"Take him away! Crucify him!"

 

Hour of Crucifixion

 

 

 

Joseph Francis Alward
Copyright 2003

 

 



In this article I describe a discrepancy between John's and Mark's accounts of the time of the crucifixion of Jesus. John says Jesus was sentenced at noon, but Mark says he was already crucified at 9:00 AM.

 

 

 

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John's account of the time of Jesus' crucifixion apparently contradicts Mark's account.  John thinks that Jesus wasn't crucified until after about 12:00 PM noon, while Mark thinks that Jesus was already crucified three hours earlier, at about 9:00 AM. Here is the evidence:

About the sixth hour (hektos hora)…they shouted, "Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!" (John 19:14-15 NIV)

And it was the third hour when they crucified Him. (Mark 15:25)

The translators of at least seven different Bible version all agree that John's hektos hora above means six hours past sunrise, or about noontime.  Here is how they translate hektos hora:

          1.  The hour was noon. (The Message)

          2.  About twelve o'clock noon.  (Amplified Bible)

          3.  It was now about noon of the day (New Living Translation)

          4.  It was about noon (Contemporary English Version)

          5.  It was about the middle of the day (Worldwide English)
          6.  It was about noon.  (New English Translation)

 

I won't display the translations from eleven other versions on Bible Gateway (http://bible.gospelcom.net/cgi-bin/bible) which translate hektos hora literally as "the sixth hour."

None of these translations dispute the "noon" translation offered by the seven translators above.1

 

The Sixth Hour Following Midnight?

Some apologists argue that the seven translators above who said that John's hektos hora meant "noon" are all mistaken.  They claim that John actually counted hours relative to midnight, which means that John's Jesus was sentenced at about 6:00 AM, or sunrise, which would have allowed Jesus to be on the cross at the 9:00 AM crucifixion time claimed by Mark.

But, does there exist any evidence that John reckoned time relative to midnight? I believe the answer to that question is no, and there is significant textual evidence that John measured time relative to sunrise according to the Jewish and Roman practice, just as the other gospel writers did.  There is evidence in at least two other passages that John counted hours relative to sunrise.


 
Jacob's Well

The evidence that John measured time relative to sunrise according to the Jewish system is found in the story in John 4:5-7 of a travel-weary Jesus arriving at "the sixth hour" at Jacob's well:

So he came to…Jacob's well...and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well.  It was about the sixth hour (hektos hora).  (John 4:5-7 NIV) 

What did John mean by "the sixth hour (hektos hora)"?  Did he mean the sixth hour after midnight, or 6:00 AM,  as some apologists believe, or did he mean the sixth hour following sunrise, or "noon"?  Well, if Jesus had arrived tired at the well following a long journey, he would have had to have been traveling at night. But, does not common sense point instead to a daylight journey ending at the well at noon? It would seem so, because the translators of at least six Bible versions report that John's hektos hora means "noon":

1.  It was then about the sixth hour (about noon). (Amplified Bible)
2.  Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. (New Living Testament)
3.  It was noon (Contemporary English Version)
4.  It was about midday.  (Worldwide English New Testament)
5.  It was about noon.  (New English Translation)
6.  It was about noon.  (New American Bible)

Not one translator of any of twelve other Bible versions translates hektos hora as "sunrise" in the Jacob's well passage. 

The Jacob's well passage is not the only one which shows that John counted hours from sunrise.

 

          The Lamb of God


In the following passage, the disciples meet Jesus, and because it is already late in the afternoon they spent the rest of their day with him.

 

The next day, John was there again, and two of his followers were with him. When he saw Jesus walking by, he said, "Here is the Lamb of God!" John's two followers heard him, and they went with Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them, he asked, "What do you want?"
They answered, "Rabbi, where do you live?" The Hebrew word "Rabbi" means "Teacher."
Jesus replied, "Come and see!" It was already about four o'clock in the afternoon when they went with him and saw where he lived. So they stayed on for the rest of the day.
  
(John 1:35-39 Contemporary English Version)

 

Six other translators of six different Bible versions listed below support the view of the translator above, and translate dekatos hora as "four o'clock in the afternoon."  

 

1.  It was late afternoon when this happened. (The Message)
2.  It was then about the tenth hour (about four o'clock in the afternoon).  (Amplified Bible)
3.  It was about four o'clock in the afternoon (New Living Translation)
4.  It was four o'clock in the afternoon  (New American Bible)
5.  The time was about four o'clock in the afternoon.   (Worldwide English)
6.  Now it was about four o’clock in the afternoon.  (New English Translation)

 

 

None of the other eleven Bible versions available on the web contradict this translation.

Some apologists argue that "the tenth hour" in the Lamb of God passage is really 10:00 AM.  However, if the hour in the Lamb of God passage really were 10:00 AM, why would John bother to tell us that?  What is the value of this information? 

On the other hand, if the tenth hour was 4:00 PM, and the hour is late, the reader can understand why the remainder of the disciples' day would be spent with Jesus:  It was too late to do anything else before darkness. Thus, mentioning the time makes no sense if it's 10:00 AM, but a great deal of sense if it's 4:00 PM.  The translators of seven different Bible versions agree that the tenth hour was 4:00 PM, and not one of eleven other translations dispute this.

Thus, we see substantial support from seven translators and common sense that John used the sunrise reference system of reckoning time in not only the Jacob's well passage, but also the Lamb of God passage. 

Scholarly Support for A Noon Sentencing

Additional support2 for a noon sentencing comes also from New Testament Abstracts, 34 [1990] 88:

All the data from ancient Greek and Latin texts substantiate a single unified system of counting the hours of the day from sunrise to sunset.

And even more support from the conservative Christian scholar, F.F. Bruce, who wrote

As for the time of day, it was getting on toward noon.  Despite Westcott’s arguments, no evidence is forthcoming that at this time, whether among Romans, Greeks, or Jews, hours were ever reckoned otherwise than from sunrise” (p.364)…Romans divided the period of daylight (from sunrise to sunset) into twelve hours, and the period of darkness (from sunset to sunrise) into four watches (The Gospel of John, p.66)


Conclusive proof that the sunrise reference system was used not only by the Jews, but by Greeks and Romans alike is found in dozens of examples of time-reckoning found in the ancient writings.  Interested readers will find these examples in the article, Time Reckoning in Ancient Rome.

Conclusion

If John used the Jewish system of reckoning in these two other passages of his gospel, should we not agree with all those translators that John also used that system in the sentencing passage?  If the answer is yes, then we see that John said that Jesus had not even been sentenced until about noon, while Mark said that Jesus had already been crucified at nine in the morning.  At the very least, one of the two authors was off by about three hours in the time of the crucifixion, and this means the Bible is in error.3

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Footnotes

 

1.  The New American Standard Bible weakly suggests in a footnote to its "sixth hour" translation,
"Perhaps 6 a.m."

2.  My thanks to the pseudonymous "Robyn Banks," a correspondent on the Theology Web (http://www.theologyweb.com/forum/)  on April 28, 2003 for providing this reference.

3.  Some apologists believe that Jesus was indeed sentenced at noon, but the sentencing was at noon on Thursday, a day before Jesus' crucifixion. The timing makes no sense, however.  The events described in Mark 15:13-24 makes it clear that the crucifixion happened on the same day that Jesus was sentenced.

Other apologists suggest that John's "original autograph" (the stories about Jesus written in John's own hand) contained the cardinal (counting) number "3" instead of the ordinal number "third" in "the third hour."  Thus, they claim that perhaps John wrote, "hour 3" instead of "the third hour," and later a careless scribe transcribed "hour 3" to "hour 6."  This possible source of error is discussed more fully in the article,
"Scribal Error in John 19?"

 

4.  A transparently ridiculous "harmonization" of the sixth-hour problem was presented and rebutted in May, 2003, on the Internet Infidels Errancy forum (II-Errancy).  Interested readers will find most of the relevant comments in the two of the posts, "The Lightfoot Solution," and "More on the Sixth Hour,"

 

5.  Some apologists try to argue that because John said, "about the sixth hour," he might have meant that the sentencing occurred at a time closer to the sixth hour of prayer (starting at 12:00 PM) than to the third hour of prayer (starting at 8:00 AM).   Thus, in this scenario, John could have had Jesus sentenced as earlier as the midpoint of these two times, or 10:00 AM.  However, this attemped harmonization is easily defeated, because people of that time easily could tell time to within a half hour just by looking at the sun, or within minutes using water clocks or sundials. When John says "about the sixth hour" he means that the time was closer to noon than to 11:00 AM or to 1:00 PM, which means the exact time would have been between 11:30 AM and 12:30 PM.  If John had meant for his readers to know that the time was between third and sixth hours, i.e., sometime between the third hour prayer and the sixth hour prayer, he would have said, "between the third and sixth hours."  The fact that he didn't say this, but would have known how to say it if that's what he really meant, is clear proof that he had a knowledge of the sentencing time that was accurate at least to within thirty minutes.

Mark said that the crucifixion occurred at the third hour (not about) the third hour, so we may conclude that he meant that the time was not later than the end of the third hour, or 9:00 AM. 


Even with the most charitable interpretation, Mark has Jesus already on the cross no later than 9:00 AM, while John has him being sentenced not any earlier than 10:00 AM, a difference of one hour.  But, it's worse than this:  A number of different things happened between the time of the sentencing and the actually hanging on the cross.  These events are outlined in the post mentioned above in Footnote 4,  "More on the Sixth Hour," Thus, the time discrepancy is worse than the minimum one-hour one that I've outlined; it's more like two or three hours.


Apologists may object to the notion that people were able to mark time to an accuracy of better than one hour, but the notion that people were able to reckon time only by reference to three-hour blocks of time--about the third hour, about the sixth hour, about the ninth hour, is clearly false, for there are innumerable references to "the fifth hour," and the "seventh hour" in Roman literature, and the Bible refers to the "tenth hour" and "the eleventh hour," showing that time reference wasn't limited to just the hours three, six, nine, and twelve.  This is clear evidence that people of that time could fine-tune their estimates of time at least to within one hour.