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John 20:16-17 (ESV):

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 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.’”

Jesus did not want Mary to cling to him, because he had not yet ascended to the Father. Why? Why would the fact that Jesus had not ascended yet to the Father warrant his not being touched by people? What was wrong with Jesus' being touched before his ascension? How does one thing follow from the other? What is the logic behind Jesus' argument?

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11 Answers 11

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What the Lord asks of Mary is that she not merely cling to what is familiar but step back and see what is new. Jesus is no longer a mere rabbi or teacher. He is not merely the Jesus she knew; He is Lord and He is risen.when Jesus says that He is ascending to “My Father and your Father,” He does not use the “and of equivalence” but the “and of comparison.” As a man, Jesus can speak of God as His Father, but His human nature is hypostatically united to His divine nature as God, the Second Person of the Trinity. So, although God is our Father and Christ’s Father, He is Christ’s Father in a far richer and more profound way.

Jesus says, “My God and your God” not by way of equivalence, but by way of comparison.

In all these ways, the Lord Jesus must ascend in our understanding. He will do that provided we do not go on clinging to Him in a merely human and familiar way.

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    – agarza
    Commented Apr 25, 2021 at 3:37
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This is a puzzle because

  1. People tend to believe the verb translated 'ascended' here refers to the Ascension (logically enough).

  2. Other people touched Jesus before he Ascended. Women grabbed his feet, and Jesus even invited Thomas to stick his finger in His side.

Some people have attempted to resolve this by arguing Jesus is emphasizing 'clinging' here, and this has to do with something like the psychological aspects of Mary's response to seeing him.

However, the resolution is fairly simple - Jesus is not referring to the Ascension here. The verb usually translated 'ascended' is 'anabaino', which means

Strong's Greek 305: To go up, mount, ascend; of things: I rise, spring up, come up. From ana and the base of basis; to go up.

It can instead mean simply 'go up'.

Commentary on John 20:17 in the Revised English Version (Biblical Unitarian) makes the argument that haptou here relevantly involves 'touch' as opposed to 'clinging', and that Jesus wasn't referring to the Ascension. Rather, he was referring to going up to the Temple and presenting himself as the High Priest. Since Mary Magdalene had just been in a tomb, she was ritually impure, and hence couldn't touch him. Once he had gone and come back from the Temple, it was then fine for others to touch him.

"One thing we must understand is that the Greek word most English Bibles translate as “ascended,” is anabainō, which is a common Greek word and is used of many types of “going up” in the New Testament. [...] Another key to understanding the verse is in the last sentence of the verse: “But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am going up to my Father and your Father, and my God and your God.’” Jesus said “I am going up,” using the present tense verb. That indicates that going up to his Father was something that Jesus was in the process of doing or just starting to do. [...] Another key to understanding what Jesus meant when he said he had not yet “gone up” to his Father is that Mary knew what he was talking about. [...] This should have signaled us from the start that the “going up to the Father” did not refer to his ascension into heaven, because the disciples did not know about his ascension into heaven. [...] After his resurrection, Jesus was both the High Priest (Ps. 110:4; Zech. 6:13; Heb. 5:5; 8:1) and the firstfruits (1 Cor. 15:20, 23), and he had to go to the Temple and show himself in both those roles. According to the Law of Moses, the firstfruits of the harvest were shown to God during the Feast of Unleavened Bread “on the day after the Sabbath.” [...] The day after the Sabbath is Sunday, and in the year Jesus was crucified it was Sunday the 18th of Nisan [...] After the sun came up, Jesus Christ, as the acceptable firstfruits, went up from the tomb area to the Temple on Mt. Moriah and showed himself publicly to God and was acceptable in God’s sight to represent the rest of the harvest—all the believers who will be raised from the dead. [...] As both the High Priest and the Offering, Jesus had to remain Leviticaly clean until after he offered himself, and he would not be Leviticaly clean if Mary touched him (Lev. 22:1-8). Mary was unclean by virtue of the fact that she had been in the tomb that morning and seen that the body of Jesus was gone. However, after Jesus had fulfilled his role as High Priest and firstfruits offering by showing himself in the Temple, he could let people touch him—and he did."

Given this context, the proper interpretation refers to telling Mary not to touch him, not necessarily not cling to him, and this is because it would make him ritually unclean before he went up to his Father at the Temple.

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  • Could it have been the case that Jesus ascended more than once? So maybe he was referring to an actual ascension, but not the one eye-witnessed by his disciples (that was another one).
    – user38524
    Commented Apr 24, 2021 at 16:43
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator It's possible, and I think if you hold Jesus is talking about an actual ascension it would make more sense of the text (because the documented Ascension doesn't happen for 40 days). But the only evidence for a pre-ascension would be this particular line. But it doesn't make a lot of sense to me, unless Jesus had to ascend then and there and so Mary had to let go of him really quickly, or perhaps she had been clinging onto him for a long period (but there's no evidence for this in the text) and he simply was getting impatient, or something like that. Commented Apr 24, 2021 at 16:53
  • The fact that Jesus had already ascended to "Paradise" with the ex-con on Friday (Lu 23:43) makes the appeal to Mary making Jesus ceremonially unclean feckless. Jesus had already presented Himself , with the bowl of Blood Atonement, which by the way, was accepted for our redemption! (Hebrews 9, 10) The Ascension referred to in John is a reference to Jesus making His way to the "bodily" ascension described in Acts 1.
    – ray grant
    Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 23:56
  • 2
    @raygrant How do you know Jesus 'ascended' to Paradise? Could Paradise not be a part of Sheol (i.e., Abraham's Bosom), which would involve a descent instead? How do you know Jesus already presented himself with the bowl of Blood Atonement? Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 0:53
  • Jesus used the word, paradise, not the word sheol. The blood of the sinless Lamb had to be presented right after the slaying, or it would "coagulate and be unacceptable. Three days later (or forty days if the bodily Ascension of Acts 1 is meant) would have been too long a time , and not typical of the O.T. typology where the High Priest offered it soon after the sacrifice. This is the message of Hebrews 9,10. I hope this helps.
    – ray grant
    Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 21:52
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Jesus is simply stating what is going to happen next. He is finally going to the Father to finish the whole journey begun with his holy conception. He tells Mary that she should not worry or cling to him - hold him back from this final stage.

Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father

Mary had lost him once already under tragic and horrific circumstances, she didn’t want to lose him again!

This is nothing about making him unclean. He was always holy, and now he is risen and going to the Father, his holiness is now baked in.

Jesus also emphasises the benefits of going to the same God Mary had, his God. They were both worshiping the same God and His purposes for Jesus leaving, were going to be good for Mary too! IOW, 'let me go now Mary for this next part is very important'.

By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place Heb 10:20

Jesus death had finished the process or salvation. His new life and exaltation was his reward for doing a great job. He would present himself to God as the wavesheaf offering picturing the new harvest. Jesus being the first fruit, the firstborn from the dead. Col 1:18

He shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted on your behalf; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it Lev 23

Notice the alignment of the time - Jesus rose late Saturday, this is now Sunday, the day after the Sabbath.

++++++++++++

Certainly there are other accounts of an ascension, but there are clearly more than one 'going to the Father', and need not be construed as a contradiction or error of the text. The plan for Jesus is totally laid out by the Father and/through the type of every OT prophecy that points to what Jesus needed to accomplish, how and certainly when - God doesn't need to be late for anything! Certainly not this!

The wavesheaf offering practiced for centuries was only a 'shadow' - now that the REAL THING, Jesus, is here and ready, he must go.

Him finalising the Death - burial - rising sequence is this initial 'going to the Father'. He has a reward and exaltation to receive to go with his new eternal life.

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All the Gospels tell us that the tomb where the women had buried him was the same tomb that was empty of Jesus' body. MM [= Mary Magdalen] even thinks that someone must have moved his body to another place. In Matt, even Roman guards are placed at this tomb "lest his disciples come and hide his body and claim that he has risen."

The importance of the body is distinctive in Jewish narratives. In a Greek narrative, the soul might be imagined as retaining all the powers of knowing, remembering, and self-identifying. Thus, the soul of Jesus might be placed in a brand-new body created by God. In this case, however, the former body that was badly abused by crucifixion could remain in the tomb. The "distinctive marks" might thus be a literary defense against a Greek interpretation of the resurrection.

OK Now some reality testing from the first appearance. MM clings to Jesus and he says, "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.'"

Thus, the risen body of Jesus is not a ghost, not an impersonator, not a soul. Is the implied meaning of Jesus' words that "If you continue to cling to me, then I will not be able to ascend to my Father." Or is it that "If you continue to cling to me, then you cannot go and tell my brothers." Or maybe it is both. In any case, the first interpretation allows those who hear it to know that the risen body of Jesus has a human limitation, namely, If you continue to cling to me, then I will not be able to ascend to my Father.

γὰρ ἀναβέβηκα πρὸς τὸν Πατέρα presents a problem for the verb is in the singular indicative. I would have expected that a future aorist would be used. I must be missing something. Can you help?

Peace and joy in illuminating the bible, Aaron Milavec

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  • It is perfect indicative that is used here, ἀναβέβηκα, so it is not that "you are hindering me", but rather, you will still have time to embrace Me, as He allowed this later to His disciples; moreover, He also teaches MM that something drastically changed, for He will not be in similar terms with His followers, but will soon ascend and become closer and more intimate to them, being cognized already not only humanly but deeper, more spiritually (cf. 2 Cor. 5:16). By the way, I have read your correction of my post; I did not accept it, but added an explanatory scholion to my post. Commented Mar 19 at 6:37
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    – agarza
    Commented Mar 19 at 13:42
  • @AaronMilavec. Jesus ascending to his God, show that he is not 100% God. How can Mary prevent the 100% God-man from ascending. Thanks for pointing that he "risen body of Jesus has a human limitation, namely, If you continue to cling to me, then I will not be able to ascend to my Father." Commented Mar 20 at 1:57
  • What is an "MM"? Commented Mar 21 at 11:50
  • MM = Mary Magdalen Commented Mar 22 at 1:30
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John 20:

17 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.’”

cling to
ἅπτου (haptou)
Verb - Present Imperative Middle - 2nd Person Singular
Strong's 680: Prop: I fasten to; I lay hold of, touch, know carnally. Reflexive of hapto; properly, to attach oneself to, i.e. To touch.

Jesus said to her: "Do not continue [Greek present tense] clinging to Me."

New American Standard Bible

Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me."

Why?

Because Jesus had not yet ascended to the Father. He was about to ascend shortly. He could not ascend with Mary Magdalene holding on to him. She should instead go to the disciples and tell them the latest news: Jesus was ascending to the Father.

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  • "He was about to ascend shortly." Are you arguing that in between seeing Mary and seeing the disciples Jesus ascended, before the documented ascension 40 days later? Commented Apr 24, 2021 at 16:45
  • Right but I could be wrong.
    – user35953
    Commented Apr 24, 2021 at 16:51
  • @OneGodtheFather, as mentioned in user48152's answer, Jesus had to immediately fulfil his role as anti-type in the symbolic wavesheaf offering of the firstfruits, which was required on the first day of the week immediately following the first weekly sabbath during the Days of Unleavened Bread. (It's from this wavesheaf offering day that 7 first-days must be counted until Pentecost.) Commented Apr 24, 2021 at 18:31
  • @RayButterworth See my answer. Commented Apr 24, 2021 at 18:37
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Why did Jesus tell Mary not to "touch" Him?

Because, Jesus was the “Firstfruit” (1 Cor 15:20) of the firstfruits.

Because, that day was the Wave sheaf offering day!

Explanation

Representing Jesus’ First Coming, God gave certain Feasts starting in the first month of Nissan (our March-April). These are the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread (UB) and Pentecost.

[Representing Jesus’ Second Coming, God gave certain Feasts in the 7th month (our September-October). These are the Feast of Trumpets, Atonement Day and the Feast of Booths].

The Feast of UB spans 7 days. In these 7 days will come a Saturday Sabbath. “On the morrow of” this Saturday “Sabbath”, i.e., on early Sunday morning, the High Priest was to wave the first ever crop of that year, bundled into a sheaf before the LORD in the Temple in Jerusalem (Lev 23:10-11).

This sheaf is the first fruit of the first fruits reaped in that year. If my memory is correct (I don’t claim surety but I remember as having read somewhere) that this sheaf is considered to be a holy offering to the LORD, to be touched only by the High Priest. (Since I am not very sure about the touching part, someone can confirm this).

This holy sheaf (the first of the first fruits) represents Jesus Christ, the First fruit of the first fruits.

In the New Testament, Jesus Himself is the High Priest in the order of Melchizedek (Heb 6:20).

So, when Mary Magdalene first saw Jesus, He, as the High Priest, was about to present Himself as the First Sheaf before the Almighty God the Father exactly at the time the Jewish high priest was supposed to wave the sheaf in the Temple in Jerusalem!!!

Since the sheaf was holy and NOT to be touched by anyone, man or woman, except the high priest, Jesus as the First fruit was not to be touched by anyone , man or woman, before presented to the Holy Father (Heb 9:12)!!

This is the reason why Jesus prohibited Mary from touching Him.

But immediately afterwards, Jesus allowed all the women to catch hold of Him and worship. Later only, Thomas, a man, got a chance to touch Jesus!!

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The answer may be quite simple and straight forward, if we refrain from analyzing it metaphorically or spiritually.

In John 20:17, Jesus said to Mary Magdalene, “Do not (hold on to/touch/cling) 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.’”

When Jesus spoke these words to Mary Magdalene, she was visibly holding on to Him. The Greek word "haptomai" (Strong's 680) carries the meaning of "knowing carnally", suggesting that she was likely holding Jesus tightly. Jesus intended for her to become a messenger, informing the disciples about his resurrection and the upcoming event. Therefore Jesus comforted Mary by explaining that he had not yet ascended to the Father, indicating that there was still time for Mary to see Him. Urgently, He urged her to deliver His message without delay.

Jesus spoke these words to Mary for her comfort, emphasizing that there was more to come and that she would play a crucial role in spreading the message to others.

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Jesus is reassuring her.

Consider 'cling' ἅπτω with 'ascend' ἀναβαίνω. This is theater, not theology.

This isn't theological like John 3

The passage indeed has theological implications, but Jesus is not explaining theology to Mary.

Many have tried to answer this question theologically, despite the point that Mary was not a theologian. Remember this is from John, who gave a theological account in ch3 with Nicodemus. John knows how to talk about spirit, wind, water, re-birth, salvation, judgment, et cetera. But, this is Mary, (probably of Bethany, not Magdalene.)

Brief note about the Marys...

From Hugh Pope1

Is it credible, in view of all this, that this Mary [Mary of Bethany] should have no place at the foot of the cross, nor at the tomb of Christ? And yet it is Mary Magdalen who, according to all the Evangelists, stood at the foot of the cross and assisted at the entombment and was the first recorded witness of the resurrection. And while John calls her ‘Mary Magdalen’ in 19:25, 20:1, and 20:18, he calls her simply ‘Mary’ in 20:11 and 20:16.

Regardless of which Mary, neither had theological questions seeking answers like in John 3. In fact, Jesus goes on to ask Mary to be a messenger, to inform the disciples that, while he has not yet ascended, is is about to.

He is talking about when he ascends in Luke 24:51. The disciples (Marys included, et al) didn't know that he would go up like Elijah. Jesus describes yet another surprise event, not some unfathomable-theological mystery.

John 20:17 (NASB, emphasis added)

Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’”

The Greek word ἅπτω (haptó, Strong's 681) can also be translated "grasp". She was grabbing him tightly and his reaction was to ask her to stop. But, he wasn't angry. He just came back from dead and she is his reception party. This is a happy moment of jollity among chums.

The word ascend here is far more interesting because the verb occurs in two different tenses. The word "ascend" is from ἀναβαίνω (anabainó, Strong's 305).

  • not yet ascended is perfect, meaning "[not] having already completed"
  • I ascend is present, meaning more or less "I'm about to"

Re-translation & using theater to understand

The word "cling" or "grasp" paints a theatrical scene.

One of the things we need to remember in Bible study is that actors and film directors also use hermeneutics to take the boring ink in the script and make it come to life—accurately and understandably. The two disciplines overlap.

Sometimes we need to think of Bible passages in terms of theater. The Gospels are a story, after all. That is how the TV Series The Chosen helps many passages like this make more sense—by providing context via theater instead of a preacher describing for 20 minutes or more.

If I were to translate this or perform it in a skit on stage, I would answer the OP's question of what did Jesus mean with this:

Mary: <grabs and hugs Jesus as if a child just rescued from a rushing river>

Jesus: <reassuringly and playfully>
There, there. You can let go. I'm still here. I haven't ascended yet.
But, please go tell the boys that I'm about to ascend and see our Awesome God
—OUR Awesome God, yours and mine.
It's okay. There, there.

  1. Hugh Pope, “St. Mary Magdalen,” The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910).
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Since Jesus later invites Thomas to touch his scars to verify that it is He, and that He is not a spirit, why not allow Mary to touch him? Perhaps the reason is that the encounter with Thomas and other disciples was indoors and in private whereas the encounter with Mary, which involved her public display of elation and affection, was out in the open and He didn’t want to draw the attention of anyone, particularly the Authorities. Why?—-Because He hadn’t yet gone up/Ascended to the Father and didn’t want to be prevented from doing so by the Authorities. His body, though miraculously resurrected, could still have had mortal characteristics and limitations similar to that of the previously resurrected Lazarus and Jonah, who both had to face death a second time, and it would only be once He was rejoined with the Father in heaven that his body would become completely immortal.

Further evidence that His resurrection was into His mortal body was that He ate fish to demonstrate to the disciples that he was “flesh and bones”:

“39Look at My hands and My feet. It is I Myself. Touch Me and see—for a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” 40And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and feet. 41While they were still in disbelief because of their joy and amazement, He asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42So they gave Him a piece of broiled fish, 43and He took it and ate it in front of them.” (Luke 24:39-43)

Where did the food go? One would presume through an existing digestive tract, etc. Would an immortal body have a digestive system? It is hard to imagine that immortal bodies require urination and defecation, a process necessary for those with mortal bodies, for those who are “flesh and bones.”

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  • 1
    Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Commented Mar 30, 2023 at 13:23
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Jesus had not yet ascended to the Father. This reason Jesus explicitly stated after he forbade Mary from touching her

John 10:17

Jesus replied, "Do not touch me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father. Go to my brothers and tell them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and to your God

Jesus explains to Mary why but the other reason is that Jesus had been resurrected with a glorified body that is incorruptible while Mary still had the mortal body which was under the power of sin and death.

The above reason is still subject to challenge because some disciples were invited to touch the body of the resurrected Jesus which is no longer under the power of death and incorruptible but that is why he simply said he needed to ascend to the Father first.

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  • To make your answer more worthy of an up vote I think you need to analyse some aspect of the situation. eg: Is Mary desperate not to lose Jesus a second time? Or is Jesus telling her to go to his brothers immediately? [ I did not give you down vote].
    – C. Stroud
    Commented Mar 26 at 13:55
  • @C.stroud, am not here for votes, am here to provide answers. Am here to tell the truth.
    – Dong Li
    Commented Mar 26 at 14:05
  • Ofcourse the truth. Sometimes it's difficult to see but deeper levels revealed as we meditate on it.
    – C. Stroud
    Commented Mar 26 at 14:29
  • @C.Stroud, Christianity is all about light and darkness, not popular things that attract votes. Democracy itself has set itself against God because those votes pass laws God doesn't approve of. I don't care if 100 people give me downvotes as long as the truth hit hard on their hearts
    – Dong Li
    Commented Mar 26 at 14:37
  • 2
    @DongLi That's the kind of stuff you can put in your answer, rather than that's it. Share that thought with people.
    – Jesse
    Commented Mar 26 at 16:14
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has anyone wondered if the reason Jesus said "touch me not" is because of something called a womans niddah (period) during the niddah if a man touchs or was touched by a womaan during her niddah the man was considered unclean for a certain period after said contact. perhaps Mary's touching Jesus might have tainted the sacrifice that Jesus was carrying up to His heavenly Father. It is a reasonable explanation for Jesus's words and action toward Mary here. because, some disciples were invited to touch the body of the resurrected Jesus, so, there is areason for the different treatment of Mary,(a woman) and His desciples, (men

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    – Community Bot
    Commented Jun 10 at 2:54

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