The crucifixion of Christ is the pivotal event of Scripture, but it is recounted to us from four different perspectives. This occasionally gives rise to statements which seem to be contradictory. When we come across these statements, it is important to consider the varying perspectives of the authors before jumping to the conclusion that there is a contradiction. Most of these differences of perspective are included in the Skeptics Annotated Bible list of contradictions, and today, I would like to use one of the most difficult of those supposed contradictions to demonstrate how easily they can be resolved if we view the gospels as four eyewitness accounts each given from a different point of view.
One of the crucifixion contradictions that the Skeptics Annotated Bible lists as being unanswered is the supposed contradiction between John 19:14 and Mark 15:25. Mark records that Jesus was crucified in the third hour of the day, but John writes that “it was about the sixth hour” when Pilate presented Jesus to the Jews and said “Behold your King!” Now, this happened at the end of Jesus’ final trial before Pilate, so the contradiction seems to be that John has Jesus’ trial ending three hours after Mark says that Jesus was crucified.
The answer which is presented in most commentaries on this passage is that the time given in John is a scribal error. The claim is that some ancient scribe mistook the Greek letter γ for the letter ς thus changing the original time of the third hour to the sixth hour. When I first read this claim, I asked why (if the letters are so easy to confuse) should we conclude that John’s account is the scribal error and not rather that Mark’s account was changed? The answer to this is that Mark mentions the sixth hour a few verses later in chapter fifteen when he describes the darkness that covered the earth from the sixth hour until the ninth hour. Thus, according to Mark, Jesus was crucified on the third hour, and He hung on the cross for three hours before the earth was covered in an unnatural darkness which lasted for another three hours at which time Jesus cried with a loud voice and died. This is consistent with the accounts of Matthew and Luke and shows that third hour mentioned in Mark 15:25 could not be the same as the sixth hour. Thus the commentaries claim that the time given in John is wrong and not that given in Mark.
The next consideration that I had in light of the commentaries was that, if John 19:14 originally said “the third hour” rather than “the sixth hour,” then the events described in this portion of John should match the events which Mark says took place during the third hour. When we read Mark 15, we find that the third hour mentioned in verse 25 is a reference to the time when Jesus was actually fastened to His cross and crucified. The verses leading up to verse 25 speak of Jesus being led away from His final trial from Pilate, then being given a purple robe and a crown of thorns, then being hit and mocked by the soldiers, then being stripped of the purple robe and given back His own clothes, then being led to Golgotha, then having Simon carry His cross, then being given wine mixed with myrrh to drink and finally, after all that, He was crucified. It is only the last of these events, the actual crucifixion which is said by Mark to have occurred in the third hour.
When we turn to the account in John, however, we find a much different scene being described as the sixth hour than that which is described as the third hour in Mark. In John’s account, Jesus is still standing before Pilate at this time. In the verses leading up to John 19:14, we read of Pilate attempting to release Jesus. First, he gave the people the choice between Jesus and Barabbas, then he had Jesus scourged and brought Him again before the Jews. The Jews still cried out for Jesus to be crucified, and Pilate said that he found no fault in Him. The Jews said that Jesus should die because He claimed to be the Son of God, so Pilate queried Jesus again, and again sought to release Him. The Jews said that if Pilate did not crucify Jesus, then he would be guilty of treason against Caesar. Pilate then brought Jesus before the Jews and said, “Behold your King!” The Jews responded by shouting “Crucify him!” This specific exchange is what John says took place “about the sixth hour.”
A quick comparison of these two accounts shows that they are not describing the same event. Mark is speaking of the moment when Jesus was actually crucified while John is referring to the time at which the Jews made their final demand for Jesus to be crucified. Thus, if the commentaries are correct and John 19:14 originally read “the third hour,” then we would still have a contradiction between these two passages. They would then be claiming that Jesus was in two completely different places at the same time.
This shows us that the solution presented by the commentaries is incorrect, but it also reveals to us the possibility of a different solution. If you double checked my description of the events described in John 19 and Mark 15, then you probably noticed that both accounts mention Christ being given a robe of purple and a crown of thorns and being hit and mocked by the Roman soldiers. The fact that this event is described in both accounts gives us our first point of correlation which we can use to solve the supposed contradiction. The next point of correlation is the fact that both accounts record Jesus being led from Pilate’s hall and to Golgotha to be crucified. The first point of correlation is said to have occurred before both the sixth hour of John’s account and before the third hour of Mark’s account, but the second correlating event is after the sixth hour of John and before the third hour of Mark. Everything that took place between the time that Pilate said “Behold your King!” and the time that Jesus’ cross was thrust into the ground occurred between the sixth hour of John and the third hour of Mark.
In between the sixth hour of John and the third hour of Mark, Jesus was stripped of the robe of purple and was clothed in His own garments again. Simon was compelled to carry the cross from Pilate’s judgment hall to Golgotha. Jesus turned and gave a warning to the women of Jerusalem who were morning for Him (Luke 23:27-31). He was then stripped of His garments again and offered wine mixed with myrrh before being nailed to the cross. This was a lengthy chain of events which must have taken quite some time.
So, what is the solution which makes sense of all of this? It is simply that John’s sixth hour was the hour which the Roman government would have recorded as the time of Jesus’ sentencing while Mark’s third hour was the time that the Jews would have noted as the time that they saw Jesus on the cross. In other words, John was using the Roman method of counting time while Mark was using the Jewish method.
The differences between these two methods can be seen today. America uses the Roman method of counting time, and the Sabbath day is the last day of the week or Saturday. However, anyone familiar with Jewish celebrations of the Sabbath in America will know that the Sabbath actually starts on what Americans view as Friday evening. You see, the Jews follow the biblical example of counting each day as an evening and a morning as opposed to the Roman method of counting each day as a midnight and a noon (the two points in the middle of the paths of the moon and the sun). Thus, the Jews count the hours of the day as beginning at sunrise while the Romans count the hours of each day as beginning at midnight. This means that Mark’s third hour of the Jewish day would correspond with 9:00 in the morning on a Roman clock. Thus, the events of John’s Roman time of 6:00 would have occurred three hours before the events of Mark’s time of 9:00.
This difference in calculating time allows for John 19:14 to occur before Mark 15:25 just as Scripture indicates. It also allows plenty of time between the two to account for all the events which transpired between Jesus’ sentencing before Pilate and the carrying out of that sentence on Golgotha. The entire contradiction boils down to nothing more than a difference of perspective. One author gave the time from the perspective of the Romans who were carrying out the sentence while the other gave the time from the perspective the Jews who had demanded it. Both accounts are correct, and they are easily reconciled when we take these perspectives into account.
Part 2: Did Jesus Die Before or After the Passover?
Bill Fortenberry is a Christian philosopher and historian in Birmingham, AL. Bill's work has been cited in several legal journals, and he has appeared as a guest on shows including The Dr. Gina Show, The Michael Hart Show, and Real Science Radio.
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