John 20:17 is the 17th verse of the twentieth chapter of 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.
- 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 English Standard Version translates the passage as:
- Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended
- to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them,
- ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'”
For a collection of other versions see BibleHub John 20:17
- (Jesus will say) Never said I to them aught except what Thou didst command me to say to wit `Worship God my Lord and your Lord’; and I was a witness over them whilst I dwelt amongst them; when Thou didst take me up thou wast the Watcher over them and Thou art a Witness to all things. (Abdullah Yusuf Ali Translation)
- I said not to them except what You commanded me – to worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord. And I was a witness over them as long as I was among them; but when You took me up, You were the Observer over them, and You are, over all things, Witness. (Saheeh International)
For a collection of other versions see Noble Quran translations
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.” No mention is made of Jesus disapproving.
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 E. 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 it was not appropriate for a woman to touch Jesus although 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 that 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.
- Bultmann sees the phrase as an indirect way of saying that the resurrected Jesus is not then tangible.
- Moule considers Jesus’ intervention to be not a prohibition on being touched but an assurance that the touching is not needed since he has not yet returned to the Father and is still firmly here on Earth. His use of the present tense is said to mean that he should not be touched just yet but could be touched in future.
- Some link it with the next verse and state that they should be read as one to mean, “Do not touch me, but go tell my disciples of the news.”
- John Calvin‘s commentary argues that Jesus did not forbid simple touching but rather that Jesus had no problems until the women began to cling to him as if they are 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.
- R. Hepburn posits that while Matthew 28:9 records Mary Magdalene and the other Mary taking hold of Jesus’ feet and worshiping Him after His resurrection, the encounter recorded in John 20:17 is a different (likely earlier) encounter when Mary Magdalene is alone with the risen Christ. She is not permitted to touch Him, thus preventing any possibility of the appearance of impropriety by having other witness(es).
There are also a number of scholars who have proposed alternative translations. They 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” and imply 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. Or rather, it may imply that her touch may somehow hinder his ascension into Heaven.
Jesus mentions that his ultimate fate is to return to his father, which 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.