What is the meaning of BC and AD? And what does BCE and CE mean?
Question: What is the meaning of BC and AD? And what does BCE and CE mean?
Answer: When I was a teacher, almost every year for my English classes I taught the Shakespearean play, Julius Caesar. In preparing the students beforehand for the study of the play, one of the first things I would bring up is the fact that Julius Caesar was indeed a real person, that he was a powerful Roman senator and general who lived from 100 BC to 44 BC.
One year, a student asked, “What does BC mean?” I said that it stood for“Before Christ,” which meant that he lived before Jesus was born. Then another student asked, “What is it called after Jesus was born?” I said, “It’s called ‘AD,’ and that stands for…” And before I could provide the answer, someone excitedly blurted out, “After Death!”, meaning that it’s the time after Jesus died.
After that brief exchange and then discussing the topic a little further, I realized that the notion that AD stands for “After Death” is a commonly held misconception.
But that isn’t correct on two accounts. First, AD does not mean “After Death.” It is an abbreviation for “Anno Domini,” which is a Latin phrase meaning “in the year of our Lord,” referring to the year of Christ’s birth. So at the time of this writing, 2011 AD is intended to signify that it has been 2,011 years since Christ was born. Second, if you think about it logically, as was discussed in class that day, 1 BC could not be directly followed by 1 AD if AD meant “After the Death of Christ.” That would mean that Christ was born then He immediately died, and we know that’s not the case.
It is important to note that even though the BC/AD system of dating has Christ as its central focus, it is not found in the Bible. It was not actually developed until 525 AD, when the entrance of the Christ into the world was recognized as being the turning point of history, and our calendars were made to reflect that.
In regard to the use of BCE and CE, these are more recent developments. In most usages, BCE stands for “Before the Common Era,” and CE stands for“Common Era.” BCE is used in place of BC, and CE is used in place of AD. The word “Common” in both instances refers to the date employed by the most commonly used calendar system, the Gregorian Calendar. The years are the same, only the designations are different. For example, 400 BCE is the same as 400 BC, and 2011 CE is the same as 2011 AD. There is another less frequent meaning in use for the “C” in the new BCE and CE designations, in that the “C” stands for “Current,” the implication being that there is yet another era still to come. Many Christians do not like either of these changes, but they can, of course, interpret the letter “C” in the BCE and CE designations as referring to “Christian” or “Christ’s” without taking offense in what many see as an attempt to delegitimize or eliminate Christ from the calendar.
I say “intended to signify,” as it is not actually 2,011 years since Christ was born, as there was a minor error made in calculating the exact year of His birth when the BC/AD system was developed.
There was no Year 0, and that is why purists state that the 21st century really began on January 1, 2001.
The Julian Calendar (named after Julius Caesar) and the Gregorian Calendar (which was an improvement upon and superseded the Julian Calendar in 1582, and is still the most widely used calendar system in the world today).