In the Authorized Version (old King James Bible), John 20:17 is rendered as follows: “Jesus saith unto her [Mary], 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.” Jesus had been resurrected from the dead, and He made these comments to Mary when she met Him after she had discovered that His tomb was empty.
One explanation given in times past was that Christ did not want Mary to touch Him because He was not yet glorified and had not gone to heaven to be glorified and presented as a weave sheaf offering before God. Although this explanation may sound feasible at first sight, it doesn’t stand the test of scriptural application.
We read in 1 Corinthians 15:42-44:
“So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.”
When Christ was resurrected, He was already glorified according to the above Scripture–so another explanation must be put forth.
It is true, of course, that Christ ascended Sunday morning to the Father in heaven to be accepted as the wave sheaf offering—but not for the purpose of being glorified then.
Some have said that John 20:17 teaches that Christ was resurrected Sunday morning, before dark, and did not allow Mary to touch Him, because by that time, He had not ascended to heaven, but that later, on Sunday morning, when it was already light, He allowed the women to touch Him, because He had gone to and returned from heaven. This conclusion is drawn from a comparison between John 20:17 and Matthew 28:9. However, both conclusions are erroneous, because the Bible does not teach a Sunday morning resurrection; nor, that the women in Matthew 28:9 met Christ Sunday morning. Rather, it teaches that Christ was resurrected on Saturday afternoon, just before sunset, and that the women in Matthew 28 appeared at the grave late Saturday afternoon—not Sunday morning.
Our free booklet, “Jesus Christ, a Great Mystery,” explains these facts in great detail.
“We read in Matthew 28:1–6 (Authorized Version): ‘In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. And behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it… And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for HE IS RISEN, AS HE SAID.’
“We note from the passage that Christ was already resurrected by the time the women came to the grave. We are told that they appeared ‘in the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week.’ Many commentaries point out that this phrase discusses the END of the SABBATH, that is, Saturday evening or late afternoon, and NOT Sunday morning.
“The Interlinear Literal Translation of the Greek New Testament renders this verse in this way: ‘Now late on Sabbath, as it was getting dusk toward (the) first (day) of (the) week, came Mary the Magdalene…’ A.T. Robertson’s Harmony of the Gospel comments: ‘This phrase once gave much trouble, but the usage of the vernacular Koine Greek amply justifies the translation. The visit of the women to inspect the tomb was thus made before the Sabbath was over (before 6 p.m. on Saturday).’
“Cockrell states: ‘When does the Bible say that Jesus rose from the dead? The two Marys came to the tomb “in the end of the Sabbath” (Matth. 28:1). The Sabbath always ended at sunset: “From even unto even, shall ye celebrate your Sabbath” (Lev. 23:32). Then they went to the tomb before sunset on Saturday. Jesus had risen from the dead before their arrival (Matth. 28:1–8)…’
“The Moffat Bible translates: ‘At the close of the Sabbath, when the first day was dawning…’… The Elberfelder Bibel reads: ‘But late at the Sabbath, in the dawn of the first day.’ It comments: ‘Days started at sunset.’
“This fact is also established, when considering the meaning of the Greek word, translated in Matthew 28:1, as ‘in the end of the Sabbath’. The Greek for ‘in the end of ‘ is ‘opse.’ It is defined as ‘late in the evening.’ It is not a reference to ‘early in the morning.’ Compare Mark 13:35 and Mark 11:19, where the word ‘opse’ is correctly rendered as ‘even’ or ‘evening.’”
More evidence is given in our booklet for the fact that Jesus was not resurrected on Sunday morning, but on Saturday, just before sunset.
But, what is meant, exactly, in John 20:17?
The original Greek words, more properly rendered, mean, “attach oneself to,” and this is how they are rendered in other versions of the Bible.
For instance, the New King James Bible states as follows: “Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, “I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.”’”
This rendition gives the more accurate meaning of the original Greek. This is what some of the commentaries say about this verse:
Clarke’s Commentary says: “‘Cling not to me’. [The Greek] has this sense in Job 31:7, where the Septuagint use it for the Hebrew… dabak, which signifies to cleave, cling, stick, or be glued to… our Lord seems to have spoken to her to this effect: ‘Spend no longer time with me now… but go and tell my disciples, that I am… to ascend to my Father and God, who is your Father and God also. Therefore, let them take courage.’”
The Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge agrees, saying this: “Touch: Or rather, ‘embrace me not,’ or, ‘cling not to me,’… ‘Spend no more time with me now in joyful gratulations…’”
Westley states: “Touch me not – Or rather, Do not cling to me (for she held him by the feet)… Detain me not now. You will have other opportunities of conversing with me. For I am not ascended to my Father…”
In our free booklet, “Jesus Christ, a Great Mystery,” we state the following about John 20:17:
“Christ was resurrected long before Sunday morning. We read that Mary Magdalene came to the tomb on the first day of the week, when it was still dark, and Jesus was already resurrected by that time (John 20:1). This means, Christ was not resurrected on Sunday morning, at sunrise, but He had already been resurrected, ‘while it was still dark.’ In addition, John 20:1 might not even be talking about events that occurred Sunday morning, ‘while it was still dark,’ but it might be talking about events on Saturday evening, when it was getting darker. In the Greek, the word translated as ‘still’ [or ‘yet’ in other translations] is ‘eti.’ It can also be translated as ‘more,’ ‘yet more,’ or, ‘still more,’ as was done in Revelation 9:12 (‘Behold, still two more woes are coming after these things.’ Compare New International Version: ‘two other woes are yet to come’; and New Jerusalem Bible: ‘there are still two more to come’). In addition, Hebrews 11:32 states: “‘What more shall I say?’” This could mean that John’s account is telling us that the women came to the grave when it was getting ‘even more’ dark—or ‘darker,’ after they had begun their walk to the grave when it was getting dark, at sunset. This would then also refer to events on Saturday night, not on Sunday morning…
“Some… point out an apparent discrepancy between Matthew 28:9 and John 20:17. While Christ does not allow Mary to touch Him in the book of John, as He had not yet ascended to heaven, He is touched by certain women in Matthew’s account. The rationale given is that in the meantime, He had ascended to heaven and returned to earth, and could now be touched. Therefore, so the argument goes, the account in Matthew must follow the account in John.
“But as we saw, John’s account may not be talking about events that occurred on Sunday morning, but on Saturday evening, when it was getting darker. In this case, there would be no contradiction between the two accounts. In addition, we might want to note that Matthew and John are using different words in referring to ‘touching’ Christ. In Matthew 28:9, we are told that they held Him by the feet and worshipped Him. In John’s account, the concept is conveyed that the women, in their joy, were trying to seize Him. The Ryrie Study Bible comments: ‘Touch Me not—More accurately the command was, “Do not continue holding or clinging to Me” (in order to restrain Him).’ The NIV translates: ‘Do not hold on to me.’ The New King James Bible says: ‘Do not cling to Me.’ The RSV says: ‘Do not hold me.’
“The difference in Christ’s reaction toward certain ones of the women was this: Mary Magdalene wanted to cling on to Him, refusing to let Him go (John 20:17). The women in Matthew’s account were afraid (Matthew 28:8, 10). They needed to touch Him to be given comfort and reassurance that it was He (compare Luke 24:36–39; John 20:25). In any event, John’s account cannot be used to support a Sunday morning resurrection!”
So we can conclude that the verse in John 20:17 is more properly rendered as, “Don’t cling to me,” in the sense that “you don’t have to hold on to me as if I am going to be gone forever, but rather don’t cling to me because I have to go to My Father and I will be back. I will only be gone for a short while so you don’t have to cling to me as if to prevent me from going to My Father.”
Lead Writers: Rene Messier (Canada) and Norbert Link