John 20:16

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William Etty's Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection first exhibited in 1834

John 20:16 is a verse in the Gospel of John in the Bible. The verse describes the moment that Mary Magdalene realizes that Jesus has returned from the dead. Mary has found Jesus' tomb empty and is worrying about what happened to his body. At first she does not recognize Jesus when he appears, thinking he is a gardener. In John 20:16 she recognizes him when he calls her by name.

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

Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She
turned herself, and saith unto him,
Rabboni; which is to say, Master.

In the English Standard Version it reads:

Jesus said to her, "Mary." She
turned and said to him in Aramaic,
"Rabboni!" (which means Teacher).

In the Vulgate Bible the text reads:

dicit ei Iesus Maria conversa illa dicit ei rabboni quod dicitur magister

Translation notes[edit]

This verse, in the original Greek text, presents Jesus as addressing Mary Magdalene by the name Μαριάμ (Μariam), not the Hellenized form Μαρία (Maria) and as Mary responding by calling Jesus Ῥαββουνι (Rabbouni), in both instances using Aramaic terms.[1]

The exact significance of Rabboni is disputed. In Mark 10:51 it is translated as meaning "beloved teacher", but John here and in other verses translates it as simply "teacher". W. F. Albright and others interpret it as the diminutive form of Rabbi, and therefore translate it "my dear Rabbi", showing the close friendship between Mary and Jesus. Mary was thus calling Jesus with a title she had long used, signifying that she sees his return as a reversion to the status quo before his crucifixion. In John 20:17 and John 20:18 he divests her of this view, informing her that everything is changed.

However, in some works from this period Rabboni is used as a name for God. Thus some scholars, such as Hoskyns, see the term as demonstrating that Mary has understood Jesus' divinity. Most scholars consider the title a respectful one, but less adoring than the term adonai. By contrast, when Thomas later accepts the truth of the resurrection he calls Jesus "My lord and my God" (John 20:28).

Mary's reaction seems to be spontaneous, and it is not known if "Rabboni" is an exclamation of discovery, or whether it should read "Rabboni?" with Mary momentarily questioning Jesus.

The Greek word διδάσκαλος in the original text and its Latin translation magister mean "teacher". Older English translations use "master", derived from the Latin word and meaning the same thing.


John 20:14 has already mentioned that Mary had turned around to see Jesus, so why does this verse say she turns again? One school of thought is that unmentioned by the author Mary had turned away from Jesus in the meantime. Kastner argues that she did so because the resurrected Jesus was nude. According to Brown most scholars simply believe that she had not fully turned in John 20:14 and was now fully turning towards Jesus.

Mary earlier did not recognize Jesus. When he addresses her by name she quickly realizes who it is. Some scholars link this to John 10:3, which states that "the good shepherd calleth to him by name every sheep of his flock", arguing that Jesus using Mary's name had deep powers. Some see Mary's transition from ignorance to worship as a metaphor for the adoption of faith.

Other gospels[edit]

The three other gospels do not recount this exchange, and give somewhat different accounts of the event. Matthew 28:9, for instance goes:

And as they went to tell his disciples,
behold, Jesus met them, saying, All
hail. And they came and held him by the
feet, and worshipped him.

This passage describes the women having already been informed of the resurrection by the angels in the tomb and leaving to tell the disciples of the event. It also clearly describes more than one woman being present, and omits the period where Mary is uncertain of Jesus' identity. Mark, and Luke agree with Matthew on these incongruities. Some scholars, such as Norman Geisler, explain this by arguing that, unmentioned by John, Mary ran into another group of women after leaving the tomb. This larger group returns goes to the tomb together whence the events described by the Synoptic Gospels unfold.

Mystery play[edit]

The York Cycle of English mystery plays has a whole (ten-minute) play about this incident. The word discussed above is Rabony in the original manuscript[permanent dead link] and Rabbi in one modernized version.


Preceded by
John 20:15
Gospel of John
Chapter 20
Succeeded by
John 20:17