Was Jesus crucified on the 3rd or 6th hour?

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In the Gospel of Mark we read “Now it was the third hour, and they crucified him” – Mark 15:25. This seems like a relatively simple statement – until we read the account of Jesus’ trial in the Gospel of John: “Now it was the Preparation Day of the Passover, and about the sixth hour” – John 19:14. How is it possible that Jesus could be crucified before he was on trial? Did one of these Gospel accounts get it wrong?

It certainly looks like a contradiction on the surface, but we can find a simple explanation if take a closer look – particularly at the cultural and political situation at that particular time and place. Jerusalem was a Jewish city, but it was a territory at that time of the Roman Empire. The key to solving this mystery is understanding that between the Jewish natives, and the Romans who were ruling, there were two prevalent and distinct cultural and linguistic traditions. Just as there were two predominant languages spoken, Aramaic and Greek; there were also two measures of time: Jewish and Roman. The Jewish day consisted of two twelve hour periods of time: twelve hours of night beginning at 6 pm, and twelve hours of daylight beginning at 6 am. Roman time was 24 hour day spanning from midnight to midnight.

If we read both of these accounts using Jewish time, the Time of the Crucifixion According to the Gospel of Mark would be at 9 AM, and the time of Jesus’ trial would be at 12 noon. This obviously does not make sense – BUT if Saint John was using Roman time, the 6th hour would be 6 AM, which would put the trial three hours before the crucifixion – a scenario that makes perfect sense.

How do we know Saint John was using roman time? If we look at another passage of his Gospel, we can see him again using Roman time: “He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and remained with him that day (now it was about the tenth hour)”. The tenth hour in Jewish time would be 4 AM, which seems like an unlikely time for Jesus to be out preaching; but using Roman time it would be 10 AM, which seems much more likely.

On its face, and with no context or background information, this apparent contradiction creates a real problem. If the premise is granted that both Saint Mark, and Saint John were using Jewish time, than it stands to reason that there is something wrong. The contradiction however becomes perfect agreement by understanding that Saint Mark was using Jewish time, and Saint John was using Roman time.

Coptic Apologetics