Were two different chronological systems in use here? John 19:13-14a reads, "When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge's seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour." Yet Matthew 27:45 reads "From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land." How can Jesus be before Pilate and on the cross? -- Peter Vipulis (New York)

Yes indeed, we are dealing with different chronological systems. The time system of John is different to what we find in the other three gospels. Of course Jesus can't be simultaneously before Pilate and on the Cross. Competing and sometimes conflicting time systems are found throughout both testaments. In the Old Testament, for example, the religious year starts in the spring, based on the Exodus. But the legal year starts in the autumn, and Jews even today celebrate Rosh Hashanah (head of the year) around September. But the solar year begins in early winter! In the case you are writing about, for Matthew, who follows the Jewish system, the first hour is at sunrise, making the sixth hour noon. (See also Matthew 20:5.) In John, the sixth hour is 6 a.m., since the Roman system ran midnight to midnight.

In John 1:39, we read that Jesus met his future disciples at about the tenth hour, and they spent the day together. It would be odd if this were the tenth hour in Matthew's system -- 4 pm! But it makers perfect sense if this is the late morning -- around 10 am. In John 4:6, Jesus sits down at Jacob's well. With two 12-hour cycles in the day, this would be 6 pm -- a typical time for watering livestock and preparing to eat. The middle of the day (noon or the sixth hour by Matthew's system) would be fiercely hot -- not the time to draw water.

To sum up, the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) follow the Jewish system. John -- different to these three gospels in many respects, including timekeeping -- follows the Roman system. There is no contradiction.

This article is copyrighted and is for private use and study only.