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Greek Word Study - Touch

Thetis was a devoted mother. As a sea-goddess of ancient myth, she took a human lover and gave birth to Achilles. She held the infant by the heel and dipped him in the River Styx, thus giving him almost total invincibility. (The "Achilles heel" is named in his honor.)

Even when Achilles was a grown warrior, his mother was still looking out for him. As the Trojan War approached, Thetis went up Mt. Olympus to seek favors for her boy. She "clasped Zeus's knees and held to him, clinging close," as she begged him to manipulate the war and bring honor to her son.

The Greek word Homer used for "clasped" was haptomai (HOP toh my). This word is variously translated "cling to," "attach oneself to," "get involved with" and "touch." A famous translation of haptomai in John 20:17 (KJV and ASV 1901) has Jesus saying to Mary Magdalene after his resurrection, "Touch me not, for I have not yet ascended to the Father."

The New American Standard Bible more correctly puts it, "Stop clinging to me." There are two reasons for this improved translation. First, the word has always meant more than a mere touch. (See for example Mark 10:13-16 and 1 Cor 7:1. And in "Handle not, taste not, touch not" in Col 2:21, it is the word "handle.") Second, it is a grammatical construction (a negative used with the present imperative) that normally means "Stop what you are doing." As Seth Wilson liked to put it, Jesus was saying, "Unhand me, woman!" The correct picture here is Mary clinging to Jesus' feet, just as a whole group of women would do moments later in Matt 28:9.

The whole story of Jesus' life, in fact, is one of meaningful touching. He put his hands on a leper, a feverish woman, and a dead man; on eyes, ears, tongues, and babies. Various people sought out Jesus to "touch" him: the sick, the crowds, a woman subject to bleeding, a sinful woman of the street.

So here's the encouragement for today: Reach out and touch him—he's reaching out for you!