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CP4: Chronology and Christ

[Taken from the Chronology Papers by Walter R. Dolen
 Copyright © 1977-2003 by Walter R. Dolen and/or BeComingOne Church]

Methods of Finding Christ’s Birth and Death Dates

Dionysius Exiguus

Christian Era Dated From Christ’s Death?

Birth and Death

Difficulty in Connecting Early Christian Era Dates

Three Days and Nights

Table of Correct Translation

Collation of Scriptures

Passover Scriptures

Methods for Finding Christ’s Birth, Baptism, and Death

cp310» We have connected our Biblical chronology to the Christian Era system through the information in the Bible on kings in the last stages of Judah and the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, and because there is an astronomical cuneiform tablet that connects Nebuchadnezzar’s 37th year with the Christian Era date 568-567 BC. (See CP2) This allows us to call the 37th year of Nebuchadnezzar (568-567 BC) an absolute date. Because this was the 37th year of Nebuchadnezzar, because of the scripture that connects the first official year of Nebuchadnezzar to the 4th year Jehoiakim (Jer 25:1), and because of other scriptures and cuneiform tablets that connect various events in Nebuchadnezzar’s reign and events in Judah and the surrounding areas, we are assured of the connection between the Christian Era system (BC-AD dates) and the years of many events in the Old Testament of the Bible. Although this connects events in the Old Testament to the BC-AD dates, it does not tell us exactly which Christian Era year Christ was born on or died on or how long Christ lived.

Christian Era

cp311» To date from Christ’s time onward most modern historians use the system of secular chronology that Dionysius helped to establish sometime in the sixth century AD. This is sometimes called the “Christian Era” system.

cp305» Even more sacred to some than Ptolemy’s chronology is the Dionysius’s chronological system, or the B.C. - A.D. system, or Christian Era system. “BC” or “B.C.” means “before Christ.” While “AD” or “A.D.” means Anno Domini in Latin or “in the year of the Lord” in English. Almost all chronologists today use this system. There is a slight difference between the Christian Era system and the astronomical system (see CP3, “No Zero Year”).

Dionysius Exiguus

cp312» To help us understand the Christian Era system, we will look first at Dionysius and his system.

  •       Dionysius Exiguus (Dionysius the “Little”) was a “Roman monk, chronologist, and scholar, a transmitter of Greek thought to the Middle Ages. He made collections of 5th century papal decrees and the canonical documents of the early church councils. Dionysius, in an attempt to improve the reckoning of the date of Easter, was the first (525) to use our present system of reckoning a date from the time of the birth of Christ” (p. 767, The New Columbia Encyclopedia, 4th Ed., 1975).

  •       “It was not until the year A.D. 532 that the Christian Era was invented by Dionysius Exiguus, a Scythian by birth, and a Roman Abbot. He flourished in the reign of Justinian (A.D. 527-565). He was unwilling to connect his cycles of dates with the era of the impious tyrant and persecutor Diocletian, which began with the year A.D. 284, but chose rather to date the times of the years from the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ ‘to the end that the commencement of our hope might be better known to us and that the cause of man’s restoration, namely, our redeemer’s passion, might appear with clearer evidence.’ The year following that in which Dionysius Exiguus wrote these words to Bishop Petronius was the year 248 of the Diocletian Era. Hence the new Era of the Incarnation as it was then reckoned was 284 + 248 = A.D. 532” (Martin Anstey, Chronology of the Old Testament, p. 33 [p. 19]).

Here it says Dionysius dated his system from “the birth of Christ” or “to date the times of the years from the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is what is credited to him now. But why would he date his table pertaining to Easter or the Passover from the birth of Christ? His tables pertain to Christ’s death and resurrection, not his birth.

cp307» Dionysius’ “new chronology was not regarded as a major discovery by its author; Dionysius’ own letters are all dated by the indiction... The indiction was a cycle of 15 years originally based on the interval between imperial tax assessments but during the Middle ages always reckoned from the accession of Constantine, in 312” (Encyclopedia Britannia, 15th Ed., 1985, Vol. 20, p. 651, under heading, “History,” and subheading, “Christian: The Christian Era”; see CP2 & 3).

cp308» This system credited to Dionysius (although in his own letters he does not use the system) is said to be called by some the “Era of the Incarnation.” This Era of the Incarnation “was used in Italy in the sixth century, in France in the seventh century, and in England also in the seventh century, but not universally adopted in England until the ninth century..” (John J. Bond, Handy Book of Rules and Tables for Verifying Dates with the Christian Era, p. 212).

cp309» According to the Greek Harmony of the Gospels, “this era was first used in historical works by Venerable Bede early in the 8th century” (as quoted in Unger’s Bible Dictionary, 3rd ed., p. 198).

Therefore Dionysius did not in the truest sense introduce the B.C. - A.D. dating system! The dating system began to be used later by others long after Dionysius’ death.

We cannot confirm these traditional dates

cp313» We cannot confirm these traditional dates given above or below for Constantine’s accession or for when Dionysius’ table was written or published because of the first three centuries of missing historical evidence and lack of sound astronomical evidence (See later & at cp371ff).

What System did Dionysius Introduce?

cp314» What Dionysius introduced was a system or table to identify the Passover each year and from that to identify the Easter date each year; it was a system to determine the Paschal Cycle.


cp315» “The Orient and the West were divided on the question of the way to determine the date of Easter. The council of Nicaea had commanded the adoption of the Alexandrine rule, based on the 19-year cycle. At Rome, a tradition had been adopted that declared Easter should not be celebrated before March 25 or after April 21, and the basis for calculation was the old 84-year cycle. Tables for the dates of Easter had been prepared in the Orient by Theophilus of Alexandria, and St. Cyril had continued his work. In the West tables were drawn up by Victorius of Aquitaine. They terminated with the year A.D. 531, and had as their respective points of departure the reign of Diocletian, for the Orient; and the Passion, for the West. In the Liber de Paschate (PL 67:483-508), Dionysius recommended the adoption of the Alexandrine cycle, as required by the Council of Nicaea, whose decisions were universally respected. He established a table of Paschal dates up to the year 626, which was a continuation of the table of Cyril of Alexandria...” (p. 877, “Dionysius Exiguus.” The New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1967).


cp316» Notice that the various tables for the date of Easter and/or the Passover were dated either from the reign of Diocletian in the Orient or from the Passion in the West, that is, from Christ’s death.


cp317» What Dionysius did was to create a table of Passover dates or Easter dates, but he dated from the year one “to the end that the commencement of our hope might be better known to us and that the cause of man’s restoration, namely, our Redeemer’s passion, might appear with clearer evidence” (Anstey, p. 33). And “we have been unwilling to connect our cycle with the name of an impious persecutor, but have chosen rather to note the years from the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Finegan [1964], sec 218).


cp318» Our Redeemer Jesus Christ’s passion was his suffering and death on the day the Jews’ killed their Passover lamb, the 14th of Nisan (John 19:14, 31, 42; Num 9:1-14; see CP4).


cp319» The table of the Paschal Cycle, or the Passover Cycle, or the Easter Cycle was written, according to Anstey, to make “better known to us ... our Redeemer’s passion.” But according to Finegan the cycle was connected by “years from the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Who was right?

Vague Beginning of Dionysius’ Cycle

cp320» Both Anstey and Finegan quoted an English version of Dionysius Exiguus’s letter, “Epistolae Duae De Ratione Paschae,” found in the Latin language today in J.P. Migne’s Patrologiae (Latin series). In fact Anstey quoted what immediately followed after what Finegan quoted in Dionysius’ letter. This important part of the letter reads in English:

  •       “We have been unwilling to connect our cycle with the name of an impious persecutor [Diocletian], but have chosen rather to note the years from the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ to the end that the commencement of our hope might be better known to us and that the cause of man’s restoration, namely, our Redeemer’s passion, might appear with clearer evidence” (Migne, Vol. 67, 1865, p. 20, English translation of Latin text).

cp321» Here it apparently says that the Paschal Cycle was not connected to the impious persecutor Diocletian, but the years of the cycle were “from the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” But why were some dating from the death of Christ?

System Dated from the Death of Christ?

cp322» According to Bond, “the years of the Christian era are described in ancient writings as the years ‘of grace;’ ‘of incarnation;’ ‘of our Lord;’ ‘of the nativity;’ ‘of the circumcision;’ and ‘of the Crucifixion.’ ” (Bond, p. 24, my emphasis)


cp323» Yes, there were those who believed that Dionysius dated his system from the crucifixion of Christ. After all, Dionysius’ table was of the Passover cycle — Christ died on the Passover. And in the West they were counting from the “passion” of Christ.


cp324» Notice the following:

  •       According to Bond, “there is no evidence of twenty-two years having been dropped by Dionysius, as imagined by Gervase of Canterbury, who, possibly supposed that the year of the ‘incarnation’ should date from the year of the Crucifixion ...” (Bond p. 217, my emphasis).

  •       “But perhaps Anastasius had chosen the year in which the Lord suffered ... to represent the first year of the Christian era, a system of reckoning sometimes observed ... We shall in that case find Golden Number XV indicating the 12th of March for the date of the New Moon, when the date of the Full Moon, or the 14th day of the month Nisan, commencing with ‘New Moon,’ would fall on the 25th of March” (Bond, p. 223, my emphasis).

(Note: Golden Number pertains to the Lunar cycle. The Lunar cycle is a cycle of 19 years. The Golden Number is a number 1 to 19 indicating the year of the cycle.)


cp325» As we already mentioned, the Christian era was also spoken of as being “of the Crucifixion” (Bond, p. 24). Thus, there were at least some who believed that Dionysius dated his Paschal Cycles from the death of Christ. After all didn’t Dionysius say he used his system “to the end that the commencement of our hope might be better known to us and that the cause of man’s restoration, namely, our Redeemer’s passion, might appear with clearer evidence” (my emphasis).

March 25th

cp326» Dionysius started his system not from December 25th or late Summer to the early Fall when Christ was born, but March 25th, the Julian date that some believe Christ probably died on.


cp327» “The system of reckoning the Christian era, now in use, was introduced by Dionysius Exiguus A.D. 533, commencing with the 25th of March, but subsequently reckoned from Christmas-day, in some countries, was reckoned from the 1st of January according to the year of the Julian era...” (Bond, p. 21).


cp328» “The system of commencing the year on the 25th of March was observed in various countries during several centuries; and in England, where it has been known as the English legal year, it was in use until 1751 A.D., after which date the year in England was reckoned from the 1st of January, according to the Julian form of year introduced 45 years before 1 Anno Domini of the Dionysian reckoning.


cp329» Particular attention should be given to the system of writing dates according to the English legal year, as it was called, mistakes having been made by confusing that form of year with the Julian year commencing on the 1st of January. There are not many historians who recognize the English legal system, and we are not aware that it has been noticed in any correct list of regnal years of the English Sovereigns, in modern works, before the first edition of this work was published...


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