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New Testament Words and Verses
NT Words For Touch, One

So much emphasis is placed in Christian preaching today on believing in and trusting God that one tends to forget that in the original documents of the faith an equally high premium is placed on touching and being touched. Jesus often uses touch as an instrument in healing, and touch is listed as one of the things that makes faith real both in the Gospel and First Epistle of John.  The purpose of this post is to examine the New Testament words for touching, with occasional forays into the Septuagint, which was the OT for most early Christians, for additional light.


I begin with a sort of paradox. The New Testament passage in which one would naturally expect a rich vocabulary of touching (when doubting Thomas is urged by Jesus to touch his wounds as proof of his suffering) is completely devoid of words for touching!  The Greek and English of John 20:27 are:


εἶτα λέγει τῷ Θωμᾷ · Φέρε τὸν δάκτυλόν σου ὧδε καὶ ἴδε τὰς χεῖράς μου, καὶ φέρε τὴν χεῖρά σου καὶ βάλε εἰς τὴν πλευράν μου, καὶ μὴ γίνου ἄπιστος ἀλλὰ πιστός.


“Then he says to Thomas, ‘Bring your finger here and see my hands; and bring your hand and cast it into my side, and don’t be unbelieving but believing.”


Though the concept of “touching” is certainly present in John 20:27, the words aren’t. When we get around to verbs for touching we have ἅπτομαι, θιγγάνω, ψηλαφάω, and προσψαύω.  ἅπτομαι appears 36 times, while the sum of the other three is less than 10 appearances. The realm or domain of ἅπτομαι is exclusively in the physical act of touching, while the other three can include a more mystical component to them.  Let’s begin with ἅπτομαι. 




Thirty-one of the 36 appearances of ἅπτομαι are in the Synoptic Gospels and almost all of these are associated with Jesus’ healing ministry. Of the remaining five, one is a quotation from the LXX (II Cor. 6:17) and one is probably borrowed from a contemporary source listing ethical rules for Christians which the author likely doesn’t approve (Col. 2:21; note that θιγγάνω also appears here). One is used by Paul, and most likely derived from another source, to describe how a man shouldn’t “touch” a woman (I Cor. 7:1). Jesus uses the verb in John to tell the disciples not to “touch” him because he hasn’t yet ascended (John 20:17); it also appears in I John 5:17 as an encouragement to believers, for it says that the evil one can’t “touch” them.


Many of the 31 instances where ἅπτομαι appears in the Synoptic Gospels are in parallel passages.  For example, Mark 1:41 has Jesus stretching out his hand and touching (ἥψατο, aorist middle) a leper; the parallel passages in Matthew (8:3) and Luke (5:13) use the same word.  The next appearance in Mark (3:10, where Jesus touches some people in a crowd) finds a parallel in Luke 6:19, though the reference is absent from Matthew.


A full third of uses of ἅπτομαι in the Synoptics occur in one passage and its parallels, the story of Jesus’ healing a woman with the hemorrhage of blood (Mark 5:21-43; Matthew 9:18-26; Luke 8:40-56). It might be nice to see the relevant verses in Greek and English to see how often ἅπτομαι occurs.


ἀκούσασα περὶ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ, ἐλθοῦσα ἐν τῷ ὄχλῳ ὄπισθεν ἥψατο τοῦ ἱματίου αὐτοῦ. ἔλεγεν γὰρ ὅτι Ἐὰν ἅψωμαι κἂν τῶν ἱματίων αὐτοῦ ⸃ σωθήσομαι…. καὶ εὐθὺς ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐπιγνοὺς ἐν ἑαυτῷ τὴν ἐξ αὐτοῦ δύναμιν ἐξελθοῦσαν ἐπιστραφεὶς ἐν τῷ ὄχλῳ ἔλεγεν · Τίς μου ἥψατο τῶν ἱματίων; καὶ ἔλεγον αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ · Βλέπεις τὸν ὄχλον συνθλίβοντά σε, καὶ λέγεις · Τίς μου ἥψατο; (Mark 5:27-31).


“Having heard about Jesus and coming up in the crowd behind him, she touched his garment. For she said (to herself), ‘If only I touch his garment, I shall be saved.’. . .And immediately Jesus, feeling deep within that power had gone out of him, and turning in the crowd, said, ‘Who touched my garments?' And the disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd crushing you, and you ask, ‘Who touched me?’”


As we see, in Mark 5:27 she comes up behind Jesus and touches his cloak; then in the next verse she muses about touching it; Jesus then asks ‘Who touched my cloak?’ in verse 30 and the disciples use the word in verse 31. Four times in five verses. Luke uses ἅπτομαι five times in the parallel passage:


προσελθοῦσα ὄπισθεν ἥψατο τοῦ κρασπέδου τοῦ ἱματίου αὐτοῦ, καὶ παραχρῆμα ἔστη ἡ ῥύσις τοῦ αἵματος αὐτῆς. καὶ εἶπεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς · Τίς ὁ ἁψάμενός μου; ἀρνουμένων δὲ πάντων εἶπεν ὁ Πέτρος · Ἐπιστάτα, οἱ ὄχλοι συνέχουσίν σε καὶ ἀποθλίβουσιν. [some ancient texts add here: καὶ λέγεις, Tίς ὁ ἁψάμενός μου?] ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν · Ἥψατό μού τις, ἐγὼ γὰρ ἔγνων δύναμιν ἐξεληλυθυῖαν ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ. · ἰδοῦσα δὲ ἡ γυνὴ ὅτι οὐκ ἔλαθεν τρέμουσα ἦλθεν καὶ προσπεσοῦσα αὐτῷ δι’ ἣν αἰτίαν ἥψατο αὐτοῦ ἀπήγγειλεν ἐνώπιον παντὸς τοῦ λαοῦ καὶ ὡς ἰάθη παραχρῆμα (Luke 8:44-47).


“As she was going along behind she touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her flow of blood stopped. And Jesus said, ‘Who was the one who touched me?’ All denied that they did so, and Peter said, ‘Master, the crowds are all around you and crush upon you [and you said, ‘Who was the one who touched me?].  And Jesus said, ‘Someone touched me, for I know that power has gone out from me. Having looked at the woman, for could not escape notice, she came trembling and falling down before him, being asked for what reason she touched him, she announced it before all the people, and how she was immediately healed.”


Note that he doesn’t use the verb in precisely the same contexts as Mark.  To be sure the first appearance of ἅπτομαι in Luke’s passage (8:44) is parallel to Mark’s—i.e., the woman comes up behind Jesus and touches his cloak.  But Luke’s next usage is Jesus asking “Who touched me?” (v 45) and Peter repeats Jesus’ question in verse 45, using ἅπτομαι. Then, Jesus speaks insistently in verse 46 by saying “Someone touched me” (absent in Mark). A fifth appearance, in verse 47 is the woman’s confession of having touched Jesus (also absent in Mark).  The story is told in a richer way in Luke than Mark, but an more perfunctory way in Matthew; ἅπτομαι only appears twice in that passage. 

NT Terms for Touching, Two
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