Would Jesus use BCE-CE?

JimCoffinBy James Coffin

Many British Christians are “incensed” and “outraged” because the BBC has discarded the historical date references BC and AD in favor of BCE and CE. And the British aren’t the first Christians to be upset by such changes to how we designate dates.

As a Christian clergyman, I understand the jolt that comes when religious symbols near and dear to my faith tradition cease to be dominant. Often my reaction, like that of the British Christians, is to become defensive. However, there may be another way to look at it.

Let’s suppose, hypothetically, that some other religious figure—one we’ll just make up—totally eclipsed Jesus in terms of historical impact. And, like Jesus, that figure claimed to be God in the flesh, actually allowing himself to be called God. This God person so left his mark on history that thereafter all dates bore a designation of BG (Before God) or AG (After God).

Keep with me now: This is purely hypothetical!

Since I’m a Christian, I definitely wouldn’t believe in the divinity of this great historic figure called God–no matter how impressive he might have been. Call himself what he may, I refuse to call him God. A wise man? Maybe. An important historic figure? No question. But God? Not from my perspective.

Now here’s the rub in this hypothetical situation: I would feel I was betraying my Christian faith if every time I wrote a paper for history class I had to date events by saying they happened BG (Before God) or AG (After God), when I don’t believe the person being referred to was God.

Stop the hypothetical. Return to reality.

I’m a Christian. BC (before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini–the year of our Lord) work perfectly for me. But I understand how non-Christians (whether adherents of another faith or of no faith) might be hesitant to say or write: “This happened x number of years before the coming of ‘Christ’”—when they don’t believe Jesus was the Christ. And I understand how those same people might feel uncomfortable (if not blasphemous) when saying, “This happened ‘in the year of our Lord x’”—when Jesus isn’t their Lord.

So we have the BCE-CE compromise (Before the Common Era; Common Era). We still use Jesus as the reference point—which in itself is no small tribute to his impact on our world. But it no longer places non-Christians in the awkward position of having to use terms that imply a belief or an allegiance they don’t have.

Rather than an abandonment of my Christian faith, I see the compromise as a practical demonstration of a crucial Christian value–the Golden Rule. I see it as an act of graciousness. Christlikeness.

Which tells you which letters I think Jesus would use.

James Coffin wrote the foregoing in October 2011 shortly before assuming his role as executive director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.