>Should Historical Events Be Dated B.C. and A.D. or B.C.E. and C.E.?

>I am a little bit late in joining the discussion about dating historical events, but I want to add to the discussion by submitting my opinion whether Christians should abandon the B.C. and the A.D. dating system and adopt the B.C.E. and the C.E. system.

For those unfamiliar with academic terminology, the abbreviations B. C. and A.D. stand for “Before Christ” and “Anno Domini” (“The Year of Our Lord”) and B.C.E. and C.E. stand for “Before the Common Era” and the “Common Era.”

Bob Cargill wrote an article for Bible and Interpretation in which he argued that Christians should adopt the BCE/CE dating system. In his article, Bob makes the following argument for the change:

Despite the rise of science, Christians have used—and many times have insisted upon—the continued use of the labels “AD” and “BC” to designate calendrical years, and thereby portray human history as directly relative to the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. But in our modern world of scientific reason and religious plurality, the battle over whether or not to use the increasingly accepted international scientific standard of BCE (“Before Common Era”) and CE (“Common Era”) has not waned, but rather has intensified. However, it is time for this battle to end; Christians should leave behind the BC/AD labels and adopt the BCE/CE dating system for all calendrical references.

Bob gives his reason why Christians are reluctant to abandon the B.C./A.D. system of dating:

For whatever reason, be it an aversion to natural selection and evolution, the debunking or explanation of many so-called “miracles,” or a bad grade in a freshman biology class, some Christians cling to the BC/AD system because of the symbolic superiority they feel it offers its adherents over science. Because when all else fails, one can always deny the facts and use different labels (i.e., “intelligent design”).

Bob said that the continuing use of the B.C./A.D. system of dating “perpetuates the stereotype that Christians are arrogant tyrants who insist on couching all of human history . . . as relative to the birth of Christ.”

I disagree with Bob’s argument that Christians should abandon the B.C. and A.D. system of dating historical events. One of the reasons for my opposition to this change is became the BCE/CE system is mostly an academic construct, just like the words “Hexateuch” and “Deuteronomic History,” a construct that is hardly used by the average Christian. As Mark Goodacre wrote in his blog:

Within Biblical Studies, the usage is now so widespread that some authors will have had it imposed on them by publishers who make this an element in their house style. Indeed, the usage is much more widespread in our area than it is in any other discipline, and by a country mile. Bob speaks of “the increasingly accepted international scientific standard of BCE (“Before Common Era”) and CE (“Common Era”)”: but I am not sure that it is so widespread. I rarely hear it outside of our field.

The real reason for the elimination of B.C. and A.D. from dating historical events is to de-emphasize the fact that the Incarnation of Jesus Christ was a turning point in human history. Brant Pitre, in his blog The Sacred Page has a good statement about the effort to secularize the calendar. He wrote:

It seems to mean the terminological shift is nothing but a rather facile attempt to take a dating system which clearly places the Incarnation at the center of human history and secularize it. But the attempt ultimately fails, since whether you use B.C.E/C.E. or B.C./A.D., the Incarnation is still at the center of the system. There’s no other identifiable historical event that marks the transition from one age to the other, whatever one concludes about the chronological controversy regarding exact calendar date of Jesus’ birth.

That the reason to abandon the B.C./A.D. system is a veiled attempt to secularize the dating system is evident from an article in the Wikipedia:

Common Era notation has been adopted in several non-Christian cultures, by many scholars in religious studies and other academic fields, and by others wishing to be sensitive to non-Christians, because Common Era does not explicitly make use of religious titles for Jesus, such as Christ and Lord, which are used in the BC/AD notation.

There are several other dating systems in use today. The Western world uses the B.C./A.D. system. The Jewish people base their calendar from the date the world was created. Thus, in the Jewish calendar, the year 2009 is the year 5770. Muslims date their calendar from the year of the pilgrimage (hajj) of the Prophet Muhammad. Thus, in the Muslims calendar, the year 2009 is actually the year 1430. No one will ask Jews and Muslims to change their dating system because it may be offensive to some Christians.

In his article, Bob asked the question: “Why should Christians adopt the BCE/CE dating system?” But why only Christians? Why not Jews and Muslims also? If one group should change, then all should change. The reason the call to change is given only to Christians is because of the fact that Christ, for better or for worse, has become the central figure in human history.

Any system of dating must have an initial point of reference. If our society rejects Christ as the point of reference, what initial point of reference should we adopt, the creation of the world? The foundation of Rome? The birth of Alexander the Great? The present day system of dating historical events is in no way an attempt at Western imperialism or Christian arrogance. The use of B.C. and A.D. reflects a system that has become universally accepted by many nations of the world without the system being imposed on them by force or coercion. After all, B.C.E. and C.E. still has Christ as the initial point of reference for historical dating.

According to biblical chronology, David reigned c. 1000 Before the Common Era and Solomon around 960 Before the Common Era. If David and Solomon lived Before the Common Era and we live in the Common Era, why was the age of David and Solomon so uncommon? And what has transformed that “uncommon era” to “the common era”?

There was nothing uncommon about the age of David and Solomon. The truth is that they lived one thousand year before Christ was born. It is the Incarnation of Christ that marks the transition from one era to the other. Even when scholars use BCE and CE to date historical events, one has to ask: what caused the transition from Before the Common Era to the Common Era? There is only one important factor that marks this transition, even when people refrain from using the name of the one person whose existence caused the transition from one era to the other.

For Further Reading:

In Favor of the change:

Robert R. Cargill, Why Christians Should Adopt the BCE/CE Dating System

Daniel O. McClellan, Bob Cargill on BCE/CE vs. BC/AD

Wikipedia, Common Era

Against the change:

Brant Pitre, Should Christians Abandon B.C./A.D.?

Doug Chaplin, BCE and CE revisited. Honestly, how common is it?

Mark Goodacre, BCE / CE vs BC / AD (on the date of the birth of Christ)

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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6 Responses to >Should Historical Events Be Dated B.C. and A.D. or B.C.E. and C.E.?

  1. Nate says:

    >I think the rule should be a person or organization should use whichever numbering system they are most comfortable with. A christian organization shouldn't be expected to abandon BC/AD, but secular institutions have become more accustomed to BCE/AD. Also, when I was growing up my Hebrew School, secular history (even Jewish history) tended to be taught using dates in BCE/CE numbering and not the religious calendar date in the 5000's. Besides, the dating is incorrect as far as the incarnation goes, which is probably around 4 Before Christ (??)


  2. >I remember when I was at secondary school, we were taught to use BCE/CE in our history lessons – only 16 years ago admittedly, but the point is, this does go further than Biblical Academia.However, as a tongue-in-cheek riposte, my missions lecturer quite happily used BCE/CE and referred to them as "Before Christian Era" and "Christian Era" – which are, surely, just as academic…?


  3. >Thanks, Claude, for the outstanding article. You really shed light on this issue and gently expose the anti-Christian bias behind the BCE/CE system. May you continue to be blessed as you bless us with your writings.


  4. >Milton,Thank you for your words. Some people do not realize that the change from B.C. to B.C.E. is really an attempt at removing the fact that the person of Christ has changed the events of history.Claude Mariottini


  5. Mariano says:

    >The preposterous point to ponder is just what the difference is between BC/AD and BCE/CE? Nothing! They pivot around the very same point—the birth of Jesus the Messiah. If BCE/CE was based on a whole new point of reference that would be one thing but it is leaving the premise in place whilst merely changing the verbiage. Mind you, eventually the mere change of verbiage may go a long ways toward obscuring the fact that the pivot is the birth of Jesus. But where one to ask what the difference is between BCE and CE, when does BCE become CE the one and only answer is; the birth of Jesus. Perhaps eventually, this will lead to a new historical pivot all together; such as the date when goat cheese was invented, the date when someone first thought to lick the back of a toad in order to hallucinate or maybe the birth date of Obama. But for now; BC/AD or BCE/CE the point is the very same.aDios,Mariano


  6. >Mariano,I see your point. It does not matter which one is used, the initial point is the Incarnation of Christ.However, it does matter if the purpose of the change is to intentionally remove the name of Christ. In the Western world, the calendar is reckoned from the birth of Christ.THank you for visiting my blog.Claude Mariottini


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