The terms Anno Domini (AD) and Before Christ (BC) were used to label the number of years in the Julian Calendar. This idea was passed on to the Gregorian calendar – a refined version adopted in 1582 that is used worldwide today to determine what year we are currently living in. Anno Domini is medieval Latin and means “in the year of the Lord”.
The idea to mark the calendars like this came from a sixth-century monk known as Dionysius Exiguus, who created the term based on the birth of the man he worshipped – Jesus Christ.
However, Mr Exiguus may not have been 100 percent accurate.
According to the Bible, the date of Jesus’ actual birth can be calculated somewhere between 6BC and 4BC.
This estimate can be reached by analysing references to known historical events mentioned in the nativity account in the gospels of Luke and Matthew.
The idea was even slammed by former Pope Benedict XVI, who served as the head of the Catholic Church from 2005 to 2013, during his 2012 book “Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives”.
The 91-year-old wrote: “The calculation of the beginning of our calendar – based on the birth of Jesus – was made by Dionysius Exiguus, who made a mistake in his calculations by several years.
“The actual date of Jesus’s birth was several years before.”
Mr Exiguus, also known as Dennis the Small to Britons, drew up the system to distance it from the calendar in use at the time, which was based on the years since the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian.
Diocletian had persecuted Christians, so there was good reason to expunge him from the new dating system in favour of one inspired by the birth of Christ.
The monk’s calendar became widely accepted in Europe after it was adopted by the Venerable Bede, the historian-monk, to date the events that he recounted in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, which he completed in 731AD.
Exactly how he calculated the year of Jesus’s birth is unknown but it certainly does not fall in line with Church teaching, or biblical scholars.
John Barton, Professor of the Interpretation of the Holy Scripture at Oriel College, Oxford University, said most academics agreed with Pope Benedict XVI that the Christian calendar was wrong and that Jesus was born several years earlier.
He said in 2012: “There is no reference to when he was born in the Bible – all we know is that he was born in the reign of Herod the Great, who died before 1AD.
“It’s been surmised for a very long time that Jesus was born before 1AD so technically we may well be living in 2007 or 2008 or whatever – no one knows for sure.
“We don’t even know which season he was born in.
“The whole idea of celebrating his birth during the darkest part of the year is probably linked to Pagan traditions and the winter solstice.”