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Home > Fathers of the Church > The Harmony of the Gospels (Augustine) > Book III, Chapter 13

The Harmony of the Gospels, Book III

Chapter 13. Of the Hour of the Lord's Passion, and of the Question Concerning the Absence of Any Discrepancy Between Mark and John in the Article of the Third Hour and the Sixth.

40. Matthew continues thus: And they set up over His head His accusation written, 'This is Jesus the King of the Jews.' Mark, on the other hand, before making any such statement, inserts these words: And it was the third hour, and they crucified Him. For he subjoins these terms immediately after he has told us about the parting of the garments. This, then, is a matter which we must consider with special care, lest any serious error emerge. For there are some who entertain the idea that the Lord was certainly crucified at the third hour; and that thereafter, from the sixth hour on to the ninth, the darkness covered the land. According to this theory, we should have to understand three hours to have passed between the time when He was crucified and the time when the darkness occurred. And this view might certainly be held with all due warrant, were it not that John has stated that it was about the sixth hour when Pilate sat down on the judgment-seat, in a place that is called the Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha. For his version goes on in this manner: And as it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he says unto the Jews, Behold your King! But they cried out, Away with him, away with him! crucify him! Pilate said unto them, Shall I crucify your king? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Cæsar. Then delivered he Him therefore unto them to be crucified. If Jesus, therefore, was delivered up to the Jews to be crucified when it was about the sixth hour, and when Pilate was then sitting upon the judgment-seat, how could He have been crucified at the third hour, as some have been led to suppose, in consequence of a misinterpretation of the words of Mark?

41. First, then, let us consider what the hour really is at which He can have been crucified; and then we shall see how it happens that Mark has reported Him to have been crucified at the third hour. Now it was about the sixth hour when Pilate, who was sitting, as has been stated, at the time upon the judgment-seat, delivered Him up to be crucified. The expression is not that it was the sixth hour fully, but only that it was about the sixth hour; that is to say, the fifth hour was entirely gone, and so much of the sixth hour had also been entered upon. These writers, however, could not naturally use such phraseologies as the fifth hour and a quarter, or the fifth hour and a third, or the fifth hour and a half or anything of that kind. For the Scriptures have the well-known habit of dealing simply with the round numbers, without mention of fractions, especially in matters of time. We have an example of this in the case of the eight days, after which, as they tell us, He went up into a mountain, — a space which is given by Matthew and Mark as six days after, because they look simply at the days between the one from which the reckoning commences and the one with which it closes. This is particularly to be kept in view when we notice how measured the terms are which John employs here. For he says not the sixth hour, but about the sixth hour. And yet, even had he not expressed himself in that way, but had stated merely that it was the sixth hour, it would still be competent for us to interpret the phrase in accordance with the method of speech with which we are, as I said, familiar in Scripture, namely, the use of the round numbers. And thus we could still take the sense quite fairly to be that, on the completion of the fifth hour and the commencement of the sixth, those matters were going on which are recorded in connection with the Lord's crucifixion, until, on the close of the sixth hour, and when He was hanging on the cross, the darkness occurred which is attested by three of the evangelists, namely, Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

42. In due order, let us now inquire how it is that Mark, after telling us that they parted His garments when they were crucifying Him, casting lots upon them what every man should take, has appended this statement, And it was the third hour, and they crucified Him. Now here he had already made the declaration, And crucifying Him, they parted His garments; and the other evangelists also certify that, when He was crucified, they parted His garments. If, therefore, it was Mark's design to specify the time at which the incident took place, it would have been enough for him to say simply, And it was the third hour. What reason, then, can be assigned for his having added these words, And they crucified Him, but that, under the summary statement thus inserted, he intended significantly to suggest something which might be found a subject for consideration, when the Scripture in question was read in times in which the whole Church knew perfectly well what hour it was at which the Lord was hanged upon the tree, and the means were possessed for either correcting the writer's error or confuting his want of truth? But, inasmuch as he was quite aware of the fact that the Lord was suspended [on the cross] by the soldiers, and not by the Jews, as John most plainly affirms, his hidden object [in bringing in the said clause] was to convey the idea that those parties who cried out that He should be crucified were the Lord's real crucifiers, rather than the men who simply discharged their service to their chief in accordance with their duty. We understand, accordingly, that it was the third hour when the Jews cried out that the Lord should be crucified. And thus it is intimated most truly that these persons did really crucify Christ at the time when they cried out. All the more, too, did this merit notice, because they were unwilling to have the appearance of having done the deed themselves, and with that view delivered Him up unto Pilate, as their words indicate clearly enough in the report given by John. For, after stating how Pilate said to them, What accusation bring ye against this man? his version proceeds thus: They answered and said unto him, If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto you. Then said Pilate unto them, Take ye him, and judge him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death. Consequently, what they were especially unwilling to have the appearance of doing, that Mark here shows that they actually did do at the third hour. For he judged most truly that the Lord's murderer was rather the tongue of the Jews than the hand of the soldiers.

43. Moreover, if any one alleges that it was not the third hour when the Jews cried out for the first time in the terms referred to, he simply displays himself most insanely to be an enemy to the Gospel; unless perchance he can prove himself able to produce some new solution of the problem. For he cannot possibly establish the position that it was not the third hour at the period alluded to. And, consequently, we surely ought rather to credit a veracious evangelist than the contentious suspicions of men. But you may ask, How can you prove that it was the third hour? I answer, Because I believe the evangelists; and if you also believe them, show me how the Lord can have been crucified both at the sixth hour and at the third. For, to make a frank acknowledgment, we cannot get over the statement of the sixth hour in John's narrative; and Mark records the third hour: and, therefore, if both of us accept the testimony of these writers, show me any other way in which both these notes of time can be taken as literally correct. If you can do so, I shall most cheerfully acquiesce. For what I prize is not my own opinion, but the truth of the Gospel. And I could wish, indeed, that more methods of clearing up this problem might be discovered by others. Until that be done, however, join me, if it please you, in taking advantage of the solution which I have propounded. For if no explanation can be found, this one will suffice of itself. But if another can be devised, when it is unfolded, we shall make our choice. Only don't consider it an inevitable conclusion that any one of all the four evangelists has stated what is false, or has fallen into error in a position of authority at once so elevated and so holy.

44. Again, if any one affirms his ability to prove it not to have been the third hour when the Jews cried out in the terms in question, because, after Mark's statement to this effect, And Pilate answered, and said again unto them, What will you then that I shall do unto him whom you call the King of the Jews? And they cried out again, Crucify him, we find no further details introduced into the narrative of the same evangelist, but are led on at once to the statement, that the Lord was delivered up by Pilate to be crucified— an act which John mentions to have taken place about the sixth hour—I repeat, if any one adduces such an argument, let him understand that many things have been passed by without record here, which occurred in the interval when Pilate was engaged in looking out for some means by which he could rescue Jesus from the Jews, and was exerting himself most strenuously by every means in his power to withstand their maddened desires. For Matthew says, Pilate says unto them, What shall I do, then, with Jesus, which is called Christ? They all say, Let him be crucified. Then we affirm it to have been the third hour. And when the same Matthew goes on to add the sentence, But when Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, we understand that a period of two hours had passed, during the attempts made by Pilate to effect the release of Jesus, and the tumults raised by the Jews in their efforts to defeat him, and that the sixth hour had then commenced, previous to the close of which those things took place which are related as happening between the time when Pilate delivered up the Lord and the oncoming of the darkness. Once more, as regards what Matthew records above—namely, And when he was set down on the judgment-seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have nothing to do with that just man; for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him, — we remark, that Pilate really took his seat upon the tribunal at a later point, but that, among the earlier incidents which Matthew was recounting, the account given of Pilate's wife came into his mind, and he decided on inserting it in this particular connection, with the view of preparing us for understanding how Pilate had an especially urgent reason for wishing, even on to the last, not to deliver Him up to the Jews.

45. Luke, again, after mentioning how Pilate said, I will therefore chastise him and let him go, tells us that the whole multitude then cried out, Away with this man, and release unto us Barabbas. But perhaps they had not yet exclaimed, Crucify him! For Luke next proceeds thus: Pilate therefore, willing to release Jesus, spoke again to them. But they cried, saying, Crucify him, crucify him! This is understood to have been at the third hour. Luke then continues in these terms: And he said unto them the third time, Why, what evil has he done? I have found no cause of death in him: I will therefore chastise him and let him go. And they were instant with loud voices requiring that He might be crucified. And the voices of them prevailed. Here, then, this evangelist also makes it quite evident that there was a great tumult. With sufficient accuracy for the purposes of my inquiry into the truth, we can further gather how long the interval was after which he spoke to them in these terms, Why, what evil has he done? And when he adds thereafter, They were instant with loud voices, requiring that He might be crucified, and the voices of them prevailed, who can fail to perceive that this clamour was made just because they saw that Pilate was unwilling to deliver the Lord up to them? And, inasmuch as he was exceedingly reluctant to give Him up, he did not certainly yield at present in a moment, but in reality two hours and something more were passed by him in that state of hesitancy.

46. Interrogate John in like manner, and see how strong this hesitancy was on Pilate's part, and how he shrank from so shameful a service. For this evangelist records these incidents much more fully, although even he certainly does not mention all the occurrences which took up these two hours and part of the sixth hour. After telling us how Pilate scourged Jesus, and allowed the robe to be put on Him in derision by the soldiers, and suffered Him to be subjected to ill-treatment and many acts of mockery (all of which was permitted by Pilate, as I believe, really with the view of mitigating their fury and keeping them from persevering in their maddened desire for His death), John continues his account in the following manner: Pilate went forth again, and says unto them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that you may know that I find no fault in him. Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate says unto them, Behold the man! The object of this was, that they might gaze upon that spectacle of ignominy and be appeased. But the evangelist proceeds again: When the chief priests therefore and officers saw Him, they cried out, saying, Crucify him, crucify him! It was then the third hour, as we maintain. Mark also what follows: Pilate says unto them, Take ye him, and crucify him; for I find no fault in him. The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God. When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid; and went again into the judgment-hall, and says unto Jesus, Whence are you? But Jesus gave him no answer. Then says Pilate unto Him, Do you not speak unto me? Do you not know that I have power to crucify you, and have power to release you? Jesus answered, You could have no power at all against me, except it were given you from above: therefore he that delivered me unto you has the greater sin. From thenceforth Pilate sought to release Him. Now, when it is said here that Pilate sought to release Him, how long a space of time may we suppose to have been spent in that effort, and how many things may have been omitted here among the sayings which were uttered by Pilate, or the contradictions which were raised by the Jews, until these Jews gave expression to the words which moved him, and made him yield? For the writer goes on thus: But the Jews cried out, saying, If you let this man go, you are not Cæsar's friend: whosoever makes himself a king speaks against Cæsar. When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment-seat, in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha. And it was the preparation of the passover, about the sixth hour. Thus, then, between that exclamation of the Jews when they first cried out, Crucify him, at which period it was the third hour, and this moment when he sat down on the judgment-seat, two hours had passed, which had been taken up with Pilate's attempts to delay matters and the tumults raised by the Jews; and by this time the fifth hour was quite spent, and so much of the sixth hour had been entered. Then the narrative goes on thus: He says unto the Jews, Behold your King! But they cried out, Away with him, away with him! crucify him! But not even now was Pilate so overcome by the apprehension of their bringing a charge against himself as to be very ready to yield. For his wife had sent to him when he was sitting at this time upon the judgment-seat,— an incident which Matthew, who is the only one that records it, has given by anticipation, introducing it before he comes to its proper place (according to the order of time) in his narrative, and bringing it in at another point which he judged opportune. In this way, Pilate, still continuing his efforts to prevent further advances, said then to them, Shall I crucify your king? Thereupon the chief priests answered, We have no king but Cæsar. Then delivered he Him therefore unto them to be crucified. And in the time that passed when He was on the way, and when He was crucified along with the two robbers, and when His garments were parted and the possession of His coat was decided by lot, and the various deeds of contumely were done to Him (for, while these different things were going on, gibes were also cast at Him), the sixth hour was fully spent, and the darkness came on, which is mentioned by Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

47. Let such impious pertinacity therefore perish, and let it be believed that the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified at once at the third hour by the voice of the Jews, and at the sixth by the hands of the soldiers. For during these tumults on the part of the Jews, and these agitations on the side of Pilate, upwards of two hours elapsed from the time when they burst out with the cry, Crucify Him. But again, even Mark, who studies brevity above all the other evangelists, has been pleased to give a concise indication of Pilate's desire and of his efforts to save the Lord's life. For, after giving us this statement, And they cried again, Crucify him (in which he gives us to understand that they had cried out before this, when they asked that Barabbas might be released to them), he has appended these words: Then Pilate continued to say unto them, Why, what evil has he done? Thus by one short sentence he has given us an idea of matters which took a long time for their transaction. At the same time, however, keeping in view the correct apprehension of his meaning, he does not say, Then Pilate said unto them, but expresses himself thus: Then Pilate continued to say unto them, Why, what evil has he done? For, if his phrase had been said, we might have understood him to mean that such words were uttered only once. But, by adopting the terms, continued to say, he has made it clear enough to the intelligent that Pilate spoke repeatedly, and in a number of ways. Let us therefore consider how briefly Mark has expressed this as compared with Matthew, how briefly Matthew as compared with Luke, how briefly Luke as compared with John, while at the same time each of these writers has introduced now one thing and now another peculiar to himself. In fine, let us also consider how brief is even the narrative given by John himself, as compared with the number of things which took place, and the space of time occupied by their occurrence. And let us give up the madness of opposition, and believe that two hours, and something more, may quite well have passed in the interval referred to.

48. If any one, however, asserts that if this was the real state of the case, Mark might have mentioned the third hour explicitly at the point at which it really was the third hour, namely, when the voices of the Jews were lifted up demanding that the Lord should be crucified; and, further, that he might have told us plainly there that those vociferators did really crucify Him at that time,— such a reasoner is simply imposing laws upon the historians of truth in his own overweening pride. For he might as well maintain that if he were himself to be a narrator of these occurrences, they ought all to be recorded just in the same way and the same order by all other writers as they have been recorded by himself. Let him therefore be content to reckon his own notion inferior to that of Mark the evangelist, who has judged it right to insert the statement just at the point at which it was suggested to him by divine inspiration. For the recollections of those historians have been ruled by the hand of Him who rules the waters, as it is written, according to His own good pleasure. For the human memory moves through a variety of thoughts, and it is not in any man's power to regulate either the subject which comes into his mind or the time of its suggestion. Seeing, then, that those holy and truthful men, in this matter of the order of their narrations, committed the casualties of their recollections (if such a phrase may be used) to the direction of the hidden power of God, to whom nothing is casual, it does not become any mere man, in his low estate, removed far from the vision of God, and sojourning distantly from Him, to say, This ought to have been introduced here; for he is utterly ignorant of the reason which led God to will its being inserted in the place it occupies. The word of an apostle is to this effect: But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost. And again he says: To the one indeed we are the savour of life unto life; to the other, the savour of death unto death; and adds immediately, And who is sufficient for these things? — that is to say, who is sufficient to comprehend how righteously that is done? The Lord Himself expresses the same when He says, I have come that they which see not might see, and that they which see might be made blind. For it is in the depth of the riches of the knowledge and wisdom of God that it comes to pass that of the same lump one vessel is made unto honour, and another unto dishonour. And to flesh and blood it is said, O man, who are you that repliest against God? Who, then, knows the mind of the Lord in the matter now under consideration? Or who has been His counsellor, where He has in such wise ruled the hearts of these evangelists in their recollections, and has raised them to so commanding a position of authority in the sublime edifice of His Church, that those very things which are capable of presenting the appearance of contradictions in them become the means by which many are made blind, deservedly given over to the lusts of their own heart, and to a reprobate mind; and by which also many are exercised in the thorough cultivation of a pious understanding, in accordance with the hidden righteousness of the Almighty? For the language of a prophet in speaking to the Lord is this: Your thoughts are exceeding deep. An inconsiderate man will not know, and a foolish man will not understand these things.

49. Moreover, I request and admonish those who read the statement which, with the help of the Lord, has thus been elaborated by us, to bear in mind this discourse, which I have thought it needful to introduce in the present connection, in every similar difficulty which may be raised in such inquiries, so that there may be no necessity for repeating the same thing over and over again. Besides, any one who is willing to clear himself of the hardness of impiety, and to give his attention to the subject, will easily perceive how opportune the place is in which Mark has inserted this notice of the third hour, so that every one may there be led to bethink himself of an hour at which the Jews really crucified the Lord, although they sought to transfer the burden of the crime to the Romans, whether to the leaders among them or to the soldiers, [as we see] when we come here upon the record of what was done by the soldiers in the discharge of their duty. For this writer says here, And crucifying Him, they parted His garments, casting lots upon them, what every man should take. And to whom can this refer but to the soldiers, as is made manifest in John's narrative? Thus, lest any one should leave the Jews out of account, and make the conception of so great a crime lie against those soldiers, Mark gives us here the statement, And it was the third hour, and they crucified Him,— his object being to have those Jews rather discovered to be the real crucifiers, who will be found by the careful investigator in a position making it quite possible for them to have cried out for the Lord's crucifixion at the third hour, while he observes that what was done by the soldiers took place at the sixth hour.

50. At the same time, however, there are not wanting persons who would have the time of the preparation— which is referred to by John, when he says, And it was the preparation of the passover, about the sixth hour— understood under this third hour of the day, which was also the period at which Pilate sat down upon the judgment-seat. In this way the completion of the said third hour would appear to be the time when He was crucified, and when He was now hanging on the tree. Other three hours must then be supposed to have passed, at the end of which He gave up the ghost. According to this idea, too, the darkness would have commenced with the hour at which He died— that is to say, the sixth hour of the day— and have lasted until the ninth. For these persons affirm that the preparation of the passover of the Jews was indeed on the day which was followed by the day of the Sabbath, because the days of unleavened bread began with the said Sabbath; but that, nevertheless, the true passover, which was being realized in the Lord's passion, the passover not of the Jews, but of the Christians, began to be prepared— that is, to have its parasceue— from the ninth hour of the night onwards, inasmuch as the Lord was then being prepared for being put to death by the Jews. For the term parasceue means by interpretation preparation. Between the said ninth hour of the night, therefore, and His crucifixion, the period occurs which is called by John the sixth hour of the parasceue, and by Mark the third hour of the day; so that, according to this view, Mark has not introduced by way of recapitulation into his record the hour at which the Jews cried out, Crucify him, crucify him, but has expressly mentioned the third hour as the hour at which the Lord was nailed to the tree. What believer would not receive this solution of the problem with favour, were it only possible to find some point [in the narrative of incidents] in connection with the said ninth hour, at which we could suppose, in due consistency with other circumstances, the parasceue of our passover— that is to say, the preparation of the death of Christ— to have commenced. For, if we say that it began at the time when the Lord was apprehended by the Jews, it was still but the first parts of the night. If we hold that it was at the time when He was conducted to the house of Caiaphas' father-in-law, where He was also heard by the chief priests, the cock had not crowed at all as yet, as we gather from Peter's denial, which took place only when the cock was heard. Again, if we suppose it was at the time when He was delivered up to Pilate, we have in the plainest terms the statement of Scripture, to the effect that by this time it was morning. Consequently, it only remains for us to understand that this parasceue of the passover— that is to say, the preparation for the death of the Lord— commenced at the period when all the chief priests, in whose presence He was first heard, answered and said, He is guilty of death, an utterance which we find reported both by Matthew and by Mark; so that they are taken to have introduced, in the form of a recapitulation, at a later stage, facts relating to the denial of Peter, which in point of historical order had taken place at an earlier point. And it is nothing unreasonable to conjecture, that the time at which, as I have said, they pronounced Him guilty of death, may very well have been the ninth hour of the night, between which time and the hour at which Pilate sat down on the judgment-seat there came in this sixth hour, as it is called— not, however, the sixth hour of the day, but that of the parasceue— that is to say, the preparation for the sacrifice of the Lord, which is the true passover. And, on this theory, the Lord was suspended on the tree when the sixth hour of the same parasceue was completed, which occurred at the completion of the third hour of the day. We may make our choice, therefore, between this view and the other, which supposes Mark to have introduced the third hour by way of reminiscence, and to have had it especially in view, in mentioning the hour there, to suggest the fact of the condemnation brought upon the Jews in the matter of the Lord's crucifixion, in so far as they are understood to have been in a position to raise the clamour for His crucifixion to such an effect that we may hold them to have been the persons who actually crucified Him, rather than the men by whose hands He was suspended on the tree; just as the centurion, already referred to, approached the Lord in a more genuine sense than could be said of those friends whom He sent [on the matter-of-fact mission]. But whichever of these two views we adopt, unquestionably a solution is found for this problem on the subject of the hour of the Lord's passion, which is most remarkably apt at once to excite the impudence of the contentious and to agitate the inexperience of the weak.

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Source. Translated by S.D.F. Salmond. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 6. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1888.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1602313.htm>.

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