What was the exact hour of Christ's crucifixion (compare Mark 15:33-37)?
At first glance, it might appear that the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John gave inconsistent times pertaining to Christ’s crucifixion. However, this is not the case. Apparent inconsistencies are explained when we realize that Matthew, Mark and Luke used the Jewish reckoning of time, while John gave the Roman reckoning.
(1) According to the JEWISH reckoning, a day of 24 hours duration begins at sunset and ends at sunset, and the (approximate) twelve hours of the daylight portion BEGIN WITH SUNRISE, while the (approximate) twelve hours of the night portion BEGIN WITH SUNSET.
Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible states [in regard to Mark 15:25] that the Jews “divided the day into four general parts. The first began at sunrise. The second three hours after. The third at mid-day. The fourth three hours after, and continued till sunset.”
Likewise, in passing, Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible also informs us [in regard to Matthew 14:25] that in New Testament times, the Jews divided the night into four watches: “The first watch began at six o’clock in the evening [or sunset], and continued till nine; the second began at nine, and continued till twelve; the third began at twelve, and continued till three next morning; and the fourth began at three, and continued till six [or sunrise].”
(2) According to the ROMAN reckoning, days were counted from MIDNIGHT and from NOON, as we commonly do today. Even though we realize that according to the Hebrew calendar, days begin and end with sunset, we would today give a commonly accepted and understood time when we want to meet someone, by using the Roman reckoning. We would not say, “I’ll meet you three hours from sunrise,” but, “I’ll meet you at 9:00 a.m.” The same is true for the Apostle John’s choice of giving time.
John wrote his account considerably later than Matthew, Mark and Luke. J.H. Blunt, The Annotated Bible, points out: “John was writing long after the destruction of Jerusalem… he used the ordinary Roman method of computing the day.”
At the same time, we need to realize that John did not approve of the Roman reckoning of time; he just used it as a point of reference. He quoted Jesus in John 11:9-10 as saying: “Are there not twelve hours in the day?… but if one walks in the night, he stumbles…” This shows that Jesus accepted and taught the Jewish reckoning, dividing the day-light portion of the day (beginning with sunrise) from the night portion (beginning with sunset).
(3) Our conclusion that John used the Roman reckoning as a point of reference is not undisputed. A case in point is his statement in John 1:39: “They came and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that day (now it was about the tenth hour).”
Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible states: “The Jews divided their day into twelve equal parts, beginning at sunrise. If John used their mode of computation, this was about four o’clock p.m. The Romans divided time as we do, beginning at midnight. If John used their mode, it was about ten o’clock in the forenoon. It is not certain which he used.”
But as we will see, John clearly used the Roman reckoning when relating the account of Christ’s crucifixion. It would therefore be difficult to see why he would be switching back and forth between the Jewish and the Roman modes of computation.
J.H. Blunt, The Annotated Bible, concurs, stating regarding John 1:39: “‘… for it was about the tenth hour.’ They had been walking for four or five hours in the early morning, and it was now what the Jews would have called the fourth hour, but what… John calls the tenth, because he uses the Roman method of reckoning the time of day, a method exactly similar to our own… Jesus doubtless halted thus early in the day that there might be time for Simon Peter to be sought out by his brother and brought to Him.”
(4) Focusing on the time of Christ’s crucifixion, according to Jewish reckoning, Christ was crucified at the third hour. As mentioned, the accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke use the Jewish reckoning of time. Mark 15:25 says: “Now it was the third hour, and they crucified Him.” His crucifixion began to take place on the third hour or three hours after sunrise, on a Wednesday morning. According to Roman reckoning and our designation of time today, this would have been Wednesday morning at 9:00 a.m.
Mark 15:33 informs us: “Now when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour” (compare also Luke 23:44 and Matthew 27:45). This darkness occurred, according to our modern reckoning of time, at midday–about noon or 12:00 p.m.– that is, six hours after sunrise. It lasted until the ninth hour, or 3:00 p.m. (that is, nine hours from sunrise according to the Jewish reckoning, or three hours from noon according to the Roman reckoning).
Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible confirms this:
“The darkness began at the sixth hour, about our twelve o’clock at noon, and lasted till the ninth hour, which answered to our three o’clock in the afternoon.”
(5) Confusion might set in when considering a passage in John, which also talks about the “sixth hour” on the crucifixion day of Wednesday, but relates to events PRIOR to the actual crucifixion. We read in John 19:14-16:
“Now it was the Preparation Day of the Passover [i.e., of the First Day of Unleavened Bread, an annual Holy Day, which fell that year on a Thursday, beginning Wednesday evening, at sunset], and about the SIXTH hour. And he [Pilate] 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!’ So he delivered Him to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus and led Him away.”
It is obvious that this conversation took place BEFORE Christ’s actual crucifixion, but still wrote that it occurred on the “sixth hour.”
Some commentaries state that John simply made a “mistake” in numbers or that he did not mean to be “accurate.” Others suggest that a copying scribe incorrectly wrote “sixth hour” instead of “third hour.” But as mentioned, John was using the Roman reckoning of time, not the Hebrew reckoning, as is also confirmed by Scofield Reference Notes. This means that this event (in John 19:14-16) occurred about six hours past midnight–the time around SUNRISE. The Nelson Study Bible states regarding the reference in John 19:14: “The sixth hour was 6 A.M. according to the Roman system of time.”
(6) Jesus died on the NINTH HOUR according to the HEBREW or Jewish calendar (compare Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:33-37; Luke 23:44-46); that is, about 3:00 p.m. He was buried just before sunset on Wednesday late afternoon, so that His body “should not remain on the cross on the [annual] Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day)… Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So there they laid Jesus, because of the Jews’ Preparation Day, for the tomb was nearby” (John 19: 31, 41-42; compare also Luke 23:50-54, stating in verse 54 that the “[annual] Sabbath [of the First Day of Unleavened Bread] drew near”).
Since Jesus said that He would be in the grave for three days and three nights, or for seventy-two hours (Matthew 12:40), He left the grave on Saturday evening, just before sunset.
For more information on the exact timing of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, please read our free booklet, “Jesus Christ–A Great Mystery.”
Lead Writer: Norbert Link