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"...and Jacob's well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied with his journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour." John 4:6 ASV

It was translated as "noon" in the NIV

"...Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon." John 4:6 NIV

But The Halley's Bible Handbook says that the "sixth hour" is in the afternoon (6 p.m.), because it's roman hour system

"The 'sixth hour', v. 6, is the roman time, ie, 6 p.m." Halley's Bible Handbook page 474

In "Rome in Late Antiquity: Everyday Life and Urban Change, AD 312-609", by Bertrand Lançon, page 132, We found other time definition.

What time system John used?

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NIV takes the sixth hour to be the sixth hour after sunrise; Halley takes it as the sixth after midday. Lancon says it's the sixth hour after sunset (around midnight, I suppose). Which seems the most likely? Bear in mind that there are other time references, for example Jesus died at the ninth hour, when it was still light: this is generally taken to be around 3pm. –  Andrew Leach Jan 27 '14 at 23:19
It seems less likely that John was using the Roman system of time. The system used by the Jews in Mt 20:1-16 is centered around the work day, i.e. sunrise. –  mojo Jan 28 '14 at 5:20

6 Answers 6

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The hour of the day for Jews was calculated according to 12 hours of daylight, from sunrise to sunset.

A Jewish source explains it:

an hour in halacha is calculated by taking the total time of daylight of a particular day, from sunrise until sunset,1 and dividing it into twelve equal parts. A halachic hour is thus known as a sha'ah zemanit, or proportional hour, and varies by the season and even by the day.

For example, on a day when the sun rises at 5 a.m. and sets at 7:30 p.m., one sha'ah zemanit, or proportional hour, will be 72.5 minutes long. The third hour of the day will come to a close at 8:37:30 a.m.

A Messianic source explains it (see also in the visual that the night hours were similarly divided into watches):

A Hebrew Hour is defined as 1/12 of the time between sunset and sunrise, or 1/12 of the time between sunrise and sunset. The only Scriptural reference to there being 12 Hebrew Hours in a Hebrew Day is found in John 11:9 where יהושע the Messiah asked a famous question, "Are there not 12 hours in a day?"

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Act 2:15

For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day.

Act 23:23

And he called unto him two centurions, saying, Make ready two hundred soldiers to go to Caesarea, and horsemen threescore and ten, and spearmen two hundred, at the third hour of the night;

It appears from these two passages that the third hour was reckoned differently by the two groups, the first by Peter, a Jew, and the second by a Roman. In both cases they anchored their time by the "day" or "night."

My research about the use of "hour" in the gospel of John is not really conclusive. It's possible that it was self-evident to his readers, so he did not see the need to add "day" or "night." So it "just makes sense" that the sixth hour was noon and Jesus may have been hot after walking in the desert heat, and stopped to rest.

Matthew 27:45

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.

Here, the darkness is given a beginning and an end. This passage only makes sense if the darkness started 6 hours after sunrise, noon, and lasted for the next 3 hours. Thus, the darkness is given a striking accompaniment to Jesus' crucifixion. It doesn't make sense to start the darkness at 6pm and note that it went to 9pm, does it? Darkness normally starts at the closing of the day. :) It seems to me that John was using the same time as Peter and Matthew: starting the count from sunrise.

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There were the 12 proportional hours of the "morning" ie, sunrise to sunset, and 12 proportional hours or watches of the "nght". Everything was proportionally divided by 12 (1/12) and based on the seasonal amount of daylight or night time. The Hebrew (Genesis) concept of a full 24 time period or "day" began at sunset and ended the following sunset.

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Welcome to the site. This answer would be greatly strengthened if you edited in a source or two. –  fredsbend Jun 28 at 20:43

I have been working on this one. With 4-3-33 C.E. as the crucifixion date, and 5:59 P.M. as sunset / moonrise (it was a full moon) with the astronomical full moon being about 4:50 P.M., and a partial / penumbral eclipse lasting about 4 hours that night, which only occurs at a full moon, which eclipse was visible from about from about 6:00 P.M. to 9:00 P.M., and the Jews expecting a bright full moon, that is admittedly only now slightly darkened...Who knows?

Keep in mind that everyone of the time was aware of the Roman time system, as the Romans had been around for a while. All affairs of state were done in the Hellenistic / Roman veins of thought / processes. And the Gospels were written, it is estimated, from at the earliest about 50 C.E. to as late as 200 C.E., which means that they were essentially written under Roman rule post-Temple, except likely for Matthew.

We must keep our own historical and cultural prejudices out of it, and just seek the truth.

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Many people miss one key factor of the time issue and that is the time period of the writing. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Acts were written before 70 AD. John wrote 15-25 years later, after the destruction of Jerusalem by Emperor Titus, and wrote to churches of Asia who were under Roman time. This factor is often left out of discussions but must be considered as a key ingredient in any conversation about John's writing and the other writers. Remember the key rules of interpretation: the author, the readers, the time period and the cultures. DH

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Time period is important, but in the case of the gospels, also very contentious! –  curiousdannii Jun 19 at 5:39
So what time is the "sixth hour" in John 4? You didn't answer that. –  fredsbend Jun 19 at 17:33

to me this's quite simple. we know how the jews keeptheir time.they "calculated according to 12 hours of daylight, from sunrise to sunset.and ..." so the events.... Jesus was caught in the night kept in custody the whole night,... the cock crows.., the urgency in the trial.., so there is no doubt that the sixth hour here mention is the daylight sixth hour which in our today's clock would be around 11am to 12pm.

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Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

Are you sure about the hours of daylight thing? There's no source here, so it looks like you're just making it up, because in the summer and winter there is more and less than 12 hours of daylight. –  fredsbend Apr 9 at 7:15

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