EXPRESSING TIME IN THE GOSPELS
Gordon Henry Lovik
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements
for the degree of Doctor of Theology in
Grace Theological Seminary
Please report any errors to
Ted Hildebrand at:
Accepted by the Faculty of the Grace Theological Seminary
in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree
Doctor of Theology
Homer A. Kent, Jr.
James L. Boyer
Charles R. Smith
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. INTRODUCTION 1
II. COMMON WORDS FOR TIME IN THE JEWISH YEAR 10
III. WORDS INDICATING TIME UNSPECIFIED 34
IV. WORDS INDICATING TIME IN A YEAR 69
V. WORDS FOR DAY AND ITS PARTS 99
Division of the Day
Divisions of the Night
Other Indications of Time
PART II. GRAMATICAL STUDY
VI. INFINITIVAL EXPRESSIONS OFTIME 157
Background of Temporal Infinitives
Tenses of Temporal Infinitives
Identification of Temporal Infinitives
Occurrences of Temporal Infinitives
VII. PARTICIPIAL EXPRESSIONS OF TIME 171
Possibility of Temporal Participles
Background of Temporal Participles
Tenses of Temporal Participles
VIII. CONJUNCTIVE AND ADVERBIAL WORDS FOR TIME 182
Adverbs and Improper Prepositions
IX. SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS 235
SCRIPTURE INDEX 257
With the advent of Gerhard Kittel's multivolume
work, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament,1 there
has been great interest in the meaning of the vocabulary of
the New Testament. Most of the resulting study has been
devoted to words having only a theological significance.
However, other important areas for word studies remain, such
as, words pertaining to the local church, Christian conduct
and discipleship. With this type of study in mind this
writer has chosen to investigate the area of "time," in
order to evaluate its meaning and significance in the
Statement of the Problem
Little study has been made of temporal expressions
in the Gospels. This is true in grammars, books on syntax,
as well as commentaries and special studies in periodicals.
However, because the Gospels are history, an accurate
understanding of the methods for expressing time in the
1 Gerhard Kittel, gen. ed., Theological Dictionary
of the New Testament (8 vols.; trans. by G. Bromiley; Grand
Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964-).
Gerhard Friedrich is the general editor of volumes VII and
VIII. "(Hereinafter referred to as TDNT.)"
Gospels is important. To correctly interpret the Gospels
it is necessary to make a thorough study of all the
temporal expressions in the Gospels.
Though a few writers have expressed interest in a
philosophical approach to the problem of time,1 they draw
conclusions that are often far from being Biblically
Consequently, there are several reasons why this
investigation is a contribution to New Testament studies.
(1) This study sets forth a collection and analysis of all
the time expressions found in the Gospels. (2) These
expressions of time have an important bearing on the exege-
sis of many passages. (3) An objective analysis can thus
be made of those writers of the past and present who have
built their exegesis and theology on misunderstandings of
time words and grammar.2 (4) The life of Christ can be
understood more clearly by knowing the meaning of these
1 Cf. Thorlief Bowman, Hebrew Thought Compared with
Greek, trans. by J. Noreau (
1960); Oscar Cullman, Christ and Time, trans. by F. B.
Filson (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1950), "(Here-
inafter referred to as Time.)"; J. A. T. Robinson, In the
End, God (New York: Harper and Row, 1968), "(Hereinafter
referred to as In The End.)."
2 For example, a recent article citing many men who
have erred in their interpretation of the aorist tense and
consequently their interpretation of Scripture was written
by Frank Stagg, "The Abused Aorist, Journal of Biblical
Literature, LCI (June, 1972), 222-31. "(Hereinafter
referred to as Aorist.)"
expressions of time. (5) Any writer, who asserts that
"errors" exist in matters of time in the Gospels, can be
answered with confidence.
Background for This Study
Any serious word study in the Greek of the New
Testament requires a consideration of both Hebrew and
Aramaic. At least three of the Gospel writers were Jewish
and their expression of thought though written in Greek
would be Hebrew in concept. Since the language of the
Jewish part of
marily Aramaicl at least three different languages must be
considered. (1) The thought concepts had their basis in
the Hebrew mind and language. (2) These thoughts were
spoken for the most part in the Aramaic language. (3) God
chose to record this revelation in the universal language
It must further be seen that any examination of
Greek words in the New Testament must include some study of
the Old Testament Hebrew and the Septuagint. These same
Greek words also have a history which often can be traced
from the Classical Greek down through non-biblical Koine
Greek. Any study in the New Testament must include a
1 However, this is not to argue against the findings
M. Mansoor, The Dead Sea Scrolls (
Eerdmans, 1964), pp. 177-81, that Greek and Hebrew were
also used in this time. Yet, the prominence of Aramaic has
long been an accepted fact.
consideration of these areas.
Unless otherwise identified, the translations
appearing in this dissertation are those of the author. The
Greek Testament used throughout was The Greek New Testament
published by the United Bible Societies. In addition the
nineteenth edition of D. Erwin Nestle's Novum Testamentum
Graece was also used to check for textual variants.
Limitations of This Study
By the title, "Expressing Time in the Gospels," the
dissertation is limited to those temporal references in the
four Gospels. Yet there must be further limitations to
treat the subject properly. Three major limitations are
needed. First, this is not a study of the chronological
indications found in the Gospels. This has already been the
subject of much writing.1 Second, in Greek a temporal con-
cept can be expressed through verb tenses, but since an
investigation of this would be too extensive to treat here,
the time indication of verbs will not be included. Third,
the significance of the case of these time words will not
be studied separately. Such an investigation would entail
a study of great length which is not possible in this
1 This subject is adequately treated by Leslie P.
(unpublished Th.D. dissertation, Dallas Theological
A few minor limitations are also necessary. Though
it would be desirable to compare and contrast all the
parallel passages containing temporal expressions, this
will not be attempted since this could be a separate study.
Where it is important to the purpose of the dissertation,
the unacceptable views of the liberals will be cited and
discussed. There will not be an extensive rebuttal given
to the liberal method of interpretation. Because of the
subject matter there will not be exegetical elaborations
but rather the conclusions from the exegesis process.
Goals of This Study
There are two primary goals of this work. The first
is to collect and to classify every word, phrase and gram-
matical expression pertaining to time in the Gospels. The
second is the establishing of the precise meanings of these
references to time. Berkley Nickelsen says that the basic
objective of every interpreter of the Scriptures should be,
1 It is accepted that the comments found in Greek
grammars concerning case significance of time words are
correct. The following distinctions should be maintained
unless there are strong contextual reasons not to do so:
(1) the genitive case implies the time within which some-
thing takes place but states nothing as to duration;
(2) the dative case answers the question 'when?' and des-
ignates a point of time; (3) the locative case (particu-
larly when e]n occurs) regards the period from the point
of view of a point even if it is of some length; and (4)
the accusative case when used of time expresses duration
over the whole period.
"to find out the meaning of a statement (command, question)
for the author and for the first hearers or readers, and
thereupon to transmit that meaning to modern readers."1
This well states the second goal of this study. The end
result hopefully will be a wordbook of temporal expressions
in the Gospels that will provide a basic tool in the inter-
preting and understanding of historical and temporal
passages in the Gospels.
Method of This Study
The major approach of this study will be a word
study. This necessitates, (1) a knowledge of the possible
word meanings in the period in which they occur, (2) an
examination of the context of each writer to understand the
initial reception of the message, and (3) a careful
avoidance of fine distinctions of synonyms and etymological
determinations unless there is strong contextual support.
It must be noted that "linguistically, it is the syntactical
complexes, in which the lexical items are used, and not the
lexical items themselves, which constitute communication."2
Great care must be taken to avoid a lexical structure for
Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1963), p. 5.
James Barr, Biblical Words for Time (
Press Ltd., 1961), p. 155. "(Hereinafter referred to as
the Gospels that sets forth the outlines of Biblical
thought about this subject since there can be variations
between languages and thought patterns of the writers
More specifically the expressions for time will
each be explored in three areas. The use of a word in non-
biblical Greek includes several considerations. The
etymology of a word is important if it can be ascertained.
Then the use of each word has to be examined in Classical,
other Koine literature and the papyri. A second area to
explore is the use of each word in the Old Testament. This
often can be studied from the Greek word through its Hebrew
counterpart, as well as the uses of the word in the
Septuagint. After this the final area of study can begin.
Each use of the word in the four gospels is syntactically
and contextually considered. For greater ease of compre-
hension, the Gospels are discussed separately, Matthew
through John, with appropriate conclusions placed in the
final paragraph of each discussion.
The last major area of the dissertation consists of
a grammatical investigation of the temporal infinitives,
participles, adverbs and conjunctions. This second area of
study completes the examination of all the expressions for
time in the Gospels with the exception of time as is indi-
cated by the verb tenses. This, however, is not a
consideration of the dissertation.
Preview of This Study
Following this introductory chapter the first major
part of the dissertation, "Word Study," begins. The initial
major chapter contains a discussion of the temporal words
that were common and popularly used by all Jews. This
chapter is not an extensive lexical study but rather the
citing of the various meanings for the most frequently used
words, such as, "year," "day" and "hour." These common
words provide a basis for later discussion. Their variety
of meanings establishes early that linguistic dogmatism
solely on the basis of a word unscientific.
The next three chapters contain words expressing
time. They are divided into "Words Indicating Time
Unspecified," "Words Time in a Year," and "Words for Day
and its Parts." In each chapter the words will be examined
alphabetically as to their use in (1) non-biblical Greek,
(2) the Old Testament, and (3) the Gospels.
The second major part of the dissertation, "A
Grammatical Study," begins with chapter six. It is a study
of "Infinitival Expressions of Time." These are clearly
identified in the Gospels and are examined both grammati-
cally and contextually. Chapter seven is an investigation
of "Participial Expressions of Time." Primarily this is a
study of the grammar because it is too difficult to deter-
mine this function of the participle. Only illustrations
of this are cited. The last chapter of this second part is
a discussion of the "Conjunctive and Adverbial Words for
Time." These are cited alphabetically and in accordance
with their recognized major function, adverbial or
A summary and conclusion completes the dissertation
setting forth the findings of the investigation.
PART I. WORD STUDY
COMMON WORDS FOR TIME
IN THE JEWISH YEAR
Expressions of time in the Gospels are subject to
misunderstandings for at least three reasons: (1) the
large number of Gospel passages indicating time which often
differ in parallel passages, (2) the lack of specific
knowledge about certain first century dating practices, and
(3) the errant equating of contemporary concepts of time
with those of the Gospel era. Much of the confusion can be
alleviated by a general understanding of the time expres-
sions commonly used within the Jewish year. The indications
of time considered in this chapter are: year, month, week,
day, hour and feasts.
The year, hnAwA in Hebrew, has been reckoned by
many methods at different points in Biblical history. This
practice provides a variety of calendars for the New Testa-
ment era. Both the length of year and the nature of the
calendar year create problems for determining the correct
method of Biblical calendation.
The primary system the Hebrews used for indicating
chronology was by the year. But even among the Jewish
people the principles of chronology varied sufficiently to
give Old Testament scholars great difficulty. Within the
past few decades significant efforts have been made toward
understanding the chronological reckoning of the Jews both
during the period of the Kings1 and the restoration of
conclusions have not been met with universal acceptance
they provide the basis for Old Testament time reckoning.
In the Old Testament both a solar, a luni-solar
year3 and a lunar year4 have been suggested as being
followed. Morgenstern writes in support of the luni-solar
year, that is, a calendar year based on lunar months with
a system of intercalation to harmonize with the sun:
Now it is of utmost significance that, working on
altogether independent, astronomical grounds, Charlier
reached exactly the same conclusion, that the temple
must have been so built that on the two annual equi-
noctial days the first rays of the rising sun shone
directly in through the eastern gate. He has shown
further that these two equinoctial days were the 1st
of the first month and the 10th of the seventh month,
1 Edwin R. Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the.
2 Richard A. Parker and Waldo H. Dubberstein,
Chronology, 626 B.C.-A.D. 75 (
3 Julian Morgenstern, "Supplementary Studies in the
X (1935), 3-5.
4 Henri Daniel-Rops, Daily Life in the Time of Jesus,
trans. by P. O'Brian (New York: Mentor-Omega Books, 1962),
p. 179. "(Hereinafter referred to as Daily Life.)"
the latter the late Biblical Yom Kippur. . . .1
Those who accept a lunar or embolistic year actually
assert the same basic reckoning of time since an embolistic
month, a second Adar, was added about every third year to
bring the lunar year into agreement with the solar year.
The beginning of the Jewish year could begin either
in Nisan (March-April) or Tishri (September-October)
depending on the system followed at a particular time. The
first month of the year varied during Jewish history after
the division of the kingdom. Later in 1 Maccabees the
method of designating the months by name and number indi-
cates that the first month of the Jewish year about 165 B.C.
was Nisan. This probably was
the case in
the first century A.D., since it was just before Nisan that
any type of correction for the length of the year had to be
made in order to make the ripening of the barley correspond
to the celebration of the Passover in Nisan. Further, no
political events had occurred to force the Jews to change
from the practice of the Maccabbean times.
Shortly after the time of the Maccabean revolt the
all others. Found in the Book of Jubilee 6:23-32, this
system of dating reckons a year as 364 days. Thus each
1 Julian Morgenstern, "The Gates of Righteousness,"
year was errant one and one-half days with the cycle of the
sun unless some method of intercalation was practiced. The
year itself is divided into four quarters of ninety-one days
with two months being thirty days and one being thirty-one
days in each quarter. The advantage of this system is that
every feast day was on the same day of the week each year.
Feast days came regularly on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.1
Since the Passover, Nisan 15, according to this system falls
on a Wednesday, some scholars have taken liberty to recon-
struct the entire passion accounts.2 Though this view has
created much interest and speculation that Jesus and his
disciples may have used this calendar, most scholars do not
consider this likely. Perhaps the greatest weakness of
this Jaubertian calendar system is the lack of knowledge
about the yearly intercalations which must have been made
in both the solar and traditional calendars at the time of
Christ. An acceptance of this system adds many more
problems to the passion week chronology than it solves.3
1 Jack Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology
(Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1964),
pp. 54-55. "(Hereinafter referred to as HBC.)"
2 This is especially true of Annie Jaubert, The
Date of the Last Supper, trans. by Isaac Rafferty (Staten
3 For an excellent analysis and refutation of Annie
Jaubert's chronology see Clifford Wood Hardin, "An Exami-
nation of Jaubert's Chronology of the Passion Week,"
(unpublished Th. M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary,
There is no evidence that this calendar was used outside of
By the time of Christ several calendars were in use
Matters were much complicated, however, by the fact
by no means all the inhabitants of
the official calendar of the Jewish community. . . .
in a Greek city of the
perfectly well be three concurrent calendars, the
Jewish, the Syrian and the Egyptian, quite apart from
And lastly it now seems quite certain, since the
groups who were faithful to the tradition of the Book
of Jubilees still used the ancient calendar of 364
days, which had four terms of ninety-one days each, and
which were each made up of thirteen weeks. This had
the advantage of making the great feasts, such as the
Passover, fall on a given date.1
The reckoning of time by the aforementioned calen-
dars could produce different times for both the length of
the year and the beginning of the year. For example, the
Egyptian calendar after 22 B.C. consisted of twelve months
of thirty days or three hundred sixty days with five
epagomenal days added after the twelfth month. Every year
preceding the leap year of the Julian calendar was an
intercalary year and six epagomenal days were added so that
the Egyptian yearly calendar averaged 365 1/2 days. The
1 Daniel-Rops, Daily Life, p. 183.
beginning of the year fell on August twenty-ninth or
The Syrian calendar followed the Macedonian which
began in October and followed a lunar calendar-system with
the probable insertion of intercalary months. Though this
dating system seems to be followed in 1 Maccabees2 it
appears to be of no consequence in the New Testament.
Whether the Jewish year began in the fall adopting the
Syrian system or in the spring following the Babylonian
calendar is not known. However, "at the time of Christ it
is quite certain that the lunar year of 364 days was in
use."3 That is to say, the lunar year with an intercalated
lunar month which permitted the lunar year to coincide with
the solar year.
Of course there were other problems of Jewish time
There are some interesting facts to learn, as that
the Hebrews, in counting an interval of days (or weeks,
or months, or years) between two events would probably
(though not necessarily) include in the interval both
the day (or week, or month, or year) of the first event
as well as the second.4
1 Finegan, HBC, pp. 28-29.
2 Ibid., p. 121.
3 Daniel-Rops, Daily Life, p. 180.
John Marsh, The Fulness of. Time (
& Brothers Publishers, 1962), p. 20. "(Hereinafter
referred to as Time.)"
This is known as inclusive reckoning and must be
considered in matters of chronology (particularly in
connection with the use of h[me<ra). Fortunately, most
other words for time are not affected by this principle of
chronology. In a subsequent chapter, the two Greek words
for year, e]niauto<j and e@toj which translate hnAwA will
be examined in detail.
Twelve months, written mh<n in both the Septuagint
and the New Testament, made up the Jewish year. Each month
had twenty-nine days and began "when the thin sliver of the
new moon appeared in the sky: if it did not appear, then
necessarily the month had thirty days."1 It must be under-
stood that the Jewish month was based totally on visible
lunar calculation, as is attested by the two Hebrew words
for month, wdH , meaning "glittering new moon" and Hry
meaning "moon" or "month."
The decision for determining the new month was the
work of the Sanhedrin.
If the members of the court found that the new
moon might be visible, they were obliged to be in
attendance at the courthouse for the whole thirtieth
day and be on the watch for the arrival of witnesses.
If witnesses did arrive, they were duly examined and
tested, and if their testimony appeared trustworthy,
this day was sanctified as New Moon Day. If the new
1 Daniel-Rops, Daily Life, p. 181.
crescent did not appear and no witnesses arrived, this
day was counted as the thirtieth day of the old month,
which thus became an embolistic month.1
This shifting of the month from twenty-nine to
thirty days based on the visual sighting of the new moon
and the decision of the Sanhedrin to begin a new month
makes the certain determination of a new month or a parti-
cular day in the month during the first century an
There was even a greater difficulty in reckoning
time by months. Since a solar year is eleven days longer
than a lunar year, every third year an extra month had to
be added to the calendar in order to celebrate the feasts
at the correct time each year.
This was done by adding a second Adar (the Baby-
lonian name for the twelfth month), February-March, so
contrived that the Passover, celebrated on the 14th
Nisan (the first month), should always fall after the
In this way the spring season of the year coincided
with the month Nisan and the first sheaf of barley would be
fully ripened, ready to be offered on the sixteenth of
Nisan. To correlate the beginning of the Jewish year with
the Julian calendar would demand knowledge of every inter-
calation and the decision of the Sanhedrin for all these
1 Jack Finegan, Light From the Ancient Past (New
G. Gordon Stott, "Month," HDCG, II (
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1912), 731.
Perhaps the aforementioned difficulties explain why
the words for month and year occur only a few times in the
Gospels. The names for the months are not used at all.
There is actually no evidence that the object now called a
calendar and which shows the months, weeks and days at a
single glance was known to the average Jew.
The modern method of determining time by weeks was
not followed by the Gospel writers. The Hebrew fbw from
the numeral seven was translated by the Greek sa<bbaton,
This seventh day of the Jewish week began Friday at sunset
and extended through the daylight of Saturday. This was
the Jewish sabbath and was known by that name. On several
occasions in the Old Testament various feast days are also
called sabbaths.1 Consequently, the word "sabbath" could
refer to a feast no matter which day of the week it was
observed or to the seventh day of the Jewish week.
The day prior to the weekly sabbath was the day of
preparation for the sabbath and seems to be designated as
the paraskeuh<, the preparation day.2 Once in Mark 15:42
1 An excellent discussion of the meaning of Sabbath
in the context of feast days can be found in an unpublished
monograph by Homer A. Kent Jr., "The Day of that Sabbath
was a High Day," pp. 25-31.
2 Josephus Antiquities 16. 6.2. (Perhaps this is
also intended in Mt. 27:62; Lk. 23:54; Jn. 19:31, 42).
it is called prosa<bbaton and was also known as "the eve
of the sabbath."1 Six times in the Passion week account
paraskeuh< occurs and may have the function of indicating
"Friday," the day before the Sabbath. That paraskeuh< can
refer to Friday of any week is indicated by the Didache,
“. . . but do ye fast on the fourth day and the Preparation
(Friday)."2 Josephus writes, ". . . and that they need not
give bond (to appear in court) on the Sabbath or on the day
of preparation for it (Sabbath Eve) after the ninth hour."3
The meaning of paraskeuh<, Friday, became so fixed in
However, paraskeuh< can also refer to "the day
before any feast which required special preparation that
could not be made on the feast day itself."4 That this can
be applied for example to Nisan 14, the day before the
eating of the Passover, is illustrated by many passages in
Rabbinic literature.5 The Septuagint never uses paraskeuh<
in connection with any type of a feast or Sabbath day.
1 Daniel-Rops, Daily Life, p. 184.
2 Didache 8.
3 Josephus Antiquities 16. 6.2.
4 Solon Hoyt, "Did Christ Eat the Passover?"
(unpublished monograph, Grace Theological Seminary, 1945),
5 Babylonian Talmud Pesachim 4:1, 5, 6; 5:1; 10:1.
Thus, two uses of paraskeuh< in the New Testament
times are possible. It may mean Friday, including the
evening of Thursday, which is the day before a weekly
Sabbath. Or, it could mean any day before a feast day such
as the Passover, Nisan 15. This distinction must be con-
sidered in matters of chronology. The other days in the
week were named simply by their numerical order, so that
"the first of the week (mi%> sababa<twn) in Matthew 28:1 is
Saturday evening and Sunday until sunset. The word for
week, sa<bbaton, occurs often since every Jew was oriented
to the sabbath observance on the seventh day of the week.
The most frequently used word expressing time in
the Gospels is h[me<ra, day. The Hebrew MOy and its
translation h[me>ra were popularly used to indicate both a
twenty-four hour solar day and the daylight period. The
Greek language also had nuxqhme<ron to indicate the
complete cycle of light and darkness but this is used only
once in the New Testament, 2 Corinthians 11:25. "Usually,
however, the 'day' which includes the nightime and the day-
time is simply designated with the word h[me<ra, and the
context makes plain what is meant. . ."1
The sequence of time in a day was measured by one
1 Finegan, HBC, p. 8.
of four methods: (1) a sunclock, po<loj, (2) a sundial,
gnw<mwn, (3) a water-clock, kleyu<da (for the night
especially),1 and (4) estimation. It is quite certain that
the common people would use the last method.
In the ancient world the day began at dawn in
Old Testament; whereas the Roman day began at midnight.2
Bickerman writes concerning the Jewish reckoning:
On the other hand, the complete day, for the purpose
of the calendar, is generally reckoned in conformity
with the respective calendar systems. The peoples who
use lunations as the basic time-measurement (Athenians,
Gauls, Germans and Hebrews) counted the twenty-four
hour day from evening to evening.3
Though it is not universally accepted, most New
Testament scholars accept that the beginning of the day
among Jews in
the appearance of the stars was the sign that the day had
ended4 and a new day begun.
The darkness part of the day is called night, nu<c,
and can be broken down into several divisions of time. The
early evening was designated e]spe<ra. The entire night,
1 Finegan, HBO, p. 12.
2 Ibid., pp. 8-9.
3 Elias J. Bickerman, Chronology of the Ancient
World (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University :Press, 1968),
p. 13. "(Hereinafter referred to as Chronology.)"
4 Babylonian Talmud Berakoth 1:2.
nu<c contained four watches according to both the New
Testament and Josephusl with each watch representing one-
fourth part of the night. This differed from the Old Testa-
ment practice of having only three watches. The watches
came in the following order: (1) o[ye<, (2) mesonu<ktion,
(3) a]lektorofwni<a and (4) prwi~.2 In fact, in Talmudic
literature the word "evening" at times also included the
entire afternoon. The afternoon was divided into two
periods, 12 to 2:30 and 3:30 to 6:00, called evenings.3
The time for the slaying of the Passover lamb according to
Josephus4 was between the two evenings.
light began to dawn in
began. "This was true in
accurate way of speaking even though the twenty-four hour
day began at sunset in some
countries and mid-night in
According to the
was divided into four parts: (1) the gazelle of the
morning (a[me<raj ble<faron), (2) when one can distinguish
1 Josephus Antiquities 18. 9.6.
(Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1906), p. 417.
3 Finegan, HBC, p. 14.
4 Josephus Wars 6. 9.3.
5 Bickerman, Chronology, p. 13.
blue from white (prwi~, skoti<aj e@ti ou@shj), (3) when east
began to grow light (o@rqroj baqu<j), and (4) twilight
(li<an prwi~, a]natei<lantoj tou? h[liou<).1 Consequently,
prwi~ and o@rqroj and their cognates are used of this time
period in the Gospels. Rather than reckon time hour by
hour the daylight part of the day was often divided into
three-periods, the middle of the morning, noon and the
middle of the afternoon. These correspond to 9 a.m., noon
and 3 p.m.
It seems to me more likely that in spite of the
opportunity offered by an hourly nomenclature the
ancients found that for many purposes the simpler
three-hour interval was sufficiently definite. For
the culture represented by the evangelists and in a
society without clocks or watches one could often be
satisfied with phrases no more specific than our mid-
morning, midday (or noon), mid-afternoon together
with dawn or sunset.2
Thus it is seen that within a solar day there can
be many expressions of time and most are inadequate in
indicating a precise moment of time. The more easily fixed
points of time during the day would be daybreak, nightfall
1 John M'Clintock and James Strong, eds., "Day,"
CBTEL, II (New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1882),
2 Henry J. Cadbury, "Some Lukan Expressions of
Time," JBL, LXXXII (September, 1963), 278. "(Hereinafter
referred to as "Time.")"
Another popular way to speak of time is by the hour,
w!ra. The earliest known use of hours by the Jews came
during the Intertestament Period and is recorded in the
apocryphal book 3 Maccabees 5:14. This hour had little
similarity to modern reckoning. Any hour identification
could only be relative since its length depended on the
time of the year and the geographical latitude.
The twelve hour system then in use throughout the
hours are each the twenty-fourth part of a legal day
calculated mathematically; the Roman system was
based upon the durations of the sun's presence in the
sky: on December 25th, therefore, the winter sol-
stice, when there were but eight hours and fifty-four
minutes of possible sunlight in the day, the day-time
hour shrank to less than forty-five of our minutes,
while each of the night-hours draw out to an hour and
a quarter of our time.1
It is important to notice that every day had twelve
hours of relatively equal length and these hours were
numbered from daybreak to nightfall (Mt. 20:3-12). Of the
method by which time was actually determined in the
Biblical period, we know little. The division of time into
sixty minute hours was a late refinement, which must have
become generally used only when some sort of a sundial or
hourglass became readily available.2
1 Daniel-Rops, Daily Life, p. 186.
2 Roger T. Beckwith, "The Day, Its Divisions and Its
Limits, In Biblical Thought," The Evangelical Quarterly,
XLIII, (October, 1971), 220. "(Hereinafter referred to as
The night likewise was divided into twelve equal
parts from sundown to sunrise. Ramsay states:
Though the Roman legal Day began at midnight, yet
the hours of the day were counted only as beginning from
sunrise; and the hours of the night (in rare cases in
which the hours of the night were spoken of) only from
sunset. In popular usage probably no night hours were
spoken of except the third, sixth and perhaps the ninth,
as the beginnings of the second, third and fourth
watches; and those expressions were used, not because
there was any device in ordinary use for dividing the
night into twelve hours, but simply by analogy from
the three main customary divisions of the day.1
From the earliest times the daylight period had to
be divided by visual observation rather than any other
means, at least by the common people. In the Talmud there
is a discussion of the extent of reasonable error about a
man's estimate of a given hour appealing to the fact that
"in the sixth hour the sun stands in the meridian."2 It
can be expected that many references to a particular hour
in the Gospels would also be based on estimation rather
than on mechanical means. The most frequently used hours
were the third hour (9 a.m.), the sixth hour (noon) and the
ninth hour (3 p.m.).
The Hebrew word for hour hbw, translated by w!ra,
can also mean an inexactly defined period of time so that
in Daniel 3:6 it is best translated "immediately." The
1 William Ramsay, "Numbers, Hours, Years and Dates,"
HDB, V. (New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1904), 477.
2 Babylonian Talmud Pesahim, 11b-12b.
Greek word could be used to refer to time in general, "the
time is coming."1 These various meanings of w!ra necessi-
tate careful study of this often used word in a later
During the Jewish year several feasts are observed
and these are identified in the Gospels by name or by the
word "feast," e[orth<. By itself e[orth< cannot give a
clear meaning and in a given context scholars can disagree
as to the identity of the feast.2 Although the time of the
year for the feasts varies slightly because of the inter-
calation practice of the Jews, some chronological identifi-
cations can be made particularly in John by understanding
the time of the feasts. Of the six major feasts--Passover,
Unleavened Bread, Weeks, Tabernacles, Trumpets and Day of
Atonement--mentioned in the Old Testament only three are
found in the Gospels by name. The Passover, Unleavened
Bread and Tabernacles together with the later Maccabean
festival, Dedication, provide feast time indications.
1 James Barr, Time (London: SON Press Ltd., 1961),
2 The feast of John 5:1 for example has been identi-
fied with the Passover by Lightfoot and Greswell, with
Pentecost by Bengel and Browns, with Tabernacles by
Cocceius, Ewald and Zahn, with the Day of Atonement by
Caspari, with Trumpets by Westcott, and with Wood-gathering
The Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread occur
during the same month, Nisan, and seem at times to be almost
interchangeable. Both feasts are found several times in the
accounts of the crucifixion. The month Nisan is the time
when the first barley was ripening. On the tenth of this
month the head of each home set aside a lamb for the paschal
offering and groups were formed for the proper celebration.
These lambs would be selected from the flocks outside
necessary for the eating of the lamb. On the fourteenth
the women removed all leaven from the home and in the after-
noon the lamb was slain in the temple by the priests then
taken to a home and cooked. That evening, which began the
fifteenth, all the lamb would be eaten. If they needed
additional meat because of the large number of guests a
Chagigah could be offered.1 It is uncertain how many Old
Testament practices were retained at the time of Christ
and there are almost as many differing opinions about the
first century practice as there are writers on the subject.
It is unfortunate that the word for the Passover
feast, pa<sxa, which is found a total of twenty-five times
within the four Gospels, can be used at least five
Alfred Edersheim, The
1958), pp. 218-19. (Also see his discussion of the
Passover on pp. 208-48). "(Hereinafter referred to as
different ways because it greatly complicates chronologi-
cal reckoning. Theodor Zahn gives four different senses
of pa<sxa. (1) It can refer to the Passover lamb as the
object of qu<ein or fagei?n. (2) The observance of Nisan
14 with the slaying of the lamb and the feast of the
Passover, as distinguished from the Feast of the Unleavened
Bread which began on the fifteenth, is called the Passover.
(3) The name a@zuma, Unleavened Bread, refers not only to
the seven days following the slaying of the Passover but
it is also applied many times in the Old Testament to the
fourteenth day which precedes it. (4) Likewise, pa<sxa
can be applied to cover all the days of a@zuma so that the
terms a@zuma and pa<sxa are used quite synonymously.1
Further, it would seem possible that the Passover could
refer to the Paschal meal alone on Nisan 15 or to Nisan 14
excluding the feast which began after sunset. Edersheim
further maintains that pa<sxa can mean the Chagigah sacri-
fice offered on the fifteenth.2
Four references to pa<sxa occur before the Passion
Week account.3 Each of these references appear to be
general indications of the Passover season without reference
1 Theodor Zahn, Introduction to the New Testament,
M.W. Jacobus, III (
1953), 296-98. "(Hereinafter referred to as Introduction.)"
3 Luke 2:41; John 2:13, 23; 6:4.
to a more specific time intended. Attempts to be dogmatic
concerning the days and nights at the time of the Passover
meet with frustration because of the probable existence of
more than one way of expressing days.
Consequently, when a day and night or a definite
number of days and nights are being set apart from
manual labor for religious purposes, it is necessary
to decide which nights are being set apart in this
way as well as which days. This was especially true
of the passover, when the main celebration took place
by night, but even in this case the special circum-
stances made it as natural for Josephus to think of
the new day as beginning after the night was over as
before it began, since he cannot have failed to see
that the lamb connected the night as intimately with
the day preceding as the unleavened bread did with
the day following.1
The festival of Unleavened Bread follows immediately
after the Passover and lasts seven days, Nisan fifteenth to
the twenty-first. It is called by Josephus e[orth> tw?n
a]zu<mwn and ai[ h[me<rai tw?n a]zu<mwn.2 Apparently in popular
speech the fourteenth of Nisan was also included in the
feast of Unleavened Bread in Mark 14:12. However, the
second day of Unleavened Bread was considered to be the
sixteenth of Nisan and the time when the first sheaf of
barley was offered in the
began the counting for the seven weeks to Shabuot or
1 Beckwith, "The Day," p. 226.
2 Josephus, Antiquities 3.10.5. and 18.2.2.
Tabernacles.1 The unleavened bread eaten during this time
was a remembrance of the
sequence of these two feasts and the events which accompany
them further complicate the reckoning of time during the
The Mishnah tractate Pesahim brings the entire
ritual to a complexity widely removed from the his-
toric night of the Exodus. The dating of the
recurrent, commemorative festival is important for
Gospel exegesis. The night of the Passover proper
(14-15 Nisan) and the feast of Unleavened Bread (15-
21 Nisan) are distinguished in Leviticus 23:5f and
Numbers 28:16f., but telescoped in Luke 22:1. Doubt-
less they had long become telescoped in popular
thought and practice, as Josephus and the Mishnah bear
out. The first day of Unleavened Bread was strictly
15th Nisan, though the 14th was often loosely so
called, as in Matthew 26:17; Mark 14:12. The prepara-
tion of the Passover began at 6 p.m. on 13th Nisan,
ending at the same hour on the 14th. This is an
analogical extension of the normal weekly Friday or
prosa<bbaton (Mark 15:42), when cooking and all
laborious preparations for the sabbath had to be
This complexity is not found in the other feasts.
Tabernacles was celebrated in Tishri (the early
fall) fifteenth to the twenty-first. Also known as Sukkot,
Succoth or skhnophgi<a, it commemorated the period of
wilderness wanderings after the Exodus which was during the
formative period of the Jewish nation. During these years
Louis Finkelstein, The Pharisees, I (
Publication Society of
gelical Quarterly, XLIII (July, 1971), 153-54.
the Jews lived like nomads in temporary dwellings.1 At
this festival temporary dwellings of palm branches and wood
sticks, not tents, were made to dwell in. This feast was
held in high regard in Josephus' time as is seen by his
description of Tabernacles; e[orth> sfo<dra a[giwta<th kai>
megi<sth2 and ei]j ta> me<lista throume<nh.3 Though
mentioned often by Josephus and in the Septuagint, it is
found only in John 7:2 in the Gospels. Most scholars
place this event about six months prior to the crucifixion.
Following Jesus' teaching at this feast He remained in
The festival of Dedication (Hanukkah) or e]gkai<nia
is mentioned only in John 10:22 about three months before
the crucifixion. John identifies this as being winter
which corresponds with the festival date of Kislev or
December. The celebration is actually a memorial to the
Maccabean wars of freedom over the Syrians and Antiochus
Epiphanes who had desecrated
Antiochus defiled the temple on Kislev twenty-fifth, B.C.
167, the Jews led by Judas Maccabaeus regained the temple
cleansed t and restored its worship. The whole festival
1 Julius H. Greenstone, Jewish Feasts and Fasts
(New York Bloch Publishing Company, 1946), p. 60. "(Here-
inafter referred to as Feasts.)"
2 Josephus Antiquities 8.4.1. VIII, iv, 1.
3 Ibid., 15.3.3.
has particular reference to
"the rededication of the
and the altar after these had been in the hands of the
heathens for two years and were polluted by them with
heathen worship and sacrifice."1 The festival was similar
And they kept eight days with gladness in the
manner of the Feast of Tabernacles. . . they bare
branches and fair boughs, and palms also, and sang
psalms unto Him that had given them good success in
cleaning His place. They ordained also by a common
statute and decree, that every year those days should
be kept of the whole nation of the Jews.2
The Festival of Dedication was a national holiday
rather than a religious festival.
While the New Testament also uses many words and
grammatical expressions for time, the purpose of this
chapter was to present the commonly known designations for
time and to show that those in the New Testament era could
use many expressions of time. These popular methods of
reckoning time--by year, month, week, day, hour, and
feasts--often had many interpretations which is true of
these words in current speech. This diversity of meanings
has produced problems in understanding these time designa-
tions. For this reason, many occurrences of these time
words must be studied at greater length in the following
1 Greenstone, Feasts, p. 115.
2 II Maccabees 10:6-8.
WORDS INDICATING TIME UNSPECIFIED
In the Gospels three words expressing time need
special consideration in that the words by themselves
specify a concept of time more than an exact expression of
time. These words, ai]w<n, kairo<j and xro<noj, are the
subject of much discussion especially by current
theologians. Since these words occur often in the Gospels
this chapter will examine each word in the above mentioned
order considering (1) their use in non-biblical Greek,
(2) their use in the Old Testament and (3) their use in
the Gospels. This last area of examination will also
include the substance of the contemporary discussion of the
As a general indication of time, ai]w<n is used in a
number of places and expressions which, when examined,
provide the necessary insight as to the correct meanings
of this word.
In non-biblical Greek
Regarding etymology Richard C. Trench connects ai]w<n
with a]w<, and a]h<mi meaning to breathe. He further comments,
Like ko<smoj it has a primary and physical and then
superinduced on this, a secondary and ethical sense.
In its primary, it signifies time short or long, in
its unbroken duration, often times in classical Greek
the duration of a human life.1
Curtius argues that ai]w<n is from the Sanskrit e?naj
meaning "course or walk" and in the plural, "habit or
custom."2 Others connect ai]w<n, with the Sanskrit ayu which
conveys the idea of life and especially long life. Moulton
and Milligan comment more cautiously concerning the
etymology and the meaning of ai]w<n:
The word, whose root is of course futile to dig
for, is a primitive inheritance from Indo-Germanic
days, when it may have meant 'long life' or 'old age'
--perhaps the least abstract idea we can find for it
in the prehistoric period. . . . In general the word
depicts that of which the horizon is not in view,
whether the horizon be an indefinite distance. . . or
whether it lies no farther than the span of Caesar's
Thus, the basic idea of ai]w<n relates to time
especially as it pertains to human life whether it be that
of an individual or that of the human race.
1 Richard C. Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament
(Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1953),
p. 217. "(Hereinafter referred to as Synonyms.)"
2 Georg Curtius, Principles of Greek Etymology,
by A.S. Wilkins and E.B. England, I (
3 James Hope Moulton and George Milligan, The
Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament From the Papyri and
Publishing Company, 1963), p. 16. "(Hereinafter referred
to as Vocabulary.)"
The earliest meanings of ai]w<n include "lifetime,
life, long time, an age and eternity."1 Consequently, in
early times ai]w<n could signify the duration of human life
as being limited to a specific space of time or to denote
an age or generation as the space of human life. The
expansion from these meanings to the conception of time
unlimited was easy.2 Some of the Greek philosophers
frequently made use of ai]w<n to indicate the concept of
time unlimited. Plato has ai]w<n as "timeless, ideal
eternity" in which there are no specific designations of
time such as days, months or years. Plutarch and others
have ai]w<n in the sense of eternity or unending time.3 When
the preposition ei]j was linked to ai]w<n the concept of pro-
longed time and even the sense of "forever" developed.
Prior to he time of the New Testament era ai]w<n acquired a
religious significance inasmuch as Ai]w<n became the name of
the God of eternity.4 Interesting examples of these uses
1 Ernest DeWitt
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1927), p. 76.
“(Hereinafter referred to as Word Studies.)"
2 Hermann Cremer, Biblico-Theological Lexicon of
New Testament Greek,
trans. by W. Urwick (
T. & T. C ark, 1954), pp. 74, 75. "(Hereinafter referred
to as Lexicon.)"
3 For a more detailed study of the philosopher's use
of ai]w<n examine TDNT, I, pp. 197-78.
4 Hermann Sasse, ai]w<n, TDNT, trans. and ed. by
W. Bromiley, I (
Publishing Company, 1964), 198.
can be cited in the early centuries A.D. An athlete
claiming to have established a new Olympic record exclaimed
mo<noj tw?n a]p ] ai]w?noj neikh<saj ]Olu<mpia. Another time
one who was led off to death is led "from life" a]p ] ai]w?noj.
Also the cry to the emperor was heard "the emperors for-
ever," ei]j to<n ai]w?na.1
From the instances cited above it is clear that
ai]w<n had a varied number of meanings in the Greek language
ranging from life to eternity. Because of the wide-range
of uses only the context itself can determine the best
In the Old Testament
The meaning of ai]w<n in the Old Testament can be seen
by two basic means: (1) the meaning of the Hebrew words
translated by ai]w<n in the Septuagint and (2) the meaning of
ai]w<n in its contextual environment in the Septuagint. These
will be considered in the aforementioned order.
There are nine Hebrew words translated by ai]w<n.
However, the word MlAOf almost always the word with its
several variations which is translated by ai]w<n, although
occurs about sixty times. The seven other words occur from
one to five times each and have no real significance on the
1 Moulton and Milligan, Vocabulary, p. 16.
understanding of ai]w<n.1 Both dfa and MlAOf have the same
basic meanings of "eternity, forever, and eternal." In
fact, the word ai]w<n may derive its meaning from the
Assyrian ullu(m) meaning "yonder, remote."2 William Rice
Hall indicates both words can signify "perpetuity with a
distinctive emphasis upon concealment."3 This perpetuity
will be indefinite or concealed as to limits in definition
though not necessarily in the context. Some of the
references to MlAOf aid in illustrating Hall's comment.
In Deuteronomy 15:17 there is mention of a perpetual slave
and in Genesis 9:16 a perpetual covenant. Each of these
indicate a perpetuity only after a time of inauguration.
In fact even the permanence of their perpetuity may be
limited. Girdlestone writes:
Eternity is endless; and this idea is only qualified
by the nature of the object to which it is applied, or
by the word of God. When applied to things physical,
it is used in accordance with the revealed truth that
the heaven and earth shall pass away, and it is limited
by this truth. When applied to God, it is used in
harmony with the truth that He is essentially and
absolutely existant and that as He is the causa causarum
1 Edwin Hatch and Henry A. Redpath, A Concordance to
the Septuagint and the Other Greek Versions of the Old
Testament, I (Gratz, Austria: Akademische Druk, 1954), 39-
41. "(hereinafter referred to as Concordance.)"
2 Frank Herbert
1937), p. 238. "(Hereinafter referred to as Time.)"
3 William Rice Hall, "The Concept of Time and
Eternity in the Old Testament" (unpublished Th.M. thesis,
and without beginning, so in the very nature of things
it must be held that no cause can ever put an end to
The extent of the perpetuity therefore can be
limited depending upon the object and its relation to ai]w<n.
In those cases where God is so related, nothing less than
the totality of eternity would be meant.
There may also be MlAOf, perpetuity, in two direc-
tions, namely, the past2 as well as the future. "These
observations are equally true whether the definite article
is used with the Hebrew or not."3 Obviously care must be
taken to let the context indicate the extent of time
In the Septuagint ai]w<n translates MlAOf with two
meanings: (1) a duration of a definite space of time, and
(2) an unending duration of time which could be either past
or future depending on the context.4 Past time stretching
indefinitely backward is seen in Genesis 6:4 "the mighty
men that were of old." More frequently the time intended
is future and can be limited only by the context as in
1 Robert Baker Girdlestone, Synonyms of the Old
Testament, 2nd ed. (
1953), P. 317.
2 Cf. Joshua 24:2 and Jeremiah 28:8 as good illus-
trations of perpetuity in the past.
3 James Barr, Time (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1961),
4 Cremer, Lexicon, p. 75.
II Samuel 12:10, "the sword shall not depart out of your
house forever (e!wj ai]w?noj). Initially ai]w<n had the idea
of hidden or distant time belonging to the remote past or
future from the standpoint of the present. Only later did
ai]w<n in translating MlAOf develop the meaning of endless
time or eternity. Cremer substantiates this by saying:
MlAOf the Hebrew word meant primarily a remote,
veiled, undefined, and therefore unlimited time, past
or future, and only secondarily, a definite (especially
a future) period whose limits must be ascertained from
the context, it was the natural choice to have ai]w<n
translate this word.1
While ai]w<n has several lexical meanings ranging from
life, lifetime, an age, a space of time and eternity it is
certain that ai]w<n may signify an indefinite period of time
either past or future (including the present) whose extent
is limited by the context more than by word meaning and
may designate only a brief period in one's life or extend
as far as eternity (or any point in between). In that ai]w<n
was used to translate the Hebrew MlAOf primarily it must be
understood that the New Testament use ai]w<n has the Old
Testament world of thought behind it.2
1 Cremer, Lexicon, p. 75.
Bible (New York: NacMillan, 1956), p. 266. "(Hereinafter
referred to as Word Book.)"
In the Gospels
Some fourteen different expressions occur in the
Gospels where the word ai]w<n is included. In general two
basic ideas seem to be present among these uses: (1) an
indefinitely long period, that is a period without assign-
able limits, and (2) one of the two great periods of the
Regarding the first idea it should be noted that
"only in the light of the context can it be said whether
ai]w<n means 'eternity' in the strict sense of simply
'remote' or 'extended' or 'uninterrupted time."2 Sasse
further suggests that the use of the plural "presupposes
knowledge of a plurality of ai]w?nej, of ages and periods
of time whose infinite series constitutes eternity."3
The two great periods of the world's history are
the present time which began with creation and culminates
with judgment and the Messianic
or Kingdom age.
In the NT Aion is used of this life in opposition
to the Age of the Kingdom which is called o[ me<llwn or
e]kei?noj o[ ai]w<n: from this it comes to mean this World
Order under the rule of an evil angel.4
2 Sasse, ai]w<n, I, 198-99.
3 Ibid., p. 199.
The many variations of expression using ai]w<n are
thought to be only an "intensification of the tendency
already displayed in the LXX to replace the simple formulae
by more complicated."1
In recent years considerable discussion of ai]w<n,
kairo<j an xro<noj has taken place.2 These divergent views
have developed into two general ideas about these words.
The two basic positions concerning ai]w<n are set forth by
Oscar Cullmann and James Barr.
Cullmann argues that ai]w<n in the New Testament
designates a duration of time which may be a limited or
unlimited extent of time. Actually his scheme allows for
four elements: (1) the entirety of time, (2) the period
before creation, (3) the period between creation and the
final events, and (4) the period from the final events to
infinity.3 When ai]w<n is used to show a limited duration
of time it, should be translated "age." If unlimited
duration is indicated the translation "eternity" is pre-
ferred. The plural ai]w?nej is preferred when the sense
1 Sasse, ai]w<n, I, 200.
2 Some of those who reflect this recent discussion
are: J. Marsh, The Fulness of Time; A. Richardson, A
Theological Word Book of the Bible; J.A.T. Robinson, In
the End, God; C. Cullmann, Christ and Time; and J. Barr,
Biblical Words for Time.
3 James Barr, Time (London: SCM Press Otd., 1962),
"eternity" is intended. However, this "eternity" is not
something different than time but the whole of time.1 To
Cullmann "eternity" is, "the linking of an unlimited series
of limited world periods, whose succession only God is
able to survey."2
In his reply to Cullmann's position James Barr
argues against Cullmann's methodology and conclusion that
eternity (ai]w<n) is synonymous with the entirety of earth's
limited times. He maintains for example, that ai]w<n in its
popular phrase ei]j to>n ai]w?na may be used "firstly for the
totality of time and secondly for a perpetuity in some
state for the whole of a limited period, and negatively for
the continual avoidance of a particular action"3 either for
the whole or a limited period. In other words ai]w<n may
have several meanings which are not necessarily parts of
the same whole. He further suggests that the use of the
plural of ai]w<n probably can be traced to or influenced by
the Hebrew olamim (or similarly the Aramaic),4 and not to
the combining of time periods.
restrict this meaning of ai]w<n too severely when he
1 Oscar Cullmann, Time, trans. by F. Filson (Phila-
delphia: he Westminster Press, 1950), pp. 45-46.
2 Barr, Time, p. 64.
3 Ibid., p. 77. 4 Ibid., p. 65.
In this connexion it is important to observe that
neither there, nor in any Jewish literature current at
the time, was the word aion used to express the view
that the history of the world is made up of a number
of aions or 'ages', nor even the notion of two aions
or ages -- the present and the one to come.1
Such a conclusion can hardly be supported by the context
of many New Testament passages.
In summary, Barr appeals to the syntactic contexts
to determine whether ai]w<n should be translated "forever"
(which he believes is true in most contexts) with "never"
in negative contexts and for the past "from all time" or
eternity.2 The consideration of the context and the
historic uses of ai]w<n to determine the correct meaning of
ai]w<n is a much better approach than Cullmann's self-
designed system of limited time periods which when compiled
extend from the beginning to the end of eternity. With
this background in mind an examination of the use of ai]w<n
in the Gospels is now possible.
The several uses of ai]w<n, are translated most
often by "age," "forever," and in the negative by "never."
The time indicated may extend from the time of creation to
the eternal state.
Matthew uses ai]w<n with tou<t& in a general way to
speak of this present age or time of history in contrast
2 Barr, Time, p. 69.
with the coming age which is climaxed by the eternal state
(12:32). Similarly ai]w<n is found in "the worry of the age"
(13:22; Mk. 4:19). Perhaps it is best to understand this
as the present evil time1 or world system which culminates
The expression sunte<leia ai]w?noj, "end of the age"
is found in five places and always with ai]w<n in the geni-
tive singular.2 Although it is found nowhere else in the
Gospels, this expression is frequently found in Jewish
apocalyptic literature especially in the Book of Baruch.
Each reference indicates a future time period of limited
duration. It may be the time of spiritual harvest (Mt. 13),
the time just prior to the Messianic kingdom (24:3) and the
end of this dispensation at the Rapture (28:20). At least
two differing points in time are indicated therefore, the
expression does not seem to refer to a particular point
but a period of time. To the dispensationalist the promise
of Matthew 28:20 extends only to the Rapture since there
will be no need for the promise after the Rapture. The
other occurrences will be fulfilled in conjunction with
the Second Coming, with the events of the Tribulation and
1 Ezra P. Gould, A Critical and Exegetical Commen-
on the Gospel According to St. Mark (
& T. Clark, 1961), p. 76. "(Hereinafter referred to as
2 Mt. 13:39, 40, 49; 24:3; 28:30.
the judgment of all living (Mt. 13). Thus the same expres-
sion refers to differing periods of limited duration.
Following the end of this age time continues.
While Matthew does not use ai]w<n to describe the eternal
state he may suggest it in recording the cursing of the fig
tree "there shall no longer be fruit from these forever"
(21:19). The expression used is the familiar Old Testament
phrase ei]j to>n ai]w?na or "into perpetuity." Concerning this
phrase Lenski writes: "The belief that whatsoever is
allowed to see that age will continue to exist, in that age,
makes ei]j to>n ai]w?na equivalent to forever."1 And yet in a
sense even this use of ai]w<n may extend only so far as the
life of the fig tree. If this is true, the most Jewish of
the Gospels has ai]w<n primarily to indicate time within the
existing period which is prior to the eternal state.
Of Mark's four references,2 two are parallel to
accounts in Matthew. However, Mark 10:30 introduces the
coming age (e]rxomen<& ai]w<n) which has as its character-
istic life eternal. It is clear that this coming age is
a distinct future period following "this age" which is
qualified as to its nature only by the phrase "eternal
life." Its extent of time is unspecified.
1 Richard C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St.
1964), p. 34. "(Hereinafter referred to as Luke.)"
2 Mark 3:29; 4:19; 10:30; 11:14.
In the phrase ei]j to>n ai]w?na which occurs in Mark
3:29, "hath not forgiveness forever," it must have the
meaning of eternal duration rather than "age." The "for-
ever" indicates the duration of the not being forgiven
which must last as long as the individual exists. It is
later referred to as an eternal (ai]w<nioj) sin. Here only
in Mark does ai]w<n indicate a long period of time including
both the present and future ages.
The third Gospel, Luke, incorporates all of the
previous uses of ai]w<n though sometimes with differing ex-
pressions. He writes of the sons of the present period of
time in 16:8, tou? ai]w?noj tou<to. The terminus of the
present age will not be reached until the coming age (18:
30). "This age" (tou<tou) in Luke 20:34 is not to be con-
fused with "that (e]kei<nou) age" (20:35). Perhaps more
pointedly here than any other place Jesus shows there is a
distinction between the present age, a time for marrying,
and the future age, a time of resurrection. The periods
are distinct and do not overlap. The ei]j to>n ai]w?na is
found in both the singular (1:55) and the plural (1:33).
This is the only plural use of ai]w<n in the Gospels. The use
of ai]w<n in the singular "toward Abraham and his seed for-
ever" may be indicating that up to the time of Luke's
inscripturation only a single ai]w<n had transpired whereas
the plural "reign over the house of Jacob forever" would
cite that a multiplication of eons in an indefinite
succession portray the magnitude of eternity.1 However, it
is best to understand the singular or plural uses as
optional ways of saying the same thing, "forever," unless
there is contextual evidence which would indicate otherwise.
Luke 1:70, "from of old" introduces a use of ai]w<n
which looks backward into time. It is not from an eternal
past but a time period being reckoned from the time when
the holy prophets began to emerge. Here ai]w<n indicates a
past time within this age but removed from eternity or
In John only two types of ai]w<n expressions are
found. The first expression in 9:32 is e]k tou? ai]w?noj
"since the world began" and suggests the time as being since
the beginning of this age commencing with creation. This
is the only such use in the New Testament though it is
used freely by non-biblical authors.2
The most popular phrase ei]j to>n ai]w?na is found in
the singular all eleven times. In John 8:35 Jesus uses an
illustration concerning the tenure of a servant and a son
in a household. The servant is not remaining "forever" but
the son remains "forever." That is, his tenure is not lost
1 Lenski, Luke, p. 68.
2 J H. Bernard, A Critical and Exegetical Commen-
on the Gospel According to St. John, II (
T. & T. Clark, 1962), 336. "(Hereinafter referred to as
as long as he lives. Obviously the time of this illustra-
tion extends only as far as the life of the servant and the
son. Though "forever" may be considered the best transla-
tion it can be misleading since the "forever" is limited
to a lifetime. The other uses of this phrase in John are
translated "forever"1 or its negative "never"2 which is an
unending avoidance. Among these are the popular Johannine
phrases "never die," "live forever," and "never taste death."
In some of these cases the "forever" had a beginning though
no end. Yet the same expression is used in referring to
the abiding of the Son (12:34) which has no beginning or
ending. Correct theology demands that ai]w<n in these places
be understood as an unending period of time. In all these
passages ai]w<n cannot specify the period of time. Only the
context can determine this. The comment of A. H. Strong
concerning the meaning of ai]w<n and ai]w<nioj is most fitting:
"They do, however, express the longest possible duration of
which the subject to that which they are attributed is
By way of summary, ai]w<n is found in several phrases
and designates time that has varying lengths. It may refer
to time past, from creation, Abraham or the prophets. In
1 Jn. 6:51, 58; 12:34; 14:16.
2 Jn. 414; 8:51, 52; 10:28; 11:26; 13:8.
3 Augustus H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Philadel-
phia: The Judson Press, 1907), p. 1044.
other places it indicates the existing world system, this
age, or the coming age. The expression, sunte<leia ai]w?na,
used only by Matthew, signifies the consummation of the age
either at the Rapture or the Second Coming. The most
popular expression is ei]j to>n ai]w?na which is translated
"forever."1 Yet even the "forever" often had a beginning
unless it was ascribed to Jesus. It can have an ending at
the end of one's life as well. To suggest a common trans-
lation for these multiple uses would be impossible. Each
context must determine the time and duration signified by
A second important time word is kairo<j which is
often translated "time." However, there are several other
translations and uses of this word.
1 Since ai]w<nioj is an adjective it was not considered
separately. The assertion by Strong, Systematic Theology,
p. 1044 that both ai]w<n and ai]w<nioj have the same basic
meaning makes an in depth study unnecessary. Only the
nature of its uses need be cited. In the Gospels the ad-
jective ai]w<nioj has the meaning "eternal." This is also the
nuance of ai]w<n. Of the twenty-nine uses of ai]w<nioj all but
five occur with zwh< in the expression "eternal" life. The
other uses are: (1) "eternal" fire (Mt. 18:8; 25:41);
(2) "eternal" punishment (Mt. 25:46); (3) "eternal"
dwellings (Lk. 16:9); and (4) "eternal" sin (Mk. 3:29).
In non-biblical Greek
While the etymology of kairo<j, "time," is uncertain
and gives place to several differing conclusions, the early
temporal uses of this word suggest two basic meanings: (1)
exact or critical time, season or opportunity and (2) time,
period or season of the year.1 Typical of the first meaning
is the sentence "the time (kairo<j) for the delivery of the
corn had passed."2 In other words kairo<j refers to a
specific point of time. James Barr similarly states,
"where kairo<j has a reference to time in a classical author
like Aeschylus the sense is roughly that of opportune
time."3 In its second sense it may mean a short space of
time, a stretch of time, time of the year or an age.4
Generally, kairo<j is in some way limited or defined
by the use, of other words, such as prepositions or words
following in the genitive case to indicate the reason why
the time is set apart. Delling shows strong preference for
the first meaning when he writes "the linguistic development
1 George Henry Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-
English Lexicon, I (London: At the Clarendon Press, 1940),
859. "(Hereinafter referred to as Lexicon.)"
2 Moulton and Milligan, Ibid., p. 315.
3 Barr, Ibid., p. 32.
4 Gerhard Delling, kairo<j, TDNT, trans. and ed.,by
W. Bromiley, III (
Publishing Co., 1965), 457-58.
of the term clearly suggests that the basic sense is that
of the decisive or crucial place or point, whether
spatially, materially or temporally."1
In the Old Testament
From the Hebrew several observations can be made.
Most often kairo<j translates tfe which "in reference to
determining the nature of the concept of time in the Old
Testament, it is basic that it refers primarily to the
juncture of circumstances, the specific occasion."2 Conse-
quently, it can be said that tfe refers directly to the
occasion itself. It must be stated further that tfe is
translated by many other Greek words including w!ra, h[me<ra,
and xro<noj. However, kairo<j also occurs for dfeOm,
"appointment" which is used to indicate natural periods
such as feasts and MlAOf which refers to remotest time or
The use of kairo<j in the Septuagint continues the
earlier meanings of kairo<j, namely: (1) a decisive point
in time, as in Genesis 17:21 "at this set time in the next
year" and (2) a more general indication of time. As a
general rule, kairo<j in the Septuagint signifies a point of
time at which something happens though on some occasions it
1 Delling, Ibid., p. 455.
2 John H. Wilch, Time
and Event (
Brill, 1969), p. 167.
seems to suggest the meaning of xro<noj, a "period of time."1
This period of time can be shorter or longer, a regular
fixed time or a general statement of time.2
In the Gospels
The use of kairo<j in the Gospels is limited to
thirty places, three of which occur in the plural. It is
generally accepted that kairo<j has two or more senses.
Often it means a fixed time or decisive point. For this
reason it can be thought of as "the right time." A second
meaning is more general and is limited or defined by the use
of other words or prepositional phrases. This seems to be
the general use.3 It is also possible that a third use,
that of the plural, occurs to denote periods4 of time.
Several translations conveying the idea of time, "right,
proper time, opportunity"5 may result depending on the use
involved. However, these several meanings are not accepted
1 However, Barr, Time, pp. 35-37 lists many illus-
trations which seem to have just the opposite of their
normally accepted meanings.
2 E. Jenni, "Time," Interpreter's Dictionary of the
Bible, IV (New York: Abingdon Press, 1962), 645.
3 Cremer, Lexicon, p. 324. 4 Ibid.
5 William P. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek
English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early
Press, 1957), p. 395. "(Hereinafter referred to as
by all the scholars.
Among the recent theologians commenting on the
significance of kairo<j several maintain that it stands for
"realistic time," that is, time of opportunity and fulfill-
ment1 which is in contrast with xro<noj meaning "a period
of time." More pointedly, Robinson comments " kairo<j is
time considered in relation to personal action, in
reference to ends to be achieved in it."2 Thus, it always
must be thought of as a "point of time defined by its
content."3 It becomes a critical or decisive moment. For
this reason it is argued that times are "known and dis-
tinguished not so much by their place in some temporal
sequence as by their content: i.e. they are known
realistically, rather than chronologically."4 Therefore,
it is the sum total of these kairoi< that provide a line of
realistic time. This is of theological importance to
Oscar Cullmann for it is his "working out of the series of
decisive moments or kairoi chosen by God, the joining
together of which furnishes Cullmann with his line, so
important for his understanding of time."5
1 John Marsh, Time
Publishers, 1952), p. 20.
John Arthur Thomas Robinson, In the End (
Harper and Row, 1968), p. 258.
3 Cullmann, Time, p. 39.
4 Marsh, Time, p. 21. 5 Barr, Time, p. 63.
That Barr does not accept this limited definition
of kairo<j is clear when he says, "If there is a difference
between xro<noj and kairo<j in the New Testament usage it is
clear that it cannot correspond to the distinction between
chronological and realistic time."1 Actually, in some of
the passages of theological significance "there may be good
reason to suppose that there is no real difference between
the words."2 In many places xro<noj and kairo<j appear to
exchange the meanings usually given to them.3 Barr
concludes his argument:
But the main point has been abundantly established
namely that the correlation of two great conceptions
of time with the two Greek words is thoroughly erro-
neous and that all arguments about time in biblical
thought are misleading in such proportion as they
depend upon this correlation.4
It must be noted that two differing views con-
cerning the meaning of kairo<j prevail: (1) it points only
[emphasis mine] to a specific point in time, or (2) it has
in addition to the first meaning the meaning of xro<noj
which is normally understood to be its opposite. With this
in mind the meaning of kairo<j in the Gospels can better be
1 Barr, Time, p. 22.
2 Ibid., p. 31; see also Caird, The Apostolic Age,
3 Barr, Time, cites many illustrations of this from
both the Septuagint and the New Testament beginning on
4 Ibid., p. 44.
In Matthew on some occasions kairo<j must indicate
a specific point in time. For example, he writes of the
demons not wanting to be tormented pro< kairou? "before the
time" (8:29). The omission of the article is not to
generalize the statement but it occurs because it is a
time designation after a preposition.1 The time indicated
is the appointed time of judgment. Similarly in 24:45 a
faithful steward puts food before the household e]n kair&?
"at the right time." This use of e]n kair&? without further
qualification seems to be an idiom and can be found with
this meaning outside of Biblical Greek.2 The sense remains
that of a specific point of time though the exact time is
unspecified. Jesus indicates this idea also when He
remarks near His crucifixion "my time is near" (26:18).
Also in Matthew kairo<j has the meaning of "season"
when connected with the grain (13:30) and fruit (21:34)
coming ripe for harvesting. While this is not a single
point of time it does convey a very limited expanse of time
at the harvest season. It is not so much an exact chrono-
logical reference as it is a time to do something. A more
1 Nigel Turner, Syntax, Vol. III., A Grammar of New
ed. by J.H. Moulton (3 vols;
T. & T. Clark, 1919-63), p. 179. "(Hereinafter referred to
2 Xenophon Anabasis 3.1.39.
general expression, e]n e]kei<n& t&? kair&?, "at that time" is
found in 11:25, 12:1 and 14:1. The context of each usage
clearly indicates that this is not a specific time indica-
tion. George Ogg remarks concerning this expression, "It
may be a mere transition or introductory formula; it may
refer to some definite season about the limits of which,
however, nothing is known. In neither case can a scienti-
fic chronology obtain any help from it."1 Mark 12:23
which is parallel to Matthew 12:1 has "and it came to pass"
which is a general indication of sequence more than time.
On two occasions, 16:3 "signs of the times" and 21:41
"proceeds in their seasons," the plural of kairo<j is used.
In these places kairo<j seems more like the chronological
reckoning indicated by xro<noj. Time here is presented as
periods of eschatological and agricultural reckoning.
Therefore, Matthew uses kairo<j with three basic ideas:
(1) a specific point of time, (2) a limited expanse of
time, and (3) a period of time.
Mark's account has kairo<j five times always in the
singular. Like Matthew it is used to indicate a specific
event in time, such as, the coming of the kingdom, "the
time is fulfilled" (1:15) and the time of the second coming
(13:33). Yet, in each instance the time of the event does
1 George Ogg, Chronology of the public Ministry of
Jesus (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1940), p. 17.
“(Hereinafter referred to as Chronology.)"
not appear important, rather the event. In Mark 11:13
kairo<j denotes that it was not the "season" of figs, but in
12:2 it was the "season" for receiving the produce of the
vineyard. The use in Mark 10:30 "he shall receive one
hundred fold now in this time" is a general reference to
one's lifetime as contrasted with the coming age which is
mentioned later in the verse. Here, as in Matthew, kairo<j
has in some of its uses an appeal to a non-specific period
of time which is also true of xro<noj and ai]w<n.
Luke has kairo<j thirteen times. In addition to the
parallels in the other Gospels, Luke uses kairo<j to indicate
a specific time in 1:20 where Gabriel tells Zacharias that
his words concerning the birth of John "shall be fulfilled
in their time," the time of John's birth. If, however, the
whole prophecy is being indicated here then kairo<j would be
better translated "season" and would include the ministry
of John thus becoming a general time indication. Jesus
indicates that false prophets will declare themselves to be
the Christ and will say, "the time is at hand" (21:8). That
is, from time to time the false prophets will declare it is
the appropriate time to follow them. The Devil leaves
Jesus at the end of the temptation, a@xri kairou?, "until a
right or favorable time" (4:13). The word is believed
until the "time of temptation" (8:13). Luke seems to stress
not the "when" of the event but that it does take place at
some point in time.
At times Luke's use of kairo<j indicates a period of
time. It may be the "time of your visitation" (19:44), that
is, the "time" of the
ministry of Christ to
addition kairo<j can indicate a period when, "for a time,"
there are those who believe the word (8:13). Also found is
e]n au]t&? kair&? (13:1) as a general indication of time
which places Luke twelve and thirteen in the same time
period though not necessarily indicating immediacy of time
sequence. These passages do not suggest an event taking
place at a single point in time as do the earlier references
in Luke. However, the event seems more important than the
In Luke 21:24 the plural occurs, "until the times
of the Gentiles be fulfilled." Theologically it is
generally accepted that these times began in Daniel's day
and extend until the Second Coming. Here then is a clear
passage where kairo<j must mean what xro<noj seems usually to
signify, a chronological time indicator.
John adds nothing to what is already stated. His
two uses, 7:16 and 7:8, indicate the exact or precise moment
for Jesus to manifest His glory in the crucifixion and
By way of summary, in the Gospels kairo<j refers to
time that may be (1) a specific moment, (2) a more general
span of time, and (3) a period of time which can extend
even over two thousand years. For this reason a variety of
translations including "moment, season, time, opportunity
and right time" are possible. It is the context rather
than the word which conveys the various meanings of the
word. It must be remembered that kairo<j is not normally
used to indicate time in its chronological sequences but
rather events which occur at some time. In other words,
with kairo<j the event is emphasized as occurring without a
specific emphasis as to its time relationships to other
events. Therefore, it could be said that kairo<j indicates
time as conceptualized rather than time realized.
The final word considered in this chapter is
xro<noj. Like ai]w<n and kairo<j it occurs in a variety of
contexts but it has only the one translation, "time."
In non-biblical Greek
The use of xro<noj in expressing time is most often
contemplated simply as the succession of moments. That is
xro<noj "embraces all possible kairoi<, and, being the larger
more inclusive term, may be often used where kairo<j would
have been equally suitable, though not the converse."1 In
earliest Greek it expressed time both specific, such as,
lifetime, season of the year or some definite time period
1 Trench, Synonyms, p. 210.
as well as abstract time.1 These same meanings can also
be found in the New Testament era among the papyri litera-
ture. Sometimes xro<noj is found with kairo<j as in "to say
nothing of so long time (xro<non) having passed and such
times (kairw?n)."2 This illustrates well the often
suggested difference between these two words, that of a
period and an event.
Expressions which include xro<noj, such as, polu>j
xro<noj, a long time, i!kanoj xro<noj, considerable or long
time,3 and dialipw>n xro<non, after a while, or dialeipw>n
xro<non at intervals,4 suggest a rather long period of
time especially when they occur in the plural.5
In the Old Testament
Thirteen differing Hebrew words and expressions
are translated by xro<noj,6 The most frequent Hebrew word
is MOy which normally is translated "day." In places
where xro<noj is used for MOY, whether in the singular or
1 Liddell and Scott, Lexicon, II, 2008.
2 Moulton and Milligan, Vocabulary, p. 694.
3 Arndt and Gingrich, Lexicon, p. 896.
Herbert Weir Smyth, Greek Grammar (
after referred to as Grammar.)"
5 Jenni, xro<noj, TDNT, IV, 645.
6 Hatch and Redpath, Concordance, II, 1476.
plural, it indicates a general or prolonged period of
time as in Genesis 26:1, "in the days (time) of Abraham"
and Joshua 4:14, "all the days (time) of his life." The
other two frequently translated Hebrew words, tfe and MlAOf,
are translated by both kairo<j or xro<noj. However, these
Hebrew words are not often translated by xro<noj. The five
times MlAOf is found it is in an ei]j to>n ai]w?na xro<non
expression. A perusal of the context of these Hebrew words
that are translated by xro<noj indicates usually an extended
period of time. The time may apply to the time of one's
life (Deut. 12:19) or eternity (Isa. 14:20) or any similar
period of time.
On some occasions xro<noj appears definitely to
refer to a specific time as in Jeremiah 49:8, "the time that
I shall visit him," though sometimes the time is a more
extended period as in the "time (xro<noj) of Jacob's
trouble" (Jer. 30:8). In Daniel 2:16, "appoint him a time,"
xro<noj also must be interpreted as a specific point in time
and seems to convey the idea normally associated with
kairo<j. Yet, later in Daniel 2:21, xro<noj appears to refer
to a larger period of time. In both places xro<noj trans-
lates the same Aramaic word, rmAz;. These considerations
certainly suggest that xro<noj refers generally to a period
of time though it may at times point to a specific time.
In such places its meaning seems to overlap that of kairo<j.
In the Gospels
The translation of xro<noj is "time" which is often
qualified by a supporting word, phrase or clause.1 In each
Gospel xro<noj occurs with several expressions. One of the
problems with xro<noj is that some see no difference between
xro<noj and kairo<j. Frame comments, "in Jewish usage the
terms are interchangeable."2 However, some more contempo-
rary writers believe that xro<noj in the New Testament is
the word [emphasis mine] for chronological time,3 that is,
measured time or duration.4 Robinson elaborates that
time abstracted from such a relation, time, as it
were, that ticks on objectively and impersonally,
whether anything is happening or not; it is time
measured by the chronometer, not by purpose, momentary
rather than momentous.5
In other words Robinson believes that xro<noj
"time," is to be regarded as self-determining. Further,
it is held that time expressed xro<noj is not of
1 Arndt and Gingrich, Lexicon, p. 896.
2 James Everett Frame, A Critical and Exegetical
on the Epistles of
(New York: Charles Scribner's sons, 1912), p. 180.
3 Marsh, Time, p. 20.
4 Alan Richardson, Word Book, p. 258.
5 Robinson, In the End, God, p. 45.
We usually think of time as something which can be
counted in hours. The New Testament designates this sort of time by the
word chronos. Every event has its place in the sequence of time. We then
have the tendency to depict time on a straight line with different events as
points along this line. We usually ask when this or that event occurred and
how long it lasted. . . . Differing from us, however, the Biblical
authors concentrated far more on the content of a certain event than on its
place in the sequence of time. They did not ask first of all when an event
took place, but what happened, what content the event had.1
While credence can be generally given to this line
of thinking, a further observation is necessary. To Barr,
xro<noj time most often has reference to some kind of real
time "in which something was happening, or some time the
elapse of which was important for the understanding of the
description of some event."2 Yet in some locations xro<noj
and kairo<j have no significant differences.
In the LXX and NT kairo<j keeps the special meaning,
in which it shows opposition to xro<noj, of 'right
time,' only in certain contexts; and that over a large
area of the usage, much larger than the number of the
examples we have already cited, the two words mean the
same thing; . . . In particular in those theologi-
cally important cases which speak of the 'time' or
'times' which God has appointed or promised the two
words are most probably of like meaning.3
As in the case of ai]w<n and kairo<j the major views
concerning xro<noj are two. The first maintains that xro<noj
indicates measured or chronological time. The second view,
1 Jindrick Nanek, "The Biblical Concept of Time and
Our Gospels," New Testament Studies, VI (October, 1959),
2 Barr, Time, D. 79.
3 Ibid., p. 42.
upheld by Barr, allows for a wider scope of meaning so that
it can also have the same meaning as kairo<j. Thus, only
the context can determine whether the word meaning is the
same as kairo<j or refers to an extended period of time.
Of the three references to xro<noj in Matthew, two
occur in connection with the birth of Christ. Herod
inquired exactly of the wisemen "the time" of the appearing
star (2:7) that marked the birth of Christ. Later in 2:16
Herod slew the infants two years and under "according to
the time which he accurately ascertained from the magi."
In both uses a precise reckoning of calendar time was
calculated and this became the time basis for Herod's
actions. This specific period of time was not over two
years. The third reference to xro<noj is in Matthew 25:19,
"now after much time" in the parable of the talents. The
parable itself indicates a lengthy undesignated period of
time passed so that xro<noj must be used here to indicate a
period of time.
Mark 2:19 has o!son xro<non, "so long a time (as)"
and 9:21 po<soj xro<noj, "how long a time." Again the time
is unspecified but real calendar time. An undesignated
period of time passes between the events described.
Luke, however, has several interesting and varied
uses of xro<noj. In 1:57 it may have a part of the meaning
of kairo<j when "the time of her (
spoken of. While this is an event in chronological time
it culminated at a "specific moment" rather than over a
period. It seems little different from Luke's expression
"the time (kairo<j) of temptation" (8:13). If, however, the
nine months of
chronological indication, the concept of chronological time
rather than a specific moment is intended.
Satan in Luke 4:5 shows to Christ all the kingdoms
of the world "in a moment of time" e]n stigm^? xro<nou.
That is, all the kingdoms were shown to Christ not in a
chronological series but simultaneously.1 Here, xro<noj is
qualified by a prepositional phrase to refer to a single
moment of time. Normally it is kairo<j that expresses this
concept. Luke 18:4 "for a time," and 20:9 "for a long
time" all indicate periods of time which may even extend
Herod is also said to be desirous of seeing Christ
"of (for) a long time" e]c i[kanw?n xro<nwn (23:8). This use
of xro<noj with i!
"enough and to spare, much." This combination of words is
quite frequent in the writings of Luke.2 In Luke 8:27 the
man possessed with demons
"for much (i[
no clothes. "For many times" (8:29) the demon had seized
1 Alfred Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary
the Gospel According to St. Luke (
2 Ibid., p. 199.
him. Here the change to the plural form of xro<noj would
show either the demon had been troubling him for a long
period of time or it had often times seized him. The dif-
ference is between one long seizure and a series of many
seizures on different occasions.
John's use of xro<noj adds nothing new. In 5:6
Jesus saw the sick man by the pool and knew he had been
there "a long time" polu>n xro<non. Later Jesus uses
tosou<t& xro<n& "so long a time" (14:9) to speak of His
being with Philip. On two occasions (7:33; 12:35) mi<kroj
and xro<noj are used to show that Jesus would be with them
a "little time." The first use is six months before the
crucifixion and the last a few hours. Both are periods of
time with undesignated lengths. Thus, in John xro<noj always
means extent and never point of time.
In conclusion it can be stated that xro<noj usually
expresses time in its duration. Thus there are the expres-
sions "much time, so long a time" etc. Yet, there are a few
instances which may indicate an event taking place at a
point in time. In such instances xro<noj seems to parallel
the idea of kairo<j. One further observation is in order.
All the instances of xro<noj in the Gospels occur in con-
texts that are a matter of history. They are not time con-
ceptualized. These events may have taken place (1) in a
moment of time, (2) a period of time, or (3) on several
occasions. At least the first two uses are also true of
kairo<j. For this reason the differences between xro<noj
and kairo<j cannot be sought in the duration of time.
Rather xro<noj emphasizes more the time of the event whereas
kairo<j seems to stress the event which takes place in time.
However, there are some places the words seem to share the
WORDS INDICATING TIME IN A YEAR
Assertions have already been made about the
meanings of the words for time which were most often used
by the common people of
A.D.1 During the passing of a year some of these words and
other words were used in a variety of ways to indicate time.
This chapter is not a duplication of the earlier chapter
but an examination of all the appearances of the words in
the Gospels. It is necessary to understand the use of each
word in the non-biblical Greek, the Old Testament and then
the New Testament in order to assert conclusions about
their temporal meaning. The words studied in this chapter
include expressions for time in a year except for the word
"day" and its parts. The order of the words considered in
this chapter are: year, month, week, tomorrow and yesterday.
Year (dieth<j, e]niauto<j, e@toj )
Years were cited by one of three Greek words—dieth<j,
e]niauto<j and e@toj. These words are found in differing con-
texts and must be examined separately to show the
distinctions and similarities of meaning.
1 See Supra, chapter II for these comments.
Actually, dieth<j is an infrequent combination of
two words di<j meaning two and e@toj which is the usual word
In non-biblical Greek.--Only a few uses of this
word can be cited and all of these must be translated "two
years." This is true whether the word is used by
Herodotus1 or Josephus.2 Often dieth<j is accompanied by
xro<noj as in the rental agreement "I will guarantee your
tenancy for the period of two years."3
In the Old Testament.--This word is not found in
the Old Testament probably because of the Hebrew custom of
expressing more than one year with two or more separate
words. However, dieth<j is found once in II Maccabees 10:3,
"They brought a sacrifice after two years time" (meta<
dieth? xro<nou). This verse follows the pattern of the non-
1 George Henry Liddell and Robert Scott, Lexicon,
I (London: At the Clarendon Press, 1940), 351.
2 Josephus Antiquities 2.5.4. This is the only
place it occurs in Josephus according to Henry St. John
A Lexicon to Josephus, III (
Orientaliste Paul Geuthner, 1945), 174. "(Hereinafter
referred to as Lexicon.)"
Moulton and Milligan, Vocabulary (
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1963), p. 160.
In the Gospels.--The sole use of dieth<j in the
Gospels occurs with the preposition a]po<, "from two years
old and under" (Mt. 2:16). Luke also uses dieth<j in Acts
24:27 and 28:30 where full two year periods are acknowledged
by virtually all commentators. As far as being helpful in
establishing an approximate date for the birth of Christ,
this expression suggests that Jesus was born at least two
years before the death of Herod. This assumption seems
reasonable for the following reasons. Herod's decree to
slay the infants was based on the time he exactly learned
from the wisemen. Further, in Classical Greek the genitive
may denote the time "since" an action has happened.1 Here,
the a]po> dietou?j kai> katwte<rw indicates the starting point
in time for those infants who fell under the decree of Herod.
If Herod extended the time beyond the time learned from
the wisemen, the two year time indication is less meaningful.
However, by assuming that the two years indicates the approx-
imate age of Jesus at the time of Herod's decree and since
Herod died shortly after an eclipse of the moon and before
the Passover of 4 B.C. as history seems to indicate,2 and
since Christ was born before the death of Herod, it can be
asserted that the birth of Christ could hardly occur after
Herbert Weir Smyth, Grammar (
Jack Finegan, HBC (Princeton:
Press, 1964), pp. 231-33.
6 B.C. unless dieth<j indicates something less than two
years. It should be noted that these are possible variables
which could alter the conclusions often stated about the
birth date of Christ. The most important reason why it is
impossible to be specific as to which year Christ was born
from this Scripture reference is that the date of this
decree by Herod is not known. It may have been close to
his death in 4 B.C. but there is no reason why it could not
have been earlier in 5 B.C. etc. Consequently a conclusion
as to the date of Christ's birth cannot be dogmatically
asserted on the basis of this passage. However, the meaning
of dieth<j must indicate two years since it is not qualified.
This seldom used word denoting a year occurs only
four times in the Gospels though more often in other
In non-biblical Greek.--Throughout all the Greek
writings e]niauto<j is found with the translation and meaning
of a "whole year."1 For example, in the papyri e]niauto<j
is found, "for the first year prwtou? e]niautou? she
received her wages for nursing."2 However, on a few
1 Liddell and Scott, Lexicon, I, 567.
2 Moulton and Milligan, Vocabulary, p. 215.
occasions e]niauto<j is used more generally of a period of
time. Once Josephus indicates a period that is actually
six hundred years by the expression o[ me<gaj e]niauto<j.1
In the Old Testament.--Occurring about one hundred
times, e]niauto<j is found mostly in the historical sections.
In nearly every instance it translates hnAwA which usually
means a literal year. Very seldom does e]niauto<j occur with
a number. For this reason there are only a few times where
e]niauto<j indicates the length of a king's reign (I Kg. 14:
21). In recording the time of the building of Solomon's
temple both e@toj and e]niauto<j are used apparently as
synonyms (I Kgs. 6:1), because the four hundred and
eightieth year (e@toj) since the Exodus from
fourth year (e]niato<j) of Solomon's reign are the same year.
Several other passages have e]niauto<j and e@toj in
the same context. In II Kings 24:18 "Zedekiah was twenty
and one years" (e]niauto<j ) and "he reigned eleven years"
(e@toj). This example could be repeated many times and it
suggests that e]niauto<j and e@toj are often identical in
In some places e]niauto<j is a "year" conceptualized
rather than historic. Genesis 1:14 says the lights in the
1 Josephus Antiquities 1.3.9. For other instances
where e]niauto<j signifies a period see Arndt and Gingrich,
Lexicon (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1957),
heaven are "for days and for years." Once in the year
(e]niauto<j) the high priest made atonement (Lev. 16:34) for
sins. Also, the children of
a feast unto Jehovah "seven days in the year" (Lev. 23:41).
In the Old Testament e]niauto<j occurs with these two
nuances. In a minority of places e]niauto<j when used with
numbers becomes a chronological indication. However,
e]niauto<j usually conveys the concept of a year such as the
"year of Jubilee" (Lev. 25:13) and "all the months of the
year" (I Chr. 27:1). In both senses, the meaning indicated
is a literal year.
In the Gospels.--The four references to e]niauto<j
in the Gospels are without the use of numbers just as it
often occurs in the Septuagint. Three of the passages state
that Caiaphas was the highpriest "that year," tou? e]niatou?
e]kei<nou (Jn. 11:49, 51; 18:13). The expression "that year"
should probably be understood as "that fatal year" when
Christ was crucified rather than the thought that Caiaphas
held office for only one year.1 Since the dates for
Caiaphas being the high priest extend from A.D. 18 to 36, he
was the high priest both before and after this year but
1 Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer, Critical and Exe-
getical Hand-book to the Gospel of John, trans. by
1884), p. 357. "(Hereinafter referred to as John.)"
only "that year" is brought into consideration by John.
The other use of e]niauto<j occurs in the quotation
"the acceptable year of the Lord" (Lk. 4:19) which is taken
from Isaiah 61:2. Some early commentators such as Clement
of Alexandria1 took this as a literal statement and
limited Christ's earthly ministry to twelve months. How-
ever, according to the three Passovers mentioned in John
2:13, 6:4 and 11:55 the view of Clement cannot be correct.
The only possible solution to this use of e]niauto<j is to
understand it as figurative of the new era that the Messiah
will usher in.2 Perhaps, the question should be asked, "Why
is e]niauto<j used when a literal year is not meant?" This
passage is an accurate quotation from the Septuagint and
would be inaccurate if altered. The other Gospel passages
demand that this be understood as figurative though it is
The most frequent word expressing a year is e@toj
in every period of Greek studied.
In non-biblical Greek.--The use of e@toj, "year," is
attested throughout all stages of Greek. It is used to
1 Clement Homilies 17.9.
R.C.H. Lenski Luke (
Publishing House, 1961), p. 252.
cite both the year of a king's reign, "to> [p]empton e@t[o]j
Domitianou?,"1 as well as the age of an individual, "h#n e@twn,
w[j tria<konta."2 These would be natural and frequent
reasons for a common person to reckon anything by years.
They usually are written with an accompanying number.
In the Old Testament.--The Greek of the Septuagint
uses e@toj over five hundred times and on almost every
occasion it translates hnAwA meaning "year." It is found
in geneologies (Gen. 5, 11) and in stating the years of a
king's reign (I Kg. 15:25; 16:23). The years of reign are
helpful in determining the time of prophecies (Hag. 1:1)
and important historical events such as the invasion of
foreign armies (Dan. 1:1). Some events are dated by the
age of people, such as, the time of the flood (Gen. 7:6)
and the defeat of
in the ninety-eighth year of Eli. Even the time of dura-
tion of certain events is given in years. Two years pass
while Joseph is in prison (Gen.
few times e@toj designates an unspecified number of years,
though this is usually reserved for e]niauto<j. One such
use is found in Proverbs 3:2 "years of life."
1 Moulton and Milligan, Vocabulary, D. 258.
2 Xenophon Anabasis 2.6.20.
The important aspect to keep in mind is that e@toj
normally is used to indicate a particular number of years.
In the Gospels.--Most uses of e@toj do not indicate
important chronological events. At times e@toj is used to
indicate the number of years a person has been ill.1 Also,
the age of a person may be given for a particular event.
Jesus was twelve years when He went to the temple (Lk. 2:
42). A damsel that Jesus raised from the dead was twelve
years of age (Lk. 8:43). Once Luke uses e@toj to indicate
the duration of the drought in Elijah's day (4:25).
On two occasions e@toj is used not as a reference to
a specific number of years but it indicates an undesignated
lengthy period longer than a year. The rich farmer laid up
goods "for many years" (Lk. 12:19), just as the elder son
served his father "these many years" (Lk. 15:29).
In Luke 2:41 it is reported, "Jesus' parents went
a distributive genitive which indicates that this was the
habitual annual practice of Joseph and Mary. This is the
only New Testament location of this expression though it
can be found in the Septuagint.
1 Mt. 9:20 (Mk. 5:25; Lk. 8:43); Jn. 5:5; Lk. 13:
2 Moulton and Milligan, Vocabulary, p. 258.
There are four places where e@toj expresses time
that is important to the chronology of Christ. The first
relates that John the Baptist began his ministry in the
"fifteenth year of Tiberius" (Lk. 3:1). It is generally
agreed that Jesus began His ministry about six months after
John so that if the beginning of John's ministry can be
established, the time of Jesus' ministry can also be
ascertained. The determining of the fifteenth year of
Tiberius is a Problem because Tiberius began a co-reign
with his step-father on October 23, A.D. 12, from which
time he governed the Roman provinces jointly and held the
census with Augustus. About two years later, August 19,
A.D. 14, Augustus died and Tiberius assumed control of the
empire and later was confirmed by the vote of the Senate
on September 17, A.D. 14. Adding to the complexity of
establishing the beginning year of Tiberius' reign is the
uncertainty about whether the accession or nonaccession
year method was followed.1 The monarchs of the Seleucid
October and it is assumed that this is the pattern followed
by Luke.2 With these areas of possible interpretation "the
1 For a full discussion of this problem see Finegan,
HBC, pp. 259ff.
2 Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of
1954), p. 134.
fifteenth year of Tiberius" could be A.D. 26, 27, 28 or 29
depending on the year used in beginning his reign, 12 or
14 A.D., and the method of reckoning the regnal year,
accession or nonaccession. Because the "fifteenth year"
has several possible interpretations, it cannot be used by
itself to determine a certain calendar date for the
beginning of John's ministry.
Luke 2:23 states that Jesus was "about thirty
years," w[si> e@twn tria<konta, when He was baptized and
began His ministry. Few, other than Irenaeus, interpret
this to mean that Jesus had begun but not completed His
thirtieth year.1 The use of w!sei would suggest several
years leeway is possible. Cadbury writes:
Having for many years read the volumes of Greek
papyri as they were published, I formed the impression
that the ages of adults which were given in them tended
to occur for the multiples of five far out of propor-
tion to the other numbers.2
If this conclusion is correct and is applied to
Luke's statement, one thing is clear. Thirty was not
necessarily Jesus' nearest birthday. This assertion is
also suggested by Luke's use of w[sei<. Since the exact
year of Jesus' birth is as unspecific as the statement of
1 Irenaeus Irenaeus Against Heresies 2.22.5.
2 Henry J. Cadbury, "Time," Journal of Biblical
Literature, LXXXII (September, 1963), 275-76.
this verse, it can only be concluded that the birth of
Jesus was approximately thirty years prior to the fifteenth
year of Tiberius.
A third expression, "forty and six years was this
temple built" (Jn. 2:20) is an equally difficult chronolog-
ical problem for several reasons. First, the word trans-
lated temple is nao<j and this usually but not always means
the inner sanctuary. However, the nao<j could refer to the
major temple rebuilding project which began two years later
than the construction of the inner area of the temple where
the sacrifices were offered. Second, the beginning point
for the reckoning of the years could be 19 A.D. when Herod
began the sanctuary rebuilding or 17 A.D. when the work on
the larger area commenced. Therefore, a two year variation
in determining the forty-sixth year results. A third
problem is the use of the aorist passive verb oi]kodomh<qh.
It may indicate that the length of time since the nao<j was
completed was forty-six years, that the nao<j was in the
process of being built for forty-six years and was still
incomplete, or that it had just been completed in its forty-
sixth year of building.1 Depending on the beginning date
1 An excellent explanation of this expression of time
is found in Frank Stagg, "The Abused Aorist," Journal of
Biblical Literature, XCI (June, 1972), 228. He states: "The
temple had been under construction for forty-six years,
there had been interruptions and resumptions of work, and
the temple was not yet completed. The aorist indicative
chosen and the interpretation of the nao<j the forty-sixth
year would be either A.D. 27 or 29. The date of A.D. 27 is
accepted by most contemporary scholars1 as the date of the
first Passover in Jesus' public ministry, in the "forty
and six years" of John 2:20.
The last date is found in John 8:57 where Jesus is
said not yet to be "fifty years" old. Irenaeus in taking
this literally remarks:
Now, such language is fittingly applied to one who
has already passed the age of forty, without having as
yet reached His fiftieth year, yet is not far from this
latter period. But to one who is only thirty years old
it would unquestionably be said, 'Thou art not yet
forty years old.'2
For this reason Irenaeus demands a public ministry
of more than ten years and a date of birth much earlier
than commonly accepted. An incidental remark found in
Josephus may better explain why Jesus was categorized as
being under fifty. Josephus states that it was the men
aged twenty to fifty who had to contribute the half-shekel
temple tax.3 The sarcasm of the Jews may have been that
since Jesus was still young enough to pay this tax, being
does not here designate a single action of the past. . . .
This is a normal aoristic usage, a simple allusion to an
action without description, i.e., a-oristic or undefined."
1 For a more complete discussion of this date see
Finegan, HBC, pp. 276-80.
2 Irenaeus Irenaeus Against Heresies 2.22.6.
3 Josephus Antiquities 3.8.1.
under fifty, He could hardly have seen Abraham. No one
seriously accepts the view of Irenaeus that Jesus minis-
tered until He was nearly fifty.
In summary, e@toj translated "year" usually is
found with a numeral giving the years of events, age of a
person or the duration of an event. It also may record an
unspecified time of years or a yearly custom by using the
distributive genative kat ] e@toj. Four times e@toj is used
in connection with Christ's ministry but none of the
references are exact enough to give by themselves a certain
date on the Julian calendar. All the accompanying informa-
tion is sufficiently imprecise to make uncertain the exact
time intended. Consequently no little discussion could
accompany the possible interpretation of these temporal
Another familiar indication of time is mh<n, "month."
Though not occurring too often in the Gospels it is none-
theless a major time indicator.
In non-biblical Greek
It appears that mh<n was first used in the sense of
a measure and then later referred to the period of time
1 In Finegan's discussion in HBC he has twenty-three
pages devoted to these four expressions regarding the time
of Jesus' public ministry.
marked off by the moon, therefore a month.1 This indication
of a period of time being determined by the moon is as
natural a consideration as reckoning time by the sun. The
cycle of the moon from month to month is calculated as a
period of twenty-nine or thirty days. So handy was this
for noting the passing of time that the Greeks established
contractural agreements by the month and interest rates of
two drachma were charged each month (to<n mh?na e!kaston).2
In the Old Testament
About two hundred times mh<n is used as a translation
of wd,Ho and a few times for hray,. Both of these words can
be translated moon although wd,Ho is used to indicate the
"new moon," the day on which the crescent reappears.3 For
the most part mh<n is used temporally in three similar ways.
It is used to indicate the time of certain historic events
such as the beginning of the Noahic deluge (Gen. 7:11) and
the entrance into
length of time between two events. For example, the ark was
in Philistine hands seven months (I Sam. 6:1) and David
1 Gerhard Delling, mh<n, TDNT, trans. and ed. by
W. Bromiley, IV (
Publishing Co., 1967), 638.
2 Moulton and Milligan, Vocabulary, p. 410.
3 Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, eds.,
in Veteris Testamenti Libros (
1958), p. 279. "(Hereinafter referred to as Lexicon.)"
Most frequently mh<n is used to establish the time
of an event during a king's reign (Hag. 1:1) or a prophet's
message (Hag. 2:1). This practice greatly aided the
reckoning of Old Testament chronology. In each case mh<n
signified that period of time commonly called a month and
most likely included any part of a month as a whole month
unless the number of days were also given.
In the Gospels
Three separate incidents in the Gospels have a
reference to months. The first occasion has four uses of
mh<n and they occur in connection with the birth account of
John the Baptist.
following conception (Lk. 1:24) and in her sixth month
(Lk. 1:26) Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce the concep-
tion of Jesus. This last reference indicates that John was
six months older than Jesus. This is confirmed by Gabriel's
Following this, Mary abode with
(w[j mh?naj trei?j). This would be approximately until the
time of John's birth.
In a second incident Jesus indicates that the length
of the drought in the time of Elijah was three years and
six months (Lk. 4:25). Thus, every reference to mh<n in
Luke does no doubt refer to calendar lunar months.
Jesus remarks in John 4:35, "say not ye, there are
yet four months and the harvest is coming." Here the
number four and mh<n are combined in the single word
tetra<mhno<j. There has been much discussion whether this
passage is a chronological time indication or only an agri-
cultural proverb.1 From this statement the time when Jesus
can be calculated as being in December or January since the
harvest time in
late March. If this is correct then Jesus' early Judean
ministry would extend from the previous April through
December. Some insist that this statement of time should
be taken as a proverb.2 Thus, the reference to four months
would not indicate a point in time four months prior to the
harvest of the fields of Sychar.3 If this is the correct
view then no chronology can be established or confirmed by
it. Regardless of which view is taken, the use of mh<n
conveys a concept of four months which are literal cycles
established by the rising of the new moon. There is no
1 For representatives of this view see R.C.H.
The interpretation of
John, trans. by Frederick Crombie (
Wagnalls Publishers, 1884), p. 161. "(Hereinafter referred
to as John.)"
2 This view is clearly presented by George Ogg,
J. H. Bernard, John, I (
lexical or contextual reason to take them otherwise..
A week is comprised of a sequence of seven days.
The New Testament indicates this by sa<bbaton.
In non-biblical Greek
From the earliest periods of the Greek language
nothing has been preserved concerning the formation of days
into a "week."1 By the first century B.C. there is suffi-
cient evidence that there was a seven day week. The days
of the week were given the names of gods and perhaps earlier
the Egyptians named the seven days after the heavenly
planets.2 It is also asserted that in the post-exilian
period the reckoning by weeks became more frequent so that
the week days were often enumerated.3
In the Old Testament
At the time of Creation God established for mankind
a six day work week and a seventh day for rest. Later when
seventh day, fbAwe, as a sa<bbaton. The concept of rest is
1 References to "week" in Greek lexicons are all
directed to references to the Hebrew sabbath in the Septua-
gint and the New Testament.
2 Finegan, HBC, pp. 15-16.
3 "Time," CBTEL, X, 412.
inherent in the word sa<bbaton. On this one day in seven
the Jews were told to abstain from work (Ex. 16:26) as a
reminder of their covenant with Jehovah (Ex. 31:16). An
examination of the uses of sa<bbaton in the Septuagint
reveals that it usually refers to the seventh day rather
than the whole period of seven days which is a week.
Occasionally certain feasts, such as the Day of Atonement,
were called a sa<bbaton (Lev. 17:31) even though they did
not necessarily fall on the seventh day. The seventh or
sabbatical year of rest is likewise called a sa<bbaton
(Lev. 25:2). The mention of offering a burnt-offering on
the sabbaths, new moons and set feasts (I Chron. 23:31) may
be an indication of the practical ways that the passing of
days was calculated in the Old Testament. The counting of
days in groups of sevens would be easy by the keeping of
the sa<bbaton. The months were calculated by the new moon.
The division of the year by feasts would be larger
divisions than months. A better system could hardly be
designed for common people.
There is only one use of sa<bbaton which can legiti-
mately be translated "week" (II Chr. 8:13). Here it is the
feast of weeks which was one of the special observances of
the year. The other English translation "week" in Genesis
29:27, "fulfil the week of this one," is the number seven,
e!bdoma and may just as easily be translated "fulfill the
seven (days) of this one."
The majority of Old Testament locations of sa<bbaton
refer to the seventh day of the week in the Jewish
calendar,1 whether the word is singular or plural. When
plural it can signify one or more sabbaths.2 Yet implicit
in the use of this word when referring to the Jewish sabbath
is the concept that time was reckoned by a period of seven
days which climaxed on the seventh day.
In the Gospels
The only word for week in the Gospels is sa<bbaton.
As is true in the Old Testament, sa<bbaton does have other
meanings in addition to "week." Used most often in the
singular, sa<bbaton often refers simply to the sabbath, the
seventh day of the week.3 At other times sa<bbaton is
combined with h[me<ra, to indicate that the particular day was
a sabbath day.4 Many passages refer to Jesus teaching on
the sabbath day (Mk. 6:2) and the sabbath day controver-
sies5 of Jesus with the Jews. On two occasions Jesus iden-
tifies Himself as "Lord of the Sabbath" (Mt. 12:8; Mk. 2:28).
1 William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, Lexicon
(Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1957), p. 74
2 Moulton and Milligan, Vocabulary, p. 567.
3 Mt. 24:20; Mk. 2:27 (2).
4 Lk. 4:16; 13:14, 16; 14:5; Jn. 5:9; 9:14.
5 Lk. 6:1, 5, 6, 7, 9; 13:14, 15; 14:1, 3; Jn. 5:10,
16, 18; 7:22, 239(2); 9:16.
In each of these places sa<bbaton obviously refers to the
seventh day of the Jewish week and not to the whole week.
There are several instances where sa<bbaton occurs
without a numeral in the plural but the context suggests
that it refers to a single sabbath day.1 At other times
the plural probably refers to several sabbath days2 as is
found in the question, "Is it lawful on the sabbath [days]
to do good or harm"? The occasional use of the plural
rather than the singular may have arisen from the Aramaic
sabbetha which at an early date also gave its name to the
entire week.3 Both the plural and singular forms can be
found in the same contexts often with no difference in
meaning or translation.
There are ten places where sa<bbaton occurs in the
passion week description. Four4 of these instances have
only sa<bbaton and may refer either to the weekly sabbath
day or the Passover which, being a feast, is also a sabbath.
These two days could be either simultaneous, consecutive
or even separated by one day.5
1 Mt. 12:1, 10, 11, 12; Mk. 1:21; 2:23, 24; 3:2.
2 Mk. 3:4; 6:2; 13:10.
3 G. Gordon Stott, "Time," HDLG, II, 731.
4 Mk. 16:1; Lk. 23:54, 56; Jn. 19:31.
5 For this reason various books and articles have
been written debating whether the crucifixion took place
on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday and the resurrection on
Saturday or Sunday.
Several times mi%? tw?n sabba<twn, or its equivalent1
is used to speak of the morning of the resurrection day.
It was the usual custom to number the days of the week
rather than to name them. The first of the sabba<tw
would be the first day after the sabbath, "the first of
the week." It literally means the first day reckoned from
the weekly sabbath day.2 In Mark 16:9 prw<th is used with
the singular sabba<tou instead of mi%? but the meaning
remains the same even though the expression is altered.
Whether the translation of sabba<ton should actually be
"week" perhaps is questionable. Yet regardless of the
translation the meaning is obvious. It must be remembered
that each day of the week began at sunset and ended on the
following day at sunset.
The sixth day of the Jewish week was the day of
preparation for the sabbath. Because of all the necessary
preparations for the next day, "preparation day" or
paraskeuh< became the name for Friday. On six occasions
paraskeuh< is used in the Gospels.3 Unfortunately this was
also the term applicable to the day of preparation
1 Mt. 28:1; Mk. 16:2; 1k. 24:1; Jn. 20:1, 19.
2 Friedrich Blass and Albert Debrunner, A Grammar of
the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, ed.
rev, by Robert Funk
Press, 1967), p. 129. "(Hereinafter referred to as
3 Mt. 27:62; Mk. 15:42; Lk. 23:54; Jn. 19:14, 31, 42.
preceding any of the sacred feasts, including the Passover.
This was true no matter what day of the week it was.1 One
other name, prosa<bbaton, was given to this day preceding a
sabbath (Mk. 15:42). Because of the, uncertainty as to
whether paraskeuh< and prosa<bbaton refer to the weekly
sabbath, the Passover sabbath or both, much question
remains concerning the chronology of the passion week.
Only one use of sabba<ton remains for examination.
In Luke 18:12 the Pharisee claimed to fast "twice during
the week." Here sabba<ton must mean a week, the period of
seven days that is bounded on each side by the sabbaths.
Any other meaning of sabba<ton would be unintelligible.2
This is the only place in the Gospels where the meaning of
sabba<ton is a whole week.
In conclusion, a few times when sabba<tou is found
with a numeral it identifies a day within the week.
Usually sabba<ton refers to the seventh day of the week
which more than anything else reminded the Jews of the
passing of time. There is also the possibility that
sabba<ton sometimes may refer to a feast day regardless of
the day of the week when the feast was observed. Only once
does sabba<ton mean a "week." These multiple meanings of
1 David Smith, "Preparation," HDCG, II, 409.
Alfred Plummer, Luke (
1964), p. 417.
sabba<ton and words used with it make exactness in
reckoning time during the passion week difficult.
Tomorrow (au@rion )
In contemporary language the day which follows an
existing day is most often designated "tomorrow." This
practice, was followed in the Greek language which expressed
this by the word au@rion.
In non-biblical Greek
From earliest times au@rion meant "tomorrow," and is
equivalent to the phrase "on the morrow." It is used this
way several times in Josephus.1 It is to be distinguished
from today (sh<meron). On one occasion it is used con-
cerning a boy who each day goes to a seller of barley beer.
The seller says "today, tomorrow [aur[e]in] (you shall get
it), but he never gives it."2 At first glance the thought
might be to understand this as the next day. However,
au@rion also came to mean "soon, in a short time, now."3
Consequently two different senses developed, (1) the next
day and (2) shortly or soon. When found in the time of
Homer with the sense of the next day, au@rion is never used
after sunset to refer to the next day. From these it is
2 Moulton and Milligan, Vocabulary, p. 92.
3 Arndt and Gingrich, Lexicon, p. 121.
concluded that the Greek day began at sunset. Consequently,
after sunset the Greek always says "in the morning" appar-
ently because au@rion would have meant a different thing.
In the Old Testament
The Hebrew rHAmA and its variations are translated
by au@rion over fifty times in the Old Testament, usually in
the historical sections. Many times the expression is the
same as Exodus 9:5, "tomorrow, Jehovah shall do this
thing." It is clear in many places by the context that
au@rion must mean the next day following. In Exodus 32:5,
Aaron declares, "Tomorrow (au@rion) shall be a feast to
Jehovah." The next verse says, "And they rose up early on
the morrow." This meaning is also indicated in Exodus 16:
23 where the Jews are exhorted to prepare extra food for
"tomorrow is a solemn rest,"
On several occasions au@rion must mean a future time
that is not necessarily the next day. The children of
when a son will ask "in time to come" (au@rion) why the
fathers keep the laws, they can give an answer to their
sons. Obviously au@rion does not refer to the next day but
rather refers to a future time.
1 George Melville Bolling, "Beginning of the Greek
Day," The American Journal of Philology, XXIII (1902), 434.
In the Gospels
Only once does au@rion occur in an historical
setting meaning the next day. In the parable of the good
Samaritan "on the morrow" (au@rion) the Samaritan gave the
innkeeper two denarii (Lk. 10:35). This came after one
night at the inn.
In Matthew 6:30 and Luke 12:28 Jesus refers to a
grasslike foliage which exists on one day and au@rion
(tomorrow) is thrown into an oven. Most likely the next
day is not meant here since the foliage would not become
a burnable fuel in a single night. It must refer to any
morrow, an indefinite future day. The same sense is found
in "do not worry unto the morrow for the morrow shall worry
for itself" (Mt. 6:34). Both verses could translate au@rion
with the sense of "the future or soon."
Two other times au@rion is found, Luke 13:32, 33,
. . . Behold I cast out demons and I perform healings
today and tomorrow, and on the third I am being finished.
Nevertheless it is necessary for me today and tomorrow and
the one coming to go." In these verses au@rion may mean
either (1) tomorrow, (2) a short time, or (3) a long time.
Exodus 19:10, 11 has this same expression where it must
refer to three literal days. It is probable that au@rion
also should be taken as "tomorrow" here.
Thus, au@rion follows the pattern of earlier Greek
and may mean both (1) "tomorrow," the next day and (2) a
time in the future.
A day prior to an existing day is understood as
"yesterday." In Greek this is expressed by e]xqej which had
both this and other meanings.
In non-biblical Greek
The adverb e]xqe<j, "yesterday," is found in many of
the periods of Greek history and is especially frequent in
the papyri.1 It can also be found in the writings of
Josephus where e]xqe<j has an additional meaning of "the past
as a whole."2
In the Old Testament
The Hebrew wm,x,, and lOmt;x, sometimes occurring with
a m; prefix and lOmT; an are translated by e]xqe<j. Though the
most frequent English translation is "yesterday," lOmT;,
which is the most frequently used word, can be translated
by "heretofore, in times past."3 This has the sense of
before the present time without a specific past time in
view. All these varied meanings can be illustrated from
1 Liddell and Robert Scott, Lexicon, I, 748.
2 Josephus Against Apion 2.154.
3 Koehler and Baumgartner, Lexicon, p. 1031.
Three times in Genesis1 e]xqe<j refers to an event
taking place on the previous evening and is best translated
"yesternight." On most occasions e]xqe<j refers to a past
time event rather than simply the previous day. For
example, the Philistines feared the shout of the Hebrews
and replied "for there hath not been such a thing hereto-
fore" (I Sam. 4:7). During the early reign of David the
was king" (II Sam. 5:2). They did not mean the previous
day but past time. Consequently the sense of e]xqe<j can
vary depending on the context.
In the Gospels
Only once, in John 4:52, does e]xqe<j occur. A
nobleman sought Jesus to heal his son. When the man
returned home he was told his son began to be healthy
"yesterday at the seventh hour." Obviously, the previous
day is intended since not only is there the use of e]xqe<j
but also the citation of the hour. This is in agreement
with the meaning of e]xqe<j.
Each of the words when used in the Gospels express
a time which in the majority of cases reflects a single
obvious meaning. Though some words are capable of several
meanings, it is the contexts that specify the meaning. In
1 Genesis 19:34; 31:29, 42.
a few instances words appear in accounts where some uncer-
tainty of meaning remains. This is due to the fact that
words by themselves do not always carry a single exact
meaning. They can only be understood by the words used
with them. It is the lack of a more complete context that
creates the problem of determining exact time. It appears
that the Gospel writers did not intend to give a time-
centered message but rather a message that took place in
WORDS FOR DAY AND ITS PARTS
The most frequent reminder of the passing of time
to the majority of people in the ancient world was the day.
Quite naturally a day was an easy method of relating events
to history. Within the period of the day many specific and
some general points of time could be indicated. The con-
tent of this chapter consists of the words for a day and
its parts. The material is considered in the following
order: (1) the day, (2) the division of the day, (3) the
night, (4) the division of the night, and (5) other indi-
cations of time.
The alteration of light and darkness brought about
by the apparent rising and setting of the sun marked out
the day in every ancient civilization. The day, h[me<ra had
several meanings which varied greatly as to the length of
time it indicated. These meanings become very important in
interpreting the Gospels because h[me<ra occurs more often
than any other word which expresses time.
In non-biblical Greek
In Greek the "day" was named h[me<ra. However, h[me<ra
as it then was used developed several meanings: (1) a civil
day of twenty-four hours, (2) a state or time of life, "life
of misery," (3) time, (4) in the plural, an "age,"1 which
consists of a number of literal days. To these can be
added (5) daytime (the period of daylight).2 The length of
time indicated by h[me<ra depends on the context rather than
the meaning of the word. For example, in the papyri litera-
ture a woman who has been ordered to vacate her house asks
for "time," h[me<ra. The time requested is longer than a
Many references can be cited to illustrate the use
of h[me<ra when it means a day, whether a civil day of twenty-
four hours or daylight. Both Xenophon, "you shall see as
soon as day has come,"4 and Josephus, "and when day came he
went,"5 have h[me<ra, meaning the daylight part of the day.
Josephus joins nu<c with h[me<ra stating that the "high
priests pass their nights and days performing certain rites
1 George Henry Liddell and Robert Scott, Lexicon, I
(Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1940), 770.
2 William F. Arndt and Wilbur F. Gingrich, Lexicon
(Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1957), p. 340.
3 James Hope Moulton and George Milligan, Vocabulary
(Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1903),
4 Xenophon Anabasis 7. 2.34.
5 Josephus Antiquities 10. 10. 3.
of purification."1 At times ka<q ] h[me<ra is used with the
translation "daily" or "every day" as in "and every day saw
this war being fanned into fiercer flame."2 Numerals are
used with h[me<ra by Josephus in the expression, kia> pro> mia?j
h[me<raj th?j e[orth?j which is translated, "And one day before
a festival the treasurers would go to the commander of the
Roman garrison and . . . , would take the robe."3 These
illustrations show both variety in meaning and expression
and indicate that caution must be observed in translating
Because a civil day, which is indicated by h[me<ra,
began at different times in different countries,4 any
chronological reckoning could easily be in error even when
the translation is accurate. Only the context can deter-
mine which of several possible translations is the correct
An important note concerning the beginning of the
Jewish day is provided by Josephus. It is commonly agreed
that the Jewish day in the first century began at sunset.
This is illustrated by the eating of the Passover which was
1 Josephus Against Apion 1. 199.
2 Josephus Wars 2. 13. 1.
3 Josephus Antiquities 15. 11. 4.
Finegan, HBC (Princeton:
Press, 1964), p. 8.
slain on Nisan 14 in the late afternoon and was eaten that
night, on Nisan 15. All the lamb was to be consumed that
night and none could be left until the morning of the
fifteenth day. However, in one instance Josephus states
that the morning of the "next day" is the fifteenth day.1
From this comment Beckwith asserts, "This shows that
Josephus is equally happy with a second way of reckoning
the days of these festivals, according to which they begin
and end at daybreak."2 In other words at least two
systems of reckoning the beginning of the day by the Jews
may have existed. One would begin at sunset and the other
In the Old Testament
Over two thousand times h[me<ra is found in the
Septuagint. Of these less than ninety are found as a
translation of words other than MOy.3 This Hebrew word
has the same variety of meanings that Ilgepc/ does in Greek.4
In Genesis 1:5 h[me<ra refers both to the period of daylight,
1 Josephus Antiquities 3. 10. 5.
2 Roger T. Beckwith, "The Day, Its Divisions and its
Limits, In Biblical Thought," The Evangelical Quarterly,
XLIII (October, 1971), 225.
3 Edwin Hatch and Henry A. Redpath, Concordance, I
(Gratz, Austria: Akademische Druck, 1954), 607.
Koehler and Baumgartner, Lexicon (
Brill, 1958), pp. 372-73.
"and God called the light day," and to the civil day of
twenty-four hours, the evening and morning were "one day."
The greatest number of uses of h[me<ra fall into one of these
two meanings and they occur in a variety of expressions.
Yet, other meanings are also found. According to the
geneology in Genesis 5:5, "all the days Adam lived were
nine hundred and twelve years." Though h[me<ra is translated
"days," here it can have the meanings, "time," "lifetime,"
or "age." The
at "the time (h[me<ra) of harvest" (Jo. 3:15). Often days
and nights are joined by kai< in describing the length of
an event (Gen. 7:12) but it appears to have no more signi-
ficance than the mention of days without the nights (Gen.
7:17). The insertion of o!lhn, "all" with day and night
(Ex. 10:13) shows the extent of time the locusts plagued
would indicate a lesser period of time.
One important study of h[me<ra, is its use with
numbers. This, more than any other use of h[me<ra, affects
precise chronological reckoning. Sometimes the reference
to days is done simply by mentioning the time in the nomi-
native or accusative case, such as, "I was there three
days" (Neh. 2:11), and water prevailed "a hundred and fifty
days" (Gen. 7:24). On other occasions the dative case is
used apparently to show an event that happened during the
days specified. For example, Abraham circumcized Isaac "on
the eighth day," t^? o]gdo<^ h[me<r% (Gen. 21:4).
Sometimes there is a clarification of the length
of time given in the same passage. David, following the
death of Saul (II Sam. 1:1, 2), abode "two days," h[me<raj
duo<, in Ziklag. And it came to pass "on the third day,"
t^? h[me<r% t^? tri<t^, suggests that the "two days" of verse
one are civil days for it was during the third day that the
next recorded event took place. A similar circumstance is
recorded in Genesis 40:13, 20. Joseph tells Pharoah's
butler, "yet three days," e]ti< trei?j h[me<rai, and he would be
restored. This came to pass "on the third day," e]n t^?
h[me<r% t^? tri<t^. The three days before the restoration do
not mean three complete days but two days with the restora-
tion on the third day. Esther commands all the Jews in
Shushan to fast "for three days," e]pi> h[me<raj trei?j, night
and day and "then I will enter before the king" (Est. 4:16).
However, she went before the king (Est. 5:1) "on the third
day," e]n t^? h[me<r% t^? tri<t^. From these passages it would
appear that a numerical reference to days could include any
part of a day as well as the complete twenty-four hour
period. Great care must be taken when determining the
length of days that are qualified by numbers.
The Old Testament also reveals that the civil day
was begun at sunset. This is proven by several Scriptures.
The feast days were observed beginning at the evening (Lev.
23:32). The Sabbath began at sunset (Neh. 13:19). For
anyone who was unclean ceremonially, his uncleanness ended
at evening (Lev. 11:24). In I Samuel 11:9-11 both the
morning watch of the night and the morning of the day are
both "on the morrow." These passages prove that the day
began at sunset. Yet, there is at least one occasion where
a night is reckoned with the previous day. Michal told
David, "If you save not your life tonight, tomorrow, you
will be slain" (I Sam. 19:11). This seems to indicate that
in popular speech the days were sometimes reckoned from day-
light. This appears to be the same method as was used in
Josephus.1 If two systems of reckoning the beginning of a
day did exist, the reckoning of time by days is made much
In the Gospels
There are at least four basic ideas for h[me<ra
found in the Gospels: (1) a day appointed for special
purposes, (2) a civil day, (3) daylight and (4) a longer
period of time.2 Unfortunately the translation for each is
most often "day."
Of the days appointed for special purposes Matthew's
"day of judgment,"3 e]n h[me<ra kri<sewj is a phrase with
1 Josephus Antiquities 3. 10. 5.
2 Arndt and Gingrich, Lexicon, pp. 346-48.
3 Mt. 10:15; 11:22, 24; 12:36.
particular temporal meaning. The context of each passage
indicates that it refers to the final judgment of the
unsaved. Because of the masses of people involved and the
nature of the judgment (Rev. 20:12-15), more than one
literal day is involved. For this reason a better under-
standing of e]n h[me<r% kri<sewj would be "in a time of judg-
ment." The length of time indicated by this expression is
unspecified but would seem to be longer than a literal day
since Scripture suggests there is an individual judgment of
all individuals born into this world (Rev. 20:13).
Another use of day that has a special purpose is
John's "in the last day," t^? e]sxa<t^ h[me<r%.1 Five times
this day is identified with the resurrection of the
righteous and once with the future judgment. Since all the
righteous will not be resurrected on the same day and since
all believers will not be judged on the same day, t^? e]sxa<t^
h[me<ra could be translated "in the last time." Such a
translation best preserves the meaning of h[me<ra when used
figuratively of a day which is appointed for special
When h[me<ra occurs without any qualifying words it
can be used figuratively of an unspecified day (Jn. 8:56;
9:4), of a lifetime (Lk. 1:75), of old age (Lk. 2:36) and
1 Jn. 6:39, 40, 44, 54; 11:24; 12:48. Though 7:37
has this expression it is clear by the context that an
historical day is in view.
even of years. In this last instance, in Luke 1:7
Zacharias and Elizabeth are advanced in "days," actually
meaning "years," just
Quite often h[me<ra is translated "day" with the
sense of an unspecified length and point of time. In these
instances it could be translated "time" when singular1 and
"time" or "times" when plural.2 Among the times indicated
is the day (time) of Elijah, of
Several times when h[me<ra occurs in the singular it
refers to the daylight part of the day.3 From this it is
learned that there are twelve hours in this daylight period
(Jn. 11:9). Men could be hired to work by the hour (Mt. 20).
This daylight period is the time for activity.
Most references to h[me<ra, refer to a civil twenty—
four hour day. The day can be in the singular4 and the
1 Mt. 24:42, 50; 25:13; Lk. 9:51; 17:24, 26(2).
2 Mt. 2:1; 9:15 (Mk. 2:20; Lk. 5:35); 23:30; 24:37
(Lk. 17:26), 38 (Lk. 17:27); 28:20; Lk. 1:5; 4:25; 17:22,
28; 19:43; 21:6, 22; 23:29.
3 Mt. 20:2, 6, 12; Lk. 4:42; 6:13; 9:12; 22:16;
4 Mt.28:15; Mk. 6:21; Lk. 1:20; 80; 4:16; 13:14,
16; 14:15; 17:4, 27, 29, 30; 22:7; 23:54; Jn. 7:37; 9:14;
plural.1 The day may be a single unspecified day such as
the day when John was beheaded, "a convenient day" (Mk. 6:
21) or a single specific day such as a sabbath day (Lk. 4:
16). Several times feast days are indicated by h[me<ra
(Lk. 22:7; 23:54; Jn. 7:37; 19:31).2 The plural form
indicates a sequence of continuous days as in "they abode
not many days" (Jn. 2:12).
The civil day is qualified on certain occasions by
the demonstrative pronoun ou$toj, "this" and in the plural
"these." In each instance where it is found whether singu-
lar or plural it refers to an historical calendar day3 or
days.4 Similar to this is the use of e]kei?noj with h[me<ra.
It occurs in the singular to point out a specific day on
1 Mk. 13:20(2); Lk. 1:23, 25; 2:6, 22, 43; 9:51;
15:13; Jn. 2:12.
2 Three of these references are important for con-
structing a chronology of the passion week. Luke 22:7
indicates "the day of unleavened bread came in which it is
necessary to slay the passover." This must be construed as
Nisan 14 unless the Jews also sacrificed the passover lamb
on the thirteenth. The body of Jesus was placed in a tomb
on the day of Preparation (Lk. 23:54). Though Friday was
the weekly day known as preparation, this could refer to
any day of the week preceding a feast such as, the Passover.
According to John 19:31, "the day of that sabbath was a
great (high) day," when Jesus was crucified. These days
were specific civil days but because the customs and termi-
nology of this period are uncertain, the identity of these
days is unclear. Thus, three views of the day for the
crucifixion--Wednesday, Thursday and Friday--have scholarly
3 Lk. 19:42; 23:12; 24:13.
4 Lk. 1:24, 39; 6:12; 23:7; 24:8.
which something took place.1 The plural is used to indicate
a period of days during which time an event happened.2 On
several occasions e]kei?noj and h[me<ra are used together in
both the singular3 and the plural4 to refer to the future
eschatological day. This day may refer to the time of
tribulation, the second coming, the judgments or the saved
being with Christ. Though "day" is the usual translation
of h[me<ra, the context sometimes reveals that "time" is a
better translation, especially when the time indicated is
clearly longer than a day.
The idiom ka<q ] h[me<ran is found seven times5 and is
translated "daily" or "every day." In this construction
kaq ] h[me<ran is used distributively6 indicating that the
activity occurs day by day.
On seven occasions h[me<ra and nu<c are joined
together by kai<.7 Of these seven passages three have nu<c
1 Mt. 13:1; 22:23, 46; Mk. 4:35; Jn. 1:39; 5:9; 11:
2 Mt. 3:1; 24:38; Mk. 8:1; Lk. 2:1; 4:2; 9:36.
3 Mt. 7:22; 24:36 (Mk. 13:32); 26:29 (Mk. 14:25);
Mk. 2:20; Lk. 6:23; 10:12; 17:13; 21:34; Jn. 14:20; 16:23,
4 Mt. 24:19 (Mk. 13:17; Lk. 21:23), 22(2), 29 (Mk.
13:24); Mk. 1:9; 13:29; Lk. 5:35.
5 Mt. 26:55 (Mk. 14:49; Lk. 22:53); Lk. 9:23; 11:3;
6 Arndt and Gingrich, Lexicon, p. 407.
7 Mt. 4:2; 12:40(2); Mk. 4:27; 5:5; Lk. 2:37; 18:7.
first and four have h[me<ra. It does not appear that this
expression, "night and day" is always the equivalent of a
twenty-four hour period. For example, Anna worshipped in
the temple "night and day." She did not reside in the
temple but rather was present in the temple whenever it
was open (Lk. 2:37).1 In a similar passage, the demoniac
was crying always "night and day" (Mk. 4:27) in the tombs.
This cannot mean that he cried twenty-four hours each day.
In these places nu<c and h[me<ra seem to express the idea of
"daily" or at night and at day unless numerals are used to
indicate a specific number of days. It was "forty days and
forty nights" that Jesus fasted (Mt. 4:2). Jonah was in
the fish "three days and three nights" and Jesus said that
he also would be the same length of time in the heart of
the earth (Mt. 12:40). While it may seem natural to equate
each of the days as twenty-four hours, it must be remem-
bered that the Jews used inclusive reckoning so that any
part of a day was counted as a whole day. It is clear
that the use of nu<c and h[me<ra together do not necessarily
indicate a twenty-four hour period. This meaning is
possible but it must be proven not by any expression but
by the contextual evidence in the passage.
A number of passages have numerals with h[me<ra.
1 Plummer, Luke (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1964),
Yet when the number of days is given it is difficult to
determine how much time is indicated. For example, a great
multitude followed Jesus "three days" and had nothing to
eat (Mt. 15:32; Mk. 8:2). This may indicate a period from
seventy-two hours to one full day plus a part of the pre-
ceding and the following days. This latter method of
figuring time is called inclusive reckoning.
This method included in the reckoning of a time
interval both the day (or year) in which any period of
time began and also that on which it ended, no matter
how small a fraction of the beginning and the ending
day (or year) was involved.1
In many passages2 it is difficult to ascertain
whether inclusive reckoning was followed because so little
information is given. Occasionally the length of time is
clear. Luke singles out a day in the expression "one of
the days."3 Six days were set aside for work each week
(Lk. 13;14). However, on the eighth day of a boy's life he
was circumcized (Lk. 1:59; 2:11). This could be six full
days plus the day of birth and the day of circumcision.
It appears that the passing of a full week was indicated
by "after eight days" (Jn. 20:26) and "about eight days"
1 Francis D. Nichol (ed.), Seventh Day Adventist
Commentary, V (
Publishing Association, 1956), 249..
2 Mt. 15:32 (Mk. 8:2); 17:1 (Mk. 9:2); Mk. 1:13
(Lk. 4:2); Lk. 2:46; Jn. 2:1.
3 Lk. 5:17; 8:22; 17:22; 20:1.
(Lk. 9:28). That is, seven days have passed and it is now
the eighth day, or a week later.
Even when additional information is given, there
is difficulty in interpreting the number of days. John
says that Jesus abode in
after two days He went into
arrived about noon, His stay could have been a period of
less than twenty-four hours or up to forty-eight hours
depending on whether the day of His arrival is considered
as the first day.1
A greater problem exists in the expressions of
time in the Passion Week chronology. Jesus arrived in
tou? pa<sxa (Jn. 12:1). The Passover would be either Nisan
14 or 15 depending on whether the slaying of the lamb or
the Passover meal is in view. Six days before the Passover
could include (1) both days at each extreme or (2) only one
of the days at the extreme. Hence the day specified could
be Nisan 8, 9 or possibly 10.2 The difficulty of deter-
mining these more precise expressions is the uncertainty
1 A similar problem exists in connection with the
raising of Lazarus who was in the tomb four days (Jn. 11:6,
17). This time could be a full four days or parts of four
days reckoned as whole days.
2 The same reasoning may be followed in the expres-
sion "after two days the Passover cometh" (Mt. 26:2;
Mk. 14:1). The two days mean either (1) the next day or
(2) the day after tomorrow.
about what these words meant then and the method or methods
of reckoning time.
In the Gospels there are eighteen statements
recorded about the length of time between the death and
resurrection of Jesus. Eleven of these statements are
recorded as being from Jesus. Of these, Matthew has a
reference to Jonah with an application to Jesus (12:40).
His three other references to the three days are in the
dative case without accompanying prepositions.1 Mark, in
referring to the three days in accounts parallel to Matthew
has meta> trei?j h[me<raj (Mk. 8:31; 9:31; 10:34). Luke
follows Matthew (Lk. 9:22; 18:33; 24:46). John 2:19 states
that the resurrection would be e]n trisi>n h[me<raij. All of
these passages must refer to the same length of time. The
preference for the dative and e]n indicates that the resur-
rection took place not after the three days but that the
resurrection "is to take place within that space of time,
consequently before its expiration.2 The Jewish leaders
in referring to this time period prefix the three days with
several different prepositions which also must have the
1 kai> t^? tri<t^ h[me<r% Mt. 16:21; 17:23; 20:19.
2 George B. Winer, A Grammar of the Idiom of the New
p. 386. "(Hereinafter referred to as Grammar.)"
same temporal meaning.1 They express belief that a guard
is necessary e!wj "until the third day" (Mt. 27:63). This
"third day" seems to be the terminus ad quem. After the
third day the guard is unnecessary. Later the disciples
spoke to Jesus late on the first day of the week and they
remark, "It is now the third day since all these things
came to pass" (Lk. 24:21). It would appear that the three
days from the death to the resurrection no matter how they
are expressed extend back to Friday if inclusive reckoning
is followed or Thursday if a full seventy-two hour period
In spite of the use of numerals with h[me<ra to
indicate the passing of chronological time, the uncertainty
about the manner of counting days makes exactness of inter-
pretation difficult. In addition to indicating chronology
h[me<ra can also be used: (1) figuratively, (2) of daylight,
(3) of an extended period of time having a translation
"time" or "days," and (4) of a civil day whether a whole
or a part.
In the Gospels a "day" can also be expressed by
1 dia< is used in Mt. 26:61; Mk. 14:58; e]n in Mt. 27:
Mk. 15:29; and meta< in Mt. 27:63. However,
1960), 261-62, argues that the expression in Mt. 27:63
means the "fourth day." He also postulates that the three
day time reckoning should begin with the rejection of Jesus
on Thursday (basing this on a supposed two day trial) rather
than the crucifixion which he maintains came on Friday. He
lists no evidence for this view other than the supposed two
sh<meron which appears to be a varient of h[me<ra. In the
Old Testament MOy, "day," appears about eighteen hundred
times and is translated by sh<meron 286 times in the
Septuagint.1 Most often sh<meron translates MOy.ha or MOy.ha
hz.,ha "this day." In the Gospels it is found twenty times
conveying the meaning "this day" or "today." It is the
opposite of au@rion, "tomorrow" (Mt. 6:30). The daylight
and what belongs to it,2 the entire civil day,3 and the
night which belongs to the day4 are all a part of sh<meron.
From these uses it appears that sh<meron is more restrictive
than h[me<ra and indicates the present literal day or its
Division of the Day
One of the frequently occurring words to record
the passing of time is w!ra, "hour." It is this word that
was chosen to divide the daylight or the solar day into
1 Ernest Fuchs, sh<meron, TDNT, trans. and ed. by
W. Bromiley, VII (
Publishing Co., 1971), 270.
2 Mt..6:11; 21:28; Lk. 5:26; 12:28.
3 Mt. 6:30; 11:23; 16:3; 27:8, 19; 28:15; Lk. 2:11;
4:21; 13:32, 3; 19:5, 9; 23:43; 24:21.
4 Mk. 14:30; Lk. 22:34.
In non-biblical Greek
The early meanings of w!ra, include (1) a "fitting
time," (2) a "season," and (3) "any period fixed by
natural laws and revolutions whether of the year, month,
or day."1 This last concept can be understood as including
translations such as, "right time," "time,"2 as well as
"hour." Other meanings include "in one second," "in a
moment" and "instantly."3 The use of w!ra to denote any
short span of time seems to have been the earliest meaning
and only later, when time was determined by the "hour," did
the meaning "hour" develop.4
At a time contemporary with the writing of the New
Testament, the Jewish historian Josephus uses w!ra to speak
of a specific hour in the day.5 On one occasion he writes
concerning the Roman war with the Jews:
The ten assenting to these proposals, early next
morning he dispatched the rest of the men under his
command in the various directions, to prevent any
discovery of the plot, and about the third hour called
to the Romans from the tower.6
1 Liddell and Scott, Lexicon, II, 2035.
2 Cremer, Lexicon (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1954),
3 Moulton and Milligan, Vocabulary, ID. 702.
4 Cadbury, "Time," Journal of Biblical Literature,
LXXXII (September, 1963), 276.
5 Josephus Wars 6. 1. 7. and Antiquities 6. 14. 6.
6 Josephus Wars 5. 13. 2.
From this it can be concluded that to Josephus the
third hour was early in the day. This corresponds to
9 a.m. according to the Jewish reckoning of the third hour.
A second quotation from Josephus indicates that Josephus
reckoned hours from sunrise.
The majority, however were not convinced by these
speeches, and a riot would inevitably have ensued, had
not arrival of the sixth hour, at which it is our
custom on the Sabbath to take our midday meal, broken
off the meeting.1
Josephus clearly indicates that the customary
Jewish midday meal on a Sabbath day came at the sixth hour.
Being the midday meal, the sixth hour was reckoned from
sunrise. Josephus was writing primarily to Romans from the
reckoning hours from sunrise. The importance of this will
be realized later in the section dealing with w!ra in the
Gospels. It is clear that w!ra early had a variety of
In the Old Testament
Although found less than forty times in the Septu-
agint, the use of w!ra occurs primarily as a translation for
tfe which is usually translated "time." In a few places
w!ra translates hfAwA.2 In no place does w!ra occur with a
1 Josephus Life 54.
2 Dan. 3:6; 4:16; 5:5.
numeral to indicate a specific hour in the day. The only
places where w!ra appears to give the sense of "hour" is in
the often repeated phrase "tomorrow about this time" and
its equivalents. Even here the sense is more of general
period of time than a literal hour. Sometimes w!ra is
translated "time" with the idea of eschatological time
(Dan. 11:40), of time for the evening oblation (Dan. 9:21)
and time to eat (Ru. 2:14). The sense of "season" is clear
in the account of Abraham's promise of a son (Gen. 18:14).
The Lord promises to return to Abraham and Sarah "when the
season (w!ra) cometh around." The "season" was the time
when Sarah could conceive. Also w!ra has the translation
"season" when referring to the time when rain comes (Deut.
11:14). In Daniel 3:6, "in the same hour cast in the
burning fiery furnace," and 5:5, "the same hour came forth
the fingers of a man's hand," w!ra is usually translated
"hour." However, the context does not demand a literal
"hour." The translation "at the same time," is equally
suitable if not superior. These examples show that the
variety of meanings found in the non-biblical Greek were
for the most part found in the Septuagint.
In the Gospels
Nearly seventy-five times w!ra is found in the
Gospels. At times the translation "hour" is not the best
rendering. Luke uses w!ra with au]th< six times.1 Most
English versions translate this "the same hour" or "that
very hour." Matthew Black asserts that this is actually
a translation equivalent of two closely related Aramaic
temporal conjunctions which convey the meaning "at the same
time," "immediately," "forthwith," and sometimes "then," or
"thereupon."2 All these translations reflect the meaning
"time" and contextually are more meaningful translations
than "hour." Even if Black's assertion is incorrect, the
first three suggested meanings are the same as the earlier
historical uses of w!ra.
Many times w!ra appears to express "time" in the
sense of an "instant of time." This is clear in the healing
miracles of Jesus.3 For example, "the servant was healed
in that hour" (Mt. 8:13). "The woman was made whole from
that hour" (Mt. 9:22). Both of these verses express the
same result, an instantaneous cure.
Other places must also have the same sense of
"time," rather than "hour." Mark 11:11 has, "the hour
(time) already being evening" Jesus went out. At the
feeding of the five thousand the disciples announced that
1 Lk. 2:38; 10:21; 12:12; 13:31; 20:19; 24:33.
2 Matthew Black, An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels
and Acts (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1967), p. 79.
3 Mt. 8:13; 9:22; 15:28; 17:18; Lk. 7:21; Jn. 4:53.
"the hour (time) is already past" (Mt. 14:15). Jesus tells
the Samaritan woman, "the hour is coming and now is" (Jn.
4:23). There was also the promise of a "coming hour (time)
of resurrection (Jn. 5:28). There is no reason to believe
that a specific hour was in view in these passages. Rather,
w!ra indicates specific "time" without a specified time des-
ignation. In Hebrew this is expressed by tfe but in the
Greek by w!ra.
The same idea is present in the eschatological pas-
sages which teach of the Second Coming being at an unknown
"hour" (time).1 Likewise, on a few occasions w!ra refers to
a specific time which recurred every day and is similar to
the popular expression "dinner time." Luke also speaks of
the "hour of incense" (1:10) and the "hour of supper" (14:
Throughout the Gospels Jesus speaks of "the hour,"
"my hour" and "this hour."2 The meaning of w!ra in these
places cannot be a literal "hour" but rather "time." A
survey of the passages indicates that the hour relates to
the events of His passion. Since more than an hour trans-
pired during this time, or less if only His death is in
1 Mt. 10:19 (Mk. 13:11; Lk. 12:12); 14:15; 18:1;
26:55; Mk. 6:35(2); 11:11; Lk. 22:53; Jn. 4:21; 23; 5:25,
28; 16:2, 4, 21, 25, 32; 19:27.
2 Mt. 26:45; Mk. 14:35, 41; Jn. 2:4; 7:30; 8:20;
12:23, 27; 13:1; 17:1.
view, w!ra could best be translated "time."
In one instance, "Ye were willing to rejoice for
a season in his light" (Jn. 5:35), w!ra is translated
"season." The reference is to John the Baptist. The light
which he cast was not for a literal hour or for a brief
time but for an extended period. While this is the only
place this translation is found in the Gospels, it is
historically permissible and contextually necessary.
The remaining twenty-one uses of w!ra occur with
numerals. From these passages it is known that there are
twelve hours in a day (Jn. 11:9). The w!ra would vary in
length in accordance with the season of the year since
every day was divided into twelve equal parts. The first
hour of the day began at sunrise and the twelfth hour con-
cluded at sunset. In the parable of the vineyard the
third, sixth, ninth and eleventh hours of the day are
mentioned (Mt. 20:3, 5, 9, 12). At each of these hours
workers were hired to work in the vineyard. The hours
mentioned correspond to mid-morning, noon, mid-afternoon
and two hours before dark. This was the usual method of
reckoning time during the day time and it was done by
estimation. In the Garden Jesus reproved the disciples
because they could not watch one hour while He prayed (Mt.
26:40; Mk. 14:37). There is also an indication of time in
connection with the denials of Christ by Peter. Matthew
and Mark indicate that "after a little while" (meta< mikro<n)
Peter denied the Lord a third time but Luke relates that
it was "after the space of about one hour" (Lk. 22:59).
Concerning the crucifixion the Synoptists agree that
from (a]po<) or about (w!sei) the sixth hour there was dark-
ness.1 The darkness lasted until (e!wj) the ninth hour
(Mt. 27:45; Mk. 15:33). About (peri<) the ninth hour Jesus
cried out with a loud voice (Mt. 27:46; Mk. 15:34).
Shortly after this He died. The time when darkness covered
the earth would be from noon to 3 p.m. To this, Mark 15:25
adds, "now it was the third hour and they crucified Him."
This would be 9 a.m. reckoning from sunrise.
Before examining John's use of "hour" it must be
noted that there is disagreement about the method which
John used in reckoning time. Much can be said in favor of
adopting the "Roman method" of reckoning time. Finegan
writes: "when various hourly notations are considered in
the Gospel according to John it is found that they do in
fact work out well in terms of Roman reckoning."2 David
Smith expand; this thought:
The Romans reckoned their sacerdotal and their
civil day from midnight to noon and again from noon to
midnight. So also the Egyptians counted their hours.
Nor is evidence lacking that a like system obtained in
1 Mt. 27:45; Mk. 15:33; Lk. 23:44.
2 Finegan, HBC, p. 12.
public spectacles began at an early hour. The Synop-
tists follow the ordinary Jewish method, but it was
that John, writing at
method in vogue in
actually to have done.1
Perhaps the most convincing evidence that such a
method of reckoning hours did exist is from Pliny, who
The actual period of a day has been differently kept
by different people: the Babylonians count the period
between the two sunrises, the Athenians that between
two sunsets, the Umbrians from midday to midday, the
common people everywhere from dawn to dark, the Roman
priests and the authorities who fixed the official day,
and also the Egyptians and Hipparchus the period from
midnight to midnight. [emphasis mine]2
Therefore, according to this system, the sixth hour
would be either 6 a.m. or 6 p.m. rather than noon, which it
would be if the Jewish method were followed.
However, many do not believe that such a system ever
existed. William Ramsay points out several important
reasons against reckoning a day beginning at midnight. He
relates that there is no certain historical instance when
Roman hours are reckoned from midnight. Further, even when
the Romans described the civil day they began counting the
hours from sunrise. They called midnight (the beginning of
their twenty four hour day) the sixth hour of the night.
1 David Smith, The
Days of His Flesh (
Hodder and Stoughton, 1910), pp. 529-30.
2 Pliny, Natural History 2. 79. 188.
And finally, the Greek civil day began at sunset. With his
investigation finished, Ramsay firmly asserts that hours
were reckoned in only one way.1 An additional consideration
comes from Josephus, the Jewish historian, who wrote to
first century Romans. He remarks that on the sabbath the
midday meal was "the sixth hour."2 This has to be noon.
This testimony is from a first century Jew writing to
Gentiles in a Gentile country about Jewish customs. These
seem to be similar to the circumstances of John who wrote
the Fourth Gospel.
The first mention of w!ra with a numeral occurs at
the conversion of John who remained that day with Jesus.
John writes, "It was about the tenth hour" (Jn. 1:39), which
is about 4 p.m. according to Jewish reckoning or 10 a.m.
according to Roman reckoning.
A reference to the "sixth hour" (Jn. 4:6) takes