The way time is reckoned in the Scriptures can sometimes be confusing and even seem contradictory. Time intervals do not seem to fit, dates do not add up, and altogether it can seem confusing. Do the Scriptures contradict when it comes to time? How can we explain these seeming “contradictions in Scripture”?
In our first message, we examined the idea of inclusive and exclusive time reckoning, whereby one can either include parts of days as full days (inclusive reckoning), or one can exclude parts of days as not being days (exclusive reckoning). We also examined the reigns of kings, and saw that sometimes, from comparing the kings of Israel to the kings of Judah, that we can see that there were gaps between or overlaps between kings, and considered the causes of these things. In our last message, we considered whether Christ was in the grave “three days and three nights” or whether He rose “on the third day.” We discovered that the “third day” was a figure of speech meaning when death was complete, and the Lord truly was a full three twenty-four hour days in the tomb. In this message, we will consider how the Hebrews marked time regarding their hours and days, and then consider the puzzle of Anno Dei versus Anno Mundi time.
Hebrew Time Versus Gentile Time
Another difficulty with time reckoning that can seem contradictory to people, but really stems more from a misunderstanding than a Biblical contradiction, stems from the way Hebrews considered time versus how we consider it. Their view of time and the way they tracked it differed in several ways from our way of thinking and tracking.
First of all, a new Hebrew day began at sunset. Of course, we would say, “That is when night begins,” but I am talking about a day in the 24-hour day sense. We start our days at midnight, count 12 hours to midday, and then 12 hours again to midnight. When you think about it, there is nothing logical or sensible about this. It is just the way we do it. The Hebrews, on the other hand, started their days in the evening at sunset. Then, they counted 12 hours of night, and after that 12 hours of day, for a full 24-hour day.
This can get confusing when we consider things such as the Sabbath day. We think of the Sabbath (at least for the Jews, ignoring the “Christian Sabbath,”) as being Saturday. Yet really, with their way of reckoning days, the Sabbath begins at sunset on Friday night, and is over at sunset on Saturday night. We might become confused if we do not realize this.
In the New Testament also, we have to keep this in mind so we can properly understand what the Bible means when it makes statements like we find in Matthew 27:45.
45. Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.
If we would think of this according to our clocks, we might assume it was dark from six in the morning to nine in the morning. Yet this would not be right. The sixth hour was around noon, and the ninth hour around 3:00PM. If we don’t remember the time reckoning difference, we will get confused.
Another difference is in their months. Of course, they do not follow the same months as we do, and their months have different names and different starting points. Their years too begin at a very different time than January 1. But perhaps the most significant difference is that they have actual, lunar months. In other words, their months are based on the cycles of the moon. Of course, ours used to be as well, which is why they are called “months” (think “moonths.”) Yet the Hebrew months are based on the moon. Since a lunar month is around 30 days, this means a Hebrew year is about 360 days, not 365, as our years are. Of course, this means their calendar would slowly slip forward, until the spring would be in the fall and the fall in the spring and so forth. To avoid this, they would have what we could call a “leap-month,” when they would add an extra, 13th month every few years. The technical term for this is an “intercalary month.”
The result of this intercalary month is that their dates to our dates vary widely. For example, if one were to try to figure out the date for the Passover, it would not be simple. Even though on their calendar it is always on Nisan 15th, since their years are 360 days with an intercalary month every few years, when Nisan 15th falls on our calendar is a very complicated question. One could say, “Nisan is approximately April, so Nisan 15th is April 15th.” Yet that would not at all be accurate. Because of intercalary months, Nisan 15th might fall anywhere from late March to late April. There is no way to set it on a single date on our calendar. Every date in the Hebrew year, then, will vary widely compared to our calendar.
Another sometimes confusing difference can be in when they start their year. We know that according to the Bible, the Passover is in the first month of the year. This month was made the first month by the Lord when He created His religious calendar. However, though the Jews still recognize this religious calendar, their secular calendar does not follow it. The Jewish New Year takes place in what the religious calendar would call the seventh month, not the first. Why this difference exists is hard to say, though some have claimed that Nisan was always the seventh month, and that God changed it only for the purposes of His religious calendar. The secular calendar might therefore be the same as it always was long before God proclaimed that in His sight, Nisan was always going to be the first month.
A final difference in how the Hebrews looked at time versus how we do is more purely philosophical. We always view time with the idea that the past is behind us and the future is in front of us. Therefore we have phrases like “facing the future” or “putting the past behind you.” Yet the Hebrews did not think about this way. They had the opposite perspective, and looked at it that the past is in front of you, and the future is behind you.
Without any explanation, this viewpoint might almost seem insane to us, but we just need to get into a different way of thinking. You can look over the past. You can see what has just happened to you, and examine it fully. As things get further back in the past, your view of them might get more clouded, but still you can see them, especially the major events of your life, spread out in front of you and clearly in your vision. Therefore, the past is there in front of you, ready for you to see and examine. The future, however, you cannot see. It is coming up on you from behind, but you cannot actually see it until it “hits” you from behind as it arrives, and then passes you by into the past, where you can finally see it and examine it. Therefore, the future is behind you, where things cannot be seen or examined until they come up on you. When you think about it, this way of looking at things makes a lot of sense, even though it is opposite to our usual way of viewing things.
These things are not major issues to uncover great truths from passages necessarily, but are still important things to keep in mind as we read through the Bible, as they will help us have a right understanding and perspective when the Bible tells us certain things relating to time.