I have always been struck by the "oddness" and also variation in the translation of Jesus statement in John 20:17 to Mary magdeline after his resurrection. It is rendered in various english translations as:

*NIV: Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father

KJ: Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father.

ESV Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father*

Essentially there is some variation in the translation of the word as either "Touch", "Hold" or "Cling" and jesus doesn't make clear why she is not to touch/cling/hold him.

I decided to look deeper into the original Greek to try to better understand the meaning of the statement. The original greek word used is (haptomai \ haptou) when looking at the definition of the word and the other uses in the bible it seems this word doesn't have an english equivalent (thus the reason for variation in translation) - and has a much deeper meaning then merely "touch" or "hold" . BibleHubs word study provides the meaning as:

https://biblehub.com/greek/680.htm 680 háptomai (from 681 /háptō, "to modify or change by touching") – properly, "touching that influences" (modifies); touching someone (something) in a way that alters (changes, modifies) them, i.e. "impact-touching."

Essentially it seems to have a much deeper meaning then merely touch or hold. Rather it is a touch which changes or "alters\changes\modifies" something. It uses the term "impact touching". It also states the word is used to describe "carnal" relations which "bonds" two people together because in sex - two become one - energy is transferred between people and they are then said to "Cling\Hold" to each other. Because they have been bonded together through Sexual touch and so this is a form of "impact-touching" or "háptomai"

Essentially from my research the terms seems to be reserved for a specific type of touching where by the spirit / essence of one person/object is transferred to another in the touching. Similar to the Christian idea of "Laying hands". When I looked through its usage in the new testament nearly every occurance is when Jesus touches somebody to "heal" them. He "haptomai" them and "transfers his vitue\power" onto them which heals them. There are numerous examples of this but one clear and obvious one would be the woman who touched ("haptomai") the hem of his garment and her issue of blood was healed. After Jesus even states that through the haptomai - power went out of him.

Luke 8:46 But Jesus said, “Someone "haptomai" me; I know that power has gone out from me.

Would that be the correct understanding of the term and usage of Haptomai in the greek and in this specific section of Scripture (John 20:17). That the greek word has a deeper meaning and does not simply mean do not touch - but is talking about a touch where by a spiritual transferance takes place and Jesus is telling her not to touch him - to prevent any spiritual or power transferrance until he ascends to the father ?

  • In the context of a male and a female (not related) your description of 'impact touching' or (I would suggest) 'touching with consequences' is very appropriate. Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 24 at 19:11
  • @Perry Web. Thankyou for the link I had checked for duplicates but had not found that question. It is on the same topic but actually does not address the specific details I have raised around the meaning of the Greek word as I outlined from the definition on BibleHub. As such I would consider this as seperate question as I would like clarity/confirmation on these specific details around the word meaning regarding "impact touching" / touch of transferrence if we have any Greek experts.
    – Marshall
    Sep 24 at 23:45
  • I dont think it is a good idea to indulge excessively in vocabulary, to see more than the contextual meaning and what the word simply means. Do not focus too much on lexical meaning and mysteries. There is no special meaning to words.
    – Michael16
    Sep 25 at 8:55
  • 1
    I've edited my answer to better address the question.
    – Perry Webb
    Sep 25 at 13:10

NIV John 20:

17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.

In terms of first-order logic: If I have ascended to the Father, then you can hold on to me.

Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ”

Jesus had an appointment with the Father. He didn't want Mary Magdalene delaying that appointment. At this point in time, Jesus' priority was to ascend to the Father.

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.

The Greek word implies a strong sense of touch. The Greek present tense implies a continual touching action.

Because of the urgent business of ascending to the Father, Jesus didn't mind a light and quick touch, but not a strong and prolonged one.


It's not so much the meaning of ἅπτου your question deals with as much as how we view touch today much differently than they did in biblical times. Here are more examples of such issues. In biblical times they made less distinction between spirit, breath, and wind. They made less distinction between physical illness, mental illness, and demon possession. God revealed himself in terms that people understood. For example, when you look at Jesus healing the paralytic with John 9 in mind, Jesus wasn't saying the paralytic's illness was because he was a greater sinner than those who were well. He used the Pharisee's view of illness to show them that Jesus, the Son of Man, could forgive sin.

And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” 3 And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” 4 But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? 5 For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 6 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” 7 And he rose and went home. 8 When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. (Matt. 9:2–8, ESV)

The predominant use of ἅπτου in the New Testament (NT) is Jesus touching people to heal them in the Synoptics with some usage for lighting a lamp. In the Septuagint (LXX) it is becoming unclean by touching something. While it is used 39 times in the NT, it is used 133 times in the Septuagint (LXX). This has significance. For example when Jesus touched the leper, instead of becoming unclean, the leper became clean.

If you look at Gen. 3:3 Eve's conversation has μὴ ἅψησθε, 2nd person aorist subjunctive, which in grammars such as Daniel Wallace's explains is commonly used like a prohibitive imperative. But, note that john 20:17 has the present imperative, meaning stop instead of prohibiting. Even the participles when Jesus touched someone to heal them are aorist because it was a single momentary act. So, the question in John 20:17 is, "Why is the grammatic form different?"

For a full discussion see: What does μή μου ἅπτου mean in John 20:17?

The Greek grammar does not allow a literal translation, "Do not touch." However, that is a possible meaning. Here is the grammar that lead to another translation.

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.

However, note the possible meaning of approach. Thus, technically the way this could be literally translated is "stop approaching me," understood from the meaning of the verb "with the intent to touch."

Use in the Septuagint (LXX):

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  • Thanks for the updated response. Yes I had looked through the Septuagint and also noted the vast majority of times it's mentioned is related to touching "unclean" things and becoming ritually impure. Lots of mentions in Leviticus. Again the meaning seemed to align with a transfer of (for lack of a better word) "energy" through the touch. The essence of one being transferred. In these OT cases however it's a transfer of impurity / rather then the reverse case with Jesus. For me understanding this deeper more nuanced meaning in the Greek adds a real additional depth and nuance to the scriptures.
    – Marshall
    Sep 27 at 7:01

Just one week after this (John 20:19 with 20:26), Jesus told Thomas to touch Him and believe that He was alive from the dead (John 20:27). Therefore, this instance when Jesus told Mary not to touch Him could have been an admonition not to cling to Him (as some translations have it) because there would be other times that He would see her before His ascension.

Some scholars also speculate that after this visit with Mary, Jesus ascended to His Father and then returned and spoke to Thomas. If this was the case, we can only guess as to what He had to do in heaven that would have caused Him to forbid Mary Magdalene from touching Him. Some think that Jesus ascended to His Father that very day and sprinkled His blood on the mercy seat in heaven (Leviticus 16:14).

However, in Jesus’ next appearance to the other women (Matthew 28:9), they held Him by the feet. This means that Jesus would have had to ascend to His Father and return in just a couple of minutes, or else His command to Mary Magdalene not to touch Him was just referring to not clinging to Him.

  • Thanks for the response. Yes my thoughts are inline with your middle comments. Continuing reading from 20:17 he goes on immidately after this to say to Mary "Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” This in the morning at the tomb. Then it switches to the evening and it says Jesus appeared to his disciples and showed them his wounds and and breathed the holy spirit on them. My understanding is he ascended to the father that day and then returned to his disciples in the evening. This was also first giving of the holy spirit
    – Marshall
    Sep 24 at 19:13
  • 1
    Also regarding your comments on sprinkling blood on the mercy seat - this was also my inference. It was also pointed out to me that ohn 20:11 is a literal depiction of the mercy seat. Mary looks into to see 2 angels one at the head and one at the foot of the place where Jesus body had been. This is identical to the Mercy seat / Ark of the covenant design. Two winged angels facing each other. God appears between them. As such made this seem even more likely due to the overt reference to it.
    – Marshall
    Sep 24 at 19:19

Mary saw the two angels inside the tomb. Scripture does not say Peter and John saw the two angels.

When she first saw Jesus she thought he was the gardener. She did not recognize him but recognized his voice when he called her by name. (My sheep hear)

If Jesus said do not touch me for I have not yet ascended then maybe He still was in a different form. She may have perceived a different form of him.

He had just been raised from the dead. It says she sees him.

and having said these things, she turned backward, and sees Jesus standing, and she had not known that it is Jesus. Jn:20:14<

Notice the world "sees" and it's meaning.

to perceive with the eyes: πνεῦμα, Luke 24:37; τινα with a participle, Luke 24:39; τινα, ὅτι, John 9:8; τό πρόσωπον τίνος (after the Hebrew; see πρόσωπον, 1 a.), equivalent to to enjoy the presence of one, have contact with him, Acts 20:38; οὐκέτι θεωρεῖν τινα, used of one from whose sight a person has been withdrawn, John 14:19; οὐ θεωρεῖ ὁ κόσμος τό πνεῦμα, i. e. so to speak, has no eyes with which it can see the Spirit; he cannot render himself visible to it, cannot give it his presence and power, John 14:17.

Bible hub says to compare to this word sees as well for "sees"

STRONGS NT 3700: ὀπτάνω

ὀπτάνω (ὈΠΤΩ): to look at, behold; middle present participle ὀπτανόμενος; to allow oneself to be seen, to appear: Cognate: 3700 optánomai (or optomai/optanō, likely a later cognate of 3708 /horáō) – become seen (appear). See 3708 (horaō).

In Mark's version it says he appeared. The word appeared is 5316 and means phainó: to bring to light, to cause to appear.

Early on the first day of the week, after Jesus had risen,He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had driven out seven demons. Mark 16:9. <

Here is another verse that had the word appeared.

But after he had pondered these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. Matthew 1:20<

In light of saying that Mary perceived and saw Jesus perhaps it was in a different realm, In between and being raised from the dead and ascending . She was the one that had seven spirits that had been cast out her by Jesus. She was very familiar with the unseen realm.

So looking at these verses and meanings of what she saw makes it more understandable when Jesus says do not touch me, or cling to me because I have not ascended. It's interesting looking at all the different meanings of that word ascended used here as well.

As she was running to tell the other disciples about seeing Jesus is alive I wonder if she was thinking of this verse.

and this is the will of Him who sent me, that every one who is beholding the Son, and is believing in him, may have life age-during, and I will raise him up in the last day.' John 6:40<

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