Question: When Was Jesus Crucified? The Gospel of Mark says it was the third hour, but John seems to suggest it was the sixth hour.
Mark 15:25 reads: It was the third hour when they crucified him.
John 19:14-16 reads: It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour. “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews. But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered. Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. So the soldiers took charge of Jesus.
Most likely, John's Gospel best reflects the actual timing of the crucifixion. Here are the three possible answers to this apparent contradiction that have been suggested over the years. Sound principles of biblical interpretation help reveal which, if any, of these solutions is correct.
Some speculate that Mark used Hebrew reckoning of time, while John used the Roman system. In that case, John’s “sixth hour” would be 6 AM, not twelve noon, and the three hours between 6 AM and Mark’s 9 AM would be taken up with the beating, whipping and preparations for the crucifixion. While this is not unreasonable in itself, there is absolutely no evidence in John’s Gospel to suggest he, as a Jew, was thinking in terms of Roman time.
Others suggest that verse 25 was not in Mark’s original Gospel but was added later when the document was being copied for circulation throughout the early Christian church. Occurrences of this type of error in copying are known as a “gloss.” This happens when a scribe or copyist makes a side note on the margin of the document being copied, and a later copyist mistakes the side note as part of the original text. This is certainly possible, especially considering the fact that Mark is the earliest of the Gospels, and Matthew and Luke seem to draw on Mark’s time-line for the passion and crucifixion events, yet neither mention the “third hour” of Mark 15:25.
This solution also looks to copyist error as the likely culprit. In this case, the Greek letter gamma was originally in its lower case form and doubled (gamma gamma), which indicates the number “6.” An early copyist mistakenly replaced the lower case with an upper case gamma, which indicates the number “3.” This would be a very easy mistake to make when copying by hand, and examples of this kind of error can be found in ancient manuscripts.
The last two solutions point to an “error of transmission”—an error that was not part of Mark’s original manuscript. This is human error in copying, not a mistake in the Word of God as Mark first wrote it down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Bible translators today have available to them a vast number of ancient manuscripts, where one can be compared against others with relative ease. This process is of immense help in recognizing copy errors that do occasionally arise. While errors in copying do take place from time to time, such “errors of transmission” never affect doctrine. God’s Word is trustworthy and true!
For more on the origins and authority of the Bible, please check out Bible Gems #172, 165, 149, 110, 105, 83, 64, 60, 59, 53, 31, 6.