John 20:17

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Jesus telling Mary not to touch him, by Hans Holbein the Younger

John 20:17 is a verse in the Gospel of John in the New Testament. It contains Jesus' response to Mary Magdalene right after he confronts her just outside his tomb after his resurrection. According to the longer ending of Mark's Gospel (Mark 16:9) Mary Magdalene is the first person to whom Jesus shows himself alive after his resurrection.

Greek text:

λέγει αὐτῇ Ἰησοῦς· μή μου ἅπτου, οὔπω γὰρ ἀναβέβηκα πρὸς τὸν
πατέρα· πορεύου δὲ πρὸς τοὺς ἀδελφούς μου καὶ εἰπὲ αὐτοῖς ἀναβαίνω πρὸς
τὸν πατέρα μου καὶ πατέρα ὑμῶν καὶ θεόν μου καὶ θεὸν ὑμῶν.

In the King James Version of the Bible the text reads:

Jesus saith to her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended
to my Father; but go to my brethren, and say to them,
I ascend to my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God.

The World English Bible translates the passage as:

Jesus said to her, "Don't hold me, for I haven't yet ascended
to my Father; but go to my brothers, and tell them, 'I am
ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"

Noli me tangere[edit]

An important issue is why Jesus prevents Mary from touching or holding him. In Latin this phrase is translated as noli me tangere. It is unclear why Jesus imposes this rule, especially since in John 20:27 he allows Thomas to probe his open wounds. It also seems somewhat contradictory to the other Gospels, Matthew 28:9 states that the women who found Jesus "came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him." (KJV) No mention is made of Jesus disapproving of this.

The passage does not make clear how Mary is touching him. H.C.G. Moule speculates that she likely grabbed his arm or hand to try and verify his physical existence. Biblical scholar Raymond Brown has listed a wide array of explanations for his injunction:

  • Jesus' wounds were still sore so he did not like being touched
  • Kraft proposes that the prohibition was because it was against ritual to touch a dead body
  • Chrysostom and Theophylact argue that Jesus was asking that more respect be shown to him. This theory is sometimes linked to the notion that while it was not appropriate for a woman to touch Jesus it was fine for a man like Thomas.
  • C. Spicq sees the resurrected Jesus as the equivalent of one of the Jewish high priests who should not be sullied by physical contact
  • Kastner, who believes Christ returned in the nude, believes the prohibition was so that Mary would not be tempted by Jesus' body
  • Mary should not touch Jesus because she should not need physical proof of the resurrection but should trust in her faith.
  • Bultman sees the phrase as an indirect way of saying that the resurrected Jesus was not at this point tangible.
  • According to Moule Jesus' intervention is not a prohibition on being touched, but rather an assurance that the touching is not needed for he had not yet returned to the Father and was still firmly here on Earth. His use of the present tense is said to mean that he should not be touched just at this moment, but could be touched in future.
  • Some link it with the next verse stating that they should be read as one to say "don't touch me instead go tell my disciples of the news"
  • In John Calvin's commentary he argues that Jesus did not forbid simple touching, but rather that Jesus had no problems until the women began to cling to him as though they were trying to hold him in the corporeal world at which point Jesus told them to let go. Some translations thus use touch for the seemingly permitted actions in Mark and cling for the action Jesus chides Mary for in this verse.
  • Barrett mentions the possibility that between this verse and John 20:22 Jesus fully ascends to heaven

There are also a number of scholars who have proposed alternate translations. These are not based on direct linguistic evidence but are rather attempts to synchronize the phrase with other parts of the Bible. There is also some evidence that the wording may have been mangled.

  • Some scholars eliminate the negative leaving the phrase as "touch me," implying that Jesus is telling Mary to verify his physical form
  • W.E.P. Cotter and others argue that the text should actually read "do not fear me"
  • W.D. Morris believes it should read "do not fear to touch me"

What not touching has to do with the ascension is also unclear. Barrett states that the phrase seems to have the paradoxical meaning that Jesus can be freely touched once he has ascended.

Jesus mentions that his ultimate fate is to return to his father. This is read as him making it clear that his resurrection has not made him king of the earth but king of heaven, and his return in physical form is only temporary.

Message to the disciples[edit]

Jesus then sends Mary to tell his brethren or brothers of the news. Previously in the Bible the word brethren had been used to describe Jesus' family. Mary delivers the message to his disciples, however, and scholars agree that they were whom Jesus was referring to. According to Alford this is said to show that since his resurrection a new closeness exists between Jesus and his followers and to confirm that even after the resurrection Jesus is fully human and a brother to other men.

The message Jesus gives Mary had been the subject of detailed analysis. The assertion that God is both Father and God to Jesus is central to the Monophysitism/Diphysitism debate. The Diphysitists take it as proof that Jesus as well as being God was also a human under God. This passage is often linked with Jesus now referring to his disciples as brothers. Since they are now all brothers they share the same father in God. Since the resurrection Jesus has been forged into a permanent link between humanity and God.

The message Jesus gives to Mary does not mention the resurrection, only that Jesus is soon returning to his father. This is said to show that the great joy of the resurrection is not the return to life but rather joining with God as this is the only aspect of it Jesus felt necessary to immediately tell his disciples. Some thus read the passage as meaning that to Jesus the ascension is far more important than the resurrection.

References[edit]


Preceded by
John 20:16
Gospel of John
Chapter 20
Succeeded by
John 20:18