Some people have calculated that there were 4000 years from creation to the birth of Jesus. This would mean that 2000 A.D. placed us 6000 years after creation. Using the 7 day week as a template, and a day equaling a thousand years to God (2 Peter 3:8), this would seem to indicate six thousand years for man to inhabit earth, to be followed by a sabbath of 1000 years during the millennial reign of Christ.
This tends to focus great significance to the start of the 3rd millennium after the birth of Christ. A question then arises. Who formulated the current calendar, and how accurate were they? When would the 3rd millennium actually begin?
In 525 A.D. a Sythian monk in Rome, Dionysius Exiguus (Dionysius the Little), was preparing new tables for determining the date of Easter, and he decided to abandon the pagan calendar in use at the time, that was based on the first year of the reign of Emperor Diocletian (29 Aug., 284). Instead he began a calendar based on his calculated year of the birth of Jesus Christ. Among the biblical data Dionysius had to work with was the following:
Luke 3:1 – Jesus was baptized in the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius
Luke 3:23 says Jesus was about 30 years old at the start of his ministry, His baptism.*
Using this and other data available to him, he calculated the probable year of Jesus birth as occurring in the 753rd since the founding of the Roman empire, which he redesignated the year 1. This method of dating the year was not generally accepted for hundreds of years, but has been nearly universally adopted today.
* It can be demonstrated from the 70 week prophecy of Daniel 9 that the baptism of Jesus occurred in 27 A.D., which would place His birth about or before 3 B.C.
Was 2000 A.D. really the 2000th year since the birth of Christ?
Just about everyone knows that the year 2000 A.D. (Anno Domini) was supposed to indicate the number of years since the birth of Jesus Christ. But was Dionysius accurate in his calculations? In the book of Matthew we have an important bit of information:
Mat 2:1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem
The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus tells us that Herod died shortly after an eclipse of the moon (Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVII, Chapter VI, end of 4th paragraph), but prior to Passover (Wars of the Jews, Book II, Chapter I, paragraph 3.). This is an extremely important bit of information, because astronomers today know that there were eclipses of the moon on the following dates:
- A total eclipse on March 23rd, 5 BC at 8.52 pm.
- A partial eclipse on March 13th, 4 BC at 4.04 am.
- A total eclipse on January 10th, 1 BC at 1.35 am.
Historians have determined, on this and other evidence, that King Herod apparently died in the Spring of what we now call 4 B.C. (Julian year 4710), probably early in the Jewish month of Nisan (April), after the partial eclipse of the moon occurring on March 13th, 4 B.C. If you will recall, Herod lived long enough after Jesus’ birth to order the slaughter of the infants in Bethlehem, in an attempt to murder Jesus-
Mat 2:16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.
This would suggest that Jesus was born in either 5 or 6 B.C., as Herod set an upper age limit of 2 years for the infants to be slain. So, on this evidence alone, the current method of numbering the years since the birth of Jesus is in error by at least 4 years, and perhaps as much as 5 years. So if we were to correct for this error, 1996 would more accurately be numbered as no less than 2000 A.D., although even this may be off by as much as a year or so. In any case the year 2000 (as we are currently counting) was clearly not exactly 2000 years from the birth of Christ.
Even if the calendar of today were accurate, the true 3rd millennium did not begin until Jan. 1st, 2001 due to the fact that there was no year 0 –
- 1-100 is the first century
- 101-200 is the second century
- 1901-2000 is the 20th century
- 1-1000 is the first millennium
- 1001-2000 is the second millennium
- 2001-3000 is the third millennium
But now, figuring that Jesus was born in 5 B.C. this would be adjusted as follows:
- 5 B.C.-996 A.D. is the first millennium
- 997-1996 is the second millennium
- 1997-2996 is the third millennium
So, no matter how you look at it, the year 2000 A.D. was really meaningless, because the current calendar is clearly in error. So interestingly enough, based on the best available evidence, 1997 may have actually marked the end of the 2000th year since the birth of Jesus Christ and the beginning of the 3rd millennium!
There is no evidence to support the 25th of December as the birth date of Jesus Christ, but there is a biblical case for placing His birth in the September – October timeframe. See What Day was Jesus Born? and Celebrating the Birth of the Sun.