It’s commonly thought that A.D. stands for “after death” and B.C. stands for “before Christ,” but this thought is only half correct. How could 1 B.C. come before Christ and A.D. 1 be after death? While B.C. stands for “before Christ,” A.D. stands for the Latin phrase anno domini, meaning “in the year of our Lord.” The A.D./B.C. dating system isn’t taught in the Bible. It actually wasn’t fully implemented and accepted until several centuries after Jesus’ death.

What is the meaning of B.C. and A.D.?

It’s critical to note that the B.C./A.D. system intended to make the birth of Jesus world history’s dividing point. However, when this system was being calculated, a mistake was made in determining the year Jesus was born. Scholars eventually determined that Jesus was born around 6 – 4 B.C., not A.D. 1, but that’s not the problem. Jesus’ life from birth to resurrection was a turning point in world history. Therefore, Jesus should be the distinction of old and new. B.C. was before Christ, and since Jesus’ birth, we’ve been living “in the year of our Lord.” Seeing our era as “the year of our Lord” is fitting because He is the Lord.

Philippians 2:10-11 reminds us that every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth in Jesus’ name, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. In recent times, there’s been advocation to swap B.C. and A.D. with C.E. and B.C.E., which mean “common era” and “before the common era.” This change is one of semantics; that is, A.D. 100 is the same as 100 C.E., so all that changes is the label. The advocates of the switch say that the newer designations are better because they’re devoid of religious connotations and prevent offending other religions and cultures who might not see Jesus as Lord. Of course, the irony is that what distinguished B.C.E. from C.E. is the life of Jesus.

Pushback to using B.C.E. and C.E.

The shift to B.C.E./C.E. hasn’t been universally accepted, and B.C./A.D. is still more widely used, although B.C.E./C.E. has been used since the 1980s. There have been backlashes to the adoption of the new system in defense of B.C./A.D., notably in 2002 when the U.K. National Curriculum transitioned. In 2011, Australian education officials had to deny that such a change had been planned for national school textbooks during a similar controversy triggered by media reports.

Passions are typically highest among those who see adopting a new system as an attempt to erase Jesus Christ from history, arguing that the entire Gregorian Calendar is Christian in nature, so why should we try to obscure that fact? Others wonder why such an established and functional structure should be replaced, arguing that the existence of two competing abbreviations will confuse people. It’s also been argued that B.C.E./C.E. is, in fact, less religiously inclusive than B.C./A.D. According to some, B.C.E./C.E. raises the importance of Jesus’ birth to the start of a new common era, while B.C./A.D. simply references the event.

What happened during the intertestamental period?

The time between the last writings of the Old Testament and Christ’s appearance is known as the “intertestamental,” or between the testaments, period. It lasted from Malachi’s time, about 400 B.C., to John the Baptist’s preaching, which occurred around A.D. 25. Because there wasn’t any prophetic word from God, some call it the 400 silent years. Still, much of what happened was predicted by the prophet Daniel in Daniel chapters 2,7,8 and 11. Israel was under the Persian Empire’s control from about 539-332 B.C. The Persians let the Jews practice their religion with little to no intervention.

They were even permitted to rebuild and worship at the temple, as detailed in 2 Chronicles 36:22. This time comprised the last 100 years of the Old Testament and about the first 100 years of the intertestamental period. This time of relative contentment and peace was merely the calm before the storm. During the intertestamental period, Alexander the Great overcame Darius of Persia, bringing Greek rule into frame. Alexander was one of Aristotle’s students and was well-educated in Greek philosophy and politics. He wanted Greek culture to be pushed into all of his conquered lands.

Because of this, the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek, known as the Septuagint. A majority of the New Testament references to Old Testament Scripture use the Septuagint phrasing. Alexander allowed religious freedom for the Jews, though he strongly promoted Greek lifestyles, which wasn’t good for Israel since the Greek culture was very humanistic, worldly, and ungodly. After Alexander’s death, Judea was ruled by several successors, ending with the Selucid king Antiochus Epiphanes. Antiochus did more than deny religious freedom to the Jews.

Around 167 B.C., he overthrew the rightful line of the priesthood and damaged the temple, defiling it with a pagan altar and unclean animals, the religious equivalent of assault. Eventually, Jewish resistance to Antiochus restored the rightful priests and saved the temple. The period of the Maccabean Revolt was one of violence, war, and infighting. Around 63 B.C., Pompey of Rome defeated Israel, which put all of Judea under the control of the Caesars. This series of events eventually led to Herod being made king of Judea by the senate and Roman emperor.

This is the nation that controlled and taxed the Jews, eventually leading to the execution of Jesus on a Roman cross. Greek, Hebrew, and Roman cultures all intermingled in Judea. The events of the intertestamental period set the stage for Jesus and had an impact on the Jewish people. Both pagans from other nations and Jews were becoming dissatisfied with religion. The pagans were starting to question the validity of polytheism. Greeks and Romans were drawn from their mythologies toward Hebrew Scriptures, which were now easily accessible in Latin or Greek.

Remember, the B.C./A.D/ system was intended to distinguish Christ’s birth as a dividing point in world history. His life from birth to resurrection was a turning point in world history, so He should be the distinction between the old and the new. Since the birth of Jesus Christ, we’ve been living in the year of our Lord.

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