The Latin, Anno Domini, is better known as simply AD. It means “in the year of the Lord” and is short for Anno Domini Nostri Jesu Christi (“in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ”). Years before the Christan era are designated a.C.n. (for Ante Christum Natum, Latin for “before the birth of Christ”). In English, it is common to use the abbreviation BC for “before Christ.” This calendar intended to have the Christian era begin with the birth of Christ.
Although others had attempted to date from the time of Christ, our current system was devised by Dionysius Exiguus (“Dennis the Small”) in AD 525. He was assigned the task of creating tables for calculating future dates for Easter. The previous tables in use had been dated from the emperor Diocletian. Dionysius did not want to perpetuate the memory of a tyrant who persecuted Christians. Instead he calculated AD 1 as equaling the 754th year from the founding of Rome.
Calculations like these are never easy, and there are reasons for believing that Dionysius may have miscalculated. Josephus in his Antiquities of the Jews mentions a lunar eclipse immediately after the death of Herod the Great. That causes modern chronologists to suggest that Herod died in 4 BC. This in turn causes a revision in the date for the birth of Jesus. Although the intent of the dating system was to date an era from the birth of Christ, the miscalculations give us the oddity of Jesus being born in 4 BC or earlier.
Other calendar systems exist. January 1, 2013 in the Jewish calendar is 19 Tevet, 5773 (before sunset). The Jewish calendar dates its era from creation using the genealogies in Genesis to arrive at this calculation. The Islamic calendar dates itself from the Hijra, when Mohammed emigrated from Mecca to Medina. The Persian calendar also calculates from Mohammed’s emigration from Mecca to Medina, but it is a solar calendar in contrast to the Islamic lunar calendar. The Chinese calendar dates from the first legendary emperor, Huangdi or the Yellow Emperor. The Hindus also have a calendar that has been used in India since about 1000 BC.
As we enter a new year, this history lesson reminds us that Jesus is so significant that we date time by him. No other calendar dates simply from someone’s birth. Jesus is that significant. Have you examined the evidence? Do you have faith in him? Have you obeyed His teachings? Can you call Him Lord?