, which he refused to give up.

    Resolved, That a copy of these minutes be forwarded to Nauvoo, and one to Mr. Burr Tomlinson, Oxford, Zoar Bridge, Conn.

    Elder Robert C. Arnold, of Oxford, the companion of Mr. Roberts, renounced the spirit manifested by said Roberts, and acknowledged that he was righteously cut off.



    L. R. Foster,


    Trials of Discipleship: The Story of William Clayton, a Mormon

    by James B. Allen

    page 26:

    The Manchester Mormons, as well as some other English Saints, had another intriguing custom. They took seriously Paul’s suggestion to the Romans that they “salute one another with a holy kiss,” and often did so as they gathered for meetings. William Clayton frowned on the custom, recognizing that it could get out of hand and become offensive to some people, and as early as February 24, 1840, he advised the Saints to give up the practice. In April, however, it was still going on when George A. Smith, the only eligible bachelor among the Mormon apostles who had recently come from America, visited the Hardman boardinghouse. Soon several young ladies filled the sitting room to hear what the handsome young leader had to say, and one of them, whom Elder Smith described as “decidedly a little beauty,” made a startling request.”Brother Smith,” she coyly said, “we want a kiss of you,” and her eyes “flashed like stars on a clear night.” The apostle was taken aback, but he summoned up resolution enough to tell her that kissing was no part of his mission to England, and after that he was never regarded by the girls of Manchester as a ladies’ man. He was dismayed that the English elders would teach that there was no harm in a “holy kiss,” and particularly upset that the missionaries themselves were setting the example. “It required a very decided course both in Manchester and other places,” he wrote later, “to prevent evil corruption growing out of this custom, which might have been firmly established had not the Twelve put it down.”

  16. her eyes “flashed like stars on a clear night.”


  17. I had a Catholic roommate who planned on using the Kiss of Peace to make a move on a boy she liked. It never happened though. She claimed it was because he always came late and sat on the other side of the room. I maintained that she could have marched across the room, but she never did.

  18. Thanks RT/JNS! Those are choice morsels and I always knew the Brits were a bit…assertive.

  19. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 2
    Ed, I recall the right-left-right triple cheek kiss in France and Switzerland, across all gender combinations. You said they use 1, 2, or 4 at church there. What happened to 3?

    Also seem to run into this exact same thing at parties in NYC, where I’ve heard it called the “cocktail kiss.” Perhaps that’s just liberal NY europhilia rearing its ugly head. The WoW implications of the cocktail kiss are obvious, of course.

    Here in WeHo gay guys routinely greet each other with a quick non-sexual kiss on the cheek or lips, the latter probably unconsciously intended to shock any nearby Republicans.

  20. Elisabeth says:

    Great post, Ed. But I’m amazed that with 19 comments no one has yet referred to the classic Seinfeld episode “The Kiss Hello“.

    GEORGE: Wendy? Is that the uh, physical therapist?
    JERRY: Yeah. I’m on a kiss hello program with her.
    GEORGE: Really?
    JERRY: Yeah. Every time I see her, I gotta kiss her hello. I just did it once, on her birthday, somehow it mushroomed. Now I dread seeing her because of it.

  21. The three kiss? Hm…could be that I just was never in one of those areas.

  22. Ed Snow says:

    Elisabeth, although a Seinfeld fan during the early years, somehow I missed the kiss hello episode! Will have to rent it on DVD.

    JNS, thanks for the excerpts.

    “…saluting the sisters with what he calls a holy kiss, taking them on his lap, and putting his arms around them, &c.”

    Talk about magnifying your calling.

  23. What’s with that alternating cheek kiss when they don’t actually kiss each other?, i.e. they are really just rubbing their cheek bones together and making faux smacking sounds with their lips? What’s the deal with that? I see women do it often.

  24. If you visit a ward in Hawaii, you may be, and any women in your group will almost certainly be greeted with a “kiss”. I’ve lived here for about 5 years and I’m used to it now, but I’ve had members here complain about how “mainland” saints don’t kiss. It’s very regional.

  25. Very cheeky. I suppose among Eskimos it’d be more nosy, than anything. Hee!

    I know I’m far too punny, but in light of a recent thread, I just MUST say it:

    Holy kisses, Batman!

    I think I’d freak, if someone tried any of the kissing, rubbing cheeks, etc.

    Although I must say, I much lament the decline of the hug. IT IS NOT SEXUAL. It can be made so, but it is a physical expression of a non-sexual, non-romantic LIKE and CONCERN and a GIVING of self, to express a human connection, where touch can cement and reinforce that, a caring and a certain regard for the other person, even a validation of each other’s physical existence and physicality, on a non-sexual level.

    I also appreciate a hand on the shoulder or arm, or a leaning forward and touch on the hand, while they look in your eyes with sometimes an expression of concern or congratulations or whatever is needed to help acknowledge and experience the sharing of whatever experience is being shared/related between the two people. I think a light or moderate touch here and there can really help make one feel more connected with others, and can really help others know of your regard and appreciation for them.

    I think this could be a whole post on its own. There are, of course, issues of people who’ve been abused and where touch is emotionally and/or physically uncomfortable for them, but I think, most often, when you are interacting with someone you can often sense from their body language some of their attitudes towards these things. Sometimes.

    I always thought family members kissing each other on the lips (not spouses of course hee) was wierd. But some regions have that. I do wish, though, now that I’m thinking about this thread, that family actually would occasionally punctuate a hug with a kiss on the cheek, as an extra expression of the relationship.


    I’m just affection-starved anyway, and hate how needy I am for it, but then, psychologically, when one does not receive any affection as a child, or very little, the unfilled need remains. Which sucks. I mean it remains in a way that is more needy than that which most well-raised children would feel they need as adults.

    Um, I’ve probably digressed far from the topic of the thread, and again I think all these issues of physical expressions of affection, non-romantic, non-sexual LIKE, and such, could be their whole own post! Maybe I just did one, but if I did, I’d rather it be much better written, and a little researched, and stuff.

    This is just coming out in a rambling, disorganized way.

  26. re: 23 Lom, It’s called an “air kiss.”

  27. Everytime we visit friends in L.A., the wife greets me with a kiss on the lips. It’s really startling, and I’m always just a bit shocked by it. I’ve never had any experiences with girl-girl lip kissing before, but in Europe, we would always greet with the 2 or 3 kiss on the cheek. I liked that.

    I’m glad we did away with Holy Kissing though. It would kind of make me not want to go to church in some wards.

  28. Mark B. says:

    Unless you have extremely big and flexible lips (think Mick Jagger) or really fat cheeks (think a hippo) it’s unlikely that two people can kiss each other on the cheek simultaneously.

    Unless, of course, cheek is defined to begin just where the lips end.

  29. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 27

    Those unwelcome LA lip kisses are indeed annoying. I suggest that YOU take charge next time. When she makes her dastardly lunge, turn your head slightly to the right and go directly into the right-left-right 3 cheek kiss maneuver. Or the easier right-left combo. Avoid the r-l-r-l quad (see comment #2) until you have years of experience. The quad is quite risky and is rumored to violate the Law of Chastity.

    Follow my advice; you’ll avoid the unwanted smack on the lips, and seem more sophisticated than your friend at the same time! Practice it a few times on your spouse or another friend before you get together with her again.

  30. jothegrill says:

    re: 25
    I like hugs too. When my family started having family prayer every night, (which was when I was in high school) we would kneel in a circle and afterward everyone would give everyone else a hug. Sometimes it turned into a bit of a wrestling match, but it was fun. If anyone was at our house when it was time for prayer they were encouraged to participate. My mom was a firm believer that people need lots of hugs, even when they’re all grown up. It was a little weird to me when I was a teenage girl, and my sister’s boyfriend would be there, but I got over it. Some of my friends in college (yes I still lived at home.) would come over specifically for prayers and hugs. I guess it was kind of like a holy kiss. It helped us all to feel love from each other and from our Father in Heaven.

  31. I was shocked SHOCKED when my Hawaiian companion was kissed by a man from Hawaii that we met in Japan. He was a member, but apparently the missionary tag was no deterrant.

    I hear that Orin Hatch is a big kisser but that people in his VA ward run away because he always has make-up on that rubs off on them. I guess you always have to be ready for the cameras.

  32. LOL. Thanks, MikeinWeHo!

  33. In my social circles on the East Coast, I kiss almost all of my female friends and most of my gay male friend upon greeting or saying goodbye. I love it. Can’t speak for them. :-)

  34. Ed,
    A holy kiss is easy. Just spread your lips, loosen your tongue and go wild.


  1. […] I had originally planned to follow up on my earlier “Holy Kiss” bit with a series on courting and marriage tips, but since my claims to romantic experience now have been exposed for the fraud that they are, I’ve decided to approach these topics with an appeal to biblical authority, rather than to my own questionable credentials. In the spirit of full disclosure, I should also state that, well, I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I got married I actually gave up dating–I just didn’t have the time for it anymore. So even my own marginal courting experience is … dated. […]

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