The Meaning of BC and AD
What Do The Abbreviations A.D. and B.C. Mean?
It is commonly thought that B.C. stands for “before Christ” and A.D. stands for “after death.” This is only half correct. B.C. does stand for “before Christ.” A.D. actually stands for the Latin phrase anno domini, which means “in the year of our Lord.”
Many different calendars have been used since man began tracking time. Most start with some epoch event or person. The use of BC and AD for numbering calendar years was invented by Dionysius Exiguus in 525 AD.
Dionysius named the years relating to his cycle, BC meaning Before Christ, which starts with year 1, and AD meaning Anno Domini, the year of Our Lord referring to the year of Christ’s birth. This is also a year 1. There is no year 0. (That’s the reason purists insist the 21st century began on January 1, 2001. For example, the first year began in 1 AD and ended at the beginning of 2 AD. So the first year of the 21st century begins in 2001 AD and ends with the beginning of 2002 AD). It took about 400 years for the dating system devised by Dionysius to reach common usage.
The purpose of the B.C./A.D. dating system was to make the birth of Jesus Christ the dividing point of world history. However, when the B.C./A.D. system was being calculated, they actually made a mistake in pinpointing the year of Jesus’ birth. Scholars later discovered that Jesus was actually born around 6—4 B.C., not A.D. 1.
The people and events that you read about in the Old Testament lived in the following approximate dates:
|Years Before Christ (B.C)||Event in World History|
|2100 B.C.||Abraham was called by God (approximately 2100 years before the birth of Christ)|
|1525 B.C.||Moses was born|
|1445 B.C.||Ten Commandments given to Moses|
|1090 B.C.||Sampson is a judge for Israel|
|1005 B.C.||David becomes king of Israel|
|870 B.C.||Elijah the prophet begins ministry|
|740 B.C.||Isaiah begins his ministry|
|586 B.C.||Temple in Jerusalem destroyed by Babylonians|
|535 B.C||Daniel’s last vision|
|460 B.C.||Ezra returns from exile|
|356 B.C.||Alexander the Great was born|
|200 B.C.||Rome defeats Hannibal|
|37 B.C.||Herod is king of Judea|
|~4 B.C.**||Jesus is born|
This refers to our current calendar, counting down from the date of Jesus’ birth.
|In the Year of our Lord (anno Domini – A.D.)||Event in World History|
|27** A.D.||John the baptizer begins his ministry.|
|27** A.D.||Jesus begins His ministry (at the approximate age of 30).|
|30** A.D.||Jesus is crucified on cross & raised from dead (at the approximate age of 33).|
|30** A.D.||Jesus’ church begins in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost and the Lord begins adding people to His church (see Acts 2:37 through the end of the chapter).|
|70 A.D.||Jerusalem and the temple destroyed by the Roman emperor Titus.|
|410 A.D.||Fall of Rome to the Visigoths.|
|1451 A.D.||Christopher Columbus was born.|
|1776 A.D.||U.S. declaration of Independence Adopted.|
|1914 A.D.||World War I started.|
|2000 A.D.||The world celebrates the start of a new millennium, approximately 2000 years after the birth of Jesus.|
** The 4 lost years:
The intent of the world’s current calendar is to number the years from the date of Jesus’ birth (e.g. the year 2010 A.D. would represent 2010 years from the date of Jesus’ birth). However, over the past two thousand years there have been a number of different calendars (e.g. Roman, Jewish, etc.) and different ways to count the number of days and months in the year (for example, the Jewish calendar has only 360 days). In the last several hundred years as the world standardized on the definition of a year (e.g. 365 days, except leap year), and as these standards were applied historically, they found that there was approximately four years difference in this 2000-year timeframe. Although your calendar at the time you discovered this may have said it was 1940 A.D. (just to pick a date out of the air)…it was in fact 1943 years after the birth of Christ if you count years as we do today. As you can imagine, it would be impossible to get everyone in the world to add four years to their current calendar to make up for the inconsistencies in the prior year’s calendars. So the current date remains the same and the references to the dates of events in history have for the most part been changed (e.g. Jesus’ birth is now stated as being in ~4 B.C. instead of 0 A.D.) If these calendar differences never existed, then Jesus would have been born in 0 A.D.; He would have begun His ministry in 30 A.D.; He would have died on the cross in 33 to 34 A.D.; and you would need to add ~4 years to today’s date.
In recent times, there has been a push to replace the B.C. and A.D. labels with B.C.E and C.E., meaning “before common era” and “common era,” respectively. Other writers claim that the abbreviation “c.e.” originally meant “Christian era.” The change is simply one of semantics—that is, AD 100 is the same as 100 CE; all that changes is the label. The advocates of the switch from BC/AD to BCE/CE say that the newer designations are better in that they are devoid of religious connotation and thus prevent offending other cultures and religions who may not see Jesus as “Lord.” The irony, of course, is that what distinguishes B.C.E from C.E. is still the life and times of Jesus Christ.
Today some writers use the abbreviation “c.a.” or “c”, instead of “A.D.” According to Webster’s dictionary, the abbreviation “c.a.” or “c” is from the Latin word “circum” which some say stands for “current age.”
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