THE NEW TESTAMENT'S USE OF THE WORD "HOUR"
Most Christians have for decades now been taught in one way
or another that the darkness that came over the city of Jerusalem
during the crucifixion of Christ, started at the stroke of 12
p.m. and ended at the stroke of 3 p.m. as we count time on the
clock of Big Ben in London England or some other clock in
Washington, D.C. It all has something to do with the "sixth hour'
and the "ninth hour" they will tell you, mentioned in the
Most Christians have been taught that Jesus died at exactly
3 p.m. as Big Ben was striking and the big hand was at 3 (if Big
Ben had been built in Jerusalem and functioning). They say it has
something to do with the phrase "the ninth hour" found in the
Very few have stopped to question this teaching. I was one
of them UNTIL recently. One thing I had known for many years,
from reading my Bible and the NT, was that the writers of the NT
never used anything like "nine fifteen," or "two forty-five," or
"twenty minutes passed six." Such SPECIFIC time phrases just
cannot be found in the NT. The word "minute" with any numerical
numbers attached is also nowhere to be found in the NT.
It would seem the writers of the Greek NT were not really
that concerned with the "minute" technicality of when certain
things happened as much as the GENERAL time they happened, if we
are given even a general time frame. Of course some things
mentioned in the Nt are given to us as happening in a certain
We do know there was a general accepted division of the
daylight portion of the day. Jesus once said: "Are there not
TWELVE HOURS in the day."
On research in the Bible Dictionaries and the like, I
discovered that it was probably the Babylonians who were the
first to divide the daylight portion of the 24 hour day into 12
parts. By the time of Christ the people of Judah also had adopted
this day time division.
But we are never given any hint in the NT about any
specifics going on at a specific minute of that hour in which the
event was happening.
Off I went to investigate further into this matter, and
discovered some interesting points. I will quote from the OLD
edition of "BIBLE MANNERS AND CUSTOMS" by James Freeman, under
"The Hours of the Day":
"The Jewish day was reckoned from evening to evening .... the day
was divided into hours; each of these hours being one twelfth of
time between sunrise and sunset. Thus the hours varied in length
according to the time of the year, the summer hours being longer
than those of winter .... The first hour BEGAN at sunrise, the
SIXTH hours ENDED at noon, and the twelfth ENDED at sunset ....
The first(hour) at it close corresponded to nearly seven o'clock
A.M. of our time, and the twelfth hour to six o'clock P.M....
There also seems to have been a popular mode of reckoning the
hours of the night in a similar way, as well as by watches...."
Please read the above once more making sure you take
particular notice of where I have given emphasis.
I have NOT been able to find as to the custom of the Jew at
Christ's time, when using such a phrase as "the fourth hour I
went to walk the dog" IF they meant the BEGINNING of the fourth
hour or if they meant the END of the fourth hour. And of course
they could have meant some point of time BETWEEN the BEGINNING
AND THE END. I really do not know if they used any such language
of time as "I took the dog for a walk at the fourth and a half
You may be wondering what all this is leading to. I am going
to shortly look at all the verses using hours around the events
of Jesus' crucifixion, but you will probably remember some verse
that says something like, "the sixth hour there was darkness over
the land until the ninth hour." Now, the writer did not say, "at
the stroke of the BEGINNING of the sixth hour...." or "at the
stroke of the END of the sixth hour there was....."
It could make about ONE HOURS difference! When the Jew said,
"I was up and out walking the dog at the FIRST hour" did he mean
the beginning of the hour, hence meaning 6 A.M. when Big Ben was
chiming out six chimes across London town, or did he mean at the
END of the sixth hour, when faithful old Ben was just about to
chime out for 7 A.M. ?
Start to count from 6 A. M. The first hour was from 6 to 7,
the second hour was from 7 to 8; the third hour was from 8 to 9;
the fourth hour from 9 to 10; the fifth hour from 10 to 11; and
the SIXTH hour was from 11 to 12 p.m.
If we use the BEGINNING when it is stated darkness fell over
the land from the sixth hour, then it was 11 A.M. when the
darkness arrived and set in. If we use the END of the sixth hour
then it was 12 noon when the darkness came.
But which is it? I have never found a NT Scripture to
interpret whether it is the beginning or the end we are to think
of as "the sixth hour." To my English mind and way of thinking as
brought up in an English society, I would probably say it was the
BEGINNING, but that is just human reasoning based upon my
education under a certain English society. Even so, someone else
from my society, may think it is the END we should reckon it as.
So, if we could find in some Jewish book somewhere that such
a phrase was meaning the END (hence "the sixth hour" meaning 12
p.m.) as used by some Jews, would this mean it was used by ALL
Jews this way? Could it not be possible some Jews would have
meant the BEGINNING? And, that still would not give us the answer
as to how it was meant by the writer of the gospel who was using
it to give us a general idea of the time of the day this event
happen (the coming of darkness over the land).
This darkness we are told lasted till the ninth hour. Going
back to our counting again, depending how we count "the hour" we
could end with this "ninth hour" meaning 2 p.m. or 3 p.m.
Hummmm, the writers of the Gospels do not tell us any
specific minute as we might so tell today if we were reporting
such an event as this very unusual darkness falling over the land
in broad daylight. So, the darkness may have been from about 11
A.M. to 2 P.M. or from about 12 P.M. to 3 P.M.
Many have believed Jesus died right at the stroke of 3 P.M.
(as old Ben chimed out), but as we shall see in some detail
shortly, not one verse in the NT says such a thing. And if we
take the phrase "ninth hour" many associate with the death of
Jesus, we could take it as reckoning from the BEGINNING or the
END of that hour, hence either 2 P.M. or 3 P.M.
Which should it be? I have no NT Scripture that interprets
it as to which way to reckon the phrase. I have never found one
to date. And what the Jews did or did not do does not mean it was
what the writer of the Gospel had in his mind.
As I have said, the EVENTS were the important thing in the
minds of the Gospel writers, and not so much the exact and
specific minute on the dial face as to when they happened. Hence
the writers gave only a GENERAL time frame of those events. This
truth we shall now see clearly shown to us as we look at the
specific verses using "hours" around the crucifixion of Christ.
We can see it plainly from the original Greek of the NT. We
need to put aside all the translations, even the KJV, and we need
to go to the Greek of the NT.
THE GREEK VERSES
From the English/Greek Interlinear by Jay P. Green, Sr.
"And it was third hour, and they crucified Him" (Mark 15:25).
Now, was this the beginning or the end of the third hour? Was it
sometime between the beginning and the end, during the third
hour? We are not specifically told!
"Now from hour six there was darkness over all the land until
hour nine" (Mat.27:45).
"And being come hour six, there was darkness over the whole land
until hour nine" (Mark 15:33).
"And it was ABOUT hour six, and there was darkness over all the
land until hour nine" (Luke 23:44).
Do we count the sixth and ninth hour from their beginning or
from their end? Or was it sometime between their beginning and
end, during that hour of the sixth and ninth?
Notice how Luke was inspired to write it "...... And it was
ABOUT hour six....." ABOUT is not on the stroke of six as Big Ben
Concerning the time Jesus died:
"And ABOUT the hour nine, Jesus cried.... (Mat.27:46).
"And the ninth the hour Jesus cried with a loud voice...." (Mark
Was this at the beginning or the end of the hour nine? Was it
between or during the ninth hour?
Notice how Matthew was inspired to write it... "And ABOUT the
That's it, there are ALL the places from the Greek Scriptures
containing hours in connection with the crucifixion of Jesus.
Those who want to argue that such phrases as "third hour" or
"eleventh hour" as used by the Jews always means the END of the
hour, I say this: Would it not be much more humanly logical to
pick the BEGINNING of the hour for such a phrase, seeing the hour
is then to unfold and be completed? Why pick the END of the hour
to understand that phrase, seeing that within a few seconds the
end would have ended and the NEXT hour would have begun?
If we are to just look at all this from a strictly human
logic point of view, I submit the phrase "ninth hour" would be
better understood as the BEGINNING of the hour, IF we are to pick
between it meaning either the beginning or the end. Then
remember, it may also mean any time BETWEEN the beginning and the
Unless you have a theological stance that must be held to
and defended at all costs (without any other Scripture to back
you, only traditions and a mind-set of being raised with a
certain idea) then when the Scripture says Jesus was crucified at
the third hour, that could have been either at 8 A.M. or 9 A.M or
at any time between the beginning or the end of that hour.
The writers of the NT were not so concerned with the exact
minute of time that an event took place, as much as the EVENT
ITSELF and the approximate, or the "about" time the event
There was no Big Ben in Jerusalem to chime out the exact
time of the events they recorded, if there had have been they
certainly took little if any notice of it, the event itself came
first, the about time came second.
Written August 1998