Have you ever entered a conversation about the meaning of B.C. or A.D. or the actual date of the birth of Jesus? It is not uncommon around Christmas and Easter for me to hear people refer to B.C. and A.D. In doing so, many people state that B.C. means Before Christ while A.D. means After Death. These common explanations do tend to flow easily off the tongue and match the accompanying letters, however those explanations are not exactly correct.
So what does B.C. and A.D. Mean? B.C. is the easier of the two—it does in fact stand for “Before Christ.” However, A.D. means “anno domini” and is more accurately translated “in the year of our Lord.” While knowing the actual definition of B.C. and A.D. is important, one must realize that the initial purpose of the designation of B.C. and A.D. was to designate the birth of Jesus as the pivotal point in human history.
A few interesting side notes:
1) The designation or separation between B.C. and A.D. was not instituted for several centuries after the Birth of Christ
2) When the date of Christ’s birth was initially selected a counting error was made. Thus, the real date of Christ birth would be sometime around 5 B.C. and not A.D. 1. However, it should be noted that neither a 7th century designation of B.C. and A.D. nor the fact that the date of Christ birth was actually missed by about 5 years changes the fact that the birth of Christ is in fact the central event in the history of the world.
The Apostle Paul had this central event in history in mind, when he spoke of the Birth of Christ by saying “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5 so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).
So hopefully the next time you enter a discussion about the meaning of B.C. or A.D. or even the actual date of Christ Birth you will have the right answers. However the most important thing to remember about the B.C. and A.D. debate is that the birth of the Savior was, is, and always will be the central event in the history of the world
John Mark Caton, Ph.D