Twelve Hours in a Day?

“Are there not twelve hours in day? If one walks during the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of the world. But if one walks at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” I recall that the first time I read this passage as a teenager I had thought this was a strange passage. Being almost 59, I still find this a strange passage. For one thing, there are more than twelve literal daylight hours.

Now, Jesus said this in response to his disciples saying, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back [to Judea]?” What a strange thing to answer that question by saying, “Are there not twelve hours in a day?” Are not people also trapping and killing others during daylight hours?

Because this is written by the apostle, John, whose gospel is more spiritual, I decided to attempt to “dig deeper.” It might be that our Lord was directing His response more to what follows than as a response to His disciples’ question. Look carefully at His words. First He talks about a person not stumbling because he sees “the light of the world;” then He says one stumbles at night because “the light is not in him.” These cannot be referring to natural light and absence of natural light. Hence, it very well may be that our Lord was ignoring His disciple’s question and was using it as a teaching moment.

When things are going good and there are no hardships, periods of consolation, we think our faith is strong, that God is good; everything is “super.” However, when difficult hardships strike, everything falls apart. We become bi-polar. Death or terminal illnesses, especially, can create a huge chasm, causing some to even fall away from the faith.

If one walks in accord with “the light of this world,” the wisdom of this world, he will not “stumble” because they are in agreement; but this is a false “light.” The true Light has become night to them; they cannot see. When the light of this world is gone, nothing but night exists; one cannot see and therefore will stumble and have a great fall. “Are there not twelve hours in a day?” “Day” can refer to Jesus Christ; “twelve hours,” to the twelve apostles, which refers to the Catholic Church. If we walk in Christ, in His Word, adhering to the teaching of the Catholic Church, we will not stumble because the Light is in us. Because this Light is also the Resurrection, even if our bodies die, we will continue to live.

A Hebrew day hour is 1/12 of the time from sunset and sunrise, and a night hour is 1/12 of the time between sunrise and sunset.

The amount of daylight hours depends on both the tilt of the earth and the latitude.

Indeed at the equator there are essentially 12 daylight hours everyday of the year.

Jerusalem is at 32 degrees North latitude. This amounts to between 12-14 hrs of daylight each day. Remember there is a good half hour on each end of dusk/dawn.

Can you please give us the book, chapter, and verse. I want to research it myself, but don’t know where to find it in the bible.


John 11:7Then after this he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” 8The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?”c 9Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in a day? If one walks during the day,d he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.e 10But if one walks at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”


Here is what the Haydock Commentary says:

Some, by the day in this place, understand the time preceding the Passion of our Saviour; and, by the night, the time of his Passion. Theophy. — By this he encouraged his disciples, assuring them that the day of his sojournment on earth was not yet over; and therefore that the Jews, with all their malice and hatred, could not hurt him. But when the night (the time of his Passion) comes, then their power over him commenced. This is your hour, says he to them, and the power of darkness. Calmet. — The Hebrews then divided the day into twelve parts of equal duration, from the rising to the setting sun. V.

John 11, beginning with verse 1, Sunday’s Gospel reading.

This could very well be true. As we see with the early Church fathers, there can be varying interpretations. Consider that at this time His disciples did not comprehend His Passion, death, and resurrection.

This is one of many passages in the Fourth Gospel where light is used a metaphor; it is a recurring theme throughout that gospel. While the metaphor occurs elsewhere in the New Testament (e.g., Revelation 22:5 and Matthew 8:12) and for that matter, in the Old Testament as well (Genesis 1:3-5), it is particularly notable in John (e.g., John 1:5, John 8:12). Any passage in John mentioning light must be carefully examined for metaphorical meaning.

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