By Charles H. Welch
Hour. The word occurs five times in the O.T., namely in the book of Daniel, where it translates the Chaldee shaah, a look, or glance (Dan. 3:6,15, 4:19,33, 5:5). In the N.T. it is the translation of hora from which the English word is derived, in every instance except two, namely in Revelation 8:1 where it is the compound hemiorion "half an hour", and in 1 Corinthians 8:7 where it is arti "unto this hour" or "till now". Hora occurs in the Greek N.T. 107 times, and is translated as follows: "day" once, "high time" once, "hour" eighty-nine times, "instant" once, "season" three times, "time" eleven times, and once "short". Hora differs from kairos, a suitable time, hence a season; from chronos which indicates duration, and from hemera which means originally a day.
It should be remembered that while according to the N.T. there are twelve hours in a day, these hours are reckoned to be a twelfth of the period between daylight and the dark, and so vary in length according to the season of the year. One of the factors in the problem of "time" as recorded in the four gospels, arises out of the failure to realize that the method of recording Jewish time and of Gentile time differed, and that John, who wrote for the outside Gentile world, would of necessity use Gentile reckoning unless he intended to bemuse his readers. Let us consider the testimony of John's Gospel, especially as to the time period of the crucifixion.
The apostle Paul, when he would give the historic basis of the gospel he preached, included the burial of the Saviour as one of the three indispensable items of facto
It will be seen that Paul makes "the third day" an integral part of his message, and we must therefore turn to the gospels, and to the gospel of John in particular, to learn from their perusal the way in which "time" is employed.
The Preparation. The question as to what is intended by the different evangelists by the terms "Sabbath", "Preparation", "High day"; and the different times indicated such as "third hour", "sixth hour", "ninth hour", which appear straightforward upon a superficial reading, make great demands upon time and thought the moment an attempt is made to harmonize all the statements that are made in the gospels.
In Mark's record of the crucifixion we read:
Matthew supplements this by adding further particulars:
According to Hebrew reckoning "the third hour" would be 9.0 a.m., "the sixth hour" would be twelve o'clock noon, and "the ninth hour" would be 3.0 p.m. So far all is straightforward and makes no demands upon the reader. If we, however, turn to the account given in John's gospel, we meet with a note of time that has given considerable trouble to commentators.
The record of the Evangelists make it plain that the Jews were in a violent hurry to get the execution over before the Sabbath began at sunset. We have already seen that the "sixth" hour is either "noon" or "midnight" by Hebrew reckoning, but it is impossible for Christ to have been crucified at 9.0 a.m. and be delivered to be crucified three hours later, namely at noon. The only alternative, if we follow the Hebrew reckoning, is to make John 19:14 take place at midnight, and this is what some commentators actually assert. This means therefore that an interval of nine hours must have elapsed, but the record of this illegal trial is marked by evidences of extreme and apprehensive haste. Ever before the minds of the Jewish rulers was the approaching Sabbath with its possible pollution.
One version has cut the Gordian knot by adopting the note (the third hour) made by the editor of Sinaiticus MSS. Scrivener, in his book Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament, places this reading under the heading that reads "the copyist may be tempted to forsake his proper function for that of a reviser, or critical corrector", and such a principle if once accepted would play such havoc with the originals as to render "inspiration" a dead letter.
Calvin was conscious of the difficulty in this passage and attempts to reconcile the apparent discrepancy by suggesting that the Jews exaggerated the flight of time, saying in effect "it is about noon", whereas it was much earlier, and Mark, when he says "the third hour", does not mean exactly 9.0 a.m. but any part of the quarter before noon. "Thus, when the Jews saw that Pilate was wearing out the time, and that the hour of noon was approaching, John says that they cried out the more vehemently, that the whole day might not pass without something being done."
This makes sad reading, and cannot be accepted by any who believe that "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God". Christian scholarship has spent itself upon this problem, which, after all, appears to be one of its own making. We are so used, today, to having the Bible complete within its covers, that we are liable to forget that many to whom John wrote may never have seen the gospel according to Matthew, that they could have made no comparisons between the records, but would take the statements of John, as he intended, at their face value.
Now, so far removed were the readers of John's Gospel from the Jewish people and their methods and language, that he found it necessary to interpolate an explanation of the Hebrew words "Messiah" and "Rabbi" (John 1 :38,41); he was under the necessity to explain that "The Passover" was a "feast of the Jews" (John 6:4), and even had to tell, what no Jew ever needed to be told, that "the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans" (John 4:9).
If the Gentiles are so manifestly addressed by John, and if they were so evidently ignorant of Hebrew words and customs, then John would either be obliged if he used Hebrew time reckoning to interpret that reckoning for the Gentile reader (even as we have already done for the reader of this book), or to take the simpler course, and use Gentile reckoning without the need for any explanation.
Before 1914 many English readers would have been mystified to read that a train left Victoria at 21.15, or 17.30, for that is Continental time, and needs translation.
If we accept the Gentile timing in John's gospel, then we 1eam that at 6.0 a.m. Pilate handed the Saviour over to be crucified. At 9.0 a.m. the crucifixion took place, as recorded in Mark, and that from 12.0 noon until 3.0 p.m. darkness covered the land, and at the end of that period the Saviour died.
In John four, where the original reader is so ignorant that he needed to be told of the feud between the Jews and the Samaritans, we read that the Saviour, weary with His journey, sat upon the well "about the sixth hour", that is, by Gentile reckoning, 6.0 p.m., the hour when the women of the East would draw their water. Women in the conservative East do not draw water at midnight or at midday. It is a purely gratuitous gloss to say that the woman who spoke to the Lord was of such notorious immorality that she was driven by public ostracism to break the laws of antiquity and draw water at noon. There is not a shred of evidence that proves that she was any worse than her neighbours, and she does not appear to have had any reticence in speaking to them, neither do we read that any of her neighbours rebuked her, snubbed her, or refused her testimony (John 4:29, 30, 39, 41, 42). We have no problems if we allow that John, writing to the non-Jewish world, would naturally use non-Jewish time. Only if we adopt the arbitrary rule that all the gospels use Hebrew time reckoning does a problem arise.
We therefore set out before the reader the following record, placing the account given by John under Gentile time and the accounts of the Synoptic Gospels under Hebrew time, including the references to time made in John one and four.
Another question which the examination of the four Evangelists makes necessary, and which has been answered in more ways than one, is the question of the actual date of the Passover. Most of us, if unprepared, would say from our general knowledge of the subject, "the Passover was held on the fourteenth day of Nisan".
It has been advanced by some, that as the day of the Passover was decided each year by the testimony of two men sent by the Sanhedrin to give notice of the first appearance of the new moon, and that the Sanhedrin, to cover any possible error ordained that two days were to be kept, one called dies latentis lunae, and the other dies apparentis lunae, that this reconciles the apparent difficulty that we meet, namely, that Christ observed the Passover with His disciples, yet suffered as the true Passover afterwards. Accordingly we read "before the feast of Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour was come" (John 13:1) and later, when the Jews had led him to Pilate, "they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the Passover" (John 18:28). This attempt at a solution of the problem involved is unsatisfactory.
Let us go back to the beginning, and endeavour to piece together this new problem.
The original Passover was observed in Egypt, and the record is given in Exodus twelve. The law governing the annual memorial feast is found in Leviticus twenty-three.
Nothing can be clearer than that the Passover was held on the 14th of the month, and that the feast of unleavened bread commenced on the 15th day of the same month.
In successive records, we find that the Passover was killed on the 14th of the month (Josh. 5:10, Ezra 6:19,20), and although in certain circumstances changes in the month were permitted (2 Chrono 30:1,2), the day was never altered (2 Chrono 30:15).
It would seem that we are placed upon the horns of a dilemma. Ir Christ was actually offered as the true Passover, and died during the late afternoon of the 14th Nisan, it does not appear to make sense to say that, nevertheless, He kept the Passover with His disciples on the evening of that same 14th of Nisan. If, however, we contend that He and His disciples as true Israelites would keep the Passover on the appointed day and time, then we are faced with the conclusion that He, the true Passover, was not offered until the 15th of the month, which was not the day of the Passover, but the first day of unleavened bread. We were glad to be able to write "it would seem that we are placed upon the horns of a dilemma" for the dilemma, like the misunderstanding of the time in John's gospel, is of our own making, and the key once more is the observation of the difference between Hebrew and Gentile reckoning of time.
It is physically impossible, reckoning by Gentile reckoning, for Christ to have died in the afternoon of the 14th of the month, and to have previously had supper with His disciples in the evening of the 14th. The case however is different when we remember that "the evening and the morning" is the Divine subdivision of a day, and that the Hebrew day began at sunset and so its evening was many hours before its afternoon! There is, moreover, a peculiar provision in the Hebrew wording of Exodus 12:6 to which the margin draws attention: "kill it in the evening" should read "between the two evenings". Let us put the Hebrew day into a diagrammatic form:
Here it is made evident to the eye that our Saviour could keep the Passover Himself, yet be offered as the true Passover afterwards "between the two evenings".
The reader will, we trust, observe that we have not departed an hair's breadth from what is "written", and while we know that the errors made by those whose findings we cannot accept were made in an honest endeavour to interpret the truth, we believe that we can in all modesty claim that the settlement offered both of the problem of the sixth hour of John nineteen and of the Passover, honours God, adheres to His Word, and enables us to retain a conscience void of offence.
We pass, now, to other references to the "hour". The Saviour's complete accord with the will of the Father is made very clear by the repeated use of the "hour" in the gospel of John,
hence the colloquy of John 12:27,28, "Now is My soul troubled: and what shall I say? Shall I say Father, save Me from this hour? No, I cannot, but for this cause came I unto this hour, I will say Father, glorify Thy name." Apart from this momentous hour, from which dates all our expectation and hope of glory, perhaps one of the most critical hours in the history of the Christian faith was that spoken of by Paul in Galatians 2:5. We have already given our reason for believing that Galatians was Paul's first epistle, and we see him here enter the arena, throw down his gage and take up the battle for the Truth. He had gone up to Jerusalem by revelation to lay before those who seemed to be pillars "that gospel which he preached among the Gentiles" , and was only too conscious of the intimidating presence of false brethren who had come in privily to spy out their liberty, that they might bring them into bondage. His attitude recorded in Galatians 2:5 is worthy to be written in gold, or even better, to be engraved upon the heart of every believer.
The structure of Galatians 2:1-14 will be found in the article entitled GOSPEL.
The hour of temptation (Rev. 3:10) gives point to the clause in the Lord's Prayer (which see), and the specific terms of Revelation 9:15 "which were prepared for the hour, and day, and month, and year" should give pause to any who would lightly set these prophecies of future judgment aside as highly symbolic and so not to be taken literally. There is something pathetic, when the pathway of blood is surveyed, that leads at last to "one hour" of dominance and reign, only to be cut short in utter doom. "As kings one hour with the beast" (Rev. 17:12) and "in one hour is thy judgment come", "in one hour is she made desolate" (Rev. 18:10,19). It is now "man's day" (1 Cor. 4:3 margin); as also said the Saviour "this is your hour and the power of darkness" (Luke 22:53).