Skip to content

Chapter 10

The Holy Kiss and Washing of Feet

There are some social customs which are recognized and commanded in the Bible. Two of these are the kiss of greeting and washing the feet of guests.

There are two essential differences between the way these customs are commanded and the way the head coverings are commanded.

First of all, it can be clearly demonstrated from scripture that these were social customs, and the way they were regulated in the New Testament is in exact accord with practice. The kiss was made “holy”, showing that our greetings are to be from the heart and not hypocritical. Washing of feet was a specific hospitable act, and this act is used to indicate hospitality in general.

Second, in regulating these acts there are no special reasons given for commanding them. They remain acts of greeting or hospitality. They have no special significance. They are simply to be “holy”.

Here are biblical references to these practices:

The kiss of greeting:

  • Genesis 27:26,27—Jacob kisses his father.
  • 2 Samuel 20:9—Joab makes as if to kiss Amasa.
  • Psalm 2:12—“Kiss the son”, translated “Do homage” in the NASB.
  • Proverbs 24:26—A right answer is like a kiss on the lips.
  • Matthew 26:48—Judas kissed Jesus.
  • Luke 7:45—Jesus rebuked the Pharisee for giving him no kiss.
  • Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14—Christians told to greet with a “holy” kiss.

Washing of feet:

  • Genesis 18:4—Abraham entertained angels.
  • Genesis 19:2—Lot entertained angels.
  • Genesis 24:32—Laban gave hospitality to the servant of Abraham
  • Genesis 43:24—Joseph’s steward washed feet of Joseph’s brothers
  • 1 Samuel 25:41—Abigail described herself as “a maid to wash the feet of my lord’s servants.”
  • 2 Samuel 11:8—David invited Uriah to go down to his house and wash his feet.
  • Luke 7:44—Jesus rebuked the Pharisee for giving him no water for his feet.
  • John 13:4-15—Jesus washed the feet of His disciples, told them to do the same.

Notice: When these practices were enjoined in the New Testament, no new significance was given to them. The washing of feet was commanded to show that we are to serve one another, even when that means doing things ordinarily done by a servant. The kiss of greeting was made into a “holy” kiss, a kiss which was a sincere sign of the love Christians are to have for one another.

It is for this reason that we know these practices are not in themselves important. When customs change, we can follow the customs for greeting or for hospitality. But the principles taught by the commands concerning those customs are always to be followed.

Paul dealt with the head coverings in a different way. First, he legislated very specifically in a way which was contrary to practice, especially the practice of men. (See chapter Custom.) These differences are important. They show that Paul was not telling the Corinthians to follow accepted practice because of what that practice meant. He did not talk about head coverings in general, but head coverings “while praying or prophesying.” He told men not to cover their heads when praying or prophesying because Christ is their head. This was contrary to the Roman practice of worship, and contrary to what Jewish priests were to wear. And the reason for the command had nothing to do with custom.

In the case of women, though it was common for women to cover their heads in public, custom did not make it necessary. Further, we found that priestesses in heathen religions did not cover their heads. Therefore Paul was giving something different from social or religious customs.

Second, Paul gave very important reasons for carrying out his commands: to show headship, to keep from disgracing one’s head, to have “authority” on her head, because of the angels. He appealed to the accepted practice (“nature”) of hair length only to reinforce his command concerning the coverings.

Our conclusion is, therefore, that the words of 1 Corinthians 11 were not given to regulate custom. They were given as instructions to Christians different from what was customary, for reasons not found in custom. We have no right to change the way in which we follow these instructions.