Sunday Morning Greek Blog

February 20, 2012

Judas’s Kiss (Matthew 26:48–49; Mark 14:45)


Those of us who read the Scriptures with any regularity (and even with some irregularity) have noticed the phenomenon of selective attention. What I mean by this is, when you read a passage of Scripture you know you’ve read before, you notice something that speaks to your heart in such a way that you say, “Why didn’t I see that before.” That has happened to me quite often in reading the English translations of the Bible, even though English is my native tongue. You’d think I’d remember more than I do when I read Scripture. But now on my second time through the Greek New Testament (GNT), I am experiencing that same phenomenon. Of course, having that full year of experience has seasoned me to notice certain features of the text that the occasional reader of the GNT might not notice.

Matthew 26:48–49

The subject of this blog post is one such passage. Matthew 26:48–49 is part of the story of Judas betraying Jesus to the authorities. My discussion in this post centers around the nature of the “kiss” by which Judas identified Jesus to the authorities. Here is how the text reads in the NIV, with the Greek words translated “kiss” identified:

Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss [φιλήσω from φιλέω] is the man; arrest him.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed [κατεφίλησεν from καταφιλέω] him.

The “Kiss”

New Testament Usage

Some may think the different words used for “kiss” here represent merely a stylistic difference, but an examination of the second word, καταφιλέω, reveals an interesting nuance that is lost in translation but not in context. The word is used six times in the New Testament: once each by Matthew and Mark (14:45) in their respective betrayal pericopes; and four times by Luke—three in his Gospel (Luke 7:38, 45; 15:20) and once in Acts (20:37).

Luke mentions the φιλέω kiss in his passion story, but he never outright says that Judas kissed Jesus. But it is Luke’s use of καταφιλέω that reveals the important nuance in Matthew and Mark. Luke 7 is the story of the woman who washes Jesus feet with perfume, tears, and her hair. The kissing is portrayed as a repeated action that at the same time indicates a sort of “sorrowful joy.” She is both truly repentant and truly grateful for the forgiveness Jesus would proclaim to her. In vs. 45, Luke even contrasts the φιλέω kiss he should have received from Simon as a customary greeting with the woman’s repeated καταφιλέω kissing. So Luke was fully aware of the contrast between the two words, just as Matthew and Mark were.

In Luke 15, Jesus uses καταφιλέω of the father welcoming home the prodigal son. In Acts 20:37, Luke again uses the word to describe what happened when Paul departed from Miletus after saying farewell to the Ephesian elders. Paul is facing grave danger as he returns to Jerusalem, and many of his friends think they will never see him again. This is no peck on the cheek. Strong emotions always accompany this kind of “kiss.”

Old Testament Usage

The use of this word in the Septuagint (LXX) is no different. It describes the affection Laban showed his grandchildren when Jacob departed (Genesis 31:28, 32:1). It also describes Joseph’s reunion with his brothers in Egypt (Genesis 45:15). Naomi parted with Orpah with this kind of kiss, and the bond was so strong that Ruth insisted on returning to Bethlehem with Naomi (Ruth 1:9, 14). The word describes David’s friendship with Jonathan as well (1 Samuel 20:41). But lest I be misunderstood or misinterpreted, there is absolutely no sexual connotation in these farewell “kisses.” They reveal the very deep bond of friendship that the people experienced.

Judas’s Kiss: What It Means

So what does this all mean for Judas’s kiss? The fact that Matthew and Mark use καταφιλέω to describe Judas’s betrayal kiss reveals a couple things in my mind. First, Judas seems to have genuinely loved Jesus. I don’t think it’s fair to suggest he wasn’t genuine about the show of affection, especially given the desperation of his remorse after the fact. Second, because of that love, I have to wonder if Judas was trying to force Jesus’s hand by having him arrested. Judas wanted as much as anyone to throw off Roman rule, but Judas apparently didn’t like where things were headed. I think it is within the realm of reason to suggest that Judas thought by having Jesus arrested, Jesus’s followers would rise up rebellion against Rome. Or perhaps he even thought that Jesus would make a mighty show of divine power to overthrow Rome.

His actions do not strike me as those of a man who had a traitorous heart from the beginning. Rather they seem to be desperate measures by a disillusioned man who was trying to make one last attempt to have things go his way. When he failed miserably and realized he had condemned his friend to death rather initiating a new world order, he killed himself in an ultimate act of desperation.


How many times do you and I get disillusioned about the way God is working in our lives? I know I have done my share of complaining to God that he’s not doing things the way I think he should be doing them. Then in desperation, I do something in an attempt to force God’s hand and realize after the fact how foolish I really was. I need to work on developing that deep and abiding trust in God that makes me want to melt into his καταφιλέω affection for me, just as the prodigal experienced when he returned home.


Scott Stocking


  1. […] Judas’s Kiss (Matthew 26:48–49; Mark 14:45) […]

    Pingback by The Passion Week of Christ « Sunday Morning Greek Blog — March 11, 2012 @ 2:11 pm | Reply

  2. Thanks, Scott. It’s observations like this that are motivating me to study NT Greek. (I’m using the textbook “A Primer of Biblical Greek” by N. Clayton Croy.) I will be following your blog with interest. Thanks for feeding my desire to learn.

    Comment by LA — June 4, 2012 @ 6:13 pm | Reply

    • Thank you, LA. I hope you enjoy. I’m on a bit of hiatus right now while my kids are with me, but I’ve been making notes to myself for future posts.

      Comment by Scott Stocking — June 4, 2012 @ 11:31 pm | Reply

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