In the King James Version, John 20:17 reads like this; “Jesus saith unto her; Touch Me not, for I am not yet ascended to My Father. But go to My brethren and say unto them; I ascend unto My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.” This was said to Mary Magdalene, on the morning of Christ’s resurrection.
A question about this verse came up in a bible study recently, and the question was; Why did Jesus tell Mary not to touch Him, but then in verse 27, He told His disciple Thomas; “Reach hither thy finger and behold My hands. And reach hither thy hand and thrust it into My side.” ?
Why did Jesus tell Mary NOT to touch Him, but then tell Thomas to go ahead and touch Him? That’s a good question, isn’t it? Jesus told Mary; “For I am not yet ascended to My Father”. But Jesus still hadn’t ascended to His Father, when He told Thomas to go ahead and touch Him. What was different from one situation to the other?
The answer actually lies in the meaning of the Greek word translated “touch”. Sometimes we simply have to go to the original Greek word used in a verse, to understand the meaning of the verse. Sometimes our English translations are just not explicit enough for us to understand the meaning. And that’s exactly the case with this verse. And when we do go to the original Greek word, and look up the meaning, the verse becomes easy to understand.
Again, the word in question, is the word “touch”. Actually, there’s only two translations that I found, that use the word “touch”. The King James Version is one, and the American Standard is the other. I’m actually lumping together several variations of the King Kames, into one here. Like the New King James, and the King James 2000, and the American King James. Most people haven’t even heard of those last two King James versions.
But most other versions don’t use the word “touch”. They actually give a more accurate translation. They use the phrases; “Do not hold on to Me”, or “Don’t cling to Me”, or “Stop clinging to Me”. Those phrases give a more accurate description of what the original word means, because the meaning is really to “fasten to, or adhere to, or cling to”. So that tells us, that Mary was doing more than just “touching” Jesus. She was holding on to Him, and clinging to Him. But there’s even more to the definition of the word, than just that.
The word carries with it the idea of touching, or handling something, with the intent of causing a change. Here’s the definition from a word study dictionary; “To modify or change, by touching.” “Touching that influences or modifies something, or someone.” “Touching someone, or something, in a way that alters them.”
This is the word that’s used in the bible, when Jesus would touch someone for the purpose of healing them. For example; A leper once said to Jesus, in Mathew 8:2; “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” And verse 3 says; “And He stretched out His hand and touched him saying; I am willing, be cleansed!” Jesus “touched” the man, with the intent, of changing the man’s physical condition.
Here’s another example, just a few verses later. Mathew 8:14 & 15 says; “And when Jesus had come to Peter’s home, He saw his mother-in-law lying sick in bed with a fever. And He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she arose and waited on Him.”
You can see how the touching, was for the specific purpose of making a change, and altering something. In the next chapter, there’s an example of someone else “touching” for the purpose of changing something. Mathew 9:21 says; “For she was saying to herself; If I only touch His garment, I shall get well.” Touching, with the intent of creating a change.
So, now we can get a much better understanding of the meaning of John 20, verse 17. Here’s what Jesus said to Mary; “Don’t hang on to Me”, or “Don’t cling to Me”. Why do you think Mary was holding into Jesus? She wasn’t just touching Jesus, she was hanging on to Him, and clinging to Him. Why?
Jesus had just been crucified, and now a couple days later, she comes to the tomb, and the body is gone. But then Jesus appears to her, alive! And she takes hold of Him and clings to Him. She didn’t want Him to leave did she? Wasn’t she “touching Him” in order to change something? She didn’t want Him to leave again.
And what did Jesus say? Well, He said; “Indeed, I have not yet ascended to the Father..” In other words; “It’s really Me, I’m right here, I’m with you, I haven’t ascended yet.” The King James Version says; “FOR I have not yet ascended..”, and people think that the word “for” means “because”. In other words; “because I have not yet ascended”. But that’s not what the word means here. The word means “indeed”, or “truly”. So then, “TRULY, I have not yet ascended..”
And then after Jesus said, “I have not yet ascended”, He said this; “But go to My brethren and say to them; I ASCEND to My Father..” In other words; “I am GOING to ascend to My Father.”
Jesus was saying; There’s no need to cling to Me. It’s Me, I haven’t ascended yet. But I am going to ascend. Holding on to me won’t change anything.
So you can see that there wasn’t anything wrong with touching Jesus. And it had nothing to do with touching Him BEFORE He ascended to heaven. That’s why He didn’t have any problem with Thomas touching His hands, and His side. It simply had to do with the fact that Mary was hanging on to Jesus, as if to try to keep Him there, and to change what was inevitably going to happen, namely, His leaving again. But of course He would leave again, when He ascended to heaven.
You can’t blame Mary for wanting to hang on to Jesus. She didn’t want to lose Him again. And Jesus was just telling Mary how things had to be. “I haven’t ascended yet, but I am going to ascend. So, go and tell My brethren that you’ve seen Me, but that I will be ascending.” That’s paraphrasing it a bit, but that’s what was being said.
That makes the verse easy to understand, doesn’t it? When we know the meaning of the word translated “touch”, we can easily see what’s being said in this verse.
Thanks for joining me in this short little study of John 20, verse 17.