on Mark 15 :25
The third hour - It has been before observed, that the Jews divided their night into four watches, of three hours each. They also divided the day into four general parts. The first began at sunrise. The second three hours after. The third at mid-day. The fourth three hours after, and continued till sunset. Christ having been nailed to the cross a little after mid-day, John 19:14-16, John 19:17, and having expired about three o'clock, Mark 15:33, the whole business of the crucifixion was finished within the space of this third division of the day, which Mark calls here the third hour. Commentators and critics have found it very difficult to reconcile this third hour of Mark, with the sixth hour of John, John 19:14. It is supposed that the true reading, in John 19:14, should be τριτη, the third, instead of ἑκτη the sixth; a mistake which might have readily taken place in ancient times, when the character γ gamma, which was put for τριτη, three, might have been mistaken for Ϛ episema, or sigma tau, which signifies six. And τριτη, the third, instead of ἑκτη, the sixth, is the reading of some very eminent MSS. in the place in question, John 19:14. See Bengel, Newcome, Macknight, Lightfoot, Rosenmuller, etc., on this perplexing point.
on Mark 15 :25
And it was the third hour ... - In John 19:14 it is said, "And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour, etc. Much difficulty has been felt in reconciling these passages, and infidels have usually adduced them to prove that the evangelists have contradicted themselves. In reconciling them the following remarks may perhaps make the matter clear:
(1) The Jews divided both the night and the day into four equal parts of three hours each. See the notes at Matthew 14:25. The first division of the day commenced at six o'clock in the morning, and ended at nine; the second commenced at nine and ended at twelve, etc. "The third" hour mentioned by Mark would therefore correspond with our nine o'clock; the "sixth" hour mentioned by John would correspond with our twelve, or noon.
(2) mark professes to give the time accurately; John does not. He says "it was about the sixth hour," without affirming that this was exactly the time.
(3) a mistake in "numbers" is easily made; and if it should he admitted that such an error had crept into the text here, it would be nothing more than has occurred in many ancient writings. It has been proved, moreover, that it was common not to write the "words" indicating numbers at "length," but to use "letters." The Greeks designated numbers by the letters of the alphabet, and this mode of computation is found in ancient manuscripts. For example, the Cambridge manuscript of the New Testament has in this very place in Mark, not the word "third" written at length, but the Greek letter gamma (γ), the usual notation for third. Now it is well known that it would be easy to mistake this for the Greek letter sigma (ς), the mark denoting "six." An error of this kind in an early manuscript might be extensively propagated, and might have led to the present reading of the text. Such an error is actually known to exist in the "Chronicon" of Paschal, where Otho is said to have reigned ς, (six) months, whereas it is known that he reigned but three, and in this place, therefore, the γ, three, was mistaken for ς, six.
(4) there is some external authority for reading "third" in John 19:14. The Cambridge manuscript has this reading. Nonnus, who lived in the fifth century, says that this was the true reading (Wetstein). Peter of Alexandria, in a fragment concerning the Passover, as quoted by Usher, says, "It was the preparation of the Passover, and about the "third" hour, as," he adds, "the most accurate copies of the Bible have it; and this was the handwriting of the evangelist (John), which is kept, by the grace of God, in his most holy church at Ephesus" (Mill). It is to be admitted, however, that no great reliance is to be placed on this account. That a mistake "might" have occurred in the early manuscripts is not improbable. No man can "prove" that it did "not" so occur, and so long as this cannot be proved, the passages should not be adduced as conclusive proof of contradiction.
After all, perhaps, without the supposition that there is any error in the text, the whole difficulty may be removed by the following statements:
(1) Calvary was "without" the walls of Jerusalem. It was a considerable distance from the place where Jesus was tried and condemned. Some time, more or less, would be occupied in going there, and in the preparatory measures for crucifying him.
(2) it is not necessary to understand "Mark" as saying that it was precisely nine o'clock, according to our expression. With the Jews it was six until seven; it was the third hour until the fourth commenced; it was the ninth until it was the tenth. They "included" in the "third" hour the whole time from the third to the fourth. The same mode they adopted in regard to their days. See the notes at Matthew 12:40.
(3) it is not unduly pressing the matter to suppose that Mark spoke of the time when the process for crucifixion commenced - that is, when he was condemned - when they entered upon it - when they made the preparation. Between that and the time when he was taken "out" of Jerusalem to Mount Calvary, and when he was actually nailed to the tree, there is no improbability in supposing that there might have been an interval of more than an hour. Indeed, the presumption is that considerably more time than that would elapse.
(4) John does not profess, as has been remarked, to be strictly accurate. He says "it was about the sixth hour," etc.
(5) now suppose that John meant to indicate the time when he was "actually" suspended on the cross - that he spoke of the "crucifixion" denoting the "act of suspension," as it struck "him" - and there is no difficulty. Any other two men - any witnesses - might give just such an account now. One man would speak of the time when the process for an execution commenced; another, perhaps, of the very "act" of the execution and would "both" speak of it in general terms, and say that a man was executed at such a time; and the circumstantial variation would "prove" that there was no collusion, no agreement to "impose" on a court - that they were honest witnesses. That is "proved" here.
(6) that this is the true account of the matter is clear from the evangelists themselves, and "especially from Mark." The three first evangelists concur in stating that there was a remarkable "darkness" over the whole land from the "sixth" to the "ninth" hour, Matthew 27:45; "Mar 15:33;" Luke 23:44. This fact - in which Mark concurs - would seem to indicate that "the actual crucifixion" continued only during that time - that he was, in fact, suspended at about the sixth hour, though the preparations for crucifying him had been going on (Mark) for two hours before. The fact that Mark Mar 15:33 mentions this darkness as commencing at the "sixth" and not at the "third" hour, is one of the circumstances undesignedly occurring that seems to signify that the crucifixion then had "actually" taken place, though the various arrangements for it Mark 15:25 had been going on from the "third" hour.
One thing is conclusively proved by this - that the evangelists did not "conspire together" to impose on the world. They are independent witnesses, and they were honest men; and the circumstance adverted to here is one that is allowed to be of great value in testimony in courts of justice - "circumstantial variation with essential agreement."
on Mark 15 :25
15:24-25 St. Mark seems to intimate, that they first nailed him to the cross, then parted his garments, and afterward reared up the cross.