A Custom and an Apparent Contradiction
Updated: May 28, 2019
In their accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus, the gospels of Mark and John appear to contradict each other:
“So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour”. -- John 19:13-14 (ESV)
“And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. And it was the third hour when they crucified him”. -- Mark 15:24-25 (ESV)
Comparing these two accounts, it seems that Mark is setting the time of Christ’s crucifixion three hours before the trial by Pilate in the book of John. In most cases where the Bible appears to be contradicting itself, the reader needs to consider the context. This includes the author, the time period, the intended audience, the customs and the culture. If these things are considered, both accounts are actually correct.
During the first century, the Jews and the Romans counted time very differently. Mark was writing his account for his fellow Jews. John was writing his account for the Greeks or Gentiles, so was using a more universal Roman time keeping system.
John refers to the time Jesus was brought before Pilate as “about the sixth hour”. The Roman day began at midnight, so the sixth hour would have been 6 a.m. Mark refers to the crucifixion occurring at the third hour. The Jewish day began at sunrise, so the third hour would have been about 9 a.m. This allows 3 hours for the trial before Pilate, appearance before Herod, the mocking and beating by the Roman soldiers and the walk to the place of crucifixion.