At what time was Jesus crucified?

Posted on Apr.17, 2009. Filed in Mark, Luke, John. Average rating: 5.0 / 10 (Rate It).

Both Mark and John indicate the approximate time at which Jesus was crucified. Unfortunately, their accounts don’t agree on when this was.

The Jews measured time by counting the hours from dawn (roughly 6am). The third hour was thus about 9am, the fourth hour about 10am, and so on.

Mark gives the time of the crucifixion as the “third hour”, helpfully translated by the NRSV as “nine o’clock in the morning”:

It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. [Mark 15:25 (NRSV)]

According to John, it wasn’t until the sixth hour (or “noon” in the NRSV) that Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified, suggesting that Jesus was crucified some time after midday:

Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, ‘Here is your King!’ They cried out, ‘Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!’ Pilate asked them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but the emperor.’ Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. [John 19:14-16a (NRSV)]

The only other indication of the time of the crucifixion we get is in Luke. Luke describes the crowd mocking Jesus on the cross, and then says that a darkness fell from 12 noon to 3pm:

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon… [Luke 23:44 (NRSV)]

As in this account Jesus is already on the cross when the darkness falls, Luke’s timing seems to fit with Mark’s and conflict with John’s.

So at what time was Jesus crucified, at 9am or some time after noon?

N.B. All posts are written in a style sympathetic to the claim of Biblical error, even in cases where the author ("Errancy") disagrees with the claim. See the About page for the site's philosophy.

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  1. 1

    This is one case where it might be better to use (e.g.) the ESV for the quotes; since it allows for interpretation.

  2. 2

    Yes, a more literal translation might be better for our purposes here. That said, it’s easy enough to explain the underlying Greek, and there’s value in using one translation consistently.

  3. 3

    I don’t think that the Romans measured from midnight. Do you have a reference on that?

    This is actually one where I’m flummoxed (there you go Amtiskaw).

    I suppose it might be a copyist’s error. Especially if we assume that the copyist was keeping time in the same way that we do.

    It also might be that there was another way, neither Jewish nor Roman (Greek? Babylonian?), of keeping time and that John was using that. But what could it be?

  4. 4

    I’m not sure where I first heard the suggestion that John was using the Roman method of counting the hours from midnight; I just know it as the standard answer to this claimed contradiction.

    To see whether it holds up, I’ve been looking for other occasions where John counts the hours. The most interesting case is the woman at the well in John 4:

    [Jesus] came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water… [John 4:5-7a, NRSV]

    The NRSV’s “noon” here is “the sixth hour” in the Greek.

    The first point of interest is that every sermon I’ve ever heard preached on this has made a big deal out of the fact that the Samaritan woman was drawing water at noon, the hottest part of the day, suggesting that she was a social outcast avoiding other people. If John counted the hours from midnight, she was actually drawing water at 6am.

    The second point of interest is that v6 says that Jesus was “tired out by his journey”. If John counted the hours from midnight, then Jesus was tired at 6am, before he’d had time to do any journeying (although I suppose he could have been tired from the day before).

    There’s nothing conclusive here, but noon does seem to have the edge as the more plausible time in John 4:6, and it would be odd if “the sixth hour” meant noon in John 4:6 but 6am in John 19:14.

  5. 5

    As for sources, the NIV study Bible gives the “6 am” reading a mention, as does the NASB notes:;&version=49;

  6. 6

    Re the woman at the well: It seems that the Roman system could give 6pm, as well as 6am. 6pm would fit with Jesus being tired from travelling (and would fit better than noon), so contrary to what I originally said, perhaps John 4:6 actually supports the idea that John was on Roman time.

  7. 7

    OK, I’m more-or-less certain that the Roman day was driven by the sundial, and it began with the first hour at sunrise + 1 and ended at sunrise + 12 which was always sunset. (Because the interval between sunrise and sunset varies in length, so do hours.)

    The Romans did develop the terminology “Post Meridiem” and “Ante Meridiem” that we still use today. But counting from midday (and, by extension, from midnight) appears to be an innovation of Ptolemy who was born in AD 90.

    So the standard harmonization won’t fly.

    However, there is a very satisfactory answer to this problem.

    According to Strong’s, the third meaning of “hora” is “hour”. It could also refer to any naturally recurring interval (meaning #1). And, in particular, it could refer to a day (meaning #2). The word “hos”, translated above as “about” can have a lot of different meanings. We need not assume that John is approximating the time.

    John is not referring here to the sixth hour in the day, but to the sixth day (a day of preparation) in the seven-day Passover celebration. Pilate’s “Ecce Homo” happened on the sixth day of the Passover, perhaps just as the morning was breaking (though the sixth day would have begun at the prior sunset).

    This leaves plenty of time for Jesus to be on the cross by about 9 o’clock. He hung there for three hours, it got dark for another three hours. He died and was taken down before sunset, i.e. before the beginning of the seventh and final day of the Passover celebration.

  8. 8

    BTW, if I am right about Roman (and John’s) timekeeping, I think this means that Jesus met the woman at the well in the heat of the day at noon after all.

  9. 9

    So what’s the correct translation of John 19:14?

    “It was about the sixth day”?

  10. 10

    Sorry, missed the bit where you mention that. Still, every Bible that I know of thinks that John is giving the time.

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