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BC and AD, BCE and CE : What’s the Difference ?

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BC and AD, BCE and CE: What’s the Difference?: When it comes to measuring the dates, the Gregorian calendar is followed. It was first used in the Western Christian tradition & then it was used all over the world irrespective of religious, cultural & linguistic boundaries. It’s also called the Gregorian calendar, which is based on Jesus Christ’s supposed birth date.


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BC,AD,BCE and CE


Subsequent years after this event & we use either AD or CE while preceding years count down from it & BC or BCE is used. For counting the number of years, labels like BC & AD are used.

The BC/AD dating system was created keeping in mind Jesus Christ’s birthdate, which is considered the main starting point. BC or Before Christ refers to the number of years before Christ was born. AD or Anno Domini refers to the period after Christ was born.

CE means common (or current) era”, while BCE means ”before the common (or current) era”. But, have you ever thought what is the difference between AD & CE, or BC & BCE? Do they carry the same meaning & if it is so, which one should we use?

BC & AD

Dionysius Exiguus, a Christian monk gave the idea of counting down years from the birth of Jesus Christ, that was proposed first to be in the year 525. Following centuries onwards, it got standardized under the Julian & Gregorian calendars, with the system spreading across Europe & the Christian world. AD means Anno Domini, Latin for “in the year of the Lord”, while BC means ”before Christ”.

The Gregorian calendar, the most widely used calendar in the world uses AD & BC are used to label the years. In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Gregorian calendar which is a solar calendar.


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BC vs AD


What Does BC Stand For ?

BC stands for Before Christ & it’s a way of counting years before the estimated birth of Jesus Christ. BC starts with the year before Christ’s birth, 1 BC & counts backward to the year 10,000 BC.

Examples of BC used in Sentences

  • In 776 BC, the 1st Olympic Games were held.
  • In 44 BC, Julius Caesar was assassinated.
  • Around 2500 BC, pyramids were built by ancient Egyptians.

What Does AD Stand For ?

AD stands for Anno Domini, which is Latin for in the year of the Lord. It’s a way of counting years based on the estimated birth of Jesus Christ.

Examples of AD used in Sentences

  • William Shakespeare was born in 1564 AD.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic began in 2019 AD.
  • In 1775 AD, the Revolutionary War began.

BCE & CE

CE means common (or current) era”, while BCE means ”before the common (or current) era”. CE & BCE have a shorter history than BC & AD, dating from the early 1700s. It has been used by the Jewish academics for more than 100 years, but in the later part of the 20th century, it became more widespread, replacing BC / AD in many fields, especially science & academia.

What Does BCE Stand For ?

BCE means Before Common Era & it is used by those who may not want to attach years or history to a particular religious connotation. It works the same as BCE but does not include a reference to Christ.

Just like how CE is used as a more secular way of saying AD, we BCE is used in a more inclusive way of saying BC. The year 500 BCE, is the same year as 500 BC.

Examples of BCE used in Sentences

  • “A Babylonian in 1750 BCE would have had to labor fifty hours to spend one hour reading his cuneiform tablets by a sesame-oil lamp.”—Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now
  • The first introduction to the Gilgamesh Epic is Five Sumerian poems dating from 2100 BCE.
  • The first complex Mayan societies existed from 2000 BCE to 250 CE.

What Does CE Stand For ?

CE refers to Common Era, works the same as AD does, but it does not have any religious link, so it is used by the ones who follow the Gregorian calendar or study history in school, but do not prefer using AD.

As there are many English speakers in the world who are members of other faiths, apart from Christianity so marking all calendars based on a single religion doesn’t make sense. That’s why CE is a more inclusive way to say AD.

Examples of CE used in Sentences

  • “The fire burned on under the cauldron of our culture, and the next doubling of our population would only take 1200 years (0–1200 CE).”—Daniel Quinn, The Story of B
  • The first complex Mayan societies existed from 2000 BCE to 250 CE.
  • The Yayoi period in Japan lasted from 300 BCE to 300 CE.

BC vs AD Meaning

AD stands for Anno Domini, which is Latin for in the year of the Lord. It’s a way of counting years based on the estimated birth of Jesus Christ. BC means Before Christ, a way of counting years before the estimated birth of Jesus Christ. AD starts with year 1 & continues to the present day. BC starts with the year before Christ’s birth, 1 BC & counts backward to the year 10,000 BC.

The use of AD & BC dates back to the sixth century & they were introduced by Dionysius Exiguus, a monk.

AD & BC provides a useful framework for historical & religious contexts; even though they’re not entirely accurate. The accuracy of AD & BC is limited by the fact that they’re based on an approximation of the birth of Jesus Christ, which is not certain. In addition, there are inconsistencies & errors in the historical records that makes it difficult to determine the exact dates for many events. Despite all this, AD & BC are the most common way of dating historical events & are widely recognized & accepted.

Tips for Remembering the Difference Between BC vs AD

  • One easy mnemonic for remembering the difference between AD & BC is to think about the words before & after. BC starts with B, just like before. And AD starts with A, just like after.
  • Therefore, we use BC to talk about events before Year 0, & AD to talk about events after Year 0.
  • The same trick works for BCE vs CE. BCE starts with a B, which means it’s the one that comes before Year 0.

Why Have Some People Adopted BCE/CE ?

Religious neutrality can be seen as a major reason for adopting BCE/CE. As the Gregorian calendar has superseded other calendars by becoming the international standard, non-Christian group members may object to the explicitly Christian origins of BC & AD.

The most problematic being, AD (“in the year of the Lord”), & the problematic part being about the Lord in question that is Jesus Christ.

The main reason why Jewish academics’ adopted BCE/CE over a century ago, was religious neutrality. However, others object to the BC/AD system as they find it to be objectively inaccurate. The widely accepted notion is that Jesus’ actual birth was around at least two years before AD 1 & some people feel that by linking years to an erroneous birthdate for Jesus is misleading.

BCE/CE on the other hand, avoids this inaccuracy since it does not explicitly refer to the birth of Jesus, while also acknowledging that the starting point for 1 CE is essentially a convention.

Pushback

BC / AD is widely used, even though BCE / CE has been there since the 1980s. There have been criticism about the adoption of the new system in favour of BC / AD, like in 2002 when the UK National Curriculum made the transition.

In Australian education authorities in 2011, were forced to deny that such a change had been planned for national school textbooks amidst a similar controversy made by media reports.

The ones who view the adoption of a new system as a way to leave Jesus Christ out of history, have argued that the entire Gregorian Calendar is Christian in nature. Others ask why a well-established system should be replaced, arguing that the existence of two competing abbreviations creates confusion.

An argument also says that BCE / CE is less religiously inclusive than BC / AD. According to some, BCE / CE highlights the importance of Christ’s birth to the start of an entirely new ”common era”, while BC / AD simply refers to the event.

Current Status & Recommendations

Although there is no preference for one system, BC / AD still prevails in most of the journalistic contexts. Even, academic & scientific texts tend to use BCE/CE. Since both are in regular use with supporting arguments for each, no one system is recommended over the other. Its upto the writers to choose one system or based on what their audience prefer, but they should use consistently one system.

This means that BC & CE should not be used together, or vice versa. Some typographical conventions need to be considered as well :

  • After the numerical year BC should appear , while AD should appear before it. 1100 BC, AD 1066.
  • After the numerical year, both BCE & CE should appear. 1100 BCE, 1066 CE.
  • In most initial cases, periods may be used after each letter. 1100 B.C., A.D. 1066, 1100 B.C.E., 1066 C.E.
  • Some also recommend writing BC, AD, BCE& CE in small caps. AD 2017.

Outside historical contexts, BCE / CE (or BC / AD) distinction is unnecessary & it is understood that when unspecified, the year in question is CE (or AD). As a result, within the last few centuries the dates are rarely marked with CE (or AD).

Frequently Asked Questions

Where does the term AD come from in the Bible?

The term AD comes from the Latin term meaning “the year of our Lord”.

What do BC & AD, BCE & CE mean?

The full form of BC is ”before Christ”. AD stands for Anno Domini. The full form of BCE is ”before the common (or current) era” .CE means ”common (or current) era” .

Why have some people adopted BCE/CE?

Religious neutrality can be seen as a major reason for adopting BCE/CE.

Is there a difference between BC & AD?

Yes, BC refers to the time before Jesus was born, & AD refers to the time after Jesus was born. Currently we are in the year 2023 AD, meaning that it is 2023 years since Jesus was born.

Are AD 100 & 100 CE the same?

Yes, both years are the same. The only difference is about changing the semantics or the terms. AD 100 & 100 CE are both 100 years after the birth of Jesus.

Why do people use BCE & CE instead of BC & AD?

People use the terms BCE (Before Common Era) instead of Before Christ because there is no connotation with Christianity. BCE & CE are used by people who may not be religious or specifically Christian.

Where do I put BC & AD when I am dating something?

BC & AD are usually used at the end of a date that one is referring to. So if an event happened 50 years before Jesus was born, 50 BC will be written. However, if years after Jesus was born, the term AD before the year, will be used. So we are in the year AD 2023.



Last Updated : 06 Sep, 2023
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