At What Hour was Jesus Crucified?
One allegation leveled by Bible critics is the difference that exists between Mark and John in their reporting of the hour of the crucifixion (McKinsey, 2000, pp. 295-296; Wells, 2013). Mark records that the Lord was crucified at the third hour (15:25), while John records that Jesus was tried before Pilate at the sixth hour (19:14)—which would seem to be after the time Mark says Jesus was crucified. The harmonization of this surface difference is quite simple and further underscores the sophistication of Bible inspiration.
Living as we do in the 21st century, we fail to remember or recognize that time has not always been reckoned the way it is today worldwide. We are able to calculate quickly the time anywhere in the world. For example, if it is 9:00 a.m. in Montgomery, Alabama (which is on Central time), it is 10:00 a.m. in New York City (which is on Eastern time), 3:00 p.m. in London, and 12:00 midnight in Sydney, Australia. Not so in antiquity. The ancients used a variety of systems by which they reckoned time.
A careful study of the biblical text reveals the fact that John (who wrote near the end of the first century, several years after the writings of the synoptic writers, away from Palestine, and addressing an eclectic, Hellenistic audience) based his calculations on Roman civil time. Matthew, Mark, and Luke, on the other hand, computed their allusions to days and hours according to Jewish time (cf. Smith, 1869, 2:1102; Robertson, 1922, p. 285; Lockhart, 1901, p. 28; Geisler and Howe, 1992, p. 376; Brewer, 1941, pp. 330-331; McGarvey, 1892, 2:181-182).
In light of these facts, read the context of John’s allusion to the “sixth hour”:
When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus out and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha. Now it was the Preparation Day of the Passover, and about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” But they cried out, “Away with Him, away with Him! Crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar!” Then he delivered Him to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus and led Him away (John 19:13-16, emp. added).
John does not actually refer to the hour of the crucifixion, but only to the proceedings leading up to the crucifixion, specifically, the general timeframe when Pilate handed Jesus over to the Roman guards to commence the execution procedures. At this point, there yet remained the torturous, time-consuming journey to the place of execution. These events began to occur “about” 6:00 a.m.
Mark’s account reads as follows:
Then they compelled a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus, as he was coming out of the country and passing by, to bear His cross. And they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull. Then they gave Him wine mingled with myrrh to drink, but He did not take it. And when they crucified Him, they divided His garments, casting lots for them to determine what every man should take. Now it was the third hour, and they crucified Him (Mark 15:21-25, emp. added).
Using Jewish reckoning, Mark’s “third hour” is 9:00 a.m.—three hours after John’s “sixth hour.” Ample time is provided for the events leading up to the actual crucifixion, the proper sequence is preserved, and the Bible’s pristine historicity is vindicated.
It is truly tragic that skeptics are so bent on discovering discrepancies in inspired writ that they manifest such extreme prejudice. An honest, unbiased individual will take the time to examine the details of Scripture and extend a fair hearing to its record—the same fairness that the skeptic desires for himself. Despite the ongoing assault of those who view the Bible with disdain—an assault that has spanned two millennia—the Bible remains unscathed in its claim to be of divine origin.
Brewer, G.C. (1941), Contending For the Faith (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate).
Geisler, Norman and Thomas Howe (1992), When Critics Ask (Wheaton: IL: Victor).
Lockhart, Clinton (1901), Principles of Interpretation (Delight, AR: Gospel Light), revised edition.
McGarvey, J.W. (1892), New Commentary on Acts of Apostles (Cincinnati, OH: Standard).
McKinsey, C. Dennis (2000), Biblical Errancy (Amherst, NY: Prometheus).
Robertson, A.T. (1922), A Harmony of the Gospels (New York: Harper & Row).
Smith, William (1869), Dictionary of the Bible, ed. H.B. Hackett (New York: Hurd & Houghton).
Wells, Steve (2013), The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/hour.html.