Questions From Readers
● Why, after his resurrection, did Jesus tell Mary Magdalene not to touch him? He later told Thomas to touch him.—P. P., Haiti.
The extent to which John 20:17 creates a problem in correct understanding depends largely on the Bible translation one uses. Both the Catholic Douay and the King James Version represent Jesus as telling Mary not to “touch” him. The Douay reads: “Jesus saith to her: Do not touch me, for I am not yet ascended to my Father.” (John 20:17) Yet, according to this translation, Jesus later said to Thomas: “Put in thy finger hither, and see my hands; and bring hither thy hand, and put it into my side.”—John 20:27.
This same problem, Jesus’ telling Mary not to touch his materialized body and later urging Thomas to touch him, occurs in translations in various languages. In German the Elberfelder and Luther translations carry the thought at John 20:17 of not “touching” Jesus. This is also the case in the French Crampon and Liénart Bibles, in Italian with Riveduta and Diodati and in Spanish in the Moderna, Valera, and Nácar-Colunga translations.
However, “touch” is just one of the meanings of the Greek word ha΄pto. Another of the many significances of this Greek word is “to cling to, lay hold of.” (An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, by W. E. Vine, Vol. IV, p. 145) Accordingly, The New English Bible presents Jesus as saying at John 20:17: “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.” The statement is similarly translated in An American Translation and the Catholic La Bible de Jérusalem (The Jerusalem Bible) in French and English. The Spanish Ediciones Paulinas uses “Suéltame,” meaning “Let go of me.”
So the situation in the case of Mary Magdalene appears to have been that she was greatly disturbed that by his death Jesus had left his followers. When she saw him in his materialized body after his resurrection, she clung to Jesus as if she were about to lose him and never see him again. Jesus’ statement would work to correct her misunderstanding of the situation, showing her that she did not have to clutch him fearfully as if to prevent his vanishing. In time he would ascend to heaven and from there send the holy spirit to help and strengthen his disciples. The New World Translation appropriately presents Jesus as saying to Mary: “Stop clinging to me. For I have not yet ascended to the Father. But be on your way to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father and to my God and your God.’”—John 20:17.
A few days later, before his ascension to heaven, Jesus invited Thomas to touch his materialized body momentarily so as to convince Thomas that he, Christ, had actually risen from the dead. (John 20:27) This was not inconsistent with what Jesus had said earlier.