In this article, we will deal with two matters pertaining to the crucifixion of Christ:

  • At what time of day was Jesus Christ crucified?
  • What was the wording of the inscription over Jesus’ head as He hung on the cross?

At What Time of Day Was Jesus Christ Crucified?

The Gospels of Mark and John differ as to the time when Jesus Christ was crucified.  Mark 15:25 says Christ was crucified about the third hour of the day, whereas John 19:14 indicates that the crucifixion took place sometime after the sixth hour, when Christ was being tried before Pilate.  How can these two accounts be reconciled?

On page 376 of their book entitled When Critics Ask, Norman Geisler, Ph.D., and Thomas Howe, M.A., state,

Both Gospel writers are correct in their assertions.  The difficulty is answered when we realize that each Gospel writer used a different time system.  John follows the Roman time system while Mark follows the Jewish time system.

According to Roman time, the day ran from midnight to midnight.  The Jewish 24 hour period began in the evening at 6 p.m. and the morning of that day began at 6 a.m.  Therefore, when Mark asserts that at the third hour Christ was crucified, this was about 9 a.m.  John stated that Christ’s trial was about the sixth hour.  This would place the trial before the crucifixion and this would not negate any testimony of the Gospel writers.

This indicates that, as we measure time today, the sixth hour on the basis of Roman time would be 6 a.m. and the third hour (of the daytime, not of the entire day) as measured in Jewish time would be 9 a.m.  Furthermore, the time recorded in John is in reference to Christ’s trial before Pilate, whereas the time noted in Mark is in reference to Christ’s crucifixion.

However, there is still a time gap of three hours, which seems to be an extraordinarily long time for the trial of Christ.  Part of the explanation for this apparent time gap is that the times mentioned in Mark 15:25 and John 19:14 may be approximate.  Also, the time gap apparently includes the aftermath of the trial, including the slow procession of Christ to Golgotha, where He was crucified.

Although most Bible commentaries express the same belief as that of Geisler and Howe, there is at least one other plausible explanation as to why the time of the crucifixion mentioned in Mark 15:25 differs from the time stated in John 19:14.

John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible, in addition to mentioning the distinction between Jewish time and Roman time as a possible explanation for the discrepancy between the time mentioned in Mark 15:25 and the time stated in John 19:14, provides the following additional possible explanation:

[T]he day was divided into four parts, each part containing three hours, and were called the third, the sixth, the ninth, and the twelfth hours; and not only that time, when one of these hours came, was called by that name, but also from that all the space of the three hours, till the next came, was called by the name of the former: for instance, all the space from nine o’clock till twelve was called “the third hour”; and all from twelve till three in the afternoon “the sixth hour”: hence the time of Christ’s crucifixion being supposed to be somewhat before, but yet near our twelve of the clock, it may be truly here said that it was about the sixth hour; and as truly by Mark the third hour; that space, which was called by the name of the third hour, being not yet passed, though it drew toward an end.

Thus, there are at least two plausible explanations to reconcile the difference in the times mentioned in Mark 15:25 and John 19:14 as to when Jesus Christ was crucified.

What Was the Wording of the Inscription Over Jesus’ Head as He Hung on the Cross?                                               

The four Gospel books differ as to the precise wording of the inscription over Jesus’ head as he hung on the cross.  Is it possible to reconcile these accounts? [Note: When quoting Scripture, we will use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible, except when we quote a non-biblical source that is using Scripture from a different version of the Bible.]

Matthew 27:37:  “This is Jesus the king of the Jews.”

Mark 15:26:  “The king of the Jews.”

Luke 23:38:  “This is the king of the Jews.”

John 19:19:  “Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.”

Gleason L. Archer, Ph.D., provides what seems to be a plausible explanation to reconcile these apparent discrepancies in the wording of the inscription.  On page 346 of his book entitled Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, he notes that John 19:20 says the inscription was written in Aramaic [Hebrew], Greek and Latin.  Therefore, at least some of the differences in the wording may result from the fact that the inscription was written in three languages.  He goes on to state,

Matthew 27:37 probably contained the Aramaic wording, since Matthew’s gospel . . . was originally composed in Aramaic.

Mark 15:26 seems to be an abridged form of the Latin wording – a reasonable supposition if indeed Mark assisted Peter in Rome and wrote down Peter’s oral teaching after Peter was martyred.  We cannot be sure how reliable this church tradition may be. . . .

As for John, his ministry seems to have been confined to a Greek-speaking population, wherever he served.  The last decades of his life were almost certainly spent in or around Ephesus.  We might therefore expect him to have inclined to the Greek form of the title.

[Note:  Archer’s explanation does not make specific reference to Luke.]

Geisler and Howe offer an interesting perspective that provides another plausible explanation.  On page 362 of their book they state,

[I]t is possible that each Gospel only gives part of the complete statement as follows:

Matthew:  “This is Jesus [of Nazareth] the king of the Jews.”

Mark:  “[This is Jesus of Nazareth] the king of the Jews.”

Luke:  “This is [Jesus of Nazareth] the king of the Jews.”

John:  “[This is] Jesus of Nazareth the king of the Jews.”

Therefore, the whole statement may have read “This is Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.” In this case, each Gospel is giving the essential part (“the king of the Jews”), but no Gospel is giving the whole inscription. Most importantly, it is not necessary to conclude that any of the Gospels contradicts what any of the other Gospels say. The accounts are divergent and mutually complementary, not contradictory.