(Jn. 19:14) Was Jesus crucified on the third hour or the sixth hour?

CLAIM: John records that Jesus was still on trial at the “sixth hour” (Jn. 19:14). Likewise, Matthew records that the darkness fell from “the sixth hour… until the ninth hour” (Mt. 27:45; Lk. 23:44). However, Mark records, “It was the third hour when they crucified Him” (Mk. 15:25). How could John record that Jesus was on trial at the sixth hour, when Mark states that he was already being crucified?

RESPONSE: As we have already pointed out (c.f. Ex. 12:37), numbers were very easy to distort as a copyist. Wessel writes, “An early copyist has confused a Greek Γ—the letter that stands for three—with a ϝ [digamma]—the letter that stands for six.”[1] Therefore, it is possible that an early copyist erred in recording Mark’s time (i.e. the third hour). Since numbers were difficult to pass along, this is entirely possible.

However, another resolution is possible: the two authors were following two different time systems, which John was prone to do (c.f. Jn. 13:1). John was using a Roman clock in his gospel, but the other authors were using a Jewish clock.

Comparison of Crucifixion Chronologies

Mark

John

Matthew & Luke

Used the Jewish clock.

Used the Roman clock.

Used the Jewish clock.

The day ran from 6 pm to 6 pm.

The day ran from midnight until midnight—like a modern clock.

The day ran from 6 pm to 6 pm.

The “third hour” would’ve been 9 am on this clock, when the crucifixion started. The darkness didn’t occur until noon, according to Matthew (Mt. 27:45). Jesus died at 3 pm.

The sixth hour would have been at 6 am. However, notice that John says the trial was “about” this time.[2] Later Jesus was handed over to be crucified (v.16). This would concord with Mark’s account that Jesus wasn’t crucified until 9 am.

Darkness fell from “the sixth hour… until the ninth hour” (Mt. 27:45; Lk. 23:44). This would be from noon until 3 pm. However, Jesus had been crucified before this darkness (see vv.30-44). This could be the time from 9 am until noon that Mark mentions.

OBJECTION: Who says that John used the Roman clock, rather than the Jewish clock?

John states that Jesus was preaching in the “tenth hour” (Jn. 1:39). On the Roman clock, this would be 10 a.m. This makes more sense than the Jewish clock, which would be 4 a.m. Moreover, when Jesus spoke with the woman at the well, John writes, “Jesus, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour” (Jn. 4:6). This would fit with the normal time that people would visit the well, having travelled all day long (6 p.m.).



[1] Wessel, W. W. Mark. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 8: Matthew, Mark, Luke (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1984. 780.

[2] We should also point out that these time measurements were approximate times. The evangelists didn’t have Timex watches. They were judging the time by the position of the sun in the sky.