BC/AD or BCE/CE?
BC/AD or BCE/CE?– “The Christian calendar no longer belongs exclusively to Christians.“
by Bill Lockwood
Since the Middle Ages calendars have been dated from the central point of history–Jesus Christ. “Before Christ” (BC) and “Anno Domini” (AD)—a Latin phrase meaning “the year of our Lord.” Theoretically, the Lord was born on the year zero.
Our present calendar is based upon the Gregorian calendar of 1582 which was named after Pope Gregory XIII. This calendar was actually a reform of the earlier Julian calendar put together in the year 45 B.C. and named after Julius Caesar.
The labels BC and AD were not added until 525 A.D. by Dionysius Exiguus, who used them to compute the date of Easter (Robert. R. Cargill, bibleinterp.com, 2009). Dates comprise the backbone of history and the BC/AD point of reference has been the backbone of western civilization.
This system has come under increasing criticism, however, and today “scholarship”—even Christian– recommends another option that removes Christ from that pivotal place in history. It is advised that the favored option B.C.E. and C.E., standing for Before the Common Era and Common Era, replace the older B.C./A.D. system.
Since both numerical systems utilize Jesus Christ as the point of reference (“Before Common Era” is equivalent to the time before Christ), how is it that tension exists on this?
First, by usage of BCE/CE the world of “scholarship” is insisting that the world of “science” has demonstrated the Bible to be inaccurate. Those of us in the less-educated circles need to get on board. Robert Cargill frankly states his case.
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 … and CE … has not waned, but rather has intensified.
Cargill plainly implies that the biblical record is inaccurate. The marvels of science have fortunately saved us from believing the historicity of the Good Book! This is continually cast in the framework of “scholarship.” As Professor Alan Bloom stated, “Every scholar I know uses B.C.E. and shuns A.D.” (quoted by William Safire, August 1997). The implication: insistence on the BC/AD referents comes from the unlearned masses.
Second, the more modern designations reflect “religious plurality.” This is also echoed in Cargill’s statement above. Plurality simply means a state of society in which members of diverse ethnic, racial, religious, or social groups maintain an autonomous participation in their traditional culture.
That many various groups make up America and western civilization cannot be denied.
But those who have taken the pulse of academia and other cultural leaders know perfectly well that this has occurred by design, not accident. From the purposeful changing of immigration policies favoring non-Christian countries to the revamping of educational goals to celebrate other cultures while denigrating our own—Christian people have rightly been alarmed.
Even Friedrich Nietzsche of yesteryear recognized that the Christian faith was the undergirding of western civilization—not only of its religious beliefs but also of social values and its fundamental view of human nature (Os Guinness, The Dust of Death, 37). It is this Christian foundation that is under assault by continued emphasis upon “religious plurality.”
William Safire relates that the “shunning of A.D. …goes clear up to the Supreme Court.” He tells of Adena K. Berkowitz, who has both a law degree and a doctorate in Hebrew literature, who applied to practice before the Court. “In the application,” she wrote, “I was asked if I wished ‘in the year of our Lord’ to be included as part of the date listed on the certificate or omitted.” She chose to omit. “Given the multicultural society that we live in, the traditional Jewish designations—B.C.E. and C.E.—cast a wider net of inclusion, if I may be so politically correct.”
It may be indeed a “wider net of inclusion” but the fact that it is a “Jewish designation” shows that it was not originally intended to be so much “inclusive” as simply “excluding Jesus Christ.” Those familiar with blasphemous Jewish Talmudic references to Jesus Christ can readily understand this erasure of Jesus Christ. That it has gained popularity in the world of “scholarship” may point more to the skepticism that now undergirds academia. This brings me to another reflection:
Third, the designations BCE/CE originated in Jewish unbelief. Even Wikipedia recognizes, as Adena Berkowitz confessed, that these terms “became more widely used in the mid-19th century by Jewish academics. In the later 20th century, the use of CE and BCE was popularized in academic and scientific publications, and more generally by authors and publishers wishing to emphasize secularism or sensitivity to non-Christians, by not explicitly referring to Jesus as ‘Christ’ …”
Besides secularists, another group preferring the more modern designations are Muslims. They date their lunar calendar from the date A.D. 622, the day after the Hijra, or flight of the Prophet Mohammed from Mecca to Medina. How eager does the reader suppose Muslim scholars would be to accommodate Christians in Islamic societies by usage of the Gregorian calendar? How successful does one think would be the efforts to erase Mohammed from their calendars—no longer dating with the traditional Muslim A.H. (After Hijra)?
The State of Israel uses an official Jewish calendar which is based upon a lunar cycle. I would suspect that efforts for them to adopt the Hijra calendar of reckoning by Islam would meet with stiff resistance, even claiming that it would be tantamount to melting cultural supports of Israel. I wonder how Israel would meet the argument of former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan who stated:
The Christian calendar no longer belongs exclusively to Christians. People of all faiths have taken to using it as a matter of convenience. There is so much interaction between people of all faiths and cultures—different civilizations, if you like—that some shared way of reckoning time is a necessity. And so the Christian Era has become the Common Era.
Multiculturalism and plurality always demand Christians—not Muslims or Hindus or Humanists– to be accommodating. This reminds me of the modern usage, even by conservative Christian writers and authors, of “Judeo-Christian Culture.” This term only became vogue in the 1950’s and one never read such a statement from the Founding Era of our nation. To those men it was “a Christian culture.” The change occurred in the 1950’s and does not represent the views of earlier generations. And the alteration of “Christian culture” or “Christian nation” to “Judeo-Christian nation” represents a change in philosophy.
I choose not the modern scholarly option on dating, not because I “cling to … the symbolic superiority [I] feel”, as Robert Cargill patronizes—or because I “deny the facts and use different labels (i.e., ‘intelligent design’)”—but because the facts upon which Cargill relies are not so factual. Most of all, I oppose the world of naturalistic assumptions cornering the market on the label “scholarship”, then demanding we must all fall in line; even to the point of reframing history. Jesus Christ is the center point of all history. His life is historical; the Gospels factual; and His resurrection from the dead defensible.
Bill Lockwood, Anno Domini (The Year of our Lord), 2017.