Christ's Hour of Death


There seems to be a difference between accounts of Christ’s Hour of Death. For example from Mark 15:25-34 we see that Jesus is crucified at the 3rd hour and dies at the 9th.

However, John 19:14 states that Jesus was before Pilate at the 6th hour. It’s different because Mark stated that Jesus was ALREADY crucified at the 3rd hour. Could this have been an error in the Gospels?


There is no error, only different interpretations or vantage points if you will, of the same sacrifice.

I think I read an argument that Mark was writing with Jewish practices of time passing and John was writing with Roman.


But time is not open to interpretation? Wouldn’t time be a fact in the case?


You are ignoring the statement that at that time there were two means of reckoning time in Jerusalem: The Jewish way, and the Roman way. St. John reckoned time in the Roman manner, and the other Evangelists used Jewish time.
However, translating both accounts into modern time, Christ was nailed to the Cross at 9 AM and died at 3 PM. Which is essentially what is observed in the Good Friday ritual today.


Here is a small section from a synopsis I’m working on that explains the so called discrepancies. I underlined the portion concerning the sixth and third hour.

McEvilly Matthew says, “And they gave Him wine” &c. In some Greek copies, for wine we read vinegar. However, St. Jerome and St. Hilary read, wine, as in our Vulgate. St. Mark (xv. 23), has, “wine mixed with myrrh.” The most probable mode of reconciling this discrepancy is, that the Greek word for vinegar, sometimes denotes a poor sort of wine, and the Greek word for “gall” sometimes means, a bitter drug. It is used by the LXX. to signify, absinthium, so that it denotes the same thing with the myrrh, referred to by St. Mark. It may be, that both ingredients, “myrrh” and “gall,” were added, to render it more bitter. It was customary, before crucifixion, to give persons, about to be executed, a potion, out of pity and humanity, in order to give them some consolation and refreshment, and also to strengthen them to bear their torments with greater fortitude. But, such was the malice of the Jews, that this potion was converted into a nauseous, bitter draught, not to be endured. The drink here given is different from that referred to (v. 48), and by St. Luke (xxiii. 36), St. John (xix. 29). In the former are verified the words of the Psalmist, “dederunt in escam meam fel;” in the latter, “et in siti mea potaverunt me aceto.” The former was given before His crucifixion, and it; was wine; the latter, in the crucifixion, and it was vinegar…. The day of our Redeemer’s crucifixion was the 25th of March ; the hour, about mid-day. St. John says, it was “the sixth hour " (xix. 14), from sunrise, which was mid-day. “It was the third hour,” according to St. Mark (xv. 25). But, he means “the third hour," now closing, which was the commencement of the sixth hour. For, each hour in the computation of their four watches contained three hours among the Jews and Romans. Tertullian (Lib. contra Marcion), and others, say, that our Lord was crucified on the same day, in the vernal equinox, on which Adam was created, and was crucified at the same hour, at which he ate the forbidden fruit… The four Evangelists describe the division of the garments, the inscription of the title, and the crucifixion of the two robbers, not in the same order. St. Mark (xv. 24, &c.), follows the same order of narrative with St. Matthew. St. Luke (xxiii. 33, &c.), describes the crucifixion of the robbers first; then, the division of the garments, and finally, the inscription of the title. St. John, whose order of narrative is deemed the most accurate, as he wrote after the others (xix. 18, &c.), places the crucifixion of the robbers first, the title next, and the division of the garments in the last place. The words of our Redeemer on the cross, described by St. Luke (xxiii. 34), “Father, forgive them” &c., should be inserted before these words, in the order of narrative. Then, “they divided His garments, casting lots." This is more circumstantially and more distinctly narrated by St. John. (xix. 23, &c.) He informs us, that the soldiers divided His garments into four parts, so that the soldiers, who were four in number, received a part, each. From the words of the soldiers, in reference to the seamless (inner) garment… Matthew says, “And they" that is, the soldiers, His executioners, by the command of Pilate (John xix. 19), “put over His head,” that is, on the portion of the cross, which was above His head, “His cause written.” that is, the alleged crime for which He was condemned to death. Mark (xv. 26) calls it, “the inscription of His cause;" Luke (xxiii. 38), “a superscription;” John (xix. 19), “a title.” They all mean the same thing, viz., the words written, or, rather, legibly cut on a board or tablet placed over His head, and indicating to all the charge on which He was condemned to death. It is not likely, that the words were inscribed on the arm of the cross, placed above His head, as it would hardly contain space enough to have the words inscribed in large, legible characters, in three languages. It is a very ancient Oriental custom to have these titles either attached to every malefactor condemned to death, or borne before him. This title of our Redeemer was written in three languages, which were consecrated on the cross of Christ; the Hebrew, the vernacular of the country; the Greek, then most extensively diffused; and the Latin, on account of the majesty of the Roman Empire. It is given differently by the four Evangelists, who agree, however, in substance. That given by St. John, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” is generally considered to be the most exact title, because St. John saw it at the crucifixion, and wrote after the other Evangelists; and also, this corresponds with the title, which, as a most precious relic, is preserved at Rome, in the Church of the Holy Cross. In this relic, the only word perfectly legible is “Nazarenus.” As the Hebrew form, like all Hebrew writings, was written from right to left; so, in the Greek and Latin inscriptions, the same order, contrary to the usual custom, was observed. The writing of the title in three languages, the language of the Jews, and the principal languages among the Gentiles.


I’ve seen a suggestion that at least, Mark’s chronology was actually more based on an early concept of canonical hours. Notice the progression of time in his passion narrative: whenever Mark notices or infers the time note that he always seems to speak of three-hour intervals.

Peter denies Jesus during the Jewish trial at cockcrow, around 3 AM (14.72)
Jesus is brought before Pilate at “early morning,” dawn (15:1)
Jesus is crucified on “the third hour;” i.e. 9 AM (15:25)
Darkness descends on “the sixth hour” - 12 PM (15:33)
Jesus screams and dies on “the ninth hour,” 3 PM (15:34-37)

We might extend this to earlier parts of the narrative: we could imagine the Last Supper in Mark occurring in 6 PM (cf. 14:17), Jesus and disciples going to Gethsemane in 9 PM, and Jesus being arrested at midnight. All in all, his story seems to envision a twenty-four hour period broken up neatly into roughly three-hour segments. Some would even argue that Mark gives a subtle cue to the audience to what he will do during Jesus’ apocalyptic discourse in chapter 13:

“Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”

There’s a theory that the early Christians commemorated the Passion annually during the Jewish Passover, when they held a twenty-four hour vigil in which they retold and relived the events surrounding Jesus’ death. The suggestion is, that Mark’s narrative was influenced by such a liturgical memory. Which explains the three-hour intervals in his gospel and his almost-continual references to Scripture in that part of the narrative: the historical reality is adapted and retold in the language of the Old Testament, in a liturgical context.

Anyone familiar with the Liturgy of the Hours (particularly the older one) would of course be familiar with the hours like Matins, Terce, Sext, None or Vespers. Which is actually derived from Jewish practice. In other words, something like that is happening here.


There is a greater discrepancy: Mark, with Matthew and Luke, have Jesus gathering to eat the Passover Meal (Mark 14:12-18), and yet John has Jesus being crucified on the Day of Preparation–before the Passover Lambs were slaughtered and before the Passover could therefore be prepared! (see John 13:1; 18:28; 19:42) So–did Jesus die when the Passover lambs were being slaughtered in the temple (as John would have it) or after eating the Passover (as the Synoptics claim)?

I’d go with John–the emphasis on getting the bodies down from the Cross just makes more sense if the Passover is not yet celebrated. But the Synoptics are making the point that the Last Supper was to replace the Passover meal.

This is why the Gospels are not modern critical biographies, but are theological biographies and Gospels–they are making theological points, to support the Gospel that Christ brought us. And often the precise historical details are not available any longer–and perhaps had been lost to the authors as well. Remember that even the great Classical historians often supplied many speeches and interesting details–because “something like that happened, even if we don’t have a good record of it just now.”

It’s also why Mark, say, can speak of Jesus leaving Tyre via Sidon to get to the Sea of Galilee in the Decapolis (Mk 7:31), an itinerary that makes little sense to us–it would be like saying that someone traveled from Philadelphia to the Potomac in Virginia by way of New York! If you want to go from Philadelphia to the Potomac River, you head south, not north to New York. It shows that either something else was going on, or Mark simply was not aware of the local geography. But then, I don’t read the Gospels as a travelog.




I might also add that the description in John, where Jesus is apparently still in the Praetorium at “about the sixth hour,” also has a symbolic dimension to it. In Exodus 12:6, the Passover lambs were required to be killed “in the evening.” Around the time of the second Temple, however, the large numbers of pilgrims congregating in Jerusalem meant that tens of thousands of lambs needed to be slaughtered. Hence, for reasons of necessity and convenience “evening” was reinterpreted to begin earlier in the day (specifically, around midday) so that the necessary work could be completed before sundown.* In other words, John’s Jesus, the “Lamb of God,” is condemned and crucified at around the same time the slaughter of the Passover lambs would have started. So it kind of ties in with John’s having Jesus die on the “Preparation of the Passover.”

So I think what you have in both gospels is Passover imagery. But whereas Mark ties the crucifixion in an early Christian liturgical context, John connects it with the Jewish, sacrificial context.

Anyways, all the gospels agree at least that Jesus was dead by late afternoon of the same day He was condemned and hanged. Which for a crucifixion victim was pretty quick.

  • Again, I’d like to compare it to how Holy Week services were held before the reforms of 1951–1955: I mean, Easter Vigil in the Roman Rite was held on Holy Saturday morning starting from the Middle Ages until Pope Pius XII moved it back to nighttime!


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