A Question of When: Date & Time of the Crucifixion

Introduction

Prompted by an article written by Mr. Daniel Florien, I am considering the question “When was Jesus crucified?

In the following writing I hope to answer this challenge by attempting to use the original Greek texts of the writers of the gospels in setting out to satisfactorily prove that the Bible is authoritative and non-contradictory on this matter, as in all matters; I say “attempting to use” because my source is, obviously, not personal knowledge or fluency in Koine Greek, but rather the assistance of a very helpful and profoundly indexed comparative Biblical Greek text website.

Again, all English translation quotations are pulled from YLT, Young’s Literal Translation. It is in the public domain.

When did Jesus die?

The Claim

The claim made by Mr. Florien is that Mark and John give different times of Jesus’s death (in fact, different days): that Mark says it was “on the day after the Passover Meal” (Mark 14:12, Mark 15:1, 25) and John says it was “on the day before the Passover Meal” (John 19:14). For these he quotes from the NRSV.

He then quotes a book called Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, by Bart Ehrman, saying it is the best explanation he has heard: namely, that John, knowingly falsifying the historical accuracy of his account, changed it on purpose to score a theological point — namely, to verify his message, unique among the gospels, of Jesus as Lamb of God.

The Examination

It is necessary to look at what the Bible says about these events and their timing in order to clear up any contradiction Mr. Florien believes to have found therein. The following quotes are from the YLT (from BibleGateway.com) and from the Greek, which was obtained from Great Treasures.

Mark’s Account

12And the first day of the unleavened food, when they were killing the passover, his disciples say to him, `Where wilt thou, [that,] having gone, we may prepare, that thou mayest eat the passover?’ [...] 1And immediately, in the morning, the chief priests having made a consultation, with the elders, and scribes, and the whole sanhedrim, having bound Jesus, did lead away, and delivered [him] to Pilate; [...] 25and it was the third hour, and they crucified him;

(Mark 14:12, Mark 15:1, 25, YLT)

Strictly from the YLT we can see it is a bit different from the NRSV, which for 15:25 gives “It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him.”

And as for the Greek:

Mark 14:12. Καὶ τῇ πρώ¦τῃ ἡ¦μέ¦ρᾳτῶν ἀ¦ζύ¦μων, ὅ¦τε

τὸπά¦σχα ἔ¦θυ¦ον,λέ¦γου¦σιν αὐ¦τῷ οἱμα¦θη¦ταὶ αὐ¦τοῦ·

ποῦθέ¦λεις ἀ¦πελ¦θόν¦τεςἑ¦τοι¦μά¦σω¦μεν ἵ¦ναφά¦γῃς τὸ πά¦σχα;

Mark 15:1. Καὶ εὐ¦θὺς πρω¦ῒσυμ¦βού¦λι¦ονἑ¦τοι¦μά¦σαν¦τες οἱἀρ¦χι¦ε¦ρεῖς

με¦τὰ τῶνπρε¦σβυ¦τέ¦ρων καὶ τῶνγραμ¦μα¦τέ¦ων καὶ

ὅ¦λοντὸ συ¦νέ¦δρι¦ον,δή¦σαν¦τες τὸν Ἰ¦η¦σοῦνἀ¦πή¦νεγ¦καν

καὶπα¦ρέ¦δω¦καν Πει¦λά¦τῳ.

Mark 15:25. ἦν δὲ ὥ¦ρα τρί¦τη καὶἐ¦σταύ¦ρω¦σαν αὐ¦τόν.

Looking at the Greek, the clear lines of importance are those concerning the day and time of the action and the action itself.

Day and Time

Day

και ευθυς πρωι συμβοωυλιον ετοιμασαντες οι αρχιερεις μετα των πρεσβυτερων και των γραμματεων και ολον το σθνεδριον, δησαντες τον Ιησουν απηνεγκαν και παρεδωκαν Πειλατω.

Mark 15:1

(the portions parsed below are bolded in the quote)

/and/ /immediately, directly/ /at-morn/, [...] /the-nom./ /chief-priests-nom./ /with/ [...all the others that the YLT lists...] /having-bound (δέω)/ /the-acc./ /Jesus-acc./ /they-carried-away (ἀποφέρω)/ /and/ /they-did-betray;hand-over/ /Pilate-dat./

This after our nearest mention of the day, which is quite nearby: Mark 14:12:

και τη πρωτη ημερα των αζυμων, οτε το λασχα εθυον, λεγουσιν αυτω οι μαθηται αυτου που θελεις απελθοντες ετοιμασωμεν ινα φαγης το πασχα;

Mark 14:12

/and/ /the-dat./ /first-dat./ /day-dat./ /the-gen./ /unleavened-gen.-pl.-adj./, /when/ /the-acc.-s./ /passover (pascha)/ /they-were-killing;sacrificing (θύω) 3rdp.-impf.-act.-indic./ [...]

which roughly becomes ‘and to the first day of the unleaveneds, when they were killing the pascha,’

The events of the rest of Mark 14 are the Last Supper and Jesus’s capture, which took place the night before what Mark tells us is the morning of the day Jesus was crucified.

Mark indeed does set the day before the events of the crucifixion as the first day of the unleavened (when Jesus’s pupils — μαθηται, mathetai, a fascinating word — were killing the pascha).

By the way, Luke 22:1 attests to Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened being the same thing (“And the feast of the unleavened food was coming nigh, that is called Passover,”). The tradition of eating the Passover Seder is observed on the first night of the Passover week.

Time

ην ((én) [...] he, she, or it was.) δε ωρα τριτη (de, conjunction of antithesis, particle transitioning to something new; (h)ora, instant, season, hour; trité, third.)

The translation of ωρα is given the following definitions: “instant,” “any definite point in time,” “a certain definite time or season,” “a day,” “a twelfth part of the day-time, an hour, (the twelve hours of the day are reckoned from the rising to the setting of the sun, Jn. 11:9.” This last mentioned practice is what led modern translators to say 9:00am, for sunrise is at 6:00am, and three hours thence would indeed be 9:00am; therefore, Florien seems to be right about the time mentioned in this passage.

Action

και (kai, and.) εσταυρωσαν (estaurosan, [3d pl aorist active indic] they staked, from root σταυρόω, stauron, to stake, to drive stakes) αυτον (auton, [3d sing acc] him).

The action which takes place at this hour is clearly the staking of Jesus (to qualify, as against his death or any other occurrence).

Conclusion from Mark

Mark says that the staking of Jesus took place at the third hour after sunset (Mark 15:25) — making it 9am (John 11:9) — on the day after the first day of the unleavened (Mark 15:1, following 14:12 and the subsequent events).

John’s Account

First, our literal English translation:

14and it was the preparation of the passover, and as it were the sixth hour, and he saith to the Jews, `Lo, your king!’

(John 19:14, YLT)

And, the Greek:

John 19:14. ἦν δὲπα¦ρα¦σκευ¦ὴ τοῦ πά¦σχα, ὥ¦ρα ἦνὡς ἕκ¦τη. καὶ λέ¦γειτοῖς Ἰ¦ου¦δαί¦οις·ἴ¦δε ὁ βα¦σι¦λεὺςὑ¦μῶν.

John’s account is disconcerting for Mr. Florien, because, as he says:

…in Mark, Jesus was nailed to a cross at 9am the day after the Preparation of the Passover. In John, Pilate is about to send Jesus to his death at 12pm on the day of the Preparation for the Passover.

Those timelines just don’t add up. At least one is false; both cannot be true.

(“When Was Jesus Crucified?”, by Daniel Florien)

Should he be disconcerted? Let’s examine it. First things first, the Greek and the parsing.

ην δε παρασκευη του πασχα, ωρα ην ως εκτη. και λεγει τοις Ιουδαιοις ιδε ο βασιλευς υμον

John 19:14

/it-was/ /”now”-conj./ /making-ready-at-hand;preparation-sing./ /the-gen./ /passover (pascha)/, /hour/time/ /it-was/ /as;(with numerals=about)/ /sixth/. /and/ /he-lays (λέγω)/ /the-dat.-m.-pl./ /Jewish-adj.-dat.-pl./ /behold-2nd-sing.-aorist-active-imper. (εἴδω)/ /the-nom.-s.-m./ /king;ruler (βασιλεύς)/ /your-pron.-2nd.-pl.-gen./

which essentially becomes: it was now the preparation of the pascha, the hour was about sixth. and he [Pilate] lays/relates to the Jewish behold the ruler of ye.

Conclusion from John

This verse says during the preparation of the pascha, at about the sixth hour, — 12 noon — Pilate, who is standing next to Jesus, lays (says) to the Jewish, behold the ruler of ye.

Cursory glance at Matthew and Luke

By “cursory,” I mean only at Young’s Literal Translation, and not at the original Greek.

Matthew says the crucifixion took place the day after Jesus ate Passover with his disciples. Matthew 26:17 says “on the first [day] of the unleavened food came the disciples near to Jesus, saying [...];” Matthew 26:20 says evening came; then the Last Supper happens; then v.30, they go to the Mount of Olives, then v.36 to Gethsemane; the cock crows marking a new day and Peter’s lie; Matthew 27:1 says morning comes, making this the day after they eat Passover together; it does not give a time of Jesus being staked to the cross. Verses cited here.

Luke says the crucifixion took place the day after Jesus ate Passover with his disciples. Luke 22:7 says “And the day of the unleavened food came, in which it was behoving the passover to be sacrificed;” Verses cited here.

Further Deliberations

Time?

As for the time of day: Mark says that at 9:00am Jesus was staked, and John says that at noon Jesus was paraded by Pilate as “the king of ye.”

In short, the Bible says Jesus was crucified at two different times; there is no way around this. Which of the two given times is true? As Mr. Florien rightly said, “Both cannot be true.”

Ως — an important word.

Well, John writes in the original Greek the word ως (related to ωσει hōsei 5616), both of which are defined as “as if,” “as though,” “something like,” or “as it were” — “as it were” is what how Young literally translated it. This word that describes John’s time-of-day is not one of clarity or certainty — it probably holds a symbolic meaning, such as that it seemed like noon, meaning the sun was so hot that it felt directly overhead, even though it was earlier in the morning.

Even if that interpretation is unsuitable, and it does indeed mean ‘about noon,’ the way it is translated in these verses, it still remains anything but an expression of certainty and should not be taken as one.

Conclusion

They were referring to the same day, because of both its relation in time to other events and changes in the Passover…

Now, here’s why I think Mark and John are talking about the same day:

1. In relation to the other events (Jesus eating the Last Supper/Seder with his disciples the night before the crucifixion), and the number of days in between it and other events, it is clear that the two writers are referring to the same occurrences and mean the same day.

2. Because “as early as the 1st century, it was commonly held among Pharisees that the Feast of the Unleavened Bread started the day following the Passover feast, and lasted seven days:”

“The feast of unleavened bread succeeds that of the passover, and falls on the fifteenth day of the month, and continues seven days, wherein they feed on unleavened bread; But on the second day of unleavened bread, which is the sixteenth day of the month, they first “partake of the fruits of the earth, for before that day they do not touch them,

(Antiquities of the Jews Book 3, Chapter 10, Section 5).”

(all from the Wikipedia page about Passover)

Therefore, Passover Feast (Last Supper) and then day one of the Unleavened Bread. Probably, by the time John was writing his gospel, which was years after Mark wrote his, this change in the definition of the Passover Week had come; this could be one reason that the uncertainty is there as to which day.

…and the same time, because of our misconceptions of John’s use of the word ως/ωσει, or purposeful differences in time, to match with different audiences or for a different purpose than history.

Because of faulty, or more gently, less concise/accurate/creative English translations* read only about, with no sense of the meaning “as it were” or “something like,” this passage is assumed to be saying “around the sixth hour.” I’m convinced that, after examining the original text and the meaning of that word in plenty of other places in the Bible — “as though” — John simply meant that it was as though it were noon.

Another possible explanation, if the first one isn’t sufficient for you, could be that the authors use different time, such as the New American Standard Bible and the God’s Word Translation suggest*, with the purpose, perhaps, of appealing to a different audience — Matthew (Jews), Mark (probably Romans), Luke (Theophilus and, perhaps, all Gentiles), John (Gentile, Christian audience). The source of these probable audiences, Ken Palmer, also says in the same writing that Mark used Roman time rather than Hebrew; this is something to consider.

The third and most liberal explanation I heard/read offered is that the time of John’s gospel is different because of a lack of interest on John’s part of maintaining exact accuracy in the time of day; either John preferred to write “about theology, not history” (as this Dennis Bratcher article argues) or he did it on purpose to make Passover coincide with Jesus’s death, and show the Lamb of God picture more clearly to his readers. This is the explanation that Mr. Florien said was the best he ever heard; I disagree here, as I think the Greek word and the separate audience are both stronger. Nevertheless, it is an explanation that has been offered for the seeming contradiction here.

*KJV, NIV, NLT, CEV, ESV, NCV: “about,” NASB: “about,” with a footnote reading “perhaps 6 am,” GWT: “about six o’clock in the morning.”

All quoted material, unless otherwise noted or attributed, are taken from Short Definitions, New Testament. ©2008 Great Treasures. This is a new, electronic by-Greek-word edition of Bullinger’s lexicon, adding: massive reorganization into “By Greek Word” ordering (the original was organized “By English Word”); transliterations; reference (Strong’s) numbers; and Unicode Greek characters. All rights reserved worldwide.

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