The Sixth Hour
“Now, it was the Day of Preparation of the Passover and it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, ‘Behold your King.’”
This is one of those passages where enemies of the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy say, “Aha! See, there is an error!” They go on to say that this is the “Day of Preparation for Passover,” not the Passover itself and that while John records the sentencing as taking place during about the “sixth” hour, Mark records the crucifixion as having taken place at the third hour! Oh my, such a dilemma we are put into if we hold to Biblical inerrancy…well, not really.
First of all, the language of the Day of Preparation is used in the Gospel accounts to speak of the Preparation for the Sabbath (for the Jews, Saturday), not in terms of the Passover (see Mark 15:42, Luke 23:54, John 19:31,42). Thus, as the Passover this year fell on a Friday, it was also the Day of Preparation for the Sabbath…oh my, one objection answered simply by looking at the context.
The second objection has caused a little more consternation amongst commentators. As noted, Mark speaks of the crucifixion as taking place at the third hour (Mark 15:25). Different answers have been given for this from speaking about variant manuscripts that substitute “third” for “sixth” in John’s text to suggestions of scribal changes. Yet, the simplest answer is often the best. One should recall that John is writing at least 30 years after the other Gospel writers had penned their Gospel texts and arguably is familiar with the synoptic accounts. The Synoptics, writing before the destruction of the Temple, when the traditional Jewish sense of marking time was still in active use, chose to use the Jewish method of counting hours from sunrise. John, writing after the destruction of the Temple, when everyone would have been under the Roman system of marking time, used just that — the Roman system of marking time — a system which began marking hours at about midnight. That means that there is about 3 hours of time that will pass from the time that the sentence is uttered by Pilate (6 AM) and the hanging Jesus on the cross (9 AM), but this is not unrealistic as the execution had to be organized and Jesus had to proceed from there to Golgotha bearing the weight of his cross at least part of the way. Carrying such a burden would have taken a strong, healthy man a fair period of time; Jesus, being beaten and stumbling, would have taken considerably longer.
As with most cases, answers are available to every challenge to Biblical inerrancy and most challenges come as a result of surface readings, not being willing to look more deeply into the text.
What is much more important is the dialogue that follows. “Behold your King!” Pilate knows he has lost the chess game with the Chief Priests but he nevertheless wants to get in a final dig. This, though, will be the final rejection of Jesus that these men will make…denying Jesus’ Lordship to their own condemnation. How many in our world today insist, like these Jewish officials, that they have no king but Caesar! Yet, we get ahead. Here, though given as a taunt, we find Pilate speaking truth…Behold the King not only of the Jews, but of all creation. For them, all they saw was a broken and bloody man…one day all mankind will witness the risen and glorious Christ, King of all the universe — a King of power and might — how great the contrast will be, yet how these will find themselves not with him in their power, but under his crushing foot of judgment. Loved ones, there is a call given to each of us, flee to Christ as King while there is still breath in your lungs.