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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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TIME . The conception that we seem to gather of time from the Holy Scriptures is of a small block, as it were, cut out of boundless eternity. Of past eternity, if we may use such an expression, God is the only inhabitant; in future eternity angels and men are to share. And this ‘block’ of time is infinitesimally small. In God’s sight, in the Divine mind, ‘a thousand years are but as yesterday’ ( Psalms 90:4; cf. 2 Peter 3:8 ‘one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day’). Time has a beginning; it has also, if we accept the usual translation of Revelation 10:6 ‘there shall be time no longer,’ a stated end. The word ‘time’ in Biblical apocalyptic literature has another meaning ‘time’ stands for ‘a year’ both in Daniel ( Daniel 4:16; Daniel 4:23; Daniel 4:25; Daniel 4:32; Daniel 7:25 , where the plural ‘times’ seems to stand for two years) and in Revelation 12:14 (derived from Daniel 7:25 ).

When once the idea of time formed itself in the human mind, subdivisions of it would follow as a matter of course. The division between light and darkness, the rising, the zenith, and the setting of the sun and the moon, together with the phases of the latter, and the varying position of the most notable stars in the firmament, would all suggest modes of reckoning time, to say nothing of the circuit of the seasons as indicated by the growth and development of the fruits of the field and agricultural operations. Hence we find in Genesis 1:1-31 day and night as the first division of time, and, because light was believed to be a later creation than matter, one whole day is said to be made up of evening and morning; and the day is reckoned, as it still is by the Jews and, in principle, by the Church in her ecclesiastical feasts, from one disappearance of the sun to the next, the divisions between day and night being formed by that appearance and disappearance. In this same cosmogony we meet with a further use of the lights in the firmament of heaven; they are to be ‘for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years’ ( Genesis 1:14 ). The day would thus be an obvious division of time for intelligent beings to make from the very earliest ages. As time went on, subdivisions of this day would be made, derived from an observance of the sun in the heavens morning , noonday or midday, and evening; and, by analogy, there would be a midnight . The only other expression we meet with is ‘between the two evenings’ ( Exodus 12:6 ), used most probably for the time between sunset and dark, though others take it as equivalent to ‘the time of the going down of the sun,’ i.e. any time in the afternoon: any shorter subdivisions of time were not known to the Jews till they were brought into contact with Western civilization and the Roman military arrangements. The only exception to this is the ‘steps’ on the dial of Ahaz ( 2 Kings 20:9-11 ). In the passages in Daniel where the word hour occurs in the EV [Note: English Version.] , the term is quite an indefinite one, the ‘one hour’ of Daniel 4:19 in AV [Note: Authorized Version.] becoming ‘a while’ in RV [Note: Revised Version.] . The Aram [Note: ram Aramaic.] , word used in that book was used in the New Hebrew for the word ‘hour.’ In the Apocrypha the word ‘hour’ is quite indefinite. But in the NT we find the Western division of the day into twelve hours, reckoning from sunrise to sunset, quite established. ‘Are there not twelve hours in the day?’ said our Lord, in an appeal to the Jews ( John 11:9 ). Westcott holds that in St. John’s Gospel ( John 1:39 , John 4:6; John 4:52 , John 19:14 ) the modern mode of reckoning the hours from midnight to midnight is followed. The strongest passage in support of this view is John 19:14 . These twelve hours were divided into the four military watches of three hours each (cf. Matthew 14:25 ‘the fourth watch of the night’), as distinguished from the three watches which seem to have prevailed among the Jews (‘if he shall come in the second watch, and if in the third,’ Luke 12:38 ). The only other measure of time, quite indefinite and infinitesimal, is the ‘moment,’ common to OT, Apocr. [Note: Apocrypha, Apocryphal.] , and NT (‘we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,’ 1 Corinthians 15:52 ). To-morrow ( Exodus 8:23 ) and yesterday ( Exodus 5:14 ), and even yesternight ( Genesis 31:29 ), would soon take their place on either side of to-day. The Hebrew word meaning literally ‘the day before yesterday,’ is generally used vaguely of previous time, ‘heretofore.’

The next obvious division of time would be the month . The phases of the moon would be watched, and it would soon be noticed that these recurred at regular intervals. Each appearance of the new moon would be noted as the beginning of a new period. The first mention of the new moon in Biblical history is in 1 Samuel 20:5 , though ‘the beginnings of the months’ are mentioned in the ritual laws of Numbers 10:10; Numbers 28:11 . Of the two Heb. words for ‘month,’ one is identical with the word for ‘moon,’ the other means ‘newness.’ Though the actual period of each moon is rather more than 29 days, the actual time of its visibility could scarcely be more than 28 days. The first appearance of the new moon would be eagerly watched for and made a matter of rejoicing. We find, in fact, that a keen lookout was kept for it, and the ‘new moon’ feast was kept with great rejoicings, as well as, apparently in later times, a ‘full moon’ feast (‘Blow up the trumpet in the new moon, At the full moon, on our solemn feast day,’ Psalms 81:3 ).

Given this period of 28 days, together with the recurrent phases of the moon, it would naturally be subdivided, like the day itself, into four divisions or weeks of seven days each. The first occurrence of a week is in Genesis 29:27 , though the Creation is represented as having been completed, including the rest of the Almighty, in a period of seven days, and periods of seven days occur in the history of the Flood. Of the two Heb. names for ‘week’ one is derived from the number seven, and the other is identical with ‘Sabbath,’ the day which completes the Jewish week. The NT takes over the latter word, and makes a Greek noun of it, whilst to the Christian and to the Christian Church, the first day of the week becomes the important day, instead of the seventh, and is for Christians the day of gathering together ‘to break bread’ ( Acts 20:7 ), and of making collections for the needs of the faithful ( 1 Corinthians 16:2 ), and also wins for itself the name of ‘the Lord’s day’ ( Revelation 1:10 ). The word ‘week’ was given other applications. The seventh year completed a week of years and was a sabbath; seven times seven years formed seven sabbaths of years, i.e. forty-nine years, and was followed by the jubilee. From the constant occurrence of the tenth day of the month in the dating of events, it has been supposed that the month of 30 days was also subdivided into periods of ten days each (see, e.g. , Exodus 12:3 , Leviticus 16:29 , Joshua 4:19 , 2 Kings 25:1 etc.).

There are no names in the OT for the days of the week except for the seventh the Sabbath. In the Apocrypha ( Jdt 8:6 ) there is a name for Friday which is translated ‘the eve of the Sabbath’; so in Mark 15:42 ‘the day before the Sabbath.’ This day is also called the Preparation ( Matthew 27:62 , Mark 15:42 , Luke 23:54 , John 19:31 ). In Roman Catholic service-books Good Friday is still called ‘Feria Sexta in Parasceue’ ( i.e. the Preparation), and the following Saturday ‘Sabbatum Sanctum.’

Whilst these various divisions of time were being arrived at, there would be, concurrently with them, the obvious recurrence of the seasons in their due order. One of the promises represented as having been made by God to Noah immediately after the Flood was that seedtime ( i.e. spring), summer, harvest ( i.e. autumn), and winter should not cease ( Genesis 8:22 ). This is the earliest time in the world’s history to which a knowledge of the seasons is attributed in the Bible. Afterwards summer and winter are frequently mentioned. In AV [Note: Authorized Version.] the word ‘spring,’ to mean that season, occurs only in Wis 2:7 , and ‘autumn’ not at all, though the word translated ‘winter’ in Amos 3:15 , Jeremiah 36:22 , might equally be rendered ‘autumn,’ as the time referred to is the border time between autumn and winter. It would in due course be noticed that the seasons recurred practically after a series of twelve moons or months; hence would come in the division of time into years of twelve lunar months. A year of 360 days is implied in the history of the Flood ( Genesis 6:1-22; Genesis 7:1-24; Genesis 8:1-22 ), but no satisfactory explanation has yet been given of the scheme of years and chronology in the genealogical account of antediluvian times ( Genesis 5:1-32 ).

The twelve months of the year would be given names. The Biblical names we find for them are:

1. Abib (Exodus 13:4 ), the month of the green ears of corn, about the same as our April, called in post-exilic times, in correspondence with its Bab. [Note: Babylonian.] name, Nisan ( Nehemiah 2:1 ). This was the month in which the Passover came.

2. Ziv (1 Kings 6:1 ), seemingly the bright month, called later Iyyar.

3. Sivan (Esther 8:9 ), another Bab. [Note: Babylonian.] name, occurring only in this one passage in the OT.

4. This month has no Biblical name, but was called in later times Tammuz, after the god of that name, in whose honour a fast was kept during the month, which is mentioned in Zechariah 8:19 as ‘the fast of the fourth month.’

5. This month also has no Biblical name, but was called later Ab.

6. Elul (Nehemiah 6:15 , 1Ma 14:27 ). The etymology of this name is unknown; it occurs in Assyrian.

7. Ethanim (1 Kings 8:2 ), the month of constant flowings, in later times called Tishri. This was the first month of the civil year.

8. Bul (1 Kings 6:38 ), a word of doubtful etymology, called later Marcheshvan.

9. Chislev (Nehemiah 1:1 , Zechariah 7:1 , 1Ma 1:54 etc.), a Bab. [Note: Babylonian.] word of uncertain derivation.

10. Tebeth (Esther 2:18 ), taken over from the Assyrian. It has been conjectured to mean ‘the month of sinking in,’ i.e . the muddy month.

11. Shebat (Zechariah 1:7 , 1Ma 16:14 ), taken from the Babylonian; of doubtful meaning, but, according to some, the month of destroying rain.

12. Adar (Ezra 6:15 , Esther 3:7 etc.), a Bab. [Note: Babylonian.] word, perhaps meaning darkened. In 2Ma 15:36 we are informed that the twelfth month ‘is called Adar in the Syrian tongue.’

The names given are, it will be seen, of rare occurrence, and only four of them are pre-exilic. Biblical writers are generally content to give the number of the month. Some of the months were notable for their ecclesiastical feasts. In the first came the Passover, on the 14th day; in the third, the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost); in the seventh, the Feast of Trumpets and the Feast of Tabernacles, as also the Fast of the Day of Atonement; in the ninth, the Feast of Dedication; and in the twelfth, the Feast of Purim.

Though at first all the months seem to have been reckoned of equal length, in later times they contained 30 and 29 days alternately. This rendered an intercalation in the Calendar necessary, to keep the Passover in the right season of the year; and this intercalary period was called the second Adar, and was inserted as required to bring Abib to its proper place in the year.

It remains to mention that in the Apocrypha we have traces of the Macedonian Calendar. In 2Ma 11:21 , a month is named Dioscorinthius , a name which does not occur elsewhere, and which is either a corruption of the text for Dystrus, a name for the twelfth month, which occurs in the Sinaitic text of Tob 2:12 , or the name of an intercalary month inserted at the end of the year. In 2Ma 11:30 Xanthicus , the name for the first month of the Macedonian year, occurs. It answers to the month Abib. These names, with other Macedonian names, are used by Josephus. In 3Ma 6:38 two Egyptian months, Pachon and Epiphi , occur, the former being omitted in some texts. They are the ninth and eleventh months of the Egyptian year.

Of epochs or eras there is but little trace. There were the periods of seven years and fifty years already mentioned, but they never occur in any chronological statement. 430 years is the time assigned to the sojourning in Egypt, both in OT and NT (Exodus 12:40 , Galatians 3:17 ), and the commencement of the building of Solomon’s Temple is dated 480 years after the Exodus. The chronology of the two kingdoms is reckoned by regnal years, though in some cases a regency period is counted as part of the length of the reign. Twice in Isaiah ( Isaiah 6:1; Isaiah 14:28 ) the date noted is that of the year of the death of a king, in another case the date is the invasion by the Tartan ( Isaiah 20:1 ); whilst in Amos ( Amos 1:1 ) a date is given as ‘two years before the earthquake,’ apparently a particularly severe one which happened during the reign of Uzziah, king of Judah ( Zechariah 14:5 ). The ‘seventy years’ of the Captivity is also a well-known period, as is the thousand years of the Apocalypse ( Revelation 20:1-15 ), with all the speculations it has given rise to. In later times the years were reckoned by the names of those who filled the office of high priest; in Luke 3:1 f., we have a careful combination of names of various offices held by various persons at the time of the commencement of the preaching of John the Baptist, to indicate the date.

Of instruments to measure time we hear of only one, the sun-dial of Ahaz ( 2 Kings 20:9-11 , Isaiah 38:8 ), but what shape or form this took we do not know.

H. A. Redpath.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Time'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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