In some translations we find something like:

John 20:17 (KJV)
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.

In other translations we find something like:

John 20:17 (NIV)
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Which phrasing gives the most accurate meaning of original Greek wording? Was Jesus telling Mary not to have any physical contact with him or was he telling her to stop clinging to him?

  • Adding content to questions is fine, but there has to be some reason it's relevant. This question isn't about the lexicon entry and so including it does not serve to clarify the question. That content would make more sense in an answer post (along with an explanation of how it's relevant).
    – Caleb
    Commented Nov 1, 2017 at 9:18
  • Related hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/q/30280/11555
    – Kris
    Commented Nov 1, 2017 at 21:23

6 Answers 6


It may be much more simple than many try to make of this.

Touch - Strong's Greek 680 "haptomai" can mean cling to, or handle. Many of the translations render it "Do not cling to me..." Young's renders it as "Be not touching me..."

Thayer's Lexicon 2.a. includes

" In John 20:17, μή μου ἅπτου is to be explained thus: Do not handle me to see whether I am still clothed with a body; there is no need of such an examination, for not yet etc.;" Source: here

We need to put ourselves in Mary's place for a moment. She was weeping, in great sorrow for the death of Yeshua, and is asking all whom she sees where they have taken Him. Feel her surprise and elation at discovering Him standing before her. Wouldn't she run to Him, and begin to feel His arms, His hands to see if it is really Him? Wouldn't she hug Him in joy and wonder?

Paraphrasing - Christ's response was in effect ... I'm still here, Mary; I've not yet ascended. You can let go.

The verse does not imply anything mystical about not touching His body. He offered his hands and injured side to Thomas not many hours later (John 20:24-28).


Both translations are actually correct yet the first one is easily misunderstood. The Greek term for "touch" is "ἅπτομαι". It covers a variety of meanings but all of them include a "touching with the intention of holding/keeping something/somebody" (see Strong's Definitions word 680 on Blue Letter Bible or Bible Hub). Thayer's Greek Lexicon entry on "ἅπτω" (also cited in previous links) even explicitly mentions the term "ἅπτω/ἅπτομαι γυναικός" as an expression for sexual intercourse. Therefore we are talking of a very strong way of touching.

"Touching" is not just a quick stroke or poking with the fingers. "Touching" means to touch with the intention of keeping/clinging to him. Therefore you can say that the second translation is better paraphrased.

"Touch me not" is therefore better paraphrased as "Don't cling to me" (don't keep me back).

  • I disagree. Hapto is used of starting a fire. It is just a touch.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Oct 28, 2017 at 22:30
  • @NigelJ : Since my point is documented would you please further elaborate yours? "hapto/haptomai" literally never means only "touch" be it in classical Greek or in Koine. Every evidence I can find disproves your point. Furthermore the modern day use of this root ("haptic") clearly has a sense of going further than just a simple touch. Commented Oct 30, 2017 at 8:56
  • Your comment noted. Time forbids me at the moment but I shall attend to it. I may supply a full answer to the OP about this, for I think it to be of interest. Regards.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Oct 30, 2017 at 11:43
  • 1
    As a native speaker of greek, I agree with Nigel. I would have never used that verb to mean 'hold on to', nor have I seen it in that capacity in Greek, ancient or otherwise. In fact, the phrase «μη μου άπτου» is commonly used nowadays as a descriptive phrase-adjective in greek (e.g. "this guy is a bit μη μου άπτου") to denote a person who thinks they are above everyone else and should not be touched and thus sullied by mere commoners. Commented Nov 1, 2017 at 9:39
  • 2
    @Kris I would say Strong's definition is correct: biblehub.com/greek/680.htm . I don't read anything in there that prescribes the meaning of "stop clinging on me". I would note that when the word 'cling' is used as a translation of haptomai, it is more in the 'physical' sense of the word (i.e. of adhering, keeping things 'in touch'), rather than the one in which 'clinging' tends to be used today. Even so, when I read "mi mou aptou", I read that as "do not touch me", in the context that: "Do not touch me [in such disbelief to see if I'm real]. I'm still here, I have not yet ascended." Commented Nov 1, 2017 at 22:23

Jesus said "stop clinging to me". Why?

Before his meeting with Mary , in Matthew 28:9 (below) we read that other women touched him and "took hold of his feet" and Jesus did not object to it, so there is no reason for Jesus to object now to Mary touching him. He objected because she was clinging to him, holding fast onto him,not let him go, because she feared that he was about to ascent and perhaps had a strong desire to be with him. Jesus reassured her by telling her : "Do not hold on to me, because 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."John 20:17 (NRSV)

Matthew 28:5-9 (NRSV)

" But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he[a] lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead,[b] and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him."


Jesus had not yet ascended into heaven and performed his duty as a High Priest... He had not yet went into the holy of holies in heaven, the pattern of which the earthly tabernacle is made from... Once Jesus had gone into the holy of holies, the next time he appeared, he asked Thomas to touch him and do not be unbelieving... A priest in the old testament wasn't to be touched, for he was to remain holy until he performed his duty... This is why he asked Martha to touch me not, for I have not yet ascended to your God and my God... On his return to those praying in the upper room, where Jesus said they were to meet him, he ascended to them as a vapor through the walls, yet he had a body... A body with nail prints in his hands and side... The same body that hung on the cross...

  • Jesus only ascended once for all time to present the redeeming value of his sacrifice to the father that did not take place in between mary seeing him and Thomas seeing him
    – Kris
    Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 19:56
  • 1
    Hello and welcome to the site. Unfortunately you seem to have gotten sidetracked on another issue and did not answer the question as to what John 20:17 means, "touch" or "cling" or what have you. Please always focus on the actual question asked rather than on other questions that might arise from the text. Thanks.
    – Ruminator
    Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 20:12

It's a present tense verb - the present tense shows continuous action. Could it be that the translators use "stop clinging to me," to reflect the action of the verb instead of "do not touch me," which is a one time action.

  • Hi David, welcome! That's a comment and not an answer Commented Dec 15, 2020 at 19:39
  • Hi David, welcome to BHSE - thanks for your contribution! Please take the Site Tour to find out more about the site and how the SE format works. This does look like an answer to the question, but could be improved with more explanatory/supplementary detail to support your reasoning. Please feel free to edit the answer to provide more detail if you can.
    – Steve can help
    Commented Dec 16, 2020 at 12:31

Adding what wasn't in the answers, there is a grammatical issue in the meaning. Much depends on how you translate the present middle imperative verb ἅπτου. Robertson's interpretation is "stop clinging" because "don't touch" would be aorist middle imperative.

Touch me not (μη μου ἁπτου [mē mou haptou]). Present middle imperative in prohibition with genitive case, meaning “cease clinging to me” rather than “Do not touch me.” -- Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (John 20:17). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.

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