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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Time (2)

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TIME.1. The word ‘time’ is used in the Gospels in a variety of phrases more or less indefinite. Probably the most definite expression is ἐν στιγμῇ χρόνου, ‘in a moment of time’ (Luke 4:5). χρόνος is used of time in general (Luke 1:57; Luke 8:27, Mark 9:21, John 5:6), passing or having passed. In a similar sense we find ὥρα (Mark 6:35) rendered ‘day’ in Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 (see Day). More definite is ἀπὸ τότε, ‘from that time’ (Matthew 4:17; Matthew 16:21, Luke 16:16), and ἕως τοῦ νῦν, ‘until now’ (Matthew 24:21 Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 , Mark 13:19). The most important word, however, is καιρός, used invariably of a definite period or occasion. Three uses in this sense are noteworthy. (1) It is used to indicate the time of certain events in the ministry of Jesus (Matthew 11:25; Matthew 12:1; Matthew 14:1). (2) In a special sense we have the remarkable passage John 7:6; John 7:8 ‘My time is not yet come, but your time is always ready,’ where the contrast is used apparently to emphasize the peculiar character of Jesus’ mission and the hostility which it aroused in Jerusalem. (3) Most important is the use of καιρός to indicate the dawn of a new epoch—πεπλήρωται ὁ καιρός, ‘the time is fulfilled’ (cf. John 13:33, Luke 12:56, Matthew 16:3)—which the ministry of Jesus had inaugurated. This new era is contrasted with the past (Mark 1:15) and with the future (Mark 10:30, Luke 18:30; see artt. Day [That], Generation). In a similar sense of world-period or era we have καιροὶ ἐθνῶν, ‘the times of the Gentiles’ (Luke 21:24; but cf. עֵת גּוֹיַם, i.e. judgment-day, Ezekiel 30:3). καιρὸς is also used of a season of the year (Mark 11:13, Matthew 13:30; cf. Luke 12:42).

2. Various methods of reckoning time were in existence at the beginning of the Christian era, and this fact makes it extremely difficult to locate events with any certainty. The time of day was reckoned at the outset mainly by physical considerations, temperature, etc. (Genesis 3:8; Genesis 18:1, 1 Samuel 11:9, Job 24:15), or by the sun’s movements (Genesis 19:15; Genesis 32:24); the night in early Jewish history was reckoned by watches (see artt. Day, Hour, Night, Watch). The days of the week were numbered, not named.

The division of time into weeks was probably of Babylonian origin, and would be suggested by the moon’s phases, although there is no trace of this influence either in OT or NT. The word for ‘week’ in the Gospels is σάββατον (Luke 18:12). The use of the plural (Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:2, Luke 24:1) may have arisen from the Aram. Aramaic Sabbĕthâ, ‘the Sabbath’ (Heb. Shabbâth), which at an early date gave its name to the whole week.

Of the larger divisions of time, the month, so familiar in OT times, is hardly mentioned in the NT (Luke 1:26; Luke 1:36, John 4:25). The Jewish month was lunar. Hence the usual Hebrew name for ‘month’ (חֹדֶשׁ) is properly the ‘new moon.’ Three methods were employed to distinguish the month: (1) old Canaanite names, of which only four now survive; (2) numerals (Genesis 7:11, Exodus 19:1 etc.); (3) Babylonian names (see Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible iv. 765).

The Jewish year, like the month, was originally lunar, consisting of 354 days. But as this fell so far short of the full solar year, difficulty would naturally arise in celebrating feasts at the same time in each year. To avoid this, it became necessary to add an extra month at least once in three years. This was done by adding a second Adar (the Bab. [Note: Babylonian.] 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 spring equinox. The exact method of doing this is somewhat obscure. But as a month in three years was hardly sufficient, a cycle of eight years was observed in which three months were intercalated, based on general observation of the seasons. This continued until some time after the Christian era, when a more perfect system, a cycle of nineteen years with seven months intercalated—the invention of an astronomer of Athens named Meton—was adopted. It seems unlikely that the Jews had any fixed chronological calendar in the time of Christ, but this is disputed (see Wieseler, Chronol. Synopsis of the Four Gospels, p. 401, etc.).

The method of reckoning years is a complicated and difficult subject. In accordance with Eastern ideas, that precision in reckoning events to which we moderns are accustomed was unknown. It was not considered necessary (cf. e.g. the loose phrases ‘in the days of Herod the king,’ Matthew 2:1; and ‘Herod being tetrarch of Galilee,’ Luke 3:1); nor was it easily attainable. For it was possible for a writer in NT times to employ various systems of reckoning, and it was also possible to employ any one system in various ways. In addition to the various eras in which it was common to reckon, viz. the Olympiad era beginning b.c. 776; the Seleucid, used in the Books of the Maccabees, beginning b.c. 312; the Actian beginning b.c. 31; there was also the Roman method of reckoning by consuls or emperors (Luke 3:1), and the Jewish by high priests. Further, the year began at a different time in different countries, e.g. the Roman year began on Jan. 1, but in a few cases the emperors dated their years from the date of their election as tribunes of the people on Dec. 10. The Jewish saercd year began about the vernal equinox, as did also, in all probability, the years of the Seleucid era. But in Asia Minor a year beginning in autumn was also observed in ordinary use. These and other considerations render it almost impossible to give the precise date of any event even in NT times (see art. Dates). The one date given with any apparent precision is in Luke 3:1 ‘in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar.’ This seems tolerably accurate, but the actual date intended depends on how St. Luke reckoned. He may have dated from the death of Augustus, Aug. 19, a.d. 14, counting that year as the first of Tiberius’ reign, or from the beginning of a.d. 15, which was also a method of reckoning. Or he may have reckoned from Dec. 10, a.d. 15, when Tiberius assumed tribunician authority. Or, as the tribunician authority was interrupted in the reign of Tiberius, St. Luke may have dated his reign from the time when he assumed tribunician power the second time. In addition, there is the question whether St. Luke would reckon according to the Roman year from Jan. 1, or, according to local methods prevalent in Syria, from the autumn equinox.

Literature.—Kaestner, de Aeris; Bilfinger, Die antiken Stundenangaben; Schwarz, Der Jüd. Kalender; Lewin, Fasti Sacri; Wieseler, Chron. Synopsis of the Four Gospels; Ideler, Handbuch der Chronologie; Schürer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People.] i. 37, ii. App. iii. and iv.; W. M. Ramsay, Was Christ born at Bethlehem? v.–xi.; Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible iv. pp. 762b–766b, also specially Ext. Vol. 473b–484.

G. Gordon Stott.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Time (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/t/time-2.html. 1906-1918.

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