Most people remember their first kiss. And chances are, that first kiss took place a long time before an exchange of wedding vows. In many cases, that first kiss was shared with someone who is now a distant memory of the past.
Clearly, our society holds a very cavalier attitude toward kissing. In the modern West, kissing is a common practice, an expression of the most casual attraction.
But how should Christians view kissing?
The Bible doesn’t say ‘thou shalt not kiss.’ So is it permissible for Christians to kiss before marriage, and if so, when and with whom?
The choice to kiss before marriage is a matter of conscience. However, Christians ought to understand the effects of kissing and the purpose of dating as they discern boundaries that help them honor God in their relationships.
Before we dismiss our question about kissing as legalistic or even Puritanical, let us expand our query to include an examination of how dating applies to Christian marriage. Dating is a relatively modern concept, having arisen concurrently with (and in the context of) individualistic societies. As individualists, we think largely in terms of personal preferences and choices, including whom we choose to date (and eventually marry).
In collectivist societies, including ancient Israel, dating as we know it was simply an unknown concept. Marriages were often arranged between families to achieve some mutual benefit (financial security, political alliance, etc.). But this does not mean that people had no say in whom they married, or that physical attraction did not play a part in the process.
Genesis 29:17-18 tells us that Rachel was ‘lovely in form, and beautiful,’ and that Jacob was in love with her, and was willing to work seven years in return for marrying her.
Clearly, Jacob saw that Rachel was (to restate it in modern terms) smoking hot, but he still worked within the betrothal and marriage system of his culture to fulfill his desire.
Individualism, however, isn’t the only factor to give rise to dating. In ancient times, life expectancy, infant mortality, and sparse leisure time contributed to the need for people to marry and reproduce at a young age.
In modern society, we live longer, have fewer children, and start families at a later age.This has led to many of us delaying marriage, often affording us ten to fifteen years of dating eligibility.
Dating for Christians
Our culture generally views dating as a time during which people can express and explore their sexuality, including their desires, preferences, and compatibility with others.
So dating in Western society is generally a promiscuous endeavor, where the expectation is that as one matures and/or progresses in seriousness with a dating partner, physical affections will be expressed in a manner commensurate with the relationship.
As Christians, we understand and strive to honor the Biblical mandate that sexual intimacy is designed for marriage and vice-versa. And so we rightly view dating as a time to explore emotional and spiritual compatibility as we assess a partner’s suitability for marriage, while refraining from sexual activity.
But physical affection is a natural response to attraction, so we are left to discern how far we can go, physically while dating (or even engaged). Kissing, as evidenced by its common portrayal in movies and TV (even aimed at a pre-teen audience), is understood by our culture as only the first step of physical affection.
So we struggle with whether or not this is the right place to establish a boundary. And we wonder whether or not the Bible can help us establish parameters and boundaries for kissing.
Kissing in the Bible
Throughout the Old and New Testaments, we observe kissing as a form of greeting or a display of endearment among relatives (Genesis 27:26, Ruth 1:14) and among friends (1 Peter 5:4, Romans 16:16). Even today, such kisses are common in society. We kiss our children goodnight, we greet relatives and friends with an embrace and a kiss on the cheek.
Clearly, these simple kisses of greeting are not the subject of our question. But do we see any passionate kissing between romantic partners depicted in the Bible? One well-known example is found here:
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—
for your love is more delightful than wine. – Song of Solomon 1:2
We note that the kiss depicted in this verse includes a descriptive phrase that is not found elsewhere in scripture. The Beloved, speaking with obvious passion and anticipation, desires the kisses ‘of his mouth’. And from the two verses that follow, we easily determine that this kiss is a prelude to a sexual encounter.
But why would the writer add the phrase ‘of his mouth’? Aren’t all kisses, by definition, performed with the mouth?
The Hebrew word peh, which is translated here as ‘mouth,’ refers to the opening or interior of the mouth. This word is used throughout the Old Testament to refer to the mouth in the context of eating and tasting, and to speaking what is in the heart.
This same word is also used in scripture to describe the openings of vessels such as sacks and wells.
By contrast, just as English distinguishes between the entire mouth and the lips on its surface, Biblical Hebrew makes the same distinction. The Hebrew word sawfa, rendered as ‘lips’, is used when speaking of the physical lips (Isaiah 6:5), or the mechanics (utterance) of speech.
This word can also refer to the border or edge of a garment or the banks of a river.
And scripture gives us a different take on a kiss that strictly involves the lips:
An honest answer
is like a kiss on the lips. – Proverbs 24:26
Surely, Solomon (the writer of both of these passages) does not equate an honest answer with the passionate arousal of a deep kiss. Rather, an honest answer is akin to a display of friendship, respect, and trust. It is sincere and intimate, but not sexually so.
The Intent of Kissing
Even in scripture, the distinction between friendly kisses and passionate kisses (what we might describe today as French kissing or making out) is evident. And passionate kissing is presented as a romantic, sensual act, spoken of in Song of Solomon in the context of marriage.
Many readers may know from experience that deep kissing can and does lead to sexual arousal. And, as in Song of Solomon, it is often the first step toward a more intimate sexual encounter.
So when we assess whether or not Christians should engage in such kissing, we must do so with full awareness of the temptations associated with kissing.
Controlling the Body
1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 encourages Christians to avoid sexual immorality by controlling our bodies in honorable ways, and not in passionate lust. So the question that remains for each of us is, does passionate kissing inhibit our ability to maintain control of our bodies?
The answer might be different for each of us, a matter of conscience rather than mandate. Some people are more easily aroused than others, and not all people respond to the same stimuli.
So we need to understand not only our own conscience but that of our partner. After all, kissing requires two participants, so both parties should be in agreement.
When Dating Turns Serious
As Christians, we should understand that if the purpose of dating is to determine suitability for marriage, our dating ought to be marked by non-physical activities that allow us to know each other spiritually, emotionally, and socially.
It is only when we’ve achieved a level of compatibility on these fronts that we should consider marriage and entertain even the simplest expressions of physical affection.
So when dating reaches the point where marriage is a viable possibility, a couple is wise to discuss and reach an agreement on proper boundaries. And as a general practice for dating Christians, any activity that is intended to provoke arousal in yourself or in the other person is best left for marriage. For we are responsible not only for our own bodies but also to avoid such behaviors that might cause another to stumble.
So if passionate kissing invites unnecessary lust, risk, and temptation into your pre-marriage relationship, then wisdom and love require that you place a boundary in front of kissing, for the sake of your partner and the sanctity of your future marriage.