|John 20:17 King James Version (KJV)
17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father …
|John 20:17 American Standard Version (ASV)
17 Jesus saith to her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended unto the Father …
|John 20:17 Lexham English Bible (LEB)
17 Jesus said to her, “Do not touch me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father …
As we can see from above, some older Bible translations and even new ones give the reader the impression that Jesus had told Mary Magdalene not to touch him. Just looking at the King James Version alone, it renders Jesus’ words: “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father.” (John 20:17) However, the Greek verb present imperative (ἅπτου; haptou), which literally means and is usually translated “touch,” but it also means “to fasten to, lay hold of, clinging, handle.” James Swanson in the Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament), tells us that John 20:17 has the sense of “hold on to, seize, grasp.” So, today, we better understand “the more natural use of a present imperative to indicate a prohibition against fastening oneself to the physical Jesus.” Therefore, suggesting that Jesus was objecting to Mary Magdalene’s simply touching him is unreasonable. I mean, he allowed other women at his tomb to take “hold of his feet and did obeisance to him.” – Matthew 28:9.
Many other modern translations give us what Jesus really meant.
|John 20:17 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
17 Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father …
|John 20:17 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
17 Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father …
|John 20:17 Christian Standard Bible (CSB)
17 “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus told her, “since I have not yet ascended to the Father …
Mary Magdalene was a close friend; why would Jesus say that to her? (Luke 8:1-3) It is simple enough; Mary Magdalene was afraid of losing Jesus here on earth as he was about to leave and ascend into heaven. She was moved by her strong desire for Jesus. She was holding on to, clinging to his presence. Jesus reassured her that he was not yet leaving, so he said to her, “Stop clinging to me.” He then ordered her to proclaim the news of his resurrection.
Thus, it is not really a question of her touching Jesus that he objected to, but rather, it was her trying to cling to him, fearful that he would leave yet again. Borchert feels that “The NASB rendering “stop clinging to me” may be a little too harsh. The NLT “don’t cling to me” seems to be a little more nuanced.” This suggests that Jesus was simply reassuring her that he was not going anywhere at present and that she should inform the disciples of what had happened.
Mary was evidently clinging to Jesus not in a physical sense but in a personal sense because she thought that he was about to ascend to heaven. Yes, she likely very much impulsively embraced him. However, the mindset was that if he ascended to heaven, she would never be able to see him again. There would be no more long walks on the road from place to place with the disciples, which likely contained many great conversations, no more evening meals, and no more public sermons. Albert Barnes writes, “the language of Jesus may mean this: ‘Do not approach me now for this purpose. Do not delay here. Other opportunities will yet be afforded to see me. I have not yet ascended—that is, I am not about to ascend immediately, but shall remain yet on earth to afford opportunity to my disciples to enjoy my presence.’” This is what Jesus meant by “Stop clinging to me.” In addition, Mary Magdalene was clinging to the idea of having Jesus here on earth, allowing her to be his disciple always. This mindset was an impediment to the Father’s will and purposes for the Son.
Later that same day, Jesus appeared to the other disciples (his fifth appearance), but Thomas was not present. They feared and thought he was a spirit, so he invited them to touch him. (Luke 24:39) When Thomas was informed that Jesus had risen, he said that he would not believe until he saw the nail wounds on Jesus’ hands and was able to put his hand in Jesus’ wound in his side. Later, when Thomas did have a chance to see him, Jesus offered him just that opportunity to touch him. (John 20:25-27) Thus, a better understanding of the Greek and the context of the two different incidents remove any supposed contradiction or inconsistency.
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