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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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1. The conception of time.-In all ages and among all peoples the idea of time tends to be expressed in the figure of a continually and evenly running stream. It is viewed, however, in sections; and each section brings with itself or takes up into itself all the events that happen. This conception is maintained consistently in the writings of the Apostolic Age. Time comes into being (διαγενομένου, Acts 27:9, ‘spent,’ lit. [Note: literally, literature.] ‘had come through’). It passes by (ὁ παρεληλυθὼς χρόνος, 1 Peter 4:3). It is generally looked at as a whole, but it is divisible into parts which differ quantitatively and may be measured-it is ‘much,’ or ‘little,’ or ‘Sufficient’ (for a given purpose). ‘sufficient’ (ἱκανὸς χρόνος, Luke 8:27; Luke 23:8, Acts 8:11; ἡμέραι ἱκαναί, Acts 9:23; Acts 9:43; Acts 18:18; ἱκανῶν ἐτῶν, Romans 15:23) as applied in measuring time is an expression of indefiniteness. The adequacy of the measure of time for the maturing of a definite plan is given in the idea of ‘fullness.’ Time accumulates as if in a reservoir and becomes sufficient for its end (πλήρωμα τοῦ χρόνου, Galatians 4:4; cf. Acts 7:23). Naturally the flow of time involves succession and order as between first and last. But all time future to any particular moment may be from the view of it at that moment ‘last.’ The Christian outlook on the future involves a great consummation and a radical world change. The period just preceding this consummation was especially designated ‘the last times’ (ἐπʼ ἐσχάτου τῶν χρόνων, 1 Peter 1:21; ἐσχάτη ἡμέρα, John 6:39-40; John 11:24; ἔσχαται ἡμέραι, Acts 2:17, 2 Timothy 3:1, James 5:3; 2 Peter 3:3; ἐσχάτη ὥρα, 1 John 2:18).

The relativity of length of time to the mind is indicated in the conception that to God’s mind human measures and standards of time have no inherent reality (‘One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day,’ 2 Peter 3:8). The notion shows a trace of philosophical influence in the thinking which culminates in the apocalyptical conception of the transiency of time and its contrast with eternity (‘There shall be time no longer,’ Revelation 10:6).

2. Season.-Time from the point of view of its special content or relation to a definite event or events is specifically denoted by the term καιρός (generally, ‘definite time’). The most accentuated usage of the term in this sense is the Apocalyptist’s καιρὸν καὶ καιροὺς καὶ ἥμισυ καιροῦ (Revelation 12:14), where the evident design is to indicate a period of known duration, like a year (or century). The term is more nearly synonymous with ‘season’ when it designates a time (the time during the year) for the appearance of certain events ([καιρὸς] τοῦ θερισμοῦ, Matthew 13:30; καιρὸς σύκων, Mark 11:13 : cf. Luke 20:10; τοὺς καρποὺς ἐν τοῖς καιροῖς αὐτῶν, Matthew 21:41). More generally καιρός is any division of time which differs from all others by some characteristic, as, for instance, that it ought to be observed as more sacred (μῆνας καὶ καιρούς, Galatians 4:10); to be watched against because of the evil influences which it brings (καιροὶ χαλεποί, 2 Timothy 3:1); chosen by God for special revelation of His word (Titus 1:3); a period when certain special events develop, distinguished by the moral character of the Gentiles (καιροὶ ἐθνῶν, Luke 21:24); events have their own time (Luke 1:20), persons may have their own time for the full display of their peculiar character or the accomplishment of their work (e.g. the time of Jesus, ὁ καιρὸς ὁ ἐμός, ὁ καιρὸς ὁ ὑμέτερος, John 7:6; John 7:8). The term καιρός thus differs from χρόνος in designating ‘opportune’ or ‘fit’ time, a time associated with, and therefore distinguished by, some special event or feature. In the phrase πεπλήρωται ὁ καιρός (Mark 1:15) the more appropriate term would have been χρόνος, but since the intention of the writer is to show not the lapse of mere time, but the appearance of a new era, the word used expresses the idea more accurately.

3. The ages.-The largest measure of time known is the ‘age’ (αἰών, ‘aeon’). An ‘age,’ however, is not a definite period (though the ‘present age’ is estimated by some as 10,000 or 5,000 years in duration). It is rather a period of vast length. It so far transcends thought that it impresses the mind with the mystery of the whole notion of time. Hence the combination ‘eternal times’ (Romans 16:25) stretching back into the inconceivably remote past (practically the equivalent of the modern philosophical ‘species of eternity’).

The conception of the aeon is specially prominent in the apocalyptic system, which looks on all duration as divided into aeons. An aeon combines in itself the essential content of the Hebrew ‘olam and of the Greek αἰών. In the first the emphasis is laid on the mysterious aspect of time without measure and apart from all known conditions. In the second the conception is based on a cyclic return similar to that marked by the seasons of the year. The modern analogy may be found in the geologic period. On a still larger scale the aeon has its analogy in the Hindu kalpa. Of such ages there is an indefinite series. This is given in the plural (αἰῶνες, Galatians 1:5, Philippians 4:20, 1 Timothy 1:17, 2 Timothy 4:18, Hebrews 13:21; Hebrews 13 :1 Peter 4:11, Rev., passim). The series taken together constitutes all time (‘All the ages,’ Revised Version margin, εἰς πάντας τοὺς αἰῶνας, Judges 1:25).

Later Jewish thought singled out two aeons (ages) and largely limited itself to their contemplation. From the practical point of view these were the only ones that concerned living men. These two were the ‘present age’ (ὁ αἰὼν οὗτος, ὁ νῦν αἰών, ὁ ἐνεστώς αἰών, עוֹלָם הָרּה, Ephesians 1:21, Matthew 12:32, Galatians 1:4, 2 Timothy 4:10, Titus 2:12) and the ‘future age’ (ὁ αἰων ὁ μέλλων, ὁ αἰών ὁ ἐρχόμενος, עוֹלָם הַבָּא, Hebrews 6:5, Luke 20:35; Luke 18:30). The doctrine became prominent in the Apocalypses (cf. 4 Ezr 7:50). It fitted the apocalyptic scheme wonderfully. On one side it helped to define the older prophetic ‘latter days’ (as a distinct period when ideal conditions would prevail); at the same time it gave a background to the doctrine of the ‘Day of Jehovah. On the other side, by discovering an ideal moral character in the latter age, the doctrine infused comfort into the hearts of the faithful in the present evil days by promising a definite change with the beginning of the new era. Questions of the exact length of the age were raised and by some answered. The author of Ethiopic Enoch, xvi. 1, xviii. 16, xxi. 6, fixes the duration of the ‘evil [present] age’ as 10,000 years; the Assumption of Moses at 5,000. The apocalyptists consider that they are themselves living so near the end of the older age and the beginning of the new that it may be a question as to whether they will be still living when the crisis arrives and the one age yields to the other (4 Ezr_4:37; Ezr_5:50 ff; Ezra 6:20; Syr. Bar. xliv. 8ff.). These two ages (the present and the one to come) are successive. But this is not the case with all the aeons of the series. ‘Unto the ages of the ages.’ (εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων) suggests the inequality of some of the ages and the inclusion of the briefer within the longer ones (cf. G. B. Winer, Grammar of NT Greek9, Edinburgh, 1882, p. 36).

4. The era.-The NT writings contain no allusion to a uniform era. Undoubtedly each people of the period used its own era. The Romans dated events and documents from the founding of the city (a.u.c. = 752 b.c.); the Greeks went back to the beginning of the Olympiads (= 776 b.c.). The Jews, owing to the frequent vicissitudes experienced in their history, had changed their method of registering the relative dates of events. The Books of Kings and Chronicles use the very familiar device of synchronizing the regnal years of the kings of Israel and Judah respectively. Occasionally the deliverance from bondage in Egypt is used as a starting-point (1 Kings 6:1), or the building of the Temple of Solomon (9:10), or the beginning of the Babylonian Exile (Ezekiel 33:21; Ezekiel 40:1). The later Jewish usage settled down to reckoning all events from the creation of the world, which was supposed to have occurred in the 3761st year before the birth of Christ. But this computation is of post-Christian origin. In the Apocrypha, which may be regarded as the fair index of usage at the time, the Seleucid Era is frequently referred to. This was computed from the year of the seizure of Palestine by Seleucus after the battle of Gaza. It was also called the Era of the Greeks or Syro-Macedonians and (incorrectly) the Era of Alexander. By the Jews it was called the Year of Contracts (Tarik Dilkarnaim) from the fact that it was obligatory in the case of all legal documents. The beginning of the era was dated in the first year of the 117th Olympiad or 442 a.u.c., hence 312 b.c. (1 Maccabees 1:11; 1 Maccabees 6:16; 1 Maccabees 7:15; 1 Maccabees 10:1). The Era of Simon (1 Maccabees 13:42; 1 Maccabees 14:27) was proposed, but never extensively adopted.

In the New Testament events are associated with the reigns of contemporary rulers (‘In the days of Herod the king’ [Matthew 2:1, Luke 1:5], ‘in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea ,’ etc. [Luke 3:1-2; cf. also Acts 11:28; Acts 12:1]). But in all cases the dating is approximate and intended to serve practical rather than scientific ends. With the exception of Luke 3:1-2, all such dating of events seems not to be intentionally chronological (cf. A. Harnack, The Acts of the Apostles, London, 1909, p. 6 f.).

The method of Matthew (Matthew 1:17) of giving a general intimation of date by the expedient of ‘generations’ is unique and highly artificial.

5. The year.-It has always been difficult to adjust with precision the limits of the year. In all the efforts to make the adjustment first the natural return of the seasons with their agricultural features calls for a definition that will harmonize with the apparent revolution of the sun around the earth in 365 + days. But the fact that this period approximately coincides with twelve lunar periods has tempted many peoples to settle down to a year of 354 days. In the Apostolic Age the problem had not as yet been solved fully. The usage of Palestine, inherited from early Canaanite and Babylonian antecedents, was still prevalent. The year began with the 1st of Nisan and was constituted of twelve months, with the periodical intercalation of a thirteenth to equalize difference. Intercalation was common all over the world, but the method of intercalating was different at different times, and probably not constant anywhere for any consecutive period of time. Among the Jews the Sanhedrin decided whether in any particular year a month should be intercalated. Among the Romans Plutarch testifies that 22 days were added every other year to the month of February (which, according to Varro, de Ling. Lat. vi. 55, was the last month of the year). But a more common way was the insertion of an additional month every three years, and as this left a troublesome margin it was corrected into three months every eight years and finally fixed as seven months in a cycle of nineteen years. This cycle was introduced into Athens by Meton the astronomer in 432, but found its way only gradually into general practice. Popularly the year must always have been viewed as divided into 12 months (Revelation 22:2).

6. The month.-Throughout the Apostolic Age the ancient way of fixing the month as the exact equivalent of a complete lunation was maintained. The month accordingly began with the appearance of the moon in its first phase, and ended with its reappearance in the same phase the next time. Within the New Testament months are mentioned generally, not with precise reference to their relations to one another in the calendar, but as an indication and a measure of time in the terms of the fraction of a year (Luke 1:24; Luke 1:36; Luke 1:56). In Acts it is probable that the usage is not meant to be minutely precise since the mention of months is invariably in threes (Acts 7:20; Acts 19:8; Acts 20:3; Acts 28:11, but once in twice three-six, Acts 18:11).

So far as the calendar is concerned, there are evidences of mixed usage. The predominance at different times of different influences (Roman, Macedonian, Egyptian, older Jewish) brought into use different names. The occurrence of Xanthicus in 2 Maccabees 11:30; 2 Maccabees 11:38 (the sixth month of the Macedonian calendar) shows clearly the existence of a Macedonian element in the mixed usage. The name ‘Dioscorinthius’ (mentioned earlier in the same account, 2 Maccabees 11:21) is also probably Macedonian and a modified form of the first month, Dius. It may, however, be a textual corruption for ‘Dystrus’ (the name of the fifth month), as H. A. Redpath, in Hastings’ Hastings’ Single-vol. Dictionary of the Bible , p. 937, suggests, supporting the suggestion with the Sinaitic text of Tobit 2:12, where Dystrus is mentioned. Otherwise Dioscorinthius is the name of an intercalary month. That an intercalary month must have had a place in the Macedonian calendar is to be assumed, though its name and place are unknown. Of the Egyptian calendar traces are found in the names ‘Pachon’ and ‘Epiphi’ in 3 Maccabees 6:38.

7. The feasts.-A popular and practically useful method of reckoning time within the year is that which relates events to well-known religious festivals. This method is especially useful where for some reason or other the names of months have become involved in confusion. In the nature of the case, of such festivals in the New Testament the Passover (‘the days of unleavened bread,’ ἡμέραι τῶν ἀζύμων, Acts 12:3; Acts 20:6, πάσχα, Acts 12:4) stands prominent. The Day of Pentecost (ἡμέρα τῆς πεντηκοστῆς, Acts 2:1; Acts 20:18) and the Day of Atonement (‘fast,’ νηστεία, Acts 27:9) are also used as landmarks. But in the allusion to the Feast of Dedication (ἐνκαίνια, John 10:22) the intention perhaps was not so much to give the exact time as to account for Jesus’ walking ‘in the temple in Solomon’s porch.’ Similarly the Feast of Tabernacles (σκηνοπηγία, John 7:2) is mentioned as explanatory of the course which Jesus had taken. In John 5:1 the purpose of the author would be defeated if he had meant to fix the time of the action (cf. also Luke 22:1, Mark 15:6, John 6:4; John 12:12).

8. The week.-Though peculiar to the Jewish people, the constitution of a unit of time by grouping together seven days was retained in the usage of the Christian Church. But no separate word was adopted to designate the week as such. In spite of the fact that the Greek language offered the tempting word ἑβδομάς (which came later into universal use) the period was generally known by its last day, the Sabbath (σάββατον, Luke 18:12), and in the plural (σάββατα), as shown in the name of the first day (μία τῶν σαββάτων, Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:2, Luke 24:1). In Acts 17:2, σάββατα τρία (rendered ‘weeks’ in Revised Version margin) is, in the light of St. Paul’s custom to use the Sabbath day as the time for preaching (Acts 18:4), correctly translated ‘three Sabbath days.’ The seven-day period required to mature the process of fulfilling a vow is evidently not viewed as a week in the modern sense of any period of seven consecutive days (Acts 21:27).

With the exception of the Sabbath (the seventh day) the days of the week are given no names, but are distinguished by ordinal numbers. The first day, however, acquired greater importance among Christians because of its association with the resurrection of the Lord (‘Lord’s day,’ κυριακὴ ἡμέρα, Revelation 1:10). And this ultimately came to be the name of the day (= Dominica). It was the day on which the Christians assembled together for the observance of their services (the ‘breaking of bread,’ mutual exhortation, taking up collections for the needs of their brethren, Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:2). But in the earlier period the day was called the ‘first of the week’ (μία τῶν σαββάτων, Acts 20:7). Other distinctions between the days of the week do not appear, with the exception of the fact that the day before the Sabbath was observed among the Jews as a season of preparation. Sometimes it was designated simply as the ‘eve of the Sabbath’ (προσάββατον, Judith 8:6, Mark 15:42); but in the NT oftener as the ‘Preparation [day]’ [παρασκευή, Matthew 27:62, Mark 15:42, Luke 23:54, John 19:14; John 19:42). It was scarcely as yet the fixed name of the day. This it became later as it was taken up by Christian usage, and persists to the present time as the proper name of Friday in modern Greek.

9. The day.-Jewish custom fixed the beginning of the day at sunset. Since that custom prevails to the present time among the Jews it is not likely that it was ever superseded among them. Nevertheless, the Roman way of reckoning from midnight was evidently prevalent at least in official circles. The testimony, however, is limited to the Fourth Gospel, and the point of view may be peculiar to the author (John 19:14; cf. also John 1:39, John 4:6). The day was divided into two sections of twelve hours, i.e. from midnight to midnight. These two sections might be viewed together as a twenty-four-hour unit (St. Paul spent a νυχθήμερον, ‘a night and a day,’ in the deep, 2 Corinthians 11:25). Of the night-day unit the day is the time for work (John 11:9) and the night is divided into four military watches of three hours each (Matthew 14:25; Matthew 24:43, Mark 6:48, Luke 12:38).

Related to each day stand the day preceding and the day following or the day after. The day preceding (‘yesterday,’ ἐχθές, John 4:52, Acts 7:28, Hebrews 13:8) is not so frequently mentioned as the day following (‘morrow,’ ἡ αὔριον, Acts 4:3; Acts 4:5; Acts 23:20; Acts 25:22; ἡ ἐπαύριον, Acts 10:9; Acts 14:20; Acts 20:7; ἡ ἐπιοῦσα, Acts 16:11; Acts 20:15; Acts 21:18; Acts 23:11; ἡ ἐχομένη, Acts 20:15; Acts 21:26; ἡ ἑξῆς ἡμέρα, Acts 21:1; Acts 25:17; Acts 27:18). The ‘day after to-morrow’ is spoken of as ‘the third day’ (τρίτη, Acts 27:19).

10. The hour.-The primary object of the division of the day into hours is two-fold. It gives a small and convenient unit as a measure or time (the fraction of a day), and at the same time it furnishes a basis for fixing on the exact portion of the day for any important or critical events to be recorded. The system of beginning the day with sunset and counting twelve hours to sunrise, with another set of twelve hours from sunrise to sunset, would result in a variable hour with a maximum of 79 minutes and a minimum of 49, according to the season of the year. Whether this was overcome by the adoption of the Roman method of reckoning from midnight to midnight is not certain. But the question loses its importance from the NT standpoint when it is considered that all mention of hours is general and practical rather than precise and chronological.

Of the hour as a measure of time a clear case occurs in Acts 19:34 (‘for the space of two hours,’ ἐπὶ ὤρας δύο; cf. also Matthew 20:12, Mark 14:37, Luke 22:59, Acts 5:7). Of the hour as giving the time of the day the usage is more abundant (Matthew 20:3; Matthew 20:5-6; Matthew 27:45-46, Mark 15:25; Mark 15:33-34, Luke 23:44, John 1:39; John 4:6; John 4:52; John 19:14; John 19:27, Acts 2:15; Acts 10:3; Acts 23:23). Besides the designation of the relative place of the hours to each other by numerals, hours are sometimes associated with customary action such as a meal (Luke 14:17, ὤρα τοῦ δείπνου), the offering up of incense (Luke 1:10, ὤρα τοῦ θυμιάματος), prayer (Acts 3:1, ὤρα τῆς προσευχῆς).

The hour, however, though the smallest definite unit in measuring, was not the smallest conceived division of time. An infinitesimal point of time is in the thought of St. Paul when he speaks of the resurrection change (1 Corinthians 15:52) as in a moment (ἀτόμῳ, lit. [Note: literally, literature.] ‘indivisible’ [fraction of time], explained by the ‘twinkling of an eye’ which immediately follows). Jesus too is reported as having been shown the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time (στιγμῇ χρόνου, Luke 4:5).

Literature.-A. Schwarz, Der jüdische Kalender, Breslau, 1872; G. Bilfinger, Die Zeitmesser der antiken Völker, Stuttgart, 1886, Der bürgerliche Tag, do., 1888, Die antiken Stundenangaben, do., 1888; T. Lewin, Fasti Sacri, London, 1865; W. M. Ramsay, Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia, Oxford, 1895-97; T. H. Key, article ‘Calendarium,’ in Smith’s DGRA [Note: GRA Dict. of Greek and Roman Antiquities.] ; E. Schürer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People (Eng. tr. of GJV).] i. [Edinburgh, 1890] i. 37, ii. Appendix iii.; Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) iv. 762-766, v. 473-484.

Andrew C. Zenos.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Time'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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