Abbreviations related to eras like “BCE” and “BC” can be intimidating at first glance, leading us to want to skip them while reading.
But is there really a difference between “BCE” and “CE”? And if there is, which should we choose?
Let this article help you out of your confusion.
What is the difference between “BCE” and “BC”?
BCE or “Before Common Era” is the period of time before the claimed birth of Jesus Christ. Meanwhile, BC stands for “Before Christ,” which is another term referring to the same era. The difference between the two is that BCE is the preferred version among secular groups and BC by religious groups.
BCE vs BC in a nutshell
If you see these letters, especially in history books, you can see them attached to a certain year or years such as “1700 BCE” or “17th century BC.”
Along with “AD” and “CE,” these abbreviations were adapted by the Gregorian and Julian Calendars to mark years in history better.
The Gregorian Calendar, the global standard for date measurements, may have originated from early Western Christian traditions.
However, its use has spread all throughout the world, transcending linguistic, cultural, and religious boundaries.
The Gregorian Calendar is based on the supposed date of birth of Jesus Christ so that subsequent years count up from this event and are labeled “AD” or “CE.”
Time is a flat circle indeed, as the popular saying goes. It simply repeats itself, and we just call it differently.
“AD” stands for the Latin phrase “anno Domini,” which roughly translates to “in the Lord’s year,” and “CE” stands for “Common or Current Era.”
Meanwhile, the preceding years count down from Jesus Christ’s birth and are marked “BC” or “BCE.”
“BC” means “before Christ.” This is just the shortened version of “before Christ was born.”
If you think about it, both “AD” and “BC” are abbreviations more popular among religious groups in the past.
“CE” and “BCE” are what you would meanwhile hear from secular or non-religious groups.
Actually, there is no significant difference in the usage of these two systems, except for the writing format.
Listed below are examples to show that more clearly.
AD 1225 = CE 1225
140 BCE ≠ CE 140
The main reason for the invention of BCE and CE is religious neutrality or, in other words, inclusivity.
This system is made for those who might feel awkward about things related to the Christian religion.
The tricky yet steady transition of time can be admittedly seen by how humans choose to call one era from another.
And, language itself serves as our very door back to the past as well as into the future.
Never hesitate to eagerly open yours and see what the near or even far future holds.
The origins of “BC” (AD)
Before the system of BC and AD, the marking of the years was based on who was in power.
The ancient Romans based their markings on how long an emperor or consul has ruled.
Egyptians also based their counting of years on how long a certain pharaoh ruled.
It was Dionysius Exiggus of Romania who started the “before Christ” naming and the “in the year of our Lord” movement.
This particular marking of time by the mentioned canonist dates back to the sixth century.
Dionysius’ “anno domini” set the standard for “the year of our Lord” rather than “the year of the emperor.”
BC or before Christ was brought up by the Venerable Bede, an English monk also as Saint Bede.
This system of Dionysius was successfully introduced and was adopted by the Julian, and later on by the Gregorian calendar.
This happened despite the fact that he never gave a full account of how he zeroed in on the exact date of Christ’s birth.
The controversy remained unresolved when two gospel writers gave conflicting clues to the birth of Christ.
Matthew, the apostle, wrote that Jesus Christ was born when Herod the Great ruled and died in 4 BCE.
However, Luke noted that the birth occurred around 6 CE when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
Notwithstanding the confusion, the system caught on.
The value of using BCE and CE
BCE and CE are two abbreviations that are tied to BC and AD without being explicitly tied to Christianity-inspired origins.
BCE (Before Common Era) and CE (Common Era) have been used way back in the early 1700s by various writers and some English dictionaries.
Earlier, there was a secular term that was used – Vulgar Era, which came in the early 1600s – at that time “vulgar” means ordinary or common.
What a time to be alive back then!
Although these abbreviations, BC/AD and BCE/CE, all refer to the same dates, there was a good reason to use BCE/CE over that BC/AD.
First of all, people who are not Christians can use the abbreviations freely without contradicting their own beliefs by simply stating the year.
Another reason probably is reliability. How could you rely on a base whose foundation is conflicting?
Dionysius had never shown convincing facts on how he came up with the date of the birth of Jesus Christ.
So it’s a questionable starting date when the reference made is Christ’s birth year.
We cannot blame those who cast doubts on the system due to the likelihood of dates being adjusted to better match historical records.
Lastly, using BCE and CE will solve the issue of labeling years in accordance with a single religion while also keeping the dates as we know them.
Why some people opted for BCE and CE
As the Gregorian calendar became global, more and more users adopted it for a good reason.
Even non-Christians relied much on its features as the international standard.
Some members of these non-Christian groups objected to the explicitly Christian origins of the BC and AD.
The most objected to was the phrase “in the year of our Lord,” knowing that the “Lord” being referred to equates to “Christ.”
When the Jewish academics adopted BCE/CE over a century ago the main rationale behind was religious neutrality.
And this objection continues to be the most widely cited in reference resources among others.
In addition to this, others insisted that the BC/AD system is objectionably inaccurate.
It has become common knowledge that the actual birth of Jesus Christ occurred at least 2 years before AD 1.
So linking years to an erroneous birthdate of Christ is arbitrary and misleading.
BCE/CE system avoids this inaccuracy by simply not referring to the birth of Christ, acknowledging that the starting point for CE is just a form of convention.
BC and AD pushback
The notion of changing BC/AD to BCE/CE faced fierce resistance even though BCE/CE has been in the mainstream since 1980.
Protests were high in the UK and in Australia, especially in 2002, when the UK National Curriculum made the transition.
Similar clashes were also reported in Australia in 2011.
Protesters of the movement raise their shackles in arguing that the adoption of the movement is a blatant attempt to write Jesus Christ out of history.
According to them, the entire Gregorian Calendar is Christian in nature and there is no need to obscure the fact.
There are others who ventured into why should such a well-established and highly functional system be replaced.
This is tied to the idea of knowing that the existence of two competing systems would surely cause confusion and subsequent trouble.
Another point of argument is the level with which proponents of BCE/CE place Jesus Christ in an entirely common era.
And that’s too high, they say.
Frequently Asked Questions on “BCE” vs “CE”
Is BCE 1 equal to 1 CE?
BCE1 and 1CE are not the same years. BCE 1 is the year before 1 CE, which also means that 1 CE is the year that came after BCE 1.
Are CE and BCE the same?
CE is not linguistically and logically the same as BCE. CE or “Common Era” is the one that occurred after BCE or “Before Common Era.” This confusion is likely due to almost the same initials involved, as well as the existence of another abbreviation BC or “Before Christ.”
What is the full form of BCE?
The full form of BCE is “Before Common Era.” BCE is often confused with “BC,” which stands for “Before Christ.” Although this is the case, both abbreviations refer to the same period.
Even as we stand here today, the battle between BC/AD against BCE/CE proponents rages on.
Both are serving the same functions but their goals differ in such a way that they need to lock horns until one is demolished and the other one stands victorious.
Religious neutrality has been the clamor of BCE/CE and they want to do away with anything related to Christianity and its biases.
Maybe they failed to realize that both of these systems have a space where the BC or BCE ends and the AD or CE begins, and that should not be a problem.
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.