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A Kiss Is Just A Kiss?

  • Patrick L. Hurd,
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People have historically invested an enormous amount of time and energy writing, singing, playing,
fighting, and dying for the kiss of a fair maiden, gallant knight, or the boy/girl next door. The preoccupation with kissing and other expressions of sexuality smacks us all at tenderly young ages and never seems to subside. Perhaps it is because kissing is one of our earliest learned expressions of love. Yet, in today's culture of increasing diversity and plurality, the ways and means of discovering one's sexuality and learning to relate with others in terms of sexuality is likewise increasingly complex.

For some the only issue of appropriate sexual behavior is what type of birth control one uses when engaging in intercourse. Liberal groups such as the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), Planned Parenthood, and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) have long influenced how sex is taught in the government schools. They advocate "comprehensive" or "safe-sex" education-classes that feature, among other things, explicit guidance on the use of condoms and other contraceptives.1 They are quite animate in their position, the need for protection from disease as well as pregnancy, for example. According to this position, it is a given that the young and unmarried are going to engage in every type of sexual activity right up to and including intercourse.

However, there is a major push within the secular segment, much to the chagrin of the profiteers of teenage pregnancies, maintaining that abstinence is the only alternative until marriage. In fact, every state except California has bought into a matching-funds plan by Congress to create abstinence-only programs in the government schools. About $500 million has poured into such programs since passage of the Title V welfare legislation in 1996. About $135 million is earmarked for programs next year, a $33 million increase over this year.2 Every other sexual activity, however, is OK as long as you do not intrude forbidden territory. Thus lines are drawn delineating between the good, the bad, and the ugly anywhere from monastic celibacy all the way to unadulterated promiscuity and a billion places in between, each one determined by some arbitrarily established standard that no one understands or can sensibly explain.

It is not my intention to draw another line or even defend a particular line. Three may be a crowd when kissing your loved one but, in the field of ethics, two is a crowd even if they are kissing cousins. What I do hope to do is to present an argument based on God's Word that will serve as a basis from which to formulate a Christian response to the questions of sexual conduct as well as other life issues that may not be specifically addressed in the Bible. That is one of the roles of the church. To be salt and light in a degenerate and dark world, the church of Jesus Christ, the one and only repository of truth and knowledge, must be willing and able to take on the complex life issues and bring the standard of Christian living to bear on those issues.

Such a task is not accomplished through a compilation of do's and don'ts. It is impossible for mere humans to foresee every possible circumstance or future contingency with the purpose of dictating a specific response to each one. It cannot be done. Additionally, one of the great elements of the historic Christian faith is Christian liberty, which includes liberty of the conscience. "God alone is Lord of the conscience, and has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in anything, contrary to his Word; or beside it, if matters of faith, or worship. So that, to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands, out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience: and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also."3

Simply stated, the way a Christian comes to a Biblical response to the complex issues of life is 1) through a proper interpretation of reality and 2) an aggressive application of Biblical principles to the issue at hand. The Bible tells us that Christians "have the mind of Christ" (1 Corinthians 2:16) and instructs us to "be transformed by the renewing of your mind." (Romans 12:2) However, all this "having" and "transforming" is progressive in nature and, therefore, we find our minds and thoughts to be rather immature and incomplete while in this life: "For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known" (1 Corinthians 13:12). Therefore, and 3), the community of Christians is required to identify and examine issues, dialogue about specific solutions, determine appropriate responses, and publish the results for the benefit of the whole community.

"Lord! I wonder what fool it was that first invented kissing." Jonathan Swift Dialogue ii.

To question whether to kiss or not kiss appears juvenile and naïve and, in today's culture where intercourse of every sort is the given norm of growing up, actually invokes ridicule and cynicism even from some within the church. For too much of the quasi-conservative Christian segment, the discussion of experiential sexuality of the young and unmarried does not stray far from the appropriateness of intercourse. For example, the web site for the 9 year old abstinence program of the Southern Baptist Convention, True Love Waits, offers this advice to a teen about setting boundaries as a means of remaining true to the commitment of abstinence as he matures: "Another good boundary to have is to avoid prolonged kissing. Sexual acts are progressive, meaning one leads to another. Kissing leads you to desire to do something more. Your body will want to go onto the next step."4 However, some believe the discussion of appropriate sexual behavior should begin somewhere far from anything that preludes the act of intercourse.

The natural epicenter of such a discussion seems to be whether it is appropriate for the young and unmarried to engage in sensual kissing. As far as two people learning the appropriate ways of expressing love and affection, kissing is not a bad place to begin the discussion. There is no other activity between two persons in which all five of the physical senses are engaged simultaneously to cross the barrier of the physical body into the heart and soul of another person than that of a kiss. A kiss is not just a kiss.

Yet the Biblical position is not one of an abolitionist against all forms of a-marital kissing, even passionate a-marital kissing. There are plenty of examples in the Bible of people kissing people other than their spouse (even passionately, i.e., Genesis 45:15 and Acts 20:37). In fact, kissing should be passionate as it is most appropriate when invoked by passion. Judas' kiss of betrayal was an ungodly kiss if for no other reason than it was a kiss without passion. Conversely, the Bible commands Christians to "Greet each other with a [holy] kiss [of love]" (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14).

Therefore, we must acknowledge that there are different ways of kissing as well as different motives for kissing. Recently I was asked to explain, "Why kissing, and especially passionately kissing with another person before marriage, is not in our best interest." The first thing to notice is that the inquirer used the expression, "…passionately kissing with another person …" rather than simply "passionately kissing another person." The "with" betrays many underlying connotations and presuppositions of our culture which include kissing for recreational sport, seeking to feel loved, or animistic curiosity, not to mention as a sensual stimulation designed as a prelude to sexual intercourse. It betrays the perception of a reality that is unbiblical and, thus, not authentic.

"If you are ever in doubt as to whether or not you should kiss a pretty girl, always give her the benefit of a doubt." Thomas Carlyle

The fact is that there are different reasons for and, therefore, different types of kissing. One might kiss their spouse in the same way that one kisses their dog, cat, horse, or brother, but there is a special time and way of kissing that everyone knows to belong only to one's spouse and is inappropriate for anyone else. For example, a husband may not give it another thought when his wife's brother kisses her before they part company. However, let your best friend passionately kiss your wife and the honest man must admit to being inflamed by the spectacle. If you guys don't believe me, try a nice long passionate smack on the lips of one of your wife's friends and see how long it is before you're back in the house.

Even the ancient pagans knew the difference between kissing one's sister and kissing one's wife. When Isaac and Rebekah moved to Egypt to escape the famine at home (Genesis 26), Isaac (after the family tradition) presented Rebekah to the populace as his sister rather than his wife. However, King Abimelech (who probably had his eye on Rebekah from the beginning) spotted Isaac "sporting" with Rebekah one day. Whatever it is that a man does when he "sports" his wife, one can safely assume that had it been copulation, the Hebrew expression would have been a much more common description indicating a man laying with a woman instead of the isolated term for "sporting."

Indeed, the use of the term "sporting," coupled with the King's unhappy reaction to the whole affair, indicates an activity that was evidently thought to be inappropriate between a brother and sister and appropriate only between a husband and wife, yet short of intercourse. "Sporting" is a King James interpretation. Other interpretations use verbs like "endearing," "caressing," and "fondling." You get the idea. There was more passion than what was appropriate between a brother and sister; passion historically reserved for husband and wife.

However, one of the backlashes of the Sexual Revolution of the '60's is the cheapening of "sporting" with one's mate previously reserved for committed-for-life couples. Man, in his never tiring quest to deny any and all creature/creator distinctions, demonstrates no regrets with adopting the status of a mere machine with no ethical obligations rather than submitting to his created-in-the-image-of-God status with all of its stated and implied ethical obligations. The sad result is that, apart from man operating as the designed image bearer of God, the status of mere machine is beyond his reach and, in the end, he reduces himself to the status of brute animal. The free-love advocates begin by offering "life" to their followers and end by demanding death, legalized murder, in the form of abortion, as the release and escape from the consequences of their action.5

Thus becomes obvious the futility of the women's liberation movement, the animal rights movement, and all other activist movements whose goal it is to "raise" their perceived status in society to that equal to or above men. Women, by removing all male/female distinctions, negate the rules by which men and women operate in society and, thus, give men license for boorish and brute behavior, not only toward women but also in every sphere of society. However, men are not without fault either. According to Rushdoony:

Today, men, having abdicated extensively their masculinity are less concerned with order and more with gratification. As a result, women, because their security, and that of their children, is at stake, become involved with the problem of social decay and law and order. Social and political action thus becomes a pressing feminine concern. Their concern underscores the decay of society and the failure of men.6

Thus, when women cry out against the abuses suffered against them (increased crimes of violence committed against them at increasingly younger ages), their cries fall on deaf, if not debilitated, ears. Instead of their status being elevated, they find themselves living in a world where they have actually digressed to that of the degenerated man and, thus, less than the human status from which they began.

On the other hand, Christians are called by their Lord to embrace a certain and distinct system of behavior (i.e., ethics) that differs from and is challenged by the popular systems of ethics of the masses. While the Scriptures may not specifically distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate ways or means of kissing they do have a lot to say about the overall behavior and conduct of God's people both corporately and individually. One would seem to have to agree that kissing falls under such overall guidance.

The Scriptures command us to keep a heart that is clean and free from sin. One should not seek to go as far as one can before violating the letter of the law. When one does, he has already violated the spirit of the law, e.g., whoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart (Matthew 5:28). How much more, then, has someone committed adultery who does not confine himself to looking, but also touches in an inescapably sexual way? It is good for a man not to touch a woman (1 Corinthians 7:1). Walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh (Galatians 5:16). Finally, one would think that Paul's entreaty to "treat younger women as sisters, with absolute purity" (1 Timothy 5:2) would settle the case once and for all. But, then, it is the 21st century.

For Christian ethics to maintain some difference from the rest of the world, there are some assumptions that the Christian is expected to know, understand, and apply. In fact, if these few basic elements of the Christian faith were taught to children at a young age and applied throughout their childhood as they mature, I dare say most of our young people would not think twice about the proper response to sexual issues. Unfortunately, too many of our young people don't think twice about it and, thus, the pregnancy and divorce rate within the church rivals that without the church.

  1. The Christian is not his own person-he does not belong to himself — he belongs to God. He has been bought with a price and belongs to God alone. That means the other person one is with (if a Christian) doesn't belong to themselves either. Therefore, neither person has the right to give their body, passions, mind, etc… to someone else or to require that someone else give theirs to them (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20; 7:23).
  2. The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. To glorify God means to make visible His invisible attributes (character) and eternal power by the way we, His people, act, think, work, play, marry, kiss, etc…. The Bible instructs us to "put away childish things" (1 Corinthians 13:11) and "flee youthful lusts" (2 Timothy 2:22) freeing us to accomplish our chief mission: To glorify God.
  3. The Bible admonishes God's people to flee from sensual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:18 and 1 Thessalonians 4:3, to name a few), to "sanctify the Lord God in your hearts" (1 Peter 3:15), to "love one another fervently with a pure heart" (1 Peter 1:22), to "establish your hearts blameless in holiness" (1 Thessalonians 3:13), to "keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it [spring] the issues of life" (Proverbs 4:23), etc… We are to carefully guard our heart from defilement and against competing loyalties and to do so for our children.
  4. Jesus set the record straight about Biblical ethics with the Sermon on the Mount: "But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:28). It is an invalid attempt to separate the physical from the spiritual and pretend that one does not touch the other.

"There is the kiss of welcome and of parting, the long, lingering, loving, present one; the stolen, or the mutual one; the kiss of love, of joy, and of sorrow; the seal of promise and receipt of fulfillment." (Thomas C. Haliburotn, 1796-1865)

The Bible does exhort Christians to greet one another with a holy kiss and a kiss of love and, thus, establishes certain parameters about what is appropriate kissing for someone not your spouse. First, we are to greet one another, not accost or wrestle with or tongue strangle or any of the other activities that go on when one becomes emotionally and physically aroused by the sensual nature of intimate kissing. Even though the kiss of greeting is practically extinct in American culture, the Biblical instruction nevertheless points to an emotional reaction of joy that can be appropriately expressed by a kiss to someone not your spouse.

Second, the kind of kissing Christians are to engage in with non-spouses is "holy kissing." To be holy means to be separate, distinct, and set apart. In some sense, the kiss itself sets apart the person receiving the kiss as distinct from the mass of people in general. Christians are not to engage in the kind of every day intimate petting and fornication that non-Christians engage. We are called to be a holy people, a holy nation, and, therefore, the way we kiss (as well as everything we do in life) is also be holy.

Third, the Christian kiss is to be one of love, i.e., an outward expression of the love and care one has for the person being kissed. It would be going too far to suggest the kiss of greeting to be something of a sacrament, yet the gracious expression of sanctified love by one to another is something only one loved and saved by the gracious mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ can truly understand and appreciate. Accordingly, we are not talking about any kind of love (that is, some naturalistic definition of what love might be) but rather the Biblical definition of love that is found at 1 Corinthians 13, for example. It is love that seeks the best for and in the interest of the other person rather for one's own self.

Unfortunately, pre-marital kissing (it certainly happens post-maritaly too) is nothing more than selfish and self-seeking lust. Thus, if one Biblically "love[s] the one you're with"7 the previously discussed question should be, "Can you please explain to me why kissing and especially passionately kissing with another person before marriage is not in their best interest" rather than in "our" best interest. Biblical love shows more (not equal) concern for others than for self.

Yet, in our day of "connect no dots," it is interesting that the young man was concerned at all with their best interest. He thus acknowledged the connection between actions and consequences. The Bible teaches us that God is a God of justice. He rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked. He has established a covenant with His people based on blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience (Deuteronomy 11:13, 26-28; 12:28; 13:4; 15:5).

Additionally, creation is orderly in its very nature. The Bible teaches us that this created order exists everywhere: in the physical composition of matter, in the business affairs of men, in the construction of the family unit, in societal construction and government, and in our personal relationships with each other. To violate the created order is to invite negative consequences. When a man jumps off a building, it matters not how good his intentions are or his sincerely held belief that all men are destined to fly. When he hits bottom, he reaps the consequences of disobeying God's created order. Thus, those who flirt with sensual passions are sure to be caught in its undercurrent and dragged along until beyond rescue (Romans 1:26ff).

The opposite is equally true and important in understanding the non-Christian's function in the world. For when another man walks to the edge of the building and, applying the Christian worldview, walks away, God blesses him with life for his obedience. It matters not whether the man consciously attributes the life giving knowledge he just exercised to God or not. The law of God links the mind and body of man to law, and it ties man's law-keeping to his covenant-keeping with God.8 The fact that he has learned the orderly nature of creation and to practically apply the rules of that order is a blessing to him directly from God.

The same principle applies in our relationships with people. There are blessings for obeying the laws of creation and curses for disobeying. If we lie, steal, cheat, murder, covet, or lust there will be negative consequences. God's covenant guarantees it (Deuteronomy 7:9 and 5:9). People demonstrate their love of God through obedience to His commands and their hatred of God through their rebellious disregard for His commandments and the created order of our world. Accordingly, it is defiant to suggest that, "A kiss is just a kiss."

"You may conquer with the sword, but you are conquered by a kiss." Daniel Heinsius (1580-1655)

Because of the prevailing and faulty theology in modern evangelism and apologetics, the church seeks to make a point of contact with the unbelieving mass that allows the unbeliever to remain autonomously rebellious against God even while "being a seeker after God." The consequence has been that the unbeliever, while expressing the willingness to be engaged by the church, nevertheless demands the point of contact to be farther and farther away from God. Unbelief is always accompanied by disobedience; so that it is the source — the mother of all stubbornness.9 Thus, we have this unbelievable phenomenon occurring in today's church where the salt of the world believes it must become like the pepper in order for the pepper to be transformed into salt!

This reversing of roles starkly expresses itself today within church youth groups whereby our covenant children have as many piercings, tattoos, and exposed midriffs as any pagan you might run into at the mall. Also prevalent in youth groups are the most bizarre and foolish activities one can dream of in order to attract the pagan's children and, perhaps, allow for a reference to God here and there along the way. In this environment, the sexual attitudes and behavior of our children match that of the pagan children as evidenced by the number of teen births and abortions within our ranks. We have been faithful students of our targeted converts' religion. One must wonder just who is converting who.

Accordingly, we should not be surprised that, when the discussion of sexual ethics is the topic, to abstain from sexual intercourse is the prevailing conclusion of the church and, while not necessarily in agreement by the secularist, is an agreeable point of contact for discussion between the believer and non-believer. For someone to suggest raising the standard is to invite ridicule and cynicism from every direction. Yet, based on the light of Scripture, we must conclude that it is in the best interest of our children to know the Word of God with regard to relationships and to obey His word. We must conclude that the activity of sensually intimate kissing is an activity designed to initiate sexual intercourse and, therefore, reserved for married couples. For unmarried persons to engage in the activity of sensual kissing is to invite the punishments of disobedience to God and to play Russian roulette with one's future.


1. "The method proven 100% effective," World, June 15, 2002.

2. Ibid.

3. "Of Christian Liberty, and Liberty of Conscience.," Westminster Confession of Faith 20:2

4. (September, 2002).

5. R. J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (P&R Publishing, 1973), 375.

6. Ibid, 203.

7. As opposed to Stephen Stills' 1970 pop hit "Love The One You're With," whose chorus summarized the free love mantra of the era, "And if you can't be with the one you love, baby, love the one you're with."

8. Rushdoony, op. cit., 646.

9. John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians, p. 219, sited by Rushdoony, op. cit., 302.