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John Chapters 18 to 20, Part 2
by Karl Kemp 
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We continue this verse-by-verse study of John chapters 18-20 here in Part 2.

Discussion Regarding the Approximate Times that Jesus Was Delivered to Pilate and that Pilate Handed Him Over to be Crucified and the Approximate Times that He Was Crucified and He Died:

Let's start with the words "and it was early" here in John 18:28, at which time the Jewish rulers brought Jesus to Pilate. As John 20:1 shows, the Greek adverb ("proi") translated "early" here and in John 20:1 can be used of a time that it is very early in the morning, even when it is still dark. Matthew 27:1; Mark 15:1; and Luke 22:66 inform us that the morning had already come when the Jewish rulers officially condemned Jesus. I assume that it was very early in the morning, probably about an hour before sunrise.

((I had a lengthy footnote, going on for three paragraphs: The Roman authorities started their days very early, and this was a very special day. The Jewish rulers had undoubtedly informed Pilate that they would bring Jesus to him very early. As we learned in John 18:3, 12 (an important fact that was not mentioned in the Synoptic Gospels), Roman soldiers (who were under the authority of Pilate) were involved in the arrest of Jesus in the garden. The Jewish rulers had undoubtedly warned Pilate that this was a very volatile and dangerous situation. This could easily turn into a massive riot. Jesus was a very dangerous man who proclaimed Himself King of the Jews, and He had a large number of followers (many were undoubtedly fanatics), as proved by the very large turnout and the events that transpired when He came to Jerusalem a few days earlier riding on a donkey (see John 11:47-53; 12:12-19).

The sun begins to give its light long before sunrise (when the sun becomes visible on the horizon in the east). I'll cite a few relevant numbers from an article on the internet titled "Dawn" (en.wikipedia.org). "ASTRONAUTICAL DAWN is the time at which the sun is 18 degrees below the horizon in the morning. Astronomical dawn is that point in time at which the sun starts lightening the sky. Prior to this time, the sky is completely dark. [At least there isn't any light coming from the sun before that time. Eighteen degrees equates with 1 hour and 12 minutes on the clock.] NAUTICAL DAWN is the time at which the sun is 12 degrees below the horizon in the morning. Nautical dawn is defined as that time at which there is just enough sunlight for objects to be distinguishable." [Twelve degrees equates with 48 minutes on the clock.] And CIVIL DAWN is the time at which the sun is 6 degrees below the horizon in the morning. Civil dawn is defined as that time at which there is enough light for objects to be distinguishable and that outdoor activities can commence." Six degrees equates with 24 minutes on the clock. It is quite conceivable that the Jewish rulers officially condemned Jesus to death an hour or so before sunrise (about 5 a.m.) that fateful morning, and then they rushed Him to Pilate, arriving perhaps a few minutes after 5 a.m. The Jewish leaders were much more interested in getting rid of Jesus than making sure that they did everything exactly by the book; there were extenuating circumstances - it was expedient.

I'll quote a sentence from what Donald A. Carson says under John 18:28 ("Gospel According to John," page 588). Carson speaks of the viewpoint that "proi" is used here of "Jesus [being] brought to Pilate before 6 a.m. He says of this viewpoint that "In itself this is unsurprising: as we have noted, many Roman officials began the day very early in the morning and finished their day's labours by 10.00 or 11.00 a.m. (cf. Sherwin-White ["Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament" (Oxford University Press, 1963)], page 45). Carson prefers the viewpoint that the Sanhedrin met after sunrise, before they took Jesus to Pilate. I'll include a short excerpt from what George R. Beasley Murray says under John 18:28 ("John" [Word Books, 1987], page 327). "Pilate, as all Roman governors, will have begun his day very early, as judged by modern customs, and will have concluded it at a fairly early hour. (Sherwin-White illustrates: 'The emperor Vespasian was at his official duties even before the hour of dawn, and the elder Pliny, most industrious of Roman officials, had completed his working day, when Prefect of the Fleet, by the end of the fourth or fifth hour [in the morning]. ...." F. F. Bruce comments that a Roman official "liked to begin his work at dawn and get it over as early as possible in the day" ("Gospel of John," page 349). "Dawn" comes with the beginning of light from the sun, long before sunrise.))

Apparently John wanted to make it known that Jesus was taken to Pilate very early and then handed over by Pilate to be crucified quite early (perhaps something like 6:30 to 7:00 a.m.), a bit earlier than we would have thought if we were limited to the information in the Synoptic Gospels. ((I had a footnote: John undoubtedly was a more effective witness of those overall events than any other person could have been. God enabled him to be an eyewitness of much that happened. Consider, for example, that John was there when Jesus was arrested (John 18:1-12); that he (unlike the other disciples, with the partial exception of Peter) followed Jesus after he was arrested and had access to the high priest's palace. He probably also followed when Jesus was sent on to Caiaphas (John 18:12-24) and when Jesus was taken to Pilate very early Friday morning, and we know he was there, very close to Jesus, at the cross (John 19:26, 27). John clearly knew some details regarding what happened when Jesus stood before Annas (John 18:19-24), and, significantly, he knew many details regarding Pilate's conversations with Jesus. John may have learned some of those details from Jesus after His resurrection, and he may have learned some of this information by revelation from God. John was handpicked and fully prepared to write his Gospel (and, thank God, his three epistles and the book of Revelation; the first epistle of John is extremely important and it seems to me that the book of Revelation is more important than that).)) We need all four Gospels to get the full picture. John doesn't tell us at what hour Jesus' crucifixion began, but based on what he says in John 19:14, He could have been crucified more than an hour before the (very approximate) time given in Mark 15:25 (the third hour, 9 a.m.). ((I had a footnote: It's possible that Jesus was crucified as late as 9 a.m., but I believe it is much more probable that the Roman soldiers took Jesus to the site of His crucifixion and nailed Him to the cross within an hour or so after Pilate handed Him over them to them. Pilate could have turned Jesus over to the soldiers as early as 6 a.m. (based on John 19:14), but I assume it was more likely something like 6:30 to 7:00 a.m.)) The fact that the hours relating to Jesus' crucifixion given by Matthew, Mark, and Luke are the (apparently) round numbers of the third, sixth, and ninth hours (their third hour is the middle of the morning; their sixth hour is the middle of the day, at noon; and their ninth hour is the middle of the afternoon) fits the idea that these times apparently are very approximate times (see Matt. 27:45, 46; Mark 15:25, 33, 34; and Luke 23:44).

John 19:14 is very important here. That verse informs us that "it was ABOUT THE SIXTH HOUR" when Pilate handed Jesus over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified" (see John 19:14-16). The most common view is that the sixth hour means noon here, but I strongly favor the view (a view held by many) that John meant ABOUT SIX IN THE MORNING (about six hours after midnight; about the time the sun rose that day, about 6 a.m.; a.m., by the way comes from the Latin, ante meridiem, which means before noon; p.m. is from the Latin, post meridiem, which means after noon).

((I had a lengthy footnote, going on for seven paragraphs: If John used what some have called the "Roman method," the time was counted from midnight (or from noon, where applicable). There are three other verses where John mentioned the hour in his Gospel, John 1:39; 4:6, 52. I prefer the viewpoint that John used that method in all four verses. (See on those other three verses in my paper on John 1:19-4:54.) It is clear that the Roman civil day began at midnight (I'll say more on this as we continue), but it is also clear that the Romans (like the Jews) very often counted the hours from sunrise and sunset.

Why would the apostle John use a different method of measuring the time than Matthew, Mark, and Luke? Apparently he knew that that method would be better understood by most of his intended readers.

It is EXTREMELY DIFFICULT for me to imagine that it could have been as late as noon when Pilate finally handed Jesus over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified, and, more importantly, Mark 15:25 says, "it was the third hour when they crucified Him." Everyone agrees that the "third hour" in Mark 15:25 means about 9 a.m. And Mark 15:33 says, "When the sixth hour came, darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour [when Jesus died (see Mark 15:33-37)]." Everyone agrees that the "sixth hour" in Mark 15:33 means about noon and that the "ninth hour" means about three in the afternoon. Also, Matthew 27:45, 46 say, "from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice 'Eli Eli, Lama Sabachthani?' [and died shortly thereafter (see Matt. 27:45-50)]." And Luke 22:44, 45 say, "It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, because the sun was obscured...[and then Jesus died (see Luke 22:44-46)]." Undoubtedly these hours given in Matthew, Mark, and Luke are very approximate times (it seems they could easily be off an hour or so from the exact time), but it is EXTREMELY DIFFICULT to try to harmonize these numbers with John 19:14 IF John was saying that Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified at noon.

One thing (of several things) that made the ancient measuring of time complicated and inaccurate was the fact that, for those who counted the hours from sunrise and sunset, the hours varied in length as the two twelve hour periods that ran from sunrise to sunset and from sunset to sunrise varied in length. (In our day every hour is 60 minutes long; but for those who measured the time from sunrise and sunset, the hours varied in length.) At the summer solstice (which is on or about June 21 in the northern hemisphere), the longest day in Jerusalem (from sunrise to sunset) is about 14 hours and 13 minutes; at the winter solstice (which is on or about December 21) the shortest day is about 10 hours and 4 minutes. That's quite a difference! (I took these numbers from data given at timeanddate.com for Jerusalem for 2005; the time of sunrise and sunset for a particular date are essentially constant from year to year.) As the time from sunrise to sunset got longer (and the time from sunset to sunrise got shorter), the length of the hours during the daytime had to get longer to yield twelve hours (those hours from sunrise to sunset for the longest day of the year in Jerusalem were about 71 of our minutes long; from sunset to sunrise that day the hours were about 49 minutes long; that's quite a difference!), and as the time from sunrise to sunset got shorter (and the time from sunset to sunrise got longer), the length of the hours during the daytime had to get shorter to yield twelve hours (those hours from sunrise to sunset for the shortest day of the year were about 50 of our minutes long; from sunset to sunrise that day the hours were about 70 of our minutes long; again, that's quite a difference!). (If you counted the time from the middle of the night to the middle of the day, or from the middle of the day to the middle of the night, however, it would always yield twelve of our sixty-minute hours every day of the year.) The only two days in the year where the two twelve hours periods (from sunrise to sunset and sunset to sunrise) were of equal length (and their hours were the same as our hours, which are always sixty minutes) was at the vernal and autumnal equinoxes when the time from sunrise to sunset exactly equals the time from sunset to sunrise both in the northern hemisphere and in the southern hemisphere. (The vernal [spring] equinox comes for the northern hemisphere on March 20 in 2005 [and on that date or very close to that date in other years] and the autumnal equinox on September 22 in 2005 [and on that date or very close to that date in other years].)

I'll quote a sentence from page 5 of the 7 page article on the internet titled "Roman Dates" (www.tyndale.cam.ad.uk/Egypt...). "According to our literary sources, the Roman day began at midnight, although in the few horoscopes from Egypt that give Roman dates the start of the day is set at sunset, in the Greek fashion." I'll also include a few excerpts from the seven page article on the internet titled "Roman Time Keeping" (www.beaglesoft.com/timehistoryroman). The Roman day "was divided into twenty-four hours which were reckoned to begin, not as with the Babylonians, at sunrise, nor, as among the Greeks, at sunset, but as is still the case with us, at midnight" (page 2). On page 5 the article speaks of "the civil day, whose twenty-four hours reckoned from midnight" and of "the twenty-four hours of the natural day which was officially divided into two groups of twelve hours each, twelve of the day and twelve of the night." The article points out that water-clocks were readily available in New Testament days. They were calibrated to the sun-dials, but they worked when the sun wasn't shining, including at night.

I'll include a few more facts from this article, facts that are interesting but not so directly relevant to this paper. "...it was not until the beginning of the First Punic War in 264 B.C. that the 'hours' and horologium (sun-dial...) of the Greeks were introduced into the city [of Rome]" (page 2). "At the end of the fourth century B.C. they were still content to divide the day into two parts, before midday and after [a.m. and p.m.]. Naturally the important thing was then to note the moment when the sun crossed the meridian [at noon]. One of the consul's subordinates was...to keep a lookout for it and to announce it to the people busy in the Forum, as well as to the lawyers who, if their pleadings were to be valid, must present themselves before the tribunal before midday. ..." (page 2). "The seven day week did not become part of Roman life until late in their history (321 A.D.)."

I found another interesting web site (timeanddate.com/worldclock/astronomy). It gives (for one thing) the times of the sunrise and sunset for many cities for every day of the year for many different years, including, significantly, Jerusalem for AD 30. I was especially interested in the date of April 7 for that year because that is the most widely accepted date for the crucifixion of Jesus. According to the information on that web site (which seems to be quite accurate), the sun rose at 5:43 a.m. (based on our modern counting of the time) on that fateful day and it set at 6:21 p.m. (The times would be essentially the same for AD 28-33, or other years, including 2005. However, when the standard time zones were adopted in 1918, the clocks were turned back twenty one minutes in Jerusalem, so you have to add twenty one minutes to calculate the times in Jerusalem before 1918, as compared with the time there now. And you have to subtract an hour during those times of the year when Daylight Savings Time is in effect now.) ))

Apparently John was trying to make the point that Jesus final "trial" before the Sanhedrin and then his "trial" before Pilate took place very early that morning. As discussed in this paper, I believe John's about 6 probably was more accurately something like 6:30 to 7:00 a.m. Quite a few things took place between the time the Jewish leaders brought Jesus to Pilate and the time that Pilate handed Jesus over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified.

Those things (the things recorded in John 18:28-19:16) would have taken quite a bit of time, and we must add the additional time it took for Jesus to be sent to Herod Antipas (an incident that John didn't mention) that took place in the midst of this "trial," before Pilate had Jesus scourged and then handed Him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified (see Luke 23:6-12). An hour and a half or so seems like a fair estimate for the time that transpired from the time Jesus was brought to Pilate (John 18:28) to the time he was handed over to be crucified (John 19:14-16).

Admittedly, it isn't easy to synchronize all of this information. If Jesus was brought to Pilate not long after 5 a.m. (5 a.m. would be about an hour before sunrise, but there would be some light coming from the sun), which is quite possible, it seems unlikely that Pilate could have handed Jesus over to be crucified by 6 a.m. But then John said about 6 a.m., and apparently it was more like 6:30 to 7:00 a.m. As I mentioned, time measurements in the ancient world did not have anything near the precision of our modern time measurements. (I had a footnote: And different people measured the time different ways; it was far from being uniform.) I don't have any problem harmonizing all this information if John meant about 6 a.m., but I have a very big problem if he meant about noon.

I'll quote part of what William Hendricksen says at John 18:28 ("Gospel of John" [Baker, 1953], pages 400, 401). "From three o'clock until day break Jesus must have been held in imprisonment. (On page 394 Hendricksen speaks of the trial that took place earlier that morning before Caiaphas and the members of the Sanhedrin. [See Matthew 26:57-68; Mark 14:53-65; Luke 22:54-65; John 18:24.] He says that that trial "must have ended about (or shortly before) 3 A.M., Friday.") Then, at that very early hour (see Mark 15:1) the Sanhedrin was convened. The intention was to rush Jesus off to Pilate, before the multitudes in Jerusalem would be aware of what was going on. Besides, everything must be over before sabbath! [The sabbath would begin at sunset Friday.] The dawn-session - a few minutes sufficed! - was probably held to give a semblance of legality to the corrupt proceedings that had marked the night session. ... The earliness of the hour is emphasized. This should be borne in mind. If that is not done, John 19:14 will present an insuperable difficulty. ...."

I'll also quote part of what Hendricksen says under John 19:14 ("Gospel of John," page 421). He is commenting on the sixth hour, at which time Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified. "...John doesn't say six o'clock but about six o'clock. Let us suppose that it was actually half past six. ... It is difficult for us to understand how the trial before Pilate (in reality the Pilate-Herod-Pilate trial) was so speedy, how everything transpired so rapidly. On the other hand, does it not seem probable that the Sanhedrin had been doing all in its power to rush Pilate to a decision? [It is also obvious that Pilate did not fully cooperate with them by rushing to a decision, including the fact that he sent Jesus to Herod Antipas.] Is it not true that this august body had been rushing the case from the very moment when Jesus was captured? The morning meeting of the Sanhedrin may have been very early, indeed! It may have only taken a few minutes. After all, everyone knew in advance what was going to be decided. Their real decision had been agreed on long before."

Brooke Foss Westcott has a "Note on St. John's Reckoning of Hours" included with his discussion of John chapter 19 ("Gospel According to St. John" [Eerdmans, 1954 reprint], pages 324-326). Westcott first comments on each of the other three verses in the Gospel of John (John 1:39; 4:6, 52) where definite hours are mentioned. He argues that each of these verses (very much including John 19:14) makes better sense if John's hours were counted from midnight (and or noon where applicable) instead of sunset. I think he probably is right regarding all four verses. I'll quote part of what he says regarding John 19:14 in his note. "...it is admitted that the date of noon [which would result if John's sixth hour was counted from sunrise] cannot be brought into harmony with the dates [hours] of St. Mark (15:25). But if we suppose that the time approximately described was about 6.30 a.m. [if John's sixth hour was counted from midnight] it is not difficult to fit in all the events of the trial...." [As I have mentioned, I believe 6:30 to 7:00 a.m. is a reasonable estimate. On pages 263, 264 Westcott gives his estimates for the approximate times for "the formal sentence of the Sanhedrin" and for "the examination before Herod" as 5:00 and 5:30 a.m., which sounds reasonable to me. He estimated the approximate time that Jesus was examined by Annas as 2:00 a.m.]

So far then the examination of the passages themselves is decidedly favourable to the supposition that the modern Western reckoning of the hours is followed by St. John. ... It must, however, be admitted that this mode of reckoning hours was unusual in ancient times. The Romans...and Greeks, no less than the Jews, reckoned their hours from sunrise. But the Romans reckoned their civil days from midnight (Aul. Gell. III.2; cf. Matt. 27:19, 'this day,' [I had a footnote: I'll quote Matt. 27:19, "While he [Pilate] was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him a message, saying, 'Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him." Westcott's point (I think) is that the Greek literally says "today," instead of "last night," which fits the idea that the day Pilate's wife was speaking of began at midnight, not at sunrise.]) and not from sunrise, or from sunset.... And there are also traces of reckoning the hours from midnight in Asia Minor. Polycarp is said (Mart. Pol. c. 21) to have been martyred at Smyrna 'at the eighth hour.' This, from the circumstances, must have been 8 a.m. Pionius again is said to have been martyred (at Smyrna also) at 'the tenth hour,' which can hardly have been 4 p.m., since such exhibitions usually took place before noon. ...."

I'll quote a sentence from what J. Carl Laney says under John 18:28 ("John" (Moody Press, 1992), page 327). "It was 'early' ("proi") in the morning when Jesus was brought before Pilate. It must have been quite early because Jesus' trial before Pilate was finished by [about] 6:00 A.M. (cf. John 19:14)."

I'll quote part of a sentence from what Alfred Plummer says under John 18:28 ("Gospel According to John" [Baker, 1981 reprint], page 315). "...and as Pilate had probably been informed that an important case was to be brought before him, delay in which might cause serious disturbance, there was nothing improbable in his being ready to open his court between 4.0 and 5.0 A.M."

I'll quote part of what Ben Witherington says regarding John 19:14 ("John's Wisdom" [Westminster John Knox Press, 1995], pages 294, 400). "Verse 14 tells us that this transpired about the sixth hour on the day of the Preparation for the Passover. If this is reckoned according to Jewish ways of counting, the hour would be noon. However, it is possible, indeed likely, in view of the provenance and primary audience of this Gospel that a Roman form of reckoning is being used, in which case the sixth hour is near dawn, at six in the morning. The Romans were known for dealing with such matters first thing in the morning, and Pilate is likely to have followed the same practice." Witherington has a footnote here, "What may be significant is that this particular Roman form of recognition was used in official documents and for legal purposes. We have seen the interest of this evangelist throughout in presenting the story of Jesus as 'Jesus on trial' and there is a certain fitness to have it close with a sort of time marker used in Roman legal proceedings."

I'll quote what C. K. Barrett says regarding "it was early" of John 18:28 ("Gospel According to St. John" [Westminster Press, 1978], page 531). "The last two watches of the night [of the four night watches] (on the Roman reckoning) were "alectorophonia" [cockcrow, which ran from midnight to 3 a.m.] and "proi" [early morning, which ran from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m.]. Cockcrow was now past, and early morning (before 6 a.m.) had arrived." 6 a.m. corresponded with the sunrise (that is, the time when the sun first became visible in the morning), and 6 p.m. corresponded with the sunset. I'll quote two sentences that deal with the night watches, "The periods into which the time between sunset and sunrise was divided. They are so called because watchmen relieved each other at each of these periods" (www.christiananswers.net).]]

(29) Therefore [since the Jewish leaders who brought Jesus to Pilate would not go in to the Praetorium, where Pilate was] Pilate [I had a footnote: I'll quote part of what William Hendricksen says regarding Pilate ("Gospel of John." page 404). "Pontius Pilate was the fifth governor of the southern half of Palestine. ... He was the 'governor' in the sense of being procurator, ruling over an imperial province, and as such directly responsible to the emperor. Although he had been endowed with civil, criminal, and military jurisdiction, he was under the authority of the legate of Syria."] went out to them [cf. John 18:38; 19:4] and said, 'What accusation do you bring against this Man?' [On Jesus' "trial" before Pilate (including Pilate's sending Jesus to Herod, "tetrarch of Galilee" [Luke 3:1]), see John 18:29-19:16; Matt. 27:11-26; Mark 15:2-15; and Luke 23:2-25.]

We will continue this verse-by-verse study of John chapters 18-20 in Part 3, starting with John 18:30.

Copyright by Karl Kemp


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