Archive for March, 2011

AD or CE?

While this post does not directly relate to the Bible, I feel it may be instructive to clarify how usage is evolving regarding usage of BC and AD in dates compared to the more contemporary designations BCE and CE.

Traditionally, the western world has employed the terms BC and AD in dating historical events. The letters BC stand for “before Christ,” while AD represents the Latin phrase, “anno domini,” or “in the year of our Lord.” This system appears to have been originated in AD 525 with a monk in Rome named Dionysius Exiguus, while attempting to determine the correct dating for Easter. While usage has been more lax in recent years, correct practice is for BC to be placed after the year, whereas AD should come before the year. So the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon should be expressed as 586 BC, while the date of the Council of Nicae would be rendered AD 325. This distinction may make more sense, if we think of what the phrase is actually intended to say. In the first example, we are really trying to indicate that the fall of Jerusalem occurred 586 years before the birth of Christ, so it seems logical to write the 586 BC (or 586 years before Christ). In the second example, however, we are literally using the phrase, “in the year of our Lord 325,” so the AD comes first. It would make no sense to use the phrase “325 in the year of our Lord.” That is why AD is normally placed before the date. I hope this is not too confusing.

In more recent years, a different way of distinguishing between BC and AD has developed. This involves the practice of using BCE (or “before the common era”) in place of BC, and CE (or “common era” in place of AD. These designations are perhaps most frequently used in scholarly writings, although you may hear them in other contexts. The purpose appears to be a recognition that not everyone is a Christian, and so some may be offended by the terms BC and AD. Proper usage of these new designations is to place them after the year. Using this system, the examples above would be written as 586 BCE and 325 CE.

What do you think of this change? I have my view, but I would be interested in hearing yours.

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If you are still using a printed Bible (instead of  an electronic one), take a look at it. More than likely it will be printed with two columns per page (although that is beginning to change). Have you ever wondered why two columns?
One blog representing the ESV has suggested three reasons.

1. Economics. Moving to a single column increases the page count.

2. Readability. Bibles are often printed in smaller type, and a single column makes it more difficult to read.

3. History. There is evidence that this is the real reason, and I will come back to it in a moment.
First let’s look at the first two reasons.

1. Economics. Under ordinary circumstances it is questionable that a single column increases page count. If that were true, why are only Bibles normally printed in two columns? Are Bible publishers the only ones interested in economics? I don’t think so. It is true that the Bible has a large number of poetic passages, and poetry can normally be printed more economically in two columns. I’m not sure this really affects the economics overall. My printed editions of both Shakespeare and Milton are printed in single columns.
2. Readability. In smaller type two columns are indeed easier to read; however, the practice of two-column Bibles goes back to the beginning of the codex (or book) form. That brings us to the third argument.
3. History. Before the invention of the codex or book form in the late first or early second century AD, books were normally written on long scrolls. A scroll could be up to thirty feet long. It was read held horizontally, (not vertically) and unwound similar to the way the old VCR tapes ran. Because holding a thirty foot scroll was cumbersome, it was advantageous to have small columns, so the scroll would not have to be opened wide in order to read it. The reader could hold his or her hands fairly close together. This made it less tiresome, and it also made it easier to move the scroll to the next column. And a smaller column made it less likely the reader would skip a line when reading.
So it seems that our Bibles still reflect the time when they were written by hand on scrolls. Traditions in all forms are difficult to break, especially when it comes to our Bibles. In a later post, I will give another example of how tradition affected the printing of our Bibles in the Renaissance period.
In the meantime, I will continue to read my Bible on my Ipad, just as the apostles did.

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So, in Luke 11.50-51 why does Jesus refer to all the murders “since the beginning of the world,” then specifies from Abel to Zechariah?

First of all, Jesus could not have been trying to be inclusive in terms of A to Z (Abel to Zechariah). That only works in the English alphabet, not in Hebrew.

The Hebrew Bible (what Christians refer to as the Old Testament) is arranged quite differently from the way it is in the Christian Bible. There are three divisions.

1. The Law (or in Hebrew “Torah”)
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, & Deuteronomy

2. The Prophets, which are sometimes subdivided.
Former Prophets
Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, and 1 & 2 Kings (or in the Septuagint 1, 2, 3, and 4 Kings)
Latter Prophets
Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Book of the Twelve (The Minor Prophets)

3. The Writings
Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon), Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and 1 & 2 Chronicles

Jesus sometimes refers to this division in the gospels.
(Mat 5:17 NIV) “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
In this passage Jesus is using the phrase “the Law or the Prophets” to refer to what we call the Old Testament. He does not mention “The Writings,” but they would probably have been understood. The point is that Jesus is using a designation which would have been familiar to the people of first century Palestine.

That brings us to the reference in Luke to “from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah.” Abel of course was Cain’s brother and is the first murder recorded in the Bible (Gen. 4:8). The murder of Zechariah, the son of Jehoida the High Priest, is found in 2 Chron. 24:21-22). And the last book in the Hebrew Bible is 2 Chronicles. So Jesus spans the first murder recorded in the Hebrew Bible to the last murder recorded in the Hebrew Bible. His hears would have had no difficulty understanding the imagery.

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Take a look at Luke 11.50-51.

Here it is in the NIV. “Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all.”

Why does Jesus refer to “the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah?” Is He being inclusive, saying “from A to Z?” What is the significance of that phrase?

Let’s see if you know the answer.

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Christians view the Bible in a variety of ways, often depending on the background they bring to it. To some the Bible is to be viewed as an accurate recording of events, a book to be interpreted literally. Other Christians see the influence of its human authors, while still acknowledging its authority over faith and practice. Still others view the Bible simply as literature, to be read for what we can learn from what earlier people believed, just as we might read Homer or Aristotle.

My passion for the past forty years has been examining the text and history of the Bible. Where did it come from? How has it been transmitted? How accurate is the text we possess today, and what issues are involved in answering those questions? To what degree are the translations we possess accurate renderings of the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts in which the Bible was originally written?
I would like an opportunity to share some of what I have learned over the past forty years. Most of the information I provide will be intended to educate. Sometimes the topics will be difficult or even challenging. Often they will be written merely to provide some interesting tidbits about the history or development of the Bible or about specific texts.

All I ask is that we respect one another. You may disagree with my understanding, just as I with yours, but that should not lead us to insult each other or easily question the motives or integrity of one another. And so I encourage your comments, your questions, and your challenges. Only let us do so in a manner that facilitates rather than hinders exploration and learning.

One last comment. While anyone is invited to participate, this blog is not intended for scholars. I certainly make no claims to being a scholar, although, after forty years, I think I have picked up on a few things. If your knowledge of the Bible is so limited you have difficulty understanding the difference between what Christians refer to as the Old Testament and the New Testament (in contrast to Jews, who would not acknowledge those terms), feel free to chime in with a question or comment. If a true scholar should happen on this discussion, please recognize that other readers may not have the background that you possess and modify your comments accordingly. My goals are for all of us to learn ourselves, then to instruct others, and finally have some fun. Let’s all try to take it that way.

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Daniel B. Wallace

Executive Director of CSNTM & Senior Research Professor of NT Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary

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