There are several problems with B.C. dating. To start with, it is inaccurate. Our Lord was not born in the first year A.D., but probably in what is now called 5 B.C. (The inventor of the system made a mistake at the outset.) Besides, B. C. dating is backwards, counter-intuitive and difficult to keep straight. Moreover, as Anstey has shown, many of the accepted B.C. dates are contradicted by Scripture.
But the basic problem is that it is a system that no one ever used. It is completely unnatural. No one has ever been able to date an event he has witnessed from an event yet future. Every dating system known to man has measured the passing of time from some defined point in the past. This odd feature of B.C. dating passes unnoticed; but it is highly significant. Because of this, all the B.C. dates are artificial, and must be derived indirectly, from calculations that make assumptions about the validity of the dates that are the basis of those calculations.
By contrast, the Bible dates events directly, by eyewitnesses and other authorities, in their relation to the dates of past events; and connects them to a continuous chronology that is ultimately anchored at the beginning of the world. These dates are called “Anno Mundi” (A.M.) which means “Year of the World”.
If the Bible gave us the exact count of years from the creation to the beginning of the A.D. era, then we might easily date the creation in terms of that many years B.C., and other biblical dates could then be converted to B.C. dates by subtraction from that number. So, if Christ was born 4041 years after the world began, but five years before A.D. 1, creation would be correctly dated at 4046 B.C., and other dated biblical events could likewise be dated in B.C. terms. So, the Exodus, which is dated 2513 A.M., might be said to have occurred in 1533 B.C.
But Scripture does not give us the exact count of years from the creation to the birth of Christ. The Old Testament chronology is linked at the point of the decree of Cyrus to a four hundred and eighty-three year span (the “seven weeks” added to the “threescore and two weeks” of Daniel’s “seventy weeks” prophecy) that terminates at the public appearance and anointing of Messiah – his baptism, not his birth. His exact age at that time may have been thirty years, depending on how one understands Luke 3:23, translated in the A.V. as “And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age”; but by A. T. Robertson (following William Tyndale) as “Jesus was about thirty yere of age when he beganne” [that is, to teach]. Robertson claims that the AV translation is grammatically “impossible”.
But whether Jesus’ baptism was as early as 25 A.D., or as late as 28 A.D. is uncertain. Hence we cannot be as precise with B.C. dates as we can with A.M. dates, which are accurate to the year, and are anchored at the creation of the world. So that we can say with certainty that Christ was baptized in the year 4072 A.M.
Nevertheless, the B.C. method suggested above yields results close enough for most purposes. Even allowing for the inherent range of error, it shows how far off most of the chronologists are in dating the Exodus, which occurred in 2513 A.M. or @1533 B.C. One runs into dates as wide of the mark as 1652 B.C. (Fausset), and 1490 B.C. (Ussher, Barnes, Smith, Easton). Ussher is an interesting example, because he gives the correct A.M. date for the Exodus; but because of errors in the latter part of his chronology, his B.C date for it is way off.
One reason for these discrepancies is that there is not enough solid data to construct a history of the period from the close of the canon of Scripture, during the Persian period, to the era of Alexander the Great, that succeeded it. Unless one accepts and correctly uses the prophecy of Daniel’s seventy weeks, he cannot know, even approximately, how long this period was. But it must be known for any B.C. date earlier than this period to be correctly reckoned.
The ancient Romans dated everything from the supposed date of the founding of their city, which was, according to the Julian calendar, in 754 B.C. This would be approximately 3292 Anno Mundi, the 14th year of Amaziah, King of Judah. However, there is no synchronism — no dated event specified in both Roman and biblical records — by which we can directly connect the biblical chronology and the Roman without using B.C. dates.
We should not be surprised, therefore, to find that the dates given in, or deduced from, the chronological statements of Scripture do not agree with the accepted dates for events in ancient history. But what do we do when discrepancies occur? Which is more certain, the dates derived from holy Scripture, or those assigned by the uncertain traditions of men?
The unprejudiced student of chronology will soon discover that secular B.C. dates often rest on a combination of facts and conjecture that is by no means rock-solid. Whatever problems may exist in systematizing the Bible’s chronological statements; at least Scripture contains a continuous record of successive events that were given their dates by contemporaries, working within a common framework, counting from the creation of the world. There is no other such record in all the annals of the ancients – nothing that even makes a pretense of it. (Admittedly, if there had been any such record besides the one handed down in the fifth chapter of Genesis, it would have perished in the Great Flood.) Moreover, an orthodox doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture requires us to believe that all the chronological statements of Scripture are infallible.
I submit that Christians would be a lot more conversant with the Bible’s history, and much less confused about its chronology, if Anno Mundi dates were used as the ordinary way of referring to the times of biblical events. Let the scholars use their B.C. dates while they debate about the reconciliation of this or that pagan nation’s historical records with the Bible’s. A Christian chiefly needs to know the chronological information that the Omniscient Author of holy Scripture has seen fit to reveal in the Bible itself. The Christian thus equipped will find his understanding of the Bible clarified and enriched thereby.