The fact that I am an “OK boomer” (word of the year, by the way) means I have a long list of distressing cultural changes. Ranking near the top is increasing acceptance of the dating systems, B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) and C.E. (Common Era).
But the “common” event differentiating the two is not apparent until one learns what they replaced: B.C. (Before Christ) and A.D. (Anno Domini) Latin for “In the year of our Lord.”
Hence, Christmas is the perfect time to rail against this monumental change in dating that served the world well for the last 1,494 years — now rapidly being cast aside by institutions, media, and the culture at large.
Let’s begin by dissecting the word for the holiday we are celebrating with an explanation (edited by a Catholic theologian) from my 2015 Christmas message “The Only Christmas Gift That Matters”:
The word “Christmas” is derived from the Greek word “Christos” (for “Christ,” or “Messiah”) and the English word “Mass,” which invokes the name of the Catholic eucharistic liturgy and stems from the Latin verb mittere, meaning “to send.” “To send Christ” — that was the original reason for the season.
To that, I sing, “Hark! The herald angels sing, Glory to the new-born King!”
That “King,” Jesus Christ, impacted mankind like no one who has ever walked the earth after he died on the cross and was resurrected around A.D. 33. His influence spread over centuries shaped history, law, politics, kingdoms, empires, war, morality, charity, education, culture, art, music, architecture, literature, language, printing, human relations, exploration, medicine, the calendar, and more.
Expounding upon the list (and its greater meaning) is one of my all-time favorite books by Dr.D.James Kennedy, and Jerry Newcombe aptly titled, What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? And why on Christmas, whether or not you “believe in Jesus,” know that He has touched your life in numerous ways. (And will even more if you allow him to touch your heart.)
Circling back to BCE/CE dating that has managed to overtake and diminish the impact and meaning of B.C./A.D., is the question: Why?
The answer is simple, reflecting the same reasons why he was crucified: Jesus was perceived as too powerful, a threat to the established order with leaders who thought that killing Him would put an end to his message and ministry. But, after He rose from the dead, his disciples were imbued with His Holy Spirit and a mission — known as the Great Commission— to share with the world, His message of salvation through the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Then what became known as Christianity rapidly spread —along with great suffering, persecution, and martyrdom.
Ultimately, in A.D. 323, the once pagan Roman Empire adopted Christianity as its official religion. Later in A.D. 525, as previously mentioned, the power and glory of Jesus Christ were institutionalized when calendar time was divided before and after his birth.
To this day, Jesus remains a threat because His power is often beyond the capacity of human understanding, as illustrated in this Gospel passage:
But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. (Matthew 16: 15-17)
Jesus lives and will come again. In the meantime, thou shall not offend anyone who believes otherwise. Therefore, Jesus Christ must be diminished by growing numbers of non-believers in control of major institutions who authorized B.C.E./C.E. dating to rename how time is marked.
Given that the Smithsonian Institution embraces Common Era dating, I was curious how the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. handles the matter. (Full disclosure, through my SignFromGod.org ministry with a mission to educate people about the Shroud of Turin, I am an adviser to the Museum of the Bible for a major Jan. 18, 2020 Shroud speaker’s event along with a groundbreaking exhibition about the Shroud opening in February 2021.)
When I posed the dating question to the museum’s Chief Curatorial Officer, Jeff Kloha, he replied:
Museum of the Bible’s policy is to use the common (and traditional) B.C. and A.D., which is also used, for example, in National Geographic and other standard style guides. The special exception is some special exhibits hosted by external lenders. For example, the Israel Antiquities Authority exhibition, “People of the Land,” uses BCE/CE since they curated that exhibit. That is an exception, though, not the rule. The designations “Before Christ” and “Anno Domini” have long been in use and have been adopted by other cultures as well. We believe that this is another example of the impact of the Bible on culture throughout the world.
Yes, the impact of the Bible and Jesus is indisputable, but over the later centuries, other forces were at work to diminish His name.
In 1856, when Rabbi Morris Jacob Raphall first introduced BCE/CE dating in his book, “Post Biblical History of the Jews,” he could never have imagined how the concept and those initials were to flourish in the 21st century.
In my May 2015 piece, “Silent Christian Bashing: The Rise of Common Era Dating”, I wrote about my first confusing encounter with BCE/CE dating in 1963 at age eight while attending Hebrew School. Up until that day, as a public school student, I had only heard of B.C. and associated it with cavemen, dinosaurs, and Egyptian mummies.
Unfortunately, today it is likely that 8-year-olds are only seeing and hearing about BCE/CE since its use has become so pervasive in education and media. But, I trust the Lord Jesus Christ, and even if B.C./A.D. goes the way of the dinosaurs, He will make Himself known.
And if you don’t know Him, this holiday embraces the “mass” of Christ, for He was sent from heaven, and He is love everlasting —the real meaning of the season.
Finally, remember the words of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s “Messiah”:
“And He will reign forever and forever”… well beyond the Common Era.