How Many Hours Did Jesus Suffer on the Cross?
(Hint: It was not 3)
It is commonly stated that Jesus suffered on the Cross for 3 hours before His death. However, this claim is not only inaccurate, but it also assumes that the testimony of the synoptic Gospels (St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke) contradict the testimony of St. John's Gospel. The purpose of this article is to identify the source of the confusion regarding the time that Jesus suffered on the Cross, to identify the actual duration of our Lord's suffering on the Cross, and to resolve the issue by demonstrating that there is no contradiction between the testimonies of St. John's Gospel and the synoptic Gospels regarding the Crucifixion.
The source of the confusion is an apparent contradiction between the Gospel of St. Mark and the Gospel of St. John regarding when Jesus was crucified. The Gospel of St. Mark 15:25 specifically states that Jesus was crucified on the "third hour" which in Jewish time is 9:00 AM. The Gospel of St. John 19:14 states the Jesus was on trial and handed over to be crucified on the "sixth hour" which would be noon if St. John was also referencing Jewish time. Consequently, since St. Matthew 27:46-50, St. Mark 15:33-37, and St. Luke 23:44-46 state that it was the "ninth hour" Jewish time (3:00 PM) that Jesus gave up His life, the claim that Jesus suffered on the Cross for three hours has its origin from the testimony of the Gospel of St. John 19:14. However, the Gospels of St. Matthew 27:45, St. Mark 15:33, and St. Luke 23:44 all state that the world turned dark on the "sixth hour" Jewish time (12:00 PM), and when the world went dark, Jesus had already been on the Cross for some time. So how could it be that the Gospel of St. John 19:14 testifies that around the "sixth hour" Jesus had yet to be crucified and had just began to carry His Cross while the synoptic Gospels record that He was already on the Cross for some time when the world turned dark on the "sixth hour"? Here it seems that the synoptic Gospels are in agreement on the details of the Crucifixion:
While the Gospel of St. John seems to be in disagreement with the synoptic Gospels:
Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, "Behold your King!" They cried out, "Away with him, away with him, crucify him!" Pilate said to them, "Shall I crucify your King?" The chief priests answered, "We have no king but Caesar." Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which is called in Hebrew Gol′gotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. — St. John 19:14-18 (RSV)
Therefore the statement that Jesus suffered on the Cross for 3 hours necessarily assumes three things:
However these three necessary assumptions are highly problematic because the Catholic Church teaches that Sacred Scripture is free from error. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) paragraph 107 states: The inspired books teach the truth. "Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures."
Since the Scriptures firmly, faithfully, and without error teach the truth, and since truth cannot contradict truth, then it must be concluded that the testimony of the Gospel of St. John cannot contradict the testimonies of the synoptic Gospels including the details of the Crucifixion. If they Gospels cannot be in contradiction, then how do we reconcile the apparent differences between St. John's testimony and the testimony of the synoptic Gospels?
The reconciliation is found in how the word "hour" is defined. What if St. John was not referring to Jewish time at all when he said "sixth hour" but was instead referencing a different time altogether? What if St. John was referring to Roman time and not Jewish time? Well, if the synoptic Gospels are referencing Jewish time and the Gospel of John is referencing Roman time, then the Gospel accounts are in complete agreement. Let us examine that timeline:
Now we can plainly see that there is no contradiction between the Gospel of St. John and the synoptic Gospels and consequently this understanding upholds the inerrancy of Sacred Scripture which the Church affirms in CCC 107. To further understand this, please see the following chart which illustrates the approximate relationship between Jewish time and Roman time and always remember that the Gospel of St. John references Roman time while the synoptic Gospels reference Jewish time: Hours and Watches.
It would also be helpful to take some time to review the following chart which places the four Gospel accounts of the Crucifixion side by side as it clearly demonstrates that there are no contradictions in the Gospel testimonies of this event; please see the chart "The Harmony of the Gospels: THE CRUCIFIXION."
Recognizing these facts reveals something very interesting! When the fallacious statement that Jesus suffered on the Cross for 3 hours, from 12:00 PM to 3:00 PM, is replaced by a correct understanding of the timing of the Crucifixion, we discover that Jesus suffered on the Cross for 6 hours, from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM. But the way that we count hours and days is different than how the people of Jesus' time counted hours and days. The people of Jesus' time did not have the concept of zero placeholder, that is, they did not have the concept of starting a counting series from the point of zero. Instead, a counting series always began with the number one. So what does that mean exactly? Here is the difference:
(For additional information regarding the history of the inception of the zero placeholder, please see "The History of Zero: How was zero discovered?" by Nils-Bertil Wallin.
Therefore, from the perspective of the Gospel writers and their audience, Jesus suffered on the Cross for 7 hours, and that is a very significant number. Why? Because Jesus both fulfilled the Old Covenant and transformed it into the New Covenant, and the Old Covenant consisted of 7 covenants between God and man. The New Covenant in Jesus Christ is the 8th Covenant, the New and Everlasting Covenant that fulfills and transforms the Old! Fascinating God-incidence, is it not?! For list of all the covenants between God and man, please visit the following link: Yahweh's 8 Covenants
When examining the context of the four Gospels and considering them in harmony with each other, we discover that Jesus did not suffer on the Cross for 3 hours like is often claimed (which would actually be 4 hours as the Gospel writers and their audience would have counted) but 7 hours as the ancients would have counted. This understanding is derived from reading the Gospel accounts within their proper context and consequently reveals symbolically significant numbers in the Gospel text and in God's plan of salvation for humanity.
Jason Hull, Copyright © 2015 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.