Each year about this time there are a plethora of shows, blogs, podcasts, YouTube videos either supporting or denying the resurrection of Jesus. Recently, I’ve noticed a newer objection attacking the Gospel’s in the form of a question: What time did the crucifixion of Jesus start? In Mark’s Gospel account he notes that it was the third hour (9 a.m. Jewish time) when Christ was crucified (Mk. 15:25). However, in John’s Gospel account he states that it was the sixth hour (12-noon Jewish time) when Jesus was on trial. Therefore, according to John, the crucifixion of Jesus would have happened later than what Mark records. Given the apparent contradiction, skeptics argue the Gospel records can’t be trusted nor can they be seen as divinely inspired. But can the discrepancy be reconciled? What if both authors are correct in their assessment but utilize different time markers of their day? Is it possible that Mark is utilizing the Jewish system of marking time and John is using the Roman time system? If that is the case, how is it possible to know?

During the days of Rome, a 24 hour day ran from midnight to midnight[1], while the Jewish 24 hour day began in the evening at 6 p.m. and the morning began at 6 a.m.[2] with this information at our disposal, let’s look at the accounts of Mark and John.

Mark’s Account of the Crucifixion

Mark states,

As soon at it was morning, having held a meeting with the elders, scribes, and the whole Sanhedrin, the chief priests tied Jesus up, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate…They led him out to crucify him… They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means place of the Skulls). Then they crucified him and divided his clothes, casting lots for them to decided what each would get. Now it was nine in the morning when they crucified him.

– Mark 15:1,20, 22-25.

On the Jewish time frame the morning would have started at 6 a.m. and therefore, “as soon as it was morning” would indicate that the trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilate would have commenced early in the morning and the crucifixion would have taken place on the third hour or nine in the morning by the same standard. The question is, does this match up with John’s account?

John’s Account of the Crucifixion

John notes,

Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning…When Pilate heard these words he brought Jesus outside. He sat down on the judge’s seat in a place called the Stone Pavement. It was…about the sixth hour….When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, a part for each soldier.

John 18,19

On Roman time, this is completely congruent with what Mark writes. Furthermore, it should be noted that John is not giving an exact time but an estimation. Furthermore, unlike Mark, John never states what time Jesus was crucified, he merely give a time in which the events prior to the crucifixion took place. In taking into account both Mark’s time and John’s time, one can reasonably state that the trial of Jesus took place around 6 a.m. in the morning, giving about three hours for the trial, flogging and scourging of Jesus to take place before the crucifixion at 9 a.m.

John’s Use of Roman Time

But why assume that John is using a Roman time frame? This is a good question. John’s writings are specifically aimed at countering Gnosticism and is written with the larger eclectic, pagan audience in view. Therefore, it makes sense that John would use the time markers which the majority of the world operated on during the time, Roman time.

Furthermore, when examining John’s other uses of time in his Gospel the Roman marker makes sense. For example, In John, 1:39 after the two disciples hear the message of Jesus they ask, “Where are you staying?” and Jesus replies, “Come and you’ll see.” The text then states that they stayed with him that day. It was about the tenth hour” (John 1:39). Now, if this is the Jewish system it was 4 p.m. which would not fit the proper interpretation given the greater context of John 1 and the cultural background of the time. However, on the Roman scaled it would have been about 10 a.m. when they met Jesus and stayed with him for the entire day.

Given these distinctions in the Gospel’s of Mark and John, there is no contradiction regarding the crucifixion of Jesus.

 

Footnotes

Photo Credit:IndieWire

[1] Plutarch, Questions, 84.

[2] Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe, When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties. (Wheaton: IL, Victor Books) 1992, 376.

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