First Jesus says, “Touch me not” to Mary of Magdala who is evidently grabbing him (John 20:17, King James Version (KJV)).

Young’s Literal Translation (YLT) says, “Be not touching me.”  My understanding is that she is in the process of touching him, grasping, holding, whatever.

Then ten verses later Jesus says, “reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side” to Thomas the doubting one (John 20:27 (KJV)).  Touch me.

A contradiction?

Maybe the two kinds of touching are dissimilar and so it is OK for Thomas to thrust his hand, but not OK for Mary to hug?

Jesus tells Mary not to touch him because “I am not yet ascended to my Father.”

Maybe it is OK for Thomas to do the very invasive thrusting the hand into the wound because the ascension is complete?

Jesus tells Mary, “Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father. . . .’” (the NIV has this “I am ascending presently” implication in John 20:17).

But how can the ascension be complete?  Luke’s ascension takes place 40 days later and takes Jesus away.

Maybe there is some big error in the text with two different ascensions?

A truth within the stories

Or maybe the biblical authors have deliberately constructed a puzzle??

Which is it A or B or C?

A. Jesus ascends to the Father right after he speaks with Mary at the tomb on Easter Sunday (John 20:17) and then after that it is alright for Thomas to touch him because the ascension is complete.

B. Jesus ascends to the Father by sailing upwards beyond the clouds 40 days after Easter (Thomas had touched him earlier), and then Jesus is seen no more by those who knew him (Luke 24:50-51 and Acts 1:3-11).

C. Thomas’ touching is non-sexual and therefore inconsequential.  “I am ascending” (NIV) or “I ascend” (KJV) means “I will be ascending.”

Maybe the answer is not A, not B, and not C, but rather D.  Jesus is ONE with his Abba, in a perfect communion at all times.  Jesus does not need to “ascend” or to travel anywhere in order to be with his divine source.

What a fascinating puzzle!

Do I have the solution?  Of course I don’t know for sure.

New converts in the first century must have had a lot of fun learning from this Gospel.

Update – July 31, 2011:

This puzzle gets even more interesting if you interpret Luke 24:13 (KJV), “that same day” to mean that everything that follows, up to the end of Luke, including the ascension, happened on that same day, that is, the day the tomb was found empty.  If the ascension happens “that same day,” then that contradicts Acts where it happens forty days later.

I was temporarily stymied by the TNIV because it adds the word “when” to the ascension scene in Luke 24:50, “When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them.”  Yes, it adds a word.  The Catholic Confraternity Edition likewise adds a word, “now.”  Other versions add the word “and;” for example, the King James Version has, “And he led them out as far as to Bethany.”

When I saw the extra word “when” in the TNIV, I had the mistaken impression that possibly a different timeframe was indicated.  But the original Greek has no such time indicator.

Using the Greek 1881 Westcott-Hort New Testament, The Greek New Testament SBL Edition (2010), the Google translator, and my trusty dictionary I get literally:

Led but them to toward Bithania

Meaning maybe, “He led them just up to Bethany.”

The start of this verse has no “when,” no “now,” and no “and.”

I don’t know Greek and I struggled with this effort to translate.  Of course I can’t be sure my translation is correct.  But now I believe I can see that it all happened on the same day in Luke.  The ascension happens on Easter Sunday in Luke, and in Acts 1:3, forty days later.

Why do the translators add a word to the original?  A word that is not needed for clarity?

The RSV says, “Then he led them out as far as Bethany.”  I don’t object much to the addition of “then” because it does not suggest a different day.

The RSV is also good in that it informs me in a footnote, “Other ancient authorities omit ‘and was carried up into heaven.’” This difference in ancient manuscripts means we don’t know if the original Luke had an ascension or not.


Additional reading:

Bart D. Ehrman

James Tabor

2 Responses to ASCENSION(S)

  1. care4earth says:

    So were there two ascensions, one ascension, or no ascensions? What is an ascension? Do the words all refer to an expression common in the near east of Jesus’ day which meant that the person had passed to his or her reward or punishment? We don’t just take biblical words literally; we must try to find out what they meant two thousand years earlier!

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