Scribal Error in John 19:14 ?





               Joseph Francis Alward  
                 © Copyright 2003 





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)



Some apologists harmonize these verses by asserting that the original autographs (writings penned by the authors) were error free, but copies of the now missing originals became corrupted through scribal error.  It has been suggested that either the scribe miswrote the ordinal number "third" as "sixth," or perhaps the cardinal number "3" as a "6."  Consider the first possibility:

Scribe Miswrote the Ordinal Numbers

From the Blue Book Bible (, which uses "Stephen's Textus Receptus":


John 19:14


ora (hour)      ekte (sixth)


Mark 15:25


ora (hour)     trite (third)



Note:  if the imagined autograph had trite, the scribe would have had to have mistaken  for   , and that does not seem too likely.  Thus, the more plausible explanation of how the trite became an ekte is that the scribe just absently mindedly saw "third,"  but thought "sixth" and wrote "sixth."



Scribe Miswrote the Cardinal Number

Maybe John had written the "third hour" with a 3 instead of "third."  How might the scribe have converted the "3" into a "6"?


The Greek cardinal (counting) numbers are shown in the table below.  Note that the numbers "3" and "6" were represented by the Greek letters gamma and digamma.  There is not much resemblance between the lower-case symbols, but the upper-case "six" is the same as the upper-case "three", except it has one more horizontal stroke.   Thus, twice as many horizontal strokes, twice the value. 








(Table is from Greek Number Systems, by J. J. O'Connor and E. F. Robertson1)


Here is how the ancient scribe might have accidentally converted John's "3" to a "6":




However, there is no evidence that John, or any other gospel writer, ever used cardinal numbers (counting letter-numbers such as gamma, or digamma) in place of the ordinal numbers written out (e.g., "third," or "sixth.")  As of this writing (May 8, 2003), I am unaware of any examples in Greek writing from the first century where the ordinal number was written as a number-letter, rather than being spelled out.