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5. God’s Sufficiency for Human Inadequacy (2 Cor. 3:1-6)

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This message on 2 Corinthians 3:16 was preached at Arbor Oaks Bible Chapel in Dubuque, Iowa (September 30, 2007). This message deals with the only real source of provision for life and ministry for the believer. Depending on that source results in real fruit in our lives and in the lives of others. What source are we depending on to live life? What does the fruit of our life reflect about what we are actually depending upon?

Related Topics: Character of God, Discipleship, Spiritual Life

6. A More Glorious Ministry (2 Cor. 3:7-18)

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This message on 2 Corinthians 3:7-18 was preached at Arbor Oaks Bible Chapel in Dubuque, Iowa (November 6, 2011). This message deals with the superior nature of the new covenant and how we may see even more clearly now the glory of the Lord. Given that reality, how clearly are we seeing the glory of the Lord and letting it transform our lives?

Related Topics: Glory, Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry

7. The Light of the Gospel of the Glory of Christ (2 Cor. 4:1-6)

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This message on 2 Corinthians 4:1-6 was preached at Arbor Oaks Bible Chapel in Dubuque, Iowa (November 13, 2011). This message deals with what the realities of the glorious ministry of the gospel really looks like for believers: overcomes discouragement, proclaims the truth, shuns falsehood, operates selflessly, and promotes Christ. While it is not refused by many who are blinded, this ministry has the power to transform the entirety of our lives. How is the glorious ministry of the gospel working in us? Are we faithfully presenting it?

Related Topics: Christology, Discipleship, Glory, Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Soteriology (Salvation)

8. Treasure in Jars of Clay (2 Cor. 4:7)

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This message on 2 Corinthians 4:7 was preached at Arbor Oaks Bible Chapel in Dubuque, Iowa (November 20, 2011). What are you most thankful for? What do you value most? This message deals with most valuable treasure that believers have.

Related Topics: Basics for Christians, Discipleship, Glory, Soteriology (Salvation)

9. Down but Not Out (2 Cor. 4:8-12)

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This message on 2 Corinthians 4:8-12 was preached at Arbor Oaks Bible Chapel in Dubuque, Iowa (2012). This message deals with the overcoming power of the glorious gospel in the believer's ongoing life. Trials come upon weak "jars of clay," but in all situations God can be trusted. His grace is sufficient.

Related Topics: Glory, Grace, Spiritual Life, Suffering, Trials, Persecution

10. Perseverance through the Eternal Perspective (2. Cor. 4:13-18)

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This message on 2 Corinthians 4:13-18 was preached at Arbor Oaks Bible Chapel in Dubuque, Iowa (2012). This message deals with the question of what fueled Paul's courage and perseverance? Conviction that is rooted in Biblical truth, and maintaining the eternal perspective on our circumstances fueled Paul's courage and perseverance. Do we have that same conviction and eternal perspective?

Related Topics: Comfort, Discipleship, Spiritual Life, Suffering, Trials, Persecution

11. Confidence in the Face of Death (2 Cor. 5:1-10)

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This message on 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 was preached at Arbor Oaks Bible Chapel in Dubuque, Iowa (2012). This message deals with the fact that we are all going to die. Are we ready? Knowing how to die gives us courage and perspective for living here and now.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Discipleship, Soteriology (Salvation), Spiritual Life, Suffering, Trials, Persecution

12. The Motivation of Fear and Love (2 Cor. 5:11-15)

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This message on 2 Corinthians 5:11-15 was preached at Arbor Oaks Bible Chapel in Dubuque, Iowa (2012). This message deals with motivation. What should motivate us in our daily life and walk with God as believers?

The Time of Jesus’ Death and Inerrancy: Is Harmonization Plausible?

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The differences in the gospel record on the time of Jesus’ crucifixion have long been an enigma to Bible scholars. Mark 15:25 reads that Jesus was crucified at the third hour. Under a Jewish or common reckoning time system, which started the day at sunrise, Jesus was crucified at about nine in the morning. However, in the Gospel of John, John writes that Jesus was at his final trial before Pilate at “about (ὡς)” the sixth hour (John 19:14). If John was using the same time reckoning system as Mark, Jesus was not yet on the cross around noontime that day. On the face of it then the gospels appear to present a chronological contradiction of when Jesus was lifted up on the cross. Perhaps an alternate title to this paper would be: The Time of Jesus’ Death and Inerrancy: Was Someone’s Watch Broken? This issue has been one that has been used to argue that the Bible has real contradictions that are beyond reconciliation. In his book Jesus, Interrupted, Bart Ehrman referring to the day and time of Jesus’ death states: “It is impossible [italics supplied] that both Mark’s and John’s accounts are historically accurate, since they contradict each other on the question on when Jesus died.”2

Attempts at harmonization of the gospel accounts have included the following views: 1) a confusion of the numerals 3 and 6 in the manuscript transmission of John, 2) John’s use of a Roman time reckoning system of a civil day that started the day at midnight, 3) Mark’s reference to crucifixion as a general statement that included some event(s) that led up to the actual lifting of Jesus on the cross and, 4) the times being loose approximations that can be reconciled due to the fact that modern systems of time accuracy did not exist at the time in which the events occurred.

While a harmonization of these two accounts defies a definitive solution at least a few solutions are feasible such that the time of Jesus crucifixion is not a decisive proof text against inerrancy. While one cannot prove what an actual harmonized solution might be, neither can one prove an actual nonharmonistic view either. Indeed what Ehrman calls “impossible” is in fact possible within any standard evangelical definition of inerrancy including the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.3 And more than possible, this paper suggests that plausible harmonizations can be made consistent with about any inerrancy definition.

Methods of Ancient Time Reckoning and Framework of the Crucifixion Day

In the modern age people reckon time in hours, minutes, and seconds with clocks, watches, or phones. But time reckoning in the ancient world was reckoned with hours of sunlight based on sundials. If a sundial was not available rough times were based on eyeing the sun or one’s own shadow or even just the shadow from a stick in the ground.4 Sundials were introduced into Greece as early as the 6th century BC from the Babylonians according to Herodotus (Hdt 2.109). But it was not until the 3rd century BC that they were commonly used. For night-time hour calculations there were “water clocks.” Water clocks used a steady flow drip into a container and they were in use by Roman soldiers to mark watches on the night as early as the 5th century BC. 5 Hours of daylight were divided into twelve equal parts starting at sunrise. The result was that the first hour of the day (i.e., sunrise) would be different in absolute time depending on the location on the globe and time of year. Also, an “hour” was one twelfth of the total amount of daylight time. Since the length of daylight would change depending on location and time of year, an “hour” as one twelfth of the daylight could be anywhere in from the 40’s to the 80’s in terms of minutes.6

Assuming the day of the crucifixion Friday April 3, AD 337 the sunrise in Jerusalem would have been at 5:25 a.m. according to NOAA’s (National Oceanic Association and Administration) Solar Calculator.8 Solar noon would have been at 11:41 a.m. and sunset would have been at 5:59 p.m. One “hour” on the sundial would have been equal to 62 minutes on that day. The first break of light (astronomical dawn9) would have added as much as an hour to an hour and a half of some light before a 5.25 am sunrise. So, the first “hour” of that day on a sundial would have been 5:25-6:27 a.m.

Time references from the Gospels on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion are as follows.


Time Indicator

Passages that Support

Peter’s denials

Before the Rooster Crows

Matt 26:74-75; Mark 14:72; Luke 22:60-61; John 18:27

Jesus delivered to Pilate the first time

Early in the morning ( πρωῒ)10

Matt 27:1; Mark 15:1; John 18:28-29

Jesus with Pilate just before the final decision (2nd time)

About the sixth hour

John 19:14

Jesus Crucified

The third hour

Mark 15:25

Darkness falling over the earth

The (about (ὡσεὶ) = Luke) sixth hour to the ninth

Matt 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44

Jesus Dies

The (about (περὶ) = Matt) ninth hour

Matt 27:46-50; Mark 15:34-37

With the exception of the issue at hand (John 19:14 and Mark 15:25), what one notices is the consistency among the gospel writers as to the other chronology of events when a time indicator is given. There is agreement that Peter denied Jesus before the rooster crowed in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. There is agreement between Matthew, Mark and John that Jesus was initially delivered to Pilate very early in the morning.11 There is agreement between Matthew, Mark and Luke that darkness fell over the earth at or about the sixth hour until the ninth. And there is agreement between Matthew and Mark (Luke implicitly) that Jesus died at or about the ninth hour. These points help set the chronological background needed to start examining the various views of reconciliation between Mark and John.

Proposed Views of Harmonization

The proposed views of harmonization will be taken in the general order in which they developed over time.

View One: John 19:14 Had an Original Reading of the Third Hour which was Confused for the Sixth.

In the modern era, Sabastian Bartina and C.K. Barrett raise the possibility that John 19:14 had an original reading of the third hour and an early transcriptional error between the letters of gamma (Γ= 3) and digamma (F = 6) account for the time discrepancy in the accounts.12 There is a small amount of fairly late Greek external evidence in the manuscript tradition in which John reads τριτη (3rd). The evidence for τριτη as listed in Nestle Aland 28th edition is א
(2nd corrector; 7th), Ds, L (8th), Δ (9th), Ψ (9th-10th) and l 844 with everything else on the other side. For εκτη (6th) Metzger gives some of the support in his textual commentary: P66, א*, B, E, H, I, K, M, S, U, W, Y, Γ, Θ, Λ, Π, f1, f13 and most minuscules. Most if not all the early versions support εκτη (6th) which are are: Old Latin, vg, syrp, syrh, syrpal, copsa, copbo, arm, eth, geo, pers, and al. Metzger, while noting the possibility of an early transcriptional error based on support from the church fathers, argues in favor the reading of εκτη based on the “overwhelming” manuscript evidence and sees the reading of τριτη as an “obvious attempt to harmonize the chronology with that of Mark 15:25.”13 In support of the argument of harmonization as the reason for the variation, Metzger also notes that a very few manuscripts in Mark 15:25 read εκτη (Θ, 478, syrhmg, eth), which shows some tendency of Markan scribes to harmonize with John.14

While a view of reconciling Mark and John based on early transcriptional error does not have much Greek evidence for it or any evidence from the early versions, it is the testimony of the church fathers that stands out as something that at least needs further consideration and also a closer look at how an early transcriptional error could have occurred. In fact the earliest testimony in the church record for a reconciliation between Mark and John comes on the basis of a textual error in the manuscripts of John. Metzger and Bartina suggest that the view of a textual variant being a harmonization solution to the problem goes back to at least a second/third century church father named Ammonius15 from whom Eusebius and Jerome seem to have derived their views as well.16

It should be noted that the sometimes church fathers can be difficult to assess in that at places later editors many have modified the writings. This may be the case in the longer version of Ignatius, cited below.17

Ignatius. One section of Ignatius reads: “On the day of the preparation, then, at the third hour, He received the sentence from Pilate, the Father permitting that to happen; at the sixth hour He was crucified; at the ninth hour He gave up the ghost; and before sunset He was buried” (Ignatius, The Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians, 9 (longer version)).18

Ammonius. Ammonius writes, “‘Now it was the Preparation Day of the Passover, about the sixth hour: and he said to the Jews: Behold your king’. The Evangelist referred to the hour because the resurrection happened on the third day. The penman/copyist (καλλιγραφικός)19 instead of the Gamma element that marks the third, wrote episemon, which the Alexandrians call gabex, which signifies sixth, having much similarity [in form?]. And because of the writing error there came the discrepancy. For instead of third hour he wrote sixth”20 (Ammonii Alexandrini, Fragmenta in S. Joannem 19:14).21

Eusebius. Eusebius states, “Mark says Christ was crucified at the third hour. John says that it was at the sixth hour that Pilate took his seat on the tribunal and tried Jesus. This discrepancy is a clerical error or an earlier copyist. Gamma (Γ) signifying the third hour is very close to the episemon (ς) denoting the sixth. As Matthew, Mark and Luke agree that the darkness occurred from the sixth hour to the ninth, it is clear that Jesus, Lord and God, was crucified before the sixth hour., i.e., about the third hour, as Mark has recorded. John similarly signified that it was the third hour, but the copiest turned the gamma (Γ) into the episemon (ς) (Eusebius, Minor Supplements to Questions to Marinus, 4).22

Peter of Alexandria. Peter of Alexandria 23 indicates that the correct reading of “third” in John can be verified with the original extant manuscript, “‘For Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us,’ as has been before said, and as that chosen vessel, the apostle Paul, teaches. Now it was the preparation, about the third hour, as the accurate books have it, and the autograph copy itself of the Evangelist John, which up to this day has by divine grace been preserved in the most holy church of Ephesus, and is there adored by the faithful” (Peter of Alexander, Fragments from the Writings of Peter 5.7).24

Later fathers that follow the view of Ammonius include Jerome,25 Severus of Antioch (465-538 AD), and Theophlact (Byzantine exegete c. 1050/60).26

In order to understand the nature of a potential early transcriptional error one must consider the nature and shape of the digamma (also referred to as episimon or gabex) as compared to that of a gamma. During the Koine Greek era (and even before that in Attic Greek27) the digamma fell out of regular use in the Greek alphabet with the exception that it was retained for the number 6. It took the form of several shapes and therefore it could be subject to greater confusion than the more well-known Greek letters. Common early shapes prior to the Byzantine era in the classical period were an F shape as well as a square C (Greek Digamma angular.svg). It is not hard to see how either of these shapes could be confused with a gamma (Γ) as its only one small stoke of a portion of a letter. The third century papyrus P115 contains an early digamma as a rounded C seen in the image below28. It is the final letter of the number of the beast here written as 616 (Rev 13:18).

Red arrow points to χιϛ (616), "number of the beast" in P115

Bartina cites an even earlier papyri (nonbiblical) dated to AD 42 (Papyrus Berolinensis 8279) shown below that contains both the gamma and digamma used as numbers.29

Bartina compares the letters, which he transcribed below. The first is the gamma, the second is the digamma, the only difference being the little hook at the bottom of the digamma. What is perhaps also significant about this example is the numbers in the papyri are written superscripted over other letters they are going with. This would raise the possibility that the lower part of the number could accidently connect with the upper part of another letter. One could see how this might make gamma and digamma hard to distinguish as well, since the difference between the two is a small stroke on the bottom of the digamma.

Bartina concludes that in all probability the original reading of John was “third”. He writes, “Propter omnes quae praecedunt rationed, ex contextu Evangeliorum ex critica textuali atque ex sufficientibus antiuitatis testimoniis petitas, clarum apparet, multo probabilius Io 19, 14 originaliter habuisse horam tertiam, non sextam.”30 Based on this evidence from the church fathers and the closeness of letters between gamma and digamma the theory of a textual variant (perhaps a hard to read original manuscript) as being the solution to a reconciliation with Mark is plausible.31 But based on the Greek manuscript and early evidence from the versions, it would have had to happen very close in time to the original writing.32

View Two: John is Using a Roman Civil Reckoning that Started the Day at Midnight John 19:14.

Going back to at least the 1700s, another view of reconciliation began to develop that John was using a different time reckoning system than the other gospel writers based on a day and hour reckoning that started at midnight.33 This view was picked up and brought into prominence by no less a New Testament scholar than B. F. Westcott and was carried forward by A.T. Robertson and Ben Witherington III, as well as the Holman Christian Standard Bible.34 The primary lines of argument for this view are: 1) there is good evidence that the Roman “civil” day was reckoned from midnight to midnight similar to our modern system; 2) internal evidence from John’s use of hours in the gospel fit better with a Roman civil reckoning of time than a sunrise reckoning; and 3) there is some nonbiblical evidence from Asia Minor that may suggest a Roman midnight time reckoning there.

The Roman Civil Day. There is ample evidence in the historical record that the Romans reckoned a civil day from midnight to midnight. This point is generally agreed upon. One testimony to this comes from Pliny the Elder: “The actual period of the day has been differently kept by different people: the Babylonians count the period between two sunrises, the Athenians that between the two sunsets; the Umbrians from midday to midday; the common people everywhere from dawn to dark; the Roman priests and the authorities who affixed the official day, and also the Egyptians and Hipparchus, from midnight to midnight.”35 Another writer, Plutarch (c. AD 46 – 120), asks the question, “why do they [the Romans] reckon the beginning of the day from midnight?”36

Another Roman writer Macrobius, citing an earlier source Marcus Varro (116 – 27 BC; his work, now lost, was entitled, Human Antiquites), writes, “People born in the twenty-four hours that run from one midnight to the next are said to be born on a single day.”37 Later, also Macrobius states, “The civil day as (the Romans called it) begins at the sixth hour of the night.”38 Lastly, Macrobius has commented on how Roman magistrates might see the day. He writes citing Varro: “But there are many proofs to show that the Roman people counted from one midnight to the next, just as Varro said: the Romans' sacred rites are partly diurnal and partly nocturnal, and those that are diurnal . . . , while the time from midnight on is devoted to the nocturnal rights on the following day. The customary ritual for taking auspices39also shows that the reckoning is the same: since magistrates must both take the auspices and perform the action to which the auspices were a prelude all on a single day, they take the auspices after midnight and perform the action after sunrise, and thereby are said to have taken the auspices and to have acted on the same day.”40

The Time of Martyrdoms in Asia Minor. Westcott and others also cite the time of the martyrdoms of Polycarp and Plotinus to support the view of a midnight reckoning of hours in the Roman Province of Asia Minor, the same province to which John was likely writing. Such martyrdoms, it is argued, normally took place in the morning.41 Polycarp is said to have been martyred at Smyrna at the eighth hour (Mart. Poly. 21) while a later Christian Pionius was killed at the tenth hour also at Smyrna.42

Other References to Time in John and the Synoptics. From the biblical text there may be some indication to support the day starting at midnight in the Roman conception. Matthew records “As he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent a message to him: “Have nothing to do with that innocent man; I have suffered greatly as a result of a dream about him today [italics supplied]” (Matt 27:19). Pilate’s wife, presumably Roman, refers to a night dream she had as being that day, the day of Pilate’s meeting with Jesus. Westcott contrasts this statement with a “Jewish” conception of a day based on Jesus’ statement, “Are there not twelve hours in a day?”
(John 11:9).43 Robertson adds the following passage to show that there is indeed a contrast with the Synoptics on how John views the “day” on the night of the resurrection. In Luke on the road to Emmaus, two disciples urge Jesus, “Stay with us, because it is getting toward evening and the day is almost done” (Luke 24:29 cf. v. 36). After dinner, Jesus travels about 7 miles to Jerusalem where he meets the eleven disciples. In John the same day referenced in Luke extends into the evening. John writes, “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the disciples had gathered together and locked the doors of the place because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19). Robertson considers this argument as “conclusive” that John is using a Roman conception of the day.44

John makes reference to hours of time in three places in addition to John 19:14
(John 1:39; 4:6, 52). These some have argued better support a view of time reckoning that starts the day at midnight. 45 In John 1:39, two disciples come and meet Jesus after which they stayed with him “that day (τὴν ἡμέραν ἐκείνην).” John adds it was the 10th hour when they met him. Under a normal Jewish reckoning this would be 4 in the afternoon an unusual time to begin a days stay. Under a midnight reckoning the time would be 10 in the morning.

In John 4:6, Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus had left Judea and wearied from his journey he came to the well. John said this was about the 6th hour. While one could imagine being weary at about noon or at six p.m.,46 the distance from Jerusalem to Sychar is well over 30 miles. Walking at a normal pace of about 3 miles per hour and assuming no overnight stops, it would have been difficult to get there by noon. Also, it is argued that a more natural time for drawing water and the assignment of the disciples to go for purchase of food would be toward evening than at noon. 47

Lastly, there is the noblemen from Capernaum who comes to Cana to meet Jesus and requests that Jesus heal his son, which Jesus does at the “seventh hour.” Jesus does not go to Capernaum but speaks a word of healing from Cana. The nobleman does not make the return journey about 20 miles until the next day. It could be reasoned that if the time was only one in the afternoon he would have returned that day to see his son, but a Roman reckoning from noon would have made it seven in the evening, too late to return that night.48

While these arguments may be initially impressive, there have been serious counterarguments that make a midnight time reckoning less than definitive and many have rejected it for ultimately a lack of convincing evidence. The main arguments against John using a reckoning of time from midnight can be summarized into four areas.

First, though it is acknowledged that a Roman civil day reckoning from midnight was the way Romans viewed whole civil days, there is no direct evidence that day-hour reckoning was done other than by daylight hours as seen in the literature and sundials. W. M. Ramsay colorfully writes, “This [Roman] supposed second method of reckoning the hours is a mere fiction, constructed as a refuge of despairing harmonisers, not a jot of evidence for it has ever been given that will bear scrutiny.”49 Ramsey also points out a reading in Codex Bezae (Acts 19:9) in which Paul taught at the school of Tyrannus at Ephesus from the fifth to the tenth hour. He feels it would have been better suited for post vocational work time which ceased one hour before noon.50 It is also worthy of note that though the early church fathers such as Eusebius were aware of the apparent conflict of times in John and Mark and living in the Roman era, none of them wrote about a “Roman” reckoning as the solution.51 In addition to the Synoptic gospel writers, Josephus and Philo appear to use a normal daylight reckoning of hours.52 Also, as the earlier quote from Pliny indicated the “common people everywhere” reckoned the day from dawn to sunset. It could be asked, wasn’t John writing to the common man?

The other piece of evidence to consider is from the sundials. Morris calls attention to Roman sundials that mark noon with the number 6 as opposed to 12.53 While Morris’ point is valid it must be qualified at least in two ways. First, based on Gibbs’ catalogue of existing sundials from the Greco Roman world from the 3rd century BC to the 4th century AD, most of these do not have the number markings rather just lines representing the twelve hours of daylight. Also, for ones that have markings, at least in one case of a Ptolemaic era sundial, Gibbs notes that the numbers probably have been added later in the Byzantine era.54

C:\Users\James\Desktop\James Files 2011\Time of Jesus' Death\Ephesus Sundial.jpg

The sundial above was discovered in the 1800s at Aphrodisias, Turkey, in the ancient Roman Province of Asia Minor. It is dedicated to Roman Emperor Caracalla (Marcus Aurelius Severus Antonius (reign from 161-180 AD) and his mother Julia.55 One should notice the Greek digamma mark (= 6) in the middle of the dial.

Second, the evidence of the time of martyrdom of Polycarp is at least debatable and a case can be made that he was martyred in the afternoon after the games were over. Ramsay attempts to make the point that closer reading of when Polycarp was martyred indicates the games were over and this would have been unlikely if the eighth hour were eight in the morning. But looking at this again the text only says that after the crowd asked that Polycarp be fed to a lion that the wild animal parts of the show were over not that all games and festivities were over.56 The fact that the whole crowd and the magistrate were all in the stadium suggests that some festivities were still taking place. Another possibility, as Ramsay noted was his first interpretation of the passage, was to understand that the wild animal exhibitions had taken place on a previous day.57 So though this piece of data is still a possibility for supporting a midnight reckoning of time, its ambiguity undermines the midnight time reckoning view.

Third, though the reference to time in hours in John may favor a Roman civil reckoning of time, the data is not conclusive because it must be framed in probabilities and not absolutes. 58 And fourth, some have also pointed out that a final verdict by Pilate at about 6:00 a.m. would not have allowed enough time for all the events that precede the verdict.59 These events include Pilate sending Jesus to Herod Antipas (Luke 23:6-12) and the flogging of Jesus
(John 19:1) before he was brought out for Pilate’s final verdict. But this final argument does not hold up that well. Jesus is brought to Pilate before sunrise in the range of 3-6 if πρωῒ is considered the fourth watch of the night, or if it starts with dawn, perhaps at hour to an hour and a half between the break of dawn and sunrise. Jesus did not respond to Antipas therefore he probably did not stay with him that long. Indeed a noon reckoning for John may allow too much time (over six hours) between Jesus’ first and second appearance before Pilate.60

View Three: Mark’s Reference to Crucifixion is a General Statement that Included Some Event(s) that Led Up to the Lifting of Jesus on the Cross

Augustine may have been one of the first to articulate and record that a closer look at Mark may be the solution to this issue. He considered that Mark was indicating that the cry to crucify Jesus by the Jewish nation is what took place at the third hour and thus they were the ones truly responsible for Jesus’s death. He writes, “Then Pilate in his judgment seat judged and condemned him, about the sixth hour, they took the Lord Jesus Christ and led him out. ‘And carrying a cross for himself, he went out to that place which is called Calvary, in Hebrew Golgotha, where they crucified him.” What is it, therefore, that the Evangelist Mark says, ‘Now it was the third hour and they crucified him,” except at the third hour the Lord was crucified by the tongues of the Jews, at the sixth hour by the hands of the soldiers?”61

In a similar vein, Mahoney interprets the time reference in Mark not when Jesus was lifted on the cross but at an earlier event of the dividing of Jesus’ garments.62 To support this, he repunctuates the reference to the third hour to go with the preceding phrase as opposed to the following. His translation is the following: “And they crucify him, and divide his garments, casting lots upon them, what each should take (but [καὶ] it was the third hour). And they crucified him and the inscription . . ..”63 Miller suggests the possibility that the aorist tense for “crucify” (ἐσταύρωσαν) might be ingressive stressing the beginning of the action (they began to crucify him).64

While these views are worthy of consideration, a few significant objections can be raised. In regard to Augustine, it would require to take the term crucifixion metaphorically in
Mark 15:25, but literally in the same passage in Mark 15:24. In addition, the referent to “they” would have to shift from the Romans in verse 24 to the Jews in verse 25, without much indication that a shift has been made (Then they [Romans] crucified him and divided his clothes, throwing dice for them, to decide what each would take. 25 It was nine o’clock in the morning when [and] they [Jews] crucified him. Mark 15:24-25). Mahoney makes a good point that many translations bias the interpretation by translating the καὶ as “when.” But the case of Mahoney would be better supported if the only reference to crucifixion followed the reference to the third hour. In this case a statement of crucifixion occurs both before and after the reference to the third hour. One must also ask the question of why give a parenthetical time comment for less important event of the dividing of the garments as opposed to the lifting of Jesus on the cross. While these views are possible, it is hard to make the case they are probable and they have not gained any measure of general acceptance.

View Four: Time Approximation Allows for Adequate Harmonization of Mark and John

What appears to be the currently prevalent view in the evangelical literature of those arguing for harmonization is that time approximation can account for a reconciliation of the two passages. Modern standards can speak of time in terms of minutes and seconds. Sundials presented times in terms of hours, while eyeing the sun or shadow length perhaps one could say early morning, midmorning, midday etc. Köstenberger writes, “since people related the estimated time to the closest three-hour mark, anytime between 9:00 a.m. and noon may have led one person to say that an event occurred at the third (9:00 a.m.) or the sixth hour (12:00 noon).”65 Similarly, Morris writes, “People in antiquity did not have clocks or watches, and the reckoning of time was always very approximate. The ‘third hour’ may denote nothing more form than a time about the middle of the morning, while ‘about the sixth hour’ can well signify getting on towards noon. Late morning would suit both expressions unless there were some reason for thinking that either was being given with more than usual accuracy. No such reason exists here.”66 Stein commenting on Mark concludes, “If we recognize the general preference of the third or sixth hour to designate a period between 9:00 a.m. and noon and the lack of precision in telling time in the first century, the two different time designations do not present an insurmountable problem.”67

While everyone agrees that ancient methods of time reference do not carry modern precision and that time approximation is taking place, the question remains how much approximation is being used by the gospel writers, and are approximations loose enough to account for a reconciliation of the two passages. For example, John refers to actual events with the seventh hour and the tenth hour (John 1:39). He is not using three hour increments but perhaps rather one hour increments. Matthew refers to the eleventh hour in a parable (Matt 20:9). One hour increments would be consistent with normal ancient sundial measurements. If both Mark and John used time tolerations of plus or minus an hour, time approximation would not produce a reconciliation. In Mark, Jesus would be on the cross as late as about 10:00 a.m., while in John Jesus would be before Pilate about 11:00am. But one has to ask the question, especially about Mark, if his time is coming from a sundial or is it a more general approximation based on eyeing the sun or a shadow. If this is the case, perhaps a two hour time tolerance is reasonable which could place the crucifixion as late as about 11:00 a.m.68 Greater allowance for time approximation for Mark seems warranted when his references are compared with Matthew and Luke. For example Mark says “when the sixth hour had come (γενομένης ὥρας ἕκτης), darkness fell over the whole land” (Mark 15:33). But in Luke the darkness is said to come about the sixth hour (ὡσεὶ ὥρα ἕκτη) (Luke 23:44). Similarly, Mark says that Jesus was at his last moments of death, crying out why God had forsaken him, at the ninth hour (τῇ ἐνάτῃ ὥρᾳ; Mark 15:34). Matthew though says the last moment of Jesus took place around/about the ninth hour (περὶ δὲ τὴν ἐνάτην ὥραν (Matt 27:46). It is significant that both Matthew and Luke interpret these times as approximate while Mark does not give an explicit time approximation qualifier. For the sake of argument, if Jesus was before Pilate at 10:30 and crucified shortly thereafter, perhaps one writer could say it was midmorning and another about midday with a reasonable time approximation. The time approximation view of reconciliation is feasible but also it is strained.69 Also, it would have to be time approximation for at least one of the gospel writers without a sundial level of accuracy.

The Time of Jesus’s Death and Inerrancy

The time of Jesus’ death has truly been a puzzle for anyone who has looked at this issue. All of the views for reconciliation have good arguments against them, but good arguments are not the same as decisive arguments. At least three resolutions (confusion of letters of gamma and digamma, Roman civil reckoning of John, and time approximation) in this writer’s view are plausible. In considering how the time of Jesus’s death relates to the doctrine of inerrancy, the evangelical can look to a standard definition of inerrancy as articulated by the Chicago statement in particular articles 10, 13 and 14. These read:

Article X We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original. We deny that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders the assertion of Biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant.

Article XIII We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture. We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.

Article XIV We affirm the unity and internal consistency of Scripture. We deny that alleged errors and discrepancies that have not yet been resolved vitiate the truth claims of the Bible.70


In summary, inerrancy applies to the original autographs of the Bible, does not require “modern technical precision,” and is not negated by differences in parallel passages that have not been resolved. So, while the time of Jesus’ death as a case study does not prove the doctrine of inerrancy neither does it disprove it either. One area that could use further research would be to look at ancient Roman court records for hour reckonings to see if they indeed reflect a Roman civil day or if they refer to daylight hours.

Regardless of one’s view to a potential solution, exegetes and Bible translators need to be cautious that they do not communicate to English readers times and other measurements that express a greater level of precision than is really there. In regard to times, this is certainly the case. For example if someone sees 9:00 a.m. in a commentary or Bible translation they probably assume it does not mean 8:50 or 9:15. Even when the first hour started and how long an hour lasted in the ancient world lasted was dependent on location and time of year; this convention has great variance with the way modern time is communicated and most Christians are completely unaware of this point. Another point of encouragement would be for Bible translations to put the textual variant of “three” in John 19:14, something to the effect that a few manuscripts have it. This seems warranted due to the possibility of a transcriptional error and testimony of the church fathers. All would agree that the gospel writers place much more emphasis of what Jesus did rather when he did it. The few time indicators that we have though fit their purpose in communicating those critical events the day Jesus died. And for their accounts of this day in history we are eternally grateful.

1 This paper was presented on November 21 at the 2013 annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Baltimore, Maryland.

2 Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus Interrupted – Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Dont Know About Them) (Harper One, New York, 2009), 29.

3 Formalized in 1978 by numerous and prominent evangelical Christian leaders at a conference sponsored by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy is perhaps the most thorough explanation on the meaning of inerrancy that has been able to muster a broad consensus in the evangelical scholarly community. The original copy of the manuscript is contained in the archives at the Dallas Theological Seminary Library.

4 The reference to the use of one’s shadow or even a stick in the ground as a common technique was given to me by Frank King, President of the British Sundial Society in a personal email dated October 15, 2013.

5 Simon Hornblower and Anthony Spawforth, eds., The Oxford Classical Dictionary (3rd ed.; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 350.

6 Gibbs writes, “Greek and Roman sundials always marked the 12 seasonal hours of daylight from between sunrise and sunset. But while the seasonal hours were of equal length during a given day, their length varied during the year, being shortest at the winter solstice and longest at the summer solstice.” Sharon Gibbs, Greek and Roman Sundials (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1976), 4. Gibbs also notes that over 30 sundials have been excavated at Pompeii in various public places and homes indicating how common they were in a city of that size in the first century. Ibid., 5.

7 See Harold Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Academie Books, Grand Rapids: 1977), 114. The two major views on the year of the crucifixion are 30 and 33 AD. But the time of the sunrise is more dependent on the day of the year and location than the year itself.

8 (Date accessed September 28, 2013).

9 Astronomical dawn is defined at the point in time when total darkness is first broken, the sun being 24 degrees under the horizon. Nautical dawn would be the sun 18 degrees under the horizon and civil dawn would be the sun 12 degrees under the horizon. At the equator, length of times for these various stages would be the shortest on the earth at 24 minutes each. (Accessed October 18, 2013). In Jerusalem which is north of the equator these time spans of dawn would be slightly longer.

10 BDAG defines as the noun Πρωΐα “early part of the daylight period, (early) morning”, and the adverb πρωῒ as “the early part of the daylight period, early, early in the morning,” BDAG, 892. Louw and Nida define πρωῒ as “the early part of the daylight period - `early morning.’” Πρωῒ appears to be the term used before sunrise daylight hours (first hour etc) are used and can refer to the timeframe when it is still dark. See Mark 1:35 Καὶ πρωῒ ἔννυχα λίαν ἀναστὰς ἐξῆλθεν καὶ ἀπῆλθεν εἰς ἔρημον τόπον κἀκεῖ προσηύχετο.

11 The phases of Jesus’ trial can be tabulated as follows: 1) An initial inquiry before the former High Priest Annas (John 18:13) 2) An evening examination with Caiaphas presiding.
(Mark 14:55-64; Matt 26:59-66); 3) A morning confirmation before the entire Sanhedrin
( Mark 15:1a Matt 27:1; Luke 22:66-71); 4) An initial meeting with Pilate (Mark 15:1b-5; Matt 27:2, 11-14; Luke 23:1-5; John 18:29-38); 5) A meeting with Herod Antipas (Luke 23:6-12); 6) A more public trial before Pilate; Luke: 23:13-16; Matt 27:15-23; Mark 15: 6-14; Luke 23:17-23; John 18:39-40). Darrell Bock, Luke (BECNT; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 2:1793.

12 Sebastian Bartina, S.J., “Ignotum Episemon Gabex,” Verbum Domini 36 (1958), 16-37. C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John – An Introduction with Commentary and Notes on the Greek Text (2nd ed; Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1978), 545.

13 Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2nd ed; Stuggart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994), 216.

14 Metzger does not give the reading selected a rating of certainty (A, B, D, or D). Ibid., 99.

15 Perhaps Ammonius Saccus (AD 175-242) the supposed founder of Neoplatonism or perhaps another Ammonius that predated Eusebius. Eusebius credits a man from Alexandria named Ammonius with being the forerunner of his Eusebian canons which was a systematic effort of a numbering system that would show parallel passages in the gospels. See F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingston, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997) 52-53, 573-574. See also Nestle-Aland, Novum Testamentum Graece (28th ed.; Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft: 2012), 89-90.

16 Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 216. Sebastian Bartina, S.J., “Ignotum Episemon Gabex,” Verbum Domini 36 (1958), 30.

17 Joel C. Elowsky, ed., Ancient Commentary on Scripture John 11-21 (Vol IVb; Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2007), 304.

18 Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers (10 vols; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), 1:70. Joel C. Elowsky, ed., Ancient Commentary on Scripture John 11-21 (Vol IVb; Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2007), 304. Holmes dates the letters of Ignatius sometime around 110 AD. Michael Holmes, ed., The Apostolic Fathers (2nd ed; Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1989), 82

19 Liddell and Scott indicate that this word can refer to a penman or copiest. They note another passage where a copyist error is referred to (Steph. In Hp.2.407). LSJ, “καλλιγραφικός,” 867.

20 Authors own translation using the Greek and the Latin.

21 The Latin translation reads: “Erat autem parasceve Paschae, hora quasi sexta, et dicit Judaeis: Ecce rex vester. Horam evangelista denotavit propter resurrectionem tertio die factam. Insignis autem scriba pro Gamma elemento, quod tertiam signat, aliud signum posuit, quod Gabex Alexandrini vocant, et sextum denotat, magnamque inter se habent similitudinem: et ex errore scriptionis ista irrepsit diversitas lectionis. Nam pro tertia hora sextam scriptsit.” J. P. Migne, Patrologia Graeca, LXXV, col. 1512.

22 Quote taken from Joel C. Elowsky, ed., Ancient Commentary on Scripture John 11-21 (Vol IVb; Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2007), 304. See also P.G. Migne Patrologia Graeca, XXII, col. 1009.

23 Peter of Alexandria’s death is dated about 311 AD. He was bishop of Alexandria starting in about 300 AD. Cross and Livingston, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 1263-64.

24 ANF, 6:282.

25 P.G. Migne, Patrologia Latina, XXVII, col. 1108c.

26 Joel C. Elowsky, ed., Ancient Commentary on Scripture John 11-21, 304. Cross and Livingston, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 1491, 1607.

27 Herbert Weir Smyth, Greek Grammar (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1920), 125.

28 Image taken from (Date accessed November 1, 2013).

29 Bartina, S.J., “Ignotum Episemon Gabex,” 37.

30 A rough translation is as follows: “Due to of all that has been reasoned before, from the context of the Gospels, from textual criticism and from sufficient ancient testimony, it appears clear, it is more probable that Jn 19, 14 originally had the third hour not the sixth.” Ibid.

31 Even some like Hodges and Farstad who hold almost exclusively to the majority of manuscripts note, “Occasionally a transcriptional consideration outweighs even a preponderance of contradictory testimony. . .” Zane C. Hodges and Arthur L. Farstad, The Greek New Testament according to the Majority Text (2nd ed.; Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers: 1985), xxii.

32 McClellan notes that early textual critics Theodore Bezae and J.A. Bengel adopted this view. John Brown McClellan, The New Testament of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (London: Macmillan, 1875), 738.

33 Ibid., 740.

34 B. F. Westcott, The Gospel according to Saint John (London: John Murray, 1908. Reprint; Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980), 324-26. A. T. Robertson, A Harmony of the Gospels for Students of the Life of Christ (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1950), 286-87. Ben Witherington, III, Johns Wisdom – A Commentary on the Fourth Gospel (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), 294. The Holman Christian Standard Bible reads: “It was the preparation day for the Passover, and it was about six in the morning. Then he told the Jews, ‘Here is your king!’” (John 19:14 HCSB).

35 Pliny, Natural History 2.77 (188). Loeb Classical Library, 319. Pliny later states in the same section: “A. Gellius, iii. 3, informs us, that the question concerning the commencement of the day was one of the topics discussed by Varro, in his book “Rerum Humanarum:” this work is lost. We learn from the notes of Hardouin, Lemaire, i. 399, that there are certain countries in which all these various modes of computation are still practised; the last-mentioned is the one commonly employed in Europe.”

36 Plutarch, Questions, 84.

37 Macrobius, Saturnalia, 1.3.2. Loeb Classical Library, 23.

38 Ibid., 1.3.10.

39 i.e., asking advice or guidance from the gods.

40 The text goes on to say that a slave, if he has left after midnight and returned before the next midnight, is only considered to be absent one day. Ibid., 1.3.8. Witherington who sees a Roman time reckoning as “likely” makes the point that Romans “were known for dealing with such matters the first thing in the morning, and Pilate is likely to have followed the same practice.” Ben Witherington, III, Johns Wisdom – A Commentary on the Fourth Gospel, 294. In a footnote he writes, speaking of Pilate’s decision and the time of it, “What may be significant is that this particular form of Roman recognition was used in official documents and for legal purposes. We have seen the interest of the evangelist throughout in presenting the story of ‘Jesus on trial’ and there is a certain fitness to have it close with a sort of time marker used in Roman legal proceedings.” Ibid., 400.

41 Philo is sometimes cited as evidence for this view. the spectacle of their sufferings was divided; for the first part of the exhibition lasted from the morning (πρῶτος) to the third or fourth hour, in which the Jews were scourged, were hung up, were tortured on the wheel, were condemned, and were dragged to execution through the middle of the orchestra; and after this beautiful exhibition came the dancers, and the buffoons, and the flute-players, and all the other diversions of the theatrical contests” (Philo, Flaccum, 1:85). Translation taken from Bibleworks 9.0.

42 McClellan, The New Testament of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, 742.

43 B. F. Westcott, The Gospel according to Saint John, 324-25.

44 A. T. Robertson, A Harmony of the Gospels for Students of the Life of Christ, 286-87.

45 See Norman Walker, “Reckoning of Hours in the Fourth Gospel,” Novum Testamentum 4 (1960), 69-73.

46 Köstenberger cites a case in Josephus (Ant. 2.11.1) were some one was wearied at about midday. Andreas Köstenberger John (The Baker Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2004), 147.

47 Norman L. Geisler and Thomas Howe, The Big Book of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992), 376.

48 Walker, “The Reckoning of Hours in the Fourth Gospel,” 69-70.

49 W. M. Ramsay, “About the Sixth Hour,” The Expositor 4.7 (1893), 220.

50 Ibid., 223. Tischendorf records this variant. See Constantinus Tischendorf, Novum Testamentum Graece (8th ed.; Lipsiae: Giesecke & Devrient, 1872), 2. 166.

51 J. A. Cross, “The Hours of the Day in the Fourth Gospel,” Classical Review 5.6 (June 1891), 245. Johnny V. Miller, “The Time of the Crucifixion,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 26.2 (1983), 165.

52 One clear passage from Josephus is from Life where a lunch (ἀριστοποιέω) is said the be at the sixth hour (Life, 279). One place in Philo is the reference to Jewish persecutions in the third or fourth hour which are probably to be reckoned from the first hour of the morning. See Philo, Flaccum, 1:85.

53 Leon Morris, The Gospel according to John (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), 158.

54 Gibbs, Greek and Roman Sundials, 304.

55 Ibid., 169.

56 This proclamation having been made by the herald, the whole multitude both of the heathen and Jews, who dwelt at Smyrna, cried out with uncontrollable fury, and in a loud voice, “This is the teacher of Asia, the father of the Christians, and the overthrower of our gods, he who has been teaching many not to sacrifice, or to worship the gods.” Speaking thus, they cried out, and besought Philip the Asiarch to let loose a lion upon Polycarp. But Philip answered that it was not lawful for him to do so, seeing the shows of wild beasts (τὰ κυνηγέσια) were already finished (Martyrdom of Polycarp, 12:2). Also, Philo notes that in the shows which started with the persecution of Jews the first portion of is lasted from the first (πρῶτος) to the third or fourth hour (Philo, Flaccum, 1:85). Translation taken from Bibleworks 9.0.

57 Ramsey, “About the Sixth Hour,” 221, footnote 2.

58 A. Plummer, The Gospel According to St. John (Cambridge: University Press, 1906), 342.

59 See Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John – A Commentary (2 vols.; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 2:1130.

60 Finegan in his Handbook of Biblical Chronology adopts the Roman civil reckoning view in its first edition. Jack Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1964), Sec. 453. But Finegan in the second edition changes to the view that Mark and John are irreconcilable with Mark being an “interpolation.” Jack Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology (Revised ed; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998), Sec. 614.

61 Augustine, Tractates on the Gospel of John 117.1. Translation taken from John W. Rettig trans. The Fathers of the Church – Tractates on the Gospel of John 112-24-Tractates on the First Epistle of John (Washington D.C. The Catholic University of America Press, 1995), 33.

62 Aidan Mahoney, “A New Look at the Third Hour of Mk 15,25,” CBQ 28 (1966), 292-299.

63 Ibid., 294.

64 Miller though opts for time approximation and being the best solution to this issue. John Miller, “The Time of the Crucifixion,” JETS 26.2 (June 1983), 165. Miller also notes that there is a textual variant in which D, it, samss read εφυλασσον (they guarded) which supports the time reference being something other than the actual lifting of Jesus on the cross.

65 Andreas Köstenberger, John, 538.

66 Leon Morris, The Gospel according to John, 801.

67 Mark Stein, Mark (BECNT; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 713.

68 Mark’s only time references in regard to the “hour” are on the day of the crucifixion. Mark 15:25 (Jesus crucified; third hour), Mark 15:33 (darkness fell; sixth hour) and Mark 15:34 (Jesus died; ninth hour).

69 One that for those used to looking at the sun for time indicators solar noon would be one of the easier times to identify.

70 (Date accessed November 8, 2013).

Related Topics: Apologetics, Bibliology (The Written Word), Christology, Crucifixion, Cultural Issues

Lesson 9: The Study of the Church

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The true Church can never fail. For it is based upon a rock. ― T.S. Eliot


What are reasons that people do not go to church? One Christian website lists 10 reasons.1 Perhaps you have heard some of them:

  1. Christians are judgmental and negative.
  2. Church is boring.
  3. The church is exclusive.
  4. Christians are homophobic.
  5. 'I don't like organized religion.'
  6. Churches are full of hypocrites
  7. The church just wants your money.
  8. Life is better without religion.
  9. Christians live on another planet.
  10. I don’t have time.

In spite of these types of objections, Jesus stated, “I will build my Church and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matt 16:18). The study of the church in theological terminology is called ecclesiology. What is the church? When did it start? What is its purpose? How should it operate and be organized? How does the church relate to Israel? How important is it to go to church? These are some critical questions that this lesson is designed to cover.

What is the Church?

The word translated church in the New Testament is from the Greek word ekklesia which means an assembly or congregation. It does not refer to a building rather it refers instead to people. In the New Testament, it generally refers to believers Jew or Gentile who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ and have received the Holy Spirit following Pentecost in Acts 2. It may refer to a local assembly such as the church at Thessalonica (1 Thess 1:1) or the universal church of all believers in Jesus Christ in this age everywhere.

Metaphors for the Church

Metaphors are expressions of figurative language that are used to communicate truth through analogies. There are several metaphors that are used in reference to the church, which helps to define what the church is and how it functions. The first is that the church is the body of Christ. There are two good passages that teach this both of them written by the Apostle Paul: 1) “He [Christ] is the head of the body, the church,” (Col 1:18) and 2) “The husband is the head of the wife as also Christ is the head of the church – he himself being the savior of the body” (Eph 5:21-22). As a physical head directs the physical body so also Christ directs the church. The body of Christ image also communicates our connection to Christ and to each member of the church. We are members of the same body and joined together. When Paul was persecuting Christians and on the road to Damascus Jesus appeared to him. Jesus didn’t ask Paul why are you persecuting Christians or the church? Rather he asks Paul, “Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). Christ is so connected and identified with the church that a persecution against the church is directly equated to a persecution against him.

A second metaphor of the church is the description of the church as the bride of Christ. John writes in Revelation: “Let us rejoice and exult and give him glory, because the wedding celebration of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. She was permitted to be dressed in bright, clean, fine linen” (for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints)” (Rev 19:7-9). The imagery of a bride communicates both intimate relationship and purity.

A third metaphor is that the church is a temple. “So then you are . . . members of God’s household, because you have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Eph 2:19-22). In the Old Testament, the Temple was the place where God dwelt among the people of Israel (Exod 40:34-35).2 The church as a temple then would communicate that holy God indwells it and even individual members of it (1 Cor 3:16).3

Fourthly, the church is also referred to as a royal priesthood. Peter writes, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. You once were not a people, but now you are God’s people” (1 Pet 2:8-9). Royal suggests the idea that the church rules or will rule, while priests suggest that those in the church are God’s ministers or servants.4

Lastly, the church is referred to as a flock. Paul tells the Ephesians elders: “Watch out for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son” (Acts 20:28). Sheep imagery for God’s people is seen in both the Old and New Testaments (cf. Ps 23; Is 53:6). Jesus said he was the good shepherd and that his sheep follow his voice (John 10). Sheep communicate the need for a shepherd who will lead, feed and protect. Sheep are vulnerable and one could say dumb animals which need steady care.

When Did the Church Start?

While some people define the church as God’s people of all ages, there are strong implications from the Scriptures that the church did not begin until after the death of Jesus in conjunction with the inauguration of the New Covenant and descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. There are several passages that one can point to that support this view. First, Jesus spoke of the establishment of the church as a future event in his life. “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 16:18-19). The term key suggests that Peter would open up the kingdom in the form of the church, which he did at Pentecost in Acts 2. Secondly, the church was “obtained” by the finished work of Christ on the cross. In the verse that we looked at above the church of God is said to be “obtained with the blood of his own Son” (Acts 20:28). This also implies the church was not in effect until after the death of Christ.5

Lastly, the church is defined by the “body of Christ” and members of the body of Christ are placed there by the baptism of the Spirit. Paul states, “For just as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body – though many – are one body, so too is Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Whether Jews or Greeks or slaves or free, we were all made to drink of the one Spirit” (1 Cor 12:12-13). This baptism of the Spirit was predicted in the Old Testament (e.g., Joel 2) but occurred in Acts 2. The formation of the body of Christ formed by the baptism of the Spirit can be supported by the following verses. John the Baptist stated that the Messiah would baptize with the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:8). This was predicted as a future event. Jesus later stated that the baptism would take place “not many days from now in Acts 1:5. The Holy Spirit descended in Acts 2. In hindsight this event in Acts 2 is referred to as the “baptism of the Spirit” by Peter. Peter states, “Then as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as he did on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, as he used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 11:15-16).6 All of these are good reasons to see the start of the church after the death of Jesus and specifically in conjunction with the descent of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2.

The Purpose/Function of the Church

The purpose or function of the church can be summarized into three broad areas: worship of God, edification of the church itself, and evangelization of the world. The worship of God is the highest calling of man. God created us for this purpose and failure to do so will leave a God shaped hole in our lives. Jesus stated, “But a time is coming – and now is here – when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers. God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). The early church shifted the day of worship from Saturday (= the Sabbath) to Sunday (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2) most likely to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus, which occurred on the first day of the week (Matt 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1).

Secondly, the church as the body of Christ is to edify itself in the community of faith. Luke records this basic practice of the church in Acts. “They were devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). Paul supplements this idea: “It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God – a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature” (Eph 4:11-13).

Thirdly, the church is to evangelize the world. Two passages illustrate this well. The first is referred to as the Great Commission. Matthew is one gospel that records it: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19-20). Luke also gives Jesus’ instructions to the disciples just prior to his departure to heaven called the ascension. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Whether worship, instruction, or evangelism, the overarching purpose of all that the church does is to glorify God (1 Cor 10:31). It’s not about us but it is about him!

The Ordinances of the Church

Water baptism and the Lord’s Supper (also referred to as Communion) are two mandates that Jesus gave to the church. The Catholic church and some Protestants refer to these mandates as well as others as sacraments. The word sacrament is used due to the Catholic church’s teaching that participation in these ceremonies will convey grace to the participant with or without faith on the part of the participant.7 Other Protestants have emphasized that the performance of these mandates should be referred to as ordinances and are merely are acts of obedience. Also, they are not grace bearing or meritorious in regard to one’s eternal status of salvation in any way.8

The purpose of water baptism is to identify with Christ and his message. Symbolically, in baptism there is identification with Jesus’ death and resurrection (cf. Rom 6:3-4) as well as purification and cleansing (cf. Acts 22:16). Peter said to them, “Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). While the church has had differing practices on the modes of baptism (sprinkling, immersion, etc), the practice of infant baptism is hard to substantiate from the practice of the early church as seen in the New Testament. People were baptized after they believed in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The purpose of the Lord’s Supper (also known as communion) is to remember what Jesus did for us on the cross. This is also a mandated practice for the church. Paul tells the Corinthian church. “[T]he Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread, and after he had given thanks he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, he also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, every time you drink it, in remembrance of me’ (1 Cor 11:23-25). Like baptism, there are different views on the nature of the Lord’s supper. Referring to the bread, “This is my body” and the wine as, “This is my blood” historically led to debate on what “is” means during the time of the Protestant Reformation. The Catholic View is termed Transubstantiation, which means that the elements turn into the actual body and blood of Jesus. The Lutheran View (i.e., Martin Luther) is termed Consubstantiation, which means that Jesus is with, in, under and around the elements but they do not actually turn into the body and blood of Jesus. The Reformed View (i.e., John Calvin) is termed the Spiritual Presence View, which means that Jesus is spiritually present during the ceremony. Lastly, the Memorial View (i.e., Huldrych Zwingli) sometimes called the Remembrance View, is that the Lord’s table is simply a symbol used for remembering Christ’s death.9

The Organization of the Church

One thing that most people are aware of is that there are different kinds of churches. Some differences relate to the history and doctrine of the church. Other differences relate to different types of church government.10 The table below gives a description of the major types of church government.

Type of Church Government


Examples of Churches

National Government

Churches that are headed by the Secular National Government of the Country

Anglican Church of England or Lutheran Church of Germany

Hierarchical Government

The body of clergy is divided into various ranks reporting eventually to a single person like the Pope or Archbishop

Roman Catholic Church, Episcopal and Orthodox and Anglican (in part).

Regional Federal Government

Synods and General Assemblies appoint pastors and determine doctrine

Presbyterian, Lutheran and some Reformed

Congregational Government

Ultimate authority for the church rests with the members themselves, ministry, budget, choosing leaders etc

Some Baptist churches

Local Federal Government

Elders/Pastors in the local church are ultimately responsible for governing the church

Brethren, Bible Churches Some Baptist and Reformed

The apostles were the highest authority of leaders in the early church. But as one theologian states, it would seem unwise to give someone that title today.11 The apostles were part of the foundation of the church (Eph 2:20) and today’s church is being built on this foundation. In addition when one looks at the criteria of an apostle, the New Testament makes it clear that 1) the person had to have seen the resurrected Jesus (Act 1:22; 1 Cor 9:1), and 2) he must have been appointed by Christ (Matt 10:1-7; Acts 1:24-26).12

Leadership in the church today according to the New Testament consists then of two offices: Pastor/Elder and Deacon. Pastors/Elders are men who are willing to lead and are spiritually qualified to lead the church (Titus 1:6-9; 1 Tim 3: 1-7). Paul tells Titus to appoint such leaders in the church. Paul states: “The reason I left you in Crete was to set in order the remaining matters and to appoint elders in every town, as I directed you” (Titus 1:5). They are responsible to shepherd the flock of God (1 Pet 5:20). The New Testament also indicates that multiple leadership or a team of elders are to be present in each church. This is seen in the plural use of the term. For example, James tells the sick person to call for the “elders” of the church (James 5:14) or Peter who exhorts the “elders” among the church (1 Pet 5:1-2). All of the New Testament examples that we have indicate a plurality of male elders who oversee the church.13

The second church office is the office of deacon. These individuals are also to be spiritually qualified (Acts 614; 1 Tim 3: 8-13) and they are responsible to serve the needs of the church under the leadership of the pastors/elders. Acts 6 reads: “Now in those days, when the disciples were growing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Greek-speaking Jews against the native Hebraic Jews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the twelve called the whole group of the disciples together and said, ‘It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to wait on tables. But carefully select from among you, brothers, seven men who are well-attested, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this necessary task’” (Acts 6:1-3). The tasks of these men was to assist the apostles in serving the church by meeting physical needs so that the apostles could focus on the spiritual needs of the church. One question surrounding the office of deacon is whether or not the office is to be held by men only or also includes women. In the Acts 6 passage they are men, but in 1 Tim 3:11 women who are deacons may be in view. Another interpretation is that these refer to deacon’s wives.15

The Distinction between Israel and the Church

How do we distinguish between Israel and the Church? Or should we? In short, the Bible indicates that while there is a clear distinction between Israel and the church that needs to be maintained, there is also a relationship that needs to be understood. One can start to examine this issue by comparing basic definitions. The church is both Jew and Gentile in the current age who believe in Jesus and are baptized into the body of Christ. This baptism took place with the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in Acts 2. Israel (used 2515 times in the Old Testament and 68 in the New Testament) refers ethnically to the descendants of Abraham that came though Isaac and Jacob. Sometimes the concept of circumcised of heart (Deut 10:16; 30:6; Rom 2:29; Phil 3:2-3) or the phrase Israel of God (Gal 6:10) is used to reflect the idea of saved ethnic Israel. There is no place in the New Testament or entire Bible where the term Israel refers to or means the church.16 The distinction between Israel and the church is also seen in statements that contrast them after the establishment of the church.17 One good verse for this is 1 Cor 10:32 which states, “Do not give offense to Jews or Greeks or to the church of God.” Here the “church of God” is distinguished from “Jews.”

In regard to the church’s relationship with Israel, Paul states that Gentiles are grafted into the olive tree (= a symbol for Israel) to participate in blessings while natural branches (= unsaved Jews) are broken off (Rom 11:17). God told Abraham that “in you” all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen 12:3). The promise God gave to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 is referred to as the Abrahamic Covenant. In line with this covenant as Gentile members of the church we are a part of the blessing God gave to “all nations” though the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Paul also states that we are “sons of Abraham” by faith (Gal 3:7). It is important to understand though that Israel was under the provisions and requirements of Old Covenant while the church is under the New Covenant. The Old Covenant included: animal sacrifices, prescribed festivals, dietary laws, Sabbath keeping which included meeting on Saturday, moral laws and penalties for violation. The church on the other hand is under the provisions of the New Covenant and directly stated requirements for it are included in the gospels and epistles. There is both continuity and discontinuity in the relationship of these covenants to each other, that is some requirements of the Old Covenant are carried into the new while others are not. Paul clearly states that Christians are not under law as a system of requirements but under grace (Rom 6:14).

Lastly, there is a future for national Israel in which all the remaining Old Testament promises that God gave to them will be fulfilled: “For I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: A partial hardening has happened to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written, The Deliverer will come out of Zion; he will remove ungodliness from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins.’ In regard to the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but in regard to election they are dearly loved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:25-29). This does not mean that Christians have to agree with everything that modern day Israel does but it does mean that God has not abandoned his commitments of a future political and spiritual restoration of the that nation.

Importance of Meeting in Church

The lesson started with reasons why people do not go to church. Now, it would be good to conclude with reasons that we should go to church.

  1. The church is God’s ordained organization for spiritual growth in this age.
  2. We were made to worship God.
  3. We need to learn from God’s Word.
  4. We need to use our spiritual gifts to help others.
  5. We need to be encouraged by others in our relationship with God.
  6. We need to set an example to our families and friends and provide for their spiritual welfare.
  7. We need to give financially so our hearts will not be ruled by greed.
  8. We need to have an eternal perspective and not a temporal one.
  9. We need a break from our normal daily routine of work.
  10. We need to set an example to the world that Christians love one another.

The author of Hebrews says, “And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near” (Heb 10:24-25). Penguins are one of the few warm blooded animals that live in Antarctica during the winter. They can even breed in temperatures of -22°F and winds of 125mph.18 How can they survive in such harsh conditions? One of the main ways is that they huddle together, sometimes with thousands of penguins. Those on the outside of the circle as soon as they are faced with freezing to death move in toward the center while those in the center work their way to the outside. It’s only by sticking together that they survive. Any penguin that gets isolated will die. Is there an application for Christians? I think so. God designed us to survive and thrive spiritually by the encouragement we gain from each other.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are some things the church is doing that is not part of its mandate and what things is it not doing that it should be doing? How about the local church that you are in?
  2. Is there a difference between a church ordinance and a church sacrament? If so, what is it?
  3. How is the modern church different than the early first century church? How much should the modern church adapt to its culture?
  4. What are some reasons that some Christians give to not go to church? What are some biblical responses you can give to these reasons?
  5. How can the church better connect with society?
  6. How can I be more involved in the life and ministry of my church?
  7. How should our view of the Bible affect our views on national policies toward Israel?
  8. Should the church worship on Saturday? If not, why not?

1 This is a slightly edited list based on Pete Brookshaw, (Date accessed Jan 2, 2013).

2 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle (Exod 40:34-35).

3 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If someone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, which is what you are (1 Cor 3:16-17).

4 Robert Saucy, The Church in God’s Program (Chicago, Moody Press, 1972), 38-39.

5 One could also supplement this with the point that the new covenant did not start until the shed blood of Christ as well (1 Cor 11:25).

6 One passage that is sometimes used to indicate that Old Testament Israel was also a part of the church is Acts 7:38 (cf. Heb 2:12) which refers to people of Israel in the time of Moses as the “ekklesia.” But this term can generally refer to an assembly or congregation in secular usage which later came to be applied to the church as the body of Christ a more specific technical referent. See Robert Saucy, The Church in God’s Program, 15.

7 See Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 976 for a more detailed discussion on this topic.

8 One should emphasize that both water baptism and the Lord’s supper (communion) are acts of obedience but are not in any way a condition of reception of eternal life (Eph 2:8-9).

9 Peter Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago: Moody Press, 2008), 371-374.

10 Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1986), 405-411.

11 Grudem, Systematic Theology, 911.

12 Ibid., 906-911.

13 For an excellent resource on church elders see Alexander Strauch. Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership. Littleton CO: Lewis and Roth Publishers.

14 The men in Acts 6 are not specifically called deacons but they probably serve as a prototype of what the later office of deacon would become.

15 See Grudem for a discussion on this topic. Grudem, Systematic Theology, 918-19.

16 Sometimes Galatians 6:10 is argued that the “Israel of God” refers to the church. It reads, “and all who will behave in accordance with this rule, peace and mercy be on them, and on the Israel of God (Gal 6:10).” But even here the “Israel of God” as a reference to the whole church is doubtful for two lexical reasons. First, the last “and” (Gk. και) would have to be translated as “even” which is possible but much less likely lexically for the meaning of this conjunction. Second, one would have to find a meaning of “Israel” here that is not seen for the usage of the term in Paul’s writings, the rest of the New Testament or the whole Old Testament.

17Ryrie, Basic Theology, 399.

18 (Date accessed November 27, 2012).

Related Topics: Basics for Christians, Ecclesiology (The Church)