John 4 says Jesus met the Samaritan woman around the 6th hour. Is this 6 pm? Or is it noon? Are there any guidelines you can give us for how to understand the "hours" in the New Testament? -- Turner Sinn (Hong Kong)

I believe the first three gospels are pretty consistent in using the 12-hour clock (dawn to dusk). That makes the first hour 6-7 am. In the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, for example, the last group goes out at the 11th hour. This would not be 11 pm! Rather, they went out toward the end of the work day, an hour or so before sunset. And all three of these "synoptic" gospels have Jesus being delivered over to crucifixion around the 6th hour, or noon. The period of darkness lasts till around 3 pm, or the 9th hour. It would have gone against the Jewish law to leave the bodies on the cross/tree after sundown... so the 9th hour is in all likelihood 3 pm (6 am plus 9 hours). After sunset the Jews kept "watches," in fact three 4-hour watches. The Romans had four 3-hour watches... Either way it was considered there were 12 hours of night and 12 hours of day (John 11:9).

John's, gospel however seems to be operating on a different scale when it describes the crucifixion. But here, despite the oddness of the hour--noon after all would be an odd time to draw water (typically around dawn and dusk)--Jesus appears to have been traveling for several hours, and at midday sits down at the well of Sychar. 

(Also, journeys were usually initiated before the heat of the day, early in the morning. See Genesis 19:2, 19:27, 21:14, 22:3, 26:31 and Judges 19:9 for example.)

By the way, it is now 5:23 pm, or just after the 11th hour! Hope this helps...

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