In John 20:17 it is written that, when Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene after resurrection, He says to her:

Do not touch me, for I am not yet ascended to my Father

However, Jesus does tell to other disciples to touch Him, after resurrection. For example, later on, in John 20:27, when Jesus appears to His disciples for a second time and Thomas (the Doubter) is with them, He says to Thomas:

Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.

Similarly, in Luke 24:39 it is written that post-resurrection Jesus said to His disciples:

See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.

Thus, I fail to understand why Jesus would negate Mary Magdalene to touch Him but not to His disciples.

How have theologians and the teachings of Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox or Protestant churches interpreted the words of Jesus to Mary Magdalene? How is the fact that He had not yet ascended to the Father related to Mary not touching Jesus? Surely, once He was gone to the Father, it would be impossible to her for touching Jesus!

One possible explanation is that Jesus did not have a physical body (e.g. this or this discussion). Personally, I do not believe this was the case, as it it at odd with the other texts (where Jesus says that "a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have"). Neither did Aquinas.

  • Questions should really be tied to one particular viewpoint. Since you refer to Aquinas, I would recommend singling out Catholicism rather than the scatter-gun approach. Commented Oct 28, 2017 at 12:19
  • The Orthodox position is addressed here: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/27667/…
    – bradimus
    Commented Oct 28, 2017 at 12:58
  • Possible duplicate of Did Jesus transform into spirit form after Resurrection
    – bradimus
    Commented Oct 28, 2017 at 12:59
  • 1
    Surely it was a matter of propriety. I Corinthians 7:1 - it is good for a man not to touch a woman. After ascension, she may 'touch' him by faith, in communion, in spirit.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Oct 28, 2017 at 13:08
  • 1
    @NigelJ I'm not sure I agree with your interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:1.
    – bradimus
    Commented Oct 28, 2017 at 13:48

3 Answers 3


A question from readers in a Watchtower magazine addresses this subject very well. It approaches this seeming conflict by examining the original language of the verses and what the literal original meaning would have been. Your question may be a duplicate of one already asked here on CSE. However below is an answer that I found plausible:

Why did the resurrected Jesus invite Thomas to touch him yet stop Mary Magdalene from doing so earlier?

Some older translations of the Bible give the impression that Jesus told Mary Magdalene not to touch him. For instance, the King James Version renders Jesus’ words: “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father.” (John 20:17) However, the original Greek verb, which is usually translated “touch,” means also “to cling to, hang on by, lay hold of, grasp, handle.” Reasonably, Jesus was not objecting to Mary Magdalene’s merely touching him, since he allowed other women who were at the grave to ‘catch him by his feet.’—Matthew 28:9.

Many modern-language translations, such as the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, The New Jerusalem Bible, and The New English Bible, help us to understand the real meaning of Jesus’ words by rendering them: “Stop clinging to me.” Why would Jesus say that to Mary Magdalene, who was a close associate?—Luke 8:1-3.

Evidently, Mary Magdalene feared that Jesus was about to leave and ascend into heaven. Moved by her strong desire to be with her Lord, she was holding fast to Jesus, not letting him go. To assure her that he was not yet leaving, Jesus instructed Mary to stop clinging to him but instead to go and declare to his disciples the news of his resurrection.—John 20:17.

The exchange between Jesus and Thomas was different. When Jesus appeared to some disciples, Thomas was absent. Later, Thomas voiced his doubts about Jesus’ resurrection, saying that he would not believe it unless he saw Jesus’ nail wounds and put his hand into Jesus’ speared side. Eight days later, Jesus again appeared to the disciples. This time, Thomas was present, and Jesus invited him to touch the wounds.—John 20:24-27.

Thus, in Mary Magdalene’s case, Jesus was dealing with a misplaced desire to prevent him from leaving; in Thomas’ case, Jesus was helping someone who had doubts. In both instances, Jesus had good reasons to act the way he did.

Why did the resurrected Jesus invite Thomas to touch him yet stop Mary Magdalene from doing so earlier?

  • 1
    There's another in-depth discussion of John 20:17 in the NWT- Study Edition. It too describes why "cling" is a more reasonable translation than "touch" given the context.
    – user32540
    Commented Oct 28, 2017 at 16:48
  • I decided to look into the original texts (translated into English though) and I am not sure what the text means by "older translations". For example, both the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus have "touch me not" as the translation. All the manuscripts for each verse are here, but I do not know Greek, and Google Translate is just useless in translating.
    – luchonacho
    Commented Oct 28, 2017 at 17:18
  • @luchonacho The 3 "modern-language translations" mentioned in the article were published in 1984, 1985, and 1961, respectively. So "older translations" would probably refer to translations from pre-1900s. About half of the Bibles listed in the biblehub.com link in your question translate it as "touch", and the other half translate it as "cling" or "hold".
    – user32540
    Commented Oct 28, 2017 at 18:13


The explanation for why Mary could not touch Christ (John 20:17) and then why they could touch Christ (Luke 24:39), indeed He invites them to touch (John 20:27) later that same Sunday, lies in understanding the types (shadow) of the Mosaic Tabernacle. It was the earthly example for the heavenly atonement.


The Mosaic Tabernacle was a pattern for the New.

Heb. 8:5 Who [Levitical priests] serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount.

Ex. 25:9 According to all that I [LORD] shew thee [Moses], after the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the instruments thereof, even so shall ye make it.

Annually under the Old, the High Priest atoned for sins in the Holy Place on the Day of Atonement by offering sacrifices. In regards to answering the OP, it was a day in which only the High Priest was to be present in the court; no other person was to be present.

Lev. 16:17 And there shall be no man in the tabernacle of the congregation when he goeth in to make an atonement in the holy place, until he come out, and have made an atonement for himself, and for his household, and for all the congregation of Israel.


So, to place this Levitical shadow in context of the Melchizedekan High Priest Christ Jesus, Christ told Mary “do not touch” specifically because He had yet to ascend.

John 20:17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for [per Strong’s “assigning a reason”] I am not yet ascended to my Father:

And what was the point of Christ’s ascension that Saturday night (after the Sabbath’s sunset)?

Heb. 9: 23-24 It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us:


Mary is absolutely an intriguing woman of Scripture who essentially did not care about impressions. At the earliest allowable time (about Sabbath sunset), what would become to her breathtaking delight, after the guards at the tomb, she witnessed the risen Christ first. She falls to worship, but is restricted. Did she understand the nuances of the Levitical priesthood and Atonement that had changed in Christ’s one sacrifice? Evidently she did, as Christ explained it to her. Do not touch, do not cling because I must ascend. New Testament believers also have the Book of Hebrews to explain it further; He ascends as our High Priest who died once for all to purify, to appear in the presence of God for us.






John shows his special concern of the purity law in observing the corpse impurity for Jesus. The period of postmortem impurity is observed just like the birth impurity, in two stages, first severe for a week, and then for 40 days in total with ability to touch others that the child shares with the mother (Lev 12, Gordon J. Wenham, 1979, p 186). The incident of touching Thomas happens intentionally on the next Sunday, after eight days (John 20:26-27) when he has passed the first stage of severe impurity, as in the period until circumcision for the child.

Other Gospel narrators don't include such corpse impurity, however Luke describes in great detail about Jesus' birth purification rites in Luke 2; and Acts 1:3 mentions 40 days period before his ascension to present himself to the father. These details are purely narrative details and should not be confused with actual historical reports.

It has nothing to do with discrimination against Mary. His presentation to the father represents his purification rite as what happens with the birth purification in the temple or to the priest. I don't think mainstream scholars are aware about any of this.

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