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Hours and Watches

Hours and Watches Video

Wix Images

One aspect of reading the gospels is the way days and nights were measured. This is an important aspect of bible prophecy. Clearly it was understood that there were twelve hours in a day. Jesus himself said this.

[Jhn 11:9 KJV] 9 Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world.

Without understanding a little about this subject the times of day given in the gospels will be a mystery and will also present some apparent contradictions. Perhaps the main one is the time of Jesus' crucifixion. John's gospel says that Jesus appeared before Pilate at the sixth hour on the day of his crucifixion

[Jhn 19:13-14 KJV] 13 When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha. 14 And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King!

Mark's gospel says Jesus was crucified at the third hour, apparently three hours before he appeared before Pilate!

[Mar 15:25 KJV] 25 And it was the third hour, and they crucified him.

Matthew, Mark and Luke all agree that there was darkness over the land from the sixth hour to the ninth hour. Jesus died at the ninth hour.

[Mar 15:34, 37 KJV] 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? ... 37 And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost.

Jewish days were reckoned from sunset to sunset. The night time hours were divided into three "watches" of four hours each and the daylight hours were reckoned by twelve "hours". The Romans had a natural day of 12 day-hours and 12 night-hours. The first daylight hour (hora prima) began at sunrise, noon was the sixth hour (hora sexta), and the last hour (hora duodecima) ended at sunset. However the Romans also had a civil day which started at midnight. The day was divided into two parts: the ante meridiem and the post meridiem, before noon and afternoon, respectively.This is the system of am and pm which we still use now. Their night time hours were divided into four watches of three hours each. The chart below will illustrates the different timekeeping systems.

Jewish and Roman Timekeeping

There are different ways of measuring time. Matthew Mark and Luke seem to be using the Jewish method of measuring the day. John seems to be different. There is a lot of discussion regarding why his hours are different from the other three. Some people think he was just using an approximation of the time when he said that Jesus appeared before Pilate at the sixth hour. This view would say he just meant that Jesus appeared before Pilate at some time in the early morning. Another view is that John was using Roman civil time. In this case the sixth hour would be 6.00 am in the morning. He was then crucified at the third hour on Jewish time which is 9.00am according to Mark. Matthew and Luke tell us that the sky went dark at the sixth hour (12.00) and Jesus gave up the ghost at the ninth hour (3.00pm).

Whatever you decide it is clear that the time of day in the bible is not always straightforward and we need to have some understanding of how it was measured. 

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