The confusion of calendars: the meaning of the millennial change to other peoples. - Free Online Library Printer Friendly

The confusion of calendars: the meaning of the millennial change to other peoples.

The arrival of the year 2000 is an event being greeted with great anticipation. The outpouring of books, essays, sermons, speeches, dramas, motion pictures, and television programs in the last years of the twentieth century has reached staggering proportions. No other topic in our times has quite seized the imagination of people in the same manner as this one has. We look to the new millennium with hope, but also with deep and profound apprehension. As one writer has keenly observed:
 For decades the phrase "by the end of the century" denoted something far
 distant. But it is distant no longer. Millennial predictions are
 proliferating with increasing speed as prognosticators try to get in under
 the wire. The Internet, that electronic jungle drum, vibrates to the beat
 of prophecy. (1)

In light of this fervor, it is interesting to note a comment made in the Atlantic Monthly in 1891: "What the last decade is to a century, the last century is to a millennium." (2) This suggests that the final decade of a century tends to define one's perception of that century and that we look forward to higher levels of achievement and greatness in the next one. The same would hold true with the last century of a millennium; it serves to define that time period as whole. The second millennium of the Christian era is no exception to that rule. The twentieth century capped a thousand years of material progress, the spread of Christianity throughout the entire world, and the development of a global society. But at the same time, during this century humankind developed the tools of its own destruction in the form of nuclear weapons, the pillage of the environment, and unchecked population growth.

Christians, Prophecy, and the New Millennium

For Christians, the transition to the new millennium takes on a special dimension because many of them have linked this to speculation about the "end times" and the return of Christ. In the twentieth century, an extraordinary amount of attention has been given to eschatological and apocalyptic speculation, and the quantity of literature and the intensity of preaching on these topics have increased dramatically during the final three decades. Christians of all stripes are deeply interested in the future and what it holds.

In fact, the number of Americans enthralled with biblical prophecies of the last days is growing by leaps and bounds. This goes beyond groups traditionally known for such concerns such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh--day Adventists, and millennialist Fundamentalists, and includes members of evangelical churches, "mainline" Protestant denominations, and Roman Catholics. This interest in the end times has found its way into American popular culture, as exemplified by such things as the bumper sticker that reads: "Warning: If the Rapture Occurs, This Car Will Be Driverless"; the Jack Chick tracts and comic books about the gathering darkness on the horizon that believers often leave on restaurant tables and in rest rooms; popular movies like The Omen, The Seventh Sign, Contact, and Armageddon; best-selling books like Michael Drosinin's The Bible Code, Stephen King's The Stand, and Clive Barker's The Great and Secret Show; TV shows like Fox's popular Millennium; and the plethora of Internet sites promoting prophetic and apocalyptic themes. Recent Gallup Polls reveal that 62 percent of Americans have no doubts that Jesus will return again, and 52 percent "are absolutely convinced" that they will be called before God at the judgment day to answer for their sins. (3) A poll in 1994 found that 16 percent think the world will end within the next 100 years, (4) while in 1991 some 15 percent were convinced that the Gulf War was the fulfillment of the prophecy of the final great Battle of Armageddon that would occur before the Judgment Day. (5)

There are basically two forms or approaches to prophecy found among those who are currently forecasting the end times. Biblically-oriented individuals focus on the three apocalyptic books of the Bible--Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation--along with scattered apocalyptic passages in other books. These are works that refer to the prediction of imminent disaster and total destruction. In theological terms this means the climactic triumph at the end of the age of the forces of good over the forces of evil in fulfillment of the divine purpose. The biblicists apply these Scriptures to contemporary affairs by drawing analogies and interpreting metaphors. The other approach is that of direct revelation. People in this group include the Marians, a rather diverse grouping in Roman Catholic circles, who are currently receiving revelation through visions of the Virgin Mary, and some New Age sects that concern themselves with future events.

Prophetic teachings have great power because they speak to a universal human desire to make sense out of history. People really want to believe that time leads to an ultimate end where good triumphs and evil is punished. Unfortunately, history is a study in chaos; no clearly identifiable pattern of movement automatically emerges from it. This was underscored by the rise of secular historical studies in the nineteenth century that challenged the traditional Christian understanding of history as God-directed and moving toward a final fulfillment Although many devout believers came to feel that they had been marginalized in the strange new world around them, they found hope through their faith. They believed that with the help of God's Spirit they could understand the prophetic portions of the Bible and discover that history indeed is going somewhere.

In the modern era of mass media that brings international events into the homes of millions, many Christians in the United States of America struggle to find their own place and that of their country in history. No matter how complicated the world becomes, they trace time simply. Like the life of an ordinary human being, movements in history have a beginning, a middle, and an end. And like life, the middle years are followed by a decline that results in death. Many of them apply this historical scenario to their own nation. Consequently, they place themselves squarely in the middle of this decline and emphasize that they are part of the last or terminal generation, to use the title of a book by Hal Lindsey. Although they live in the most corrupt of all generations, they are looking forward to the blessed hope of redemption.

During the twentieth century, many traumatic experiences tore at the fabric of world society. Among these were two World Wars; bloody revolutions in Russia and China; a major economic depression; the Jewish Holocaust; environmental and ecological disasters; a widespread dissatisfaction with democratic forms of government; the development and use of atomic, biological, and chemical weapons of mass destruction; unprecedented famine and hunger; the spread of old and new diseases; and repeated genocides. For people with a more optimistic view of the future, they represented a staggering challenge.

These calamities came as no surprise to those who believed in end time prophecies. They provided current events with meaning. Such individuals understood how various forces opposed the restoration of the Jews to their homeland in Palestine. As they believed was foretold in Ezekiel 38, Russia and other haters of Jews were bent on destroying the state of Israel. Other troubles in the world could be blamed on the rise of the Anti-Christ, about whom Daniel spoke. In the Book of Revelation, Jesus' opening of the seven seals of the scroll that God had held in His right hand was a vision of the ghastly times that lay ahead--the four horsemen who bring tyranny, war, famine, and pestilence; those who had been martyred for the faith being avenged for their suffering; earthquakes; hail, fire, and blood raining down from the skies; and the darkening of the sun and moon. With the opening of the seventh seal would come the trumpet judgments--more hail and fire mixed with blood ravage the earth; a mountain (giant meteorite?) strikes the sea and destroys life there; a poisoning of the earth's fresh water supply occurs; the light of the heavenly bodies is extinguished; locusts with human faces and stinging tails torment people; and 200 million horsemen from the east appear and kill a third of the earth's population.

The Problem of Calendars

Many Western Christian students of prophecy see all this as happening at the end of the current millennium. They say that six millennia have passed since the creation of the world and two since Jesus came to earth. Now it is time for the sabbath rest, the seventh millennium, the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth. To be sure, foretelling dire futures is a common practice in other cultures, but the idea of tying such predictions to any definite date, let alone to a new century or millennium, is highly unusual. The reason is that throughout history every people had some way of measuring time, a practice which was linked to a particular place and ethnic group. This was "local" time since it was "our" time, namely, that of a specific people. When was linked to where. Only with the invention of the mechanical clock could one separate time and space, as the clock could be used by anyone, regardless of where he or she lived. The clock also enabled a more precise calendar than had been available before.

Western Christians have wrongly assumed that all people number days, months, and years as they do. In reality, a large part of the world's population has operated on calendars other than the Western one. One scholar estimates that about forty calendars are in use today somewhere in the world. (6) However, modern international society requires the use of the same calendar (and standard time as well) for business, communication, and diplomatic relations. That is why the so-called "Christian" calendar has been accepted as the standard, even by peoples who have little or no connection whatsoever with Christianity.

The term calendar derives from the medieval Latin word calendarium, which means "account books." It came from Kalendae (Kalends), the day on which interest on debts came due in the Roman world. It is a system of organizing units of time for the purpose of reckoning time over extended periods. Most calendars are based on astronomical observations, with the day (based on the rotation of the earth on its axis) as smallest calendrical unit of time. The month is based on the revolution of the moon around the earth and the year on the revolution of the earth around the sun. The week, however, is a social creation and has no astronomical significance. Calenders were created to satisfy the practical needs of society, like planning hunting, agricultural, and migration cycles and maintaining cycles of religious and civil events. A calendar functions as a source of social order and cultural identity for a people.

The earliest calendars were based on observations of the moon, since its phases occur in a regular pattern. The month usually began with the first glimpse of the "new moon," that is, as a crescent. Because it was not possible to see it during cloudy weather, the beginning of the month was determined through calculation. Since a lunar month was only 29 1/2 days, a lunar year would be almost 11 days shorter than a solar year. To keep in step with the sun it was necessary to add an additional (leap) month about every three years. (7) Some calendars began the new year at the vernal equinox, others in the fall, and still others in January.

The Romans developed a calendar that was based on observations of the sun and moon, but by the late Republic it had come to deviate almost 80 days from the normal solar calendar. Thus, in 46 B. C. Julius Caesar with the aid of an astronomer from Alexandria named Sosigenes developed a new calendar that was based completely on the movements of the sun without reference to the moon. The so-called Julian Calendar defined a year as having 365 1/4 days. The fraction was taken care of by running a cycle of three 365-day years followed by a "leap" year of 366 days, with the extra or intercalary day added as February 29. The new year began on January 1 instead of March 1 as was the situation before, a fact which can be seen in the names of the months from September to December (seventh to tenth month), while the years were grouped and counted by the reigns of the consuls. Some modifications were made in the length of the months and two of them were subsequently named after Julius and the first emperor, Augustus. (8)

The Christian Calendar

The Christian church readily adopted the Julian calendar, but the bitter issue of calculating the date of Easter, the most important observance in the Christian year, forced the church to consider the possibility of a new calendar. It had been decided at the Council of Nicaea in 325 that Easter would fall on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal (spring) equinox, and thus it would be independent of the Jewish passover. The date of the equinox was arbitrarily set as March 21, which of course was inaccurate because the Julian calendar had already lost about three days. The equinox on the original Julian calendar was March 25. Two hundred years later, the pope of the day commissioned a scholarly monk living in Rome named Dionysius Exiguus to prepare a set of tables that determined the Easter date for the foreseeable future. In the process, he changed the traditional numbering of the years from the reigns of emperors and set the birth of Jesus as the year 1 (Anno Domini--the Year of Our Lord). The concept of a zero was not known at the time. (9)

Later studies discovered that Dionysius Exiguus had erred in his basic calculation. For example, Herod the Great was living at the time of Jesus' birth and his death occurred four years before the base year Dionysius Exiguus had set as the nativity. Thus Jesus was born about four or five years "B.C." Still, 200 years passed before Christians in Europe began using the new dating system with any regularity. Although some examples exist of its usage in the early seventh century, the English monk and scholar Bede (ca. 673-735) is usually credited with institutionalizing the practice. It did not come into wide usage until the tenth century and in some outlying regions it was not adopted until the 1300s. Apparently Christians did not utilize the inverse of Anno Domini (Before Christ--B.C.) until much later, since the use of negative numbers did not enter into European mathematics until early modern times. It is known that the French astronomer Denis Petau in 1627 began adding B.C. to dates while teaching at the College de Clermont in Paris, but whether the practice occurred earlier is uncertain. (10)

It became increasingly apparent over the passage of time that a serious discrepancy existed between actual solar time and the Christian calendar. The reason for this was that the solar year is slightly shorter than the 365 and one-quarter days Julius Caesar had calculated. It is actually 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds in length. An important critic of the Julian calendar was Roger Bacon (ca. 1214-92), an English Franciscan and the outstanding scientific thinker of the thirteenth century. He informed the pope that the calendar was so far off that the Catholic church was celebrating Easter on the wrong day, a charge so outrageous that he risked being branded a heretic. He spelled out the flaws in Opus Majus, a lengthy treatise penned in 1267, but the pope ignored the work. (11)

Still, most astronomers realized the seriousness of the problem. Cardinal Pierre d'Ailly (1350-1420), a distinguished French theologian and educator whose interests included astronomy, persuaded his friend, the antipope John XXIII, to issue a decree in 1412 correcting the calendar, but it was ignored. In vain d'Ailly raised the issue again at the Council of Constance a few years later. In 1514 Pope Leo X invited a leading astronomer, Paul of Middelburg (ca. 1450-1533), to head up a commission on calendar reform, but nothing came of it. However, the event did inspire Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) to come up with his own measurements of the solar year which proved to be remarkably accurate. (12)

Finally, Pope Gregory XIII (1502-85) took a firm hand in resolving the matter An obscure Italian physician Aloysius Lilius (ca. 1510-76) developed a scheme for reforming the calendar that the Jesuit astronomer Christopher Clavius (1538-1612) sold to the pope who had convened a commission for that purpose in the mid-1570s. In 1582 the pope announced what thereafter would be known as the Gregorian reform calendar. It advanced the calendar ten days to catch up with solar time, and stipulated that no year ending in 00 would be a leap year except one that was divisible by four. That meant the year 1900 was not a leap year but 2000 would be one. By dropping the three leap year days in every 400 year period, the error was reduced from 11 minutes and 14 seconds per year to 26 seconds per year. As a result, 3000 years will pass before the Christian calendar is a full day off. (13) Catholic countries quickly accepted it, and gradually over the next two centuries Protestant countries accepted it, with Britain (1752) and Sweden (1753) being the last ones to come on board. In countries where Eastern Orthodoxy prevailed, the Gregorian calendar was only adopted in the twentieth century. By then, the calendar in Russia and other Orthodox lands was thirteen days behind that in the West. This is now the standard civil calendar used throughout the world. Some Orthodox churches continue to use the Julian calendar, although a reform adopted at a meeting in Constantinople in 1923 provided for a revision of the calendar that would return the vernal equinox to March 21. Not all Orthodox churches accepted this, however, and thus a divergency exists in the Orthodox world as to when Easter is observed.

Because there was no year 0, the first Christian millennium started with the year 1. Although this means the third millennium technically begins in 2001, no one seriously believes it will be a deterrent to celebrating its arrival in the year 2000. After all, MCMXCIX will become MM with the tick of a clock. In fact, the 6000-member Millennium Society began planning for its celebration back in 1979. It expects to orchestrate twenty-four public celebrations at the stroke of midnight in each of the world's time zones, including such famed places as the Taj Mahal, the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Eiffel Tower, and Times Squared. (14)

Through most of Christian history, the concept of time was viewed differently than today. The date of an event was of far less importance than its theological significance. The writing of history and the precision of dating took on importance first at the time of the Renaissance and Reformation when papal tradition was under attack, as exemplified by Lorenzo Valla's Declamation Concerning the False Donation of Constantine (1440). This demonstrated the spurious character of the document that allegedly proved the Emperor Constantine had given central Italy over to papal control when he moved the Roman capital to the East. Nevertheless, historians still tended to put more emphasis on the ongoing work of divine providence than actual objective occurrences. Only in the nineteenth century did the fundamental significance of historical perspective come to be recognized. When people became conscious of the reality and inevitability of change, they saw a need to trace its progress. The reconstruction of the past required the ready availability of historical data, thus resulting in the collection and publication of medieval documents and the search for new information about classical antiquity through archeology. Along with this came the precise dating of events.

The Christian Calendar Is Not the Only Calendar

However, most of the world's peoples continued to use calendars of their own for civil, religious, and ceremonial reasons. There are many of calendars, but probably the most significant are the Hebrew, Islamic, and Chinese calendars. The Hebrew or Jewish calendar is a lunar-solar one based on the phases of the moon. In ancient times, each month begar; when the moon's slim crescent was visible in the evening twilight, and the festival of the new moon was celebrated with solemnity. Nowadays the calculation of months and years is done with astronomical regularity. The civil year begins at the autumnal equinox (Rosh Hashanah) and the religious year at the vernal equinox. The civil year consists of twelve lunar months--Tishri, Cheshvan, Kislev, Tebet, Shebat, Adar, Nisan, Iyar, Sivan, Tammuz, Ab, and Elul--which are alternately 29 and 30 days. To prevent this lunar calendar from deviating too far from the solar cycle, a thirteen month, Veadar (second Adar), is added seven times during each nineteen year cycle. The weeks, however, run in a continuous seven-day cycle, with the Sabbath (which begins at sundown Friday) ending the week.

The numbering of years begins with the creation (Anno Mundi or A.M.), which Jews believe occurred 3,760 years before the birth of Christ. This means that the year 2000 in the Western calendar will be A.M. 5760/5761 in the Hebrew one. The Jewish calendar is used today in Israel for all civil and religious purposes, and by Jews everywhere for religious purposes. (15) Some Jews utilize the Gregorian calendar but replace the terms B.C. and A.D. with B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) and C.E. (Common Era), a practice which in recent years has gained acceptance in some Christian circles as well.

The Islamic calendar is a purely lunar one. The year 1 began on the day and year (sunset, July 16, 622, as reckoned by the Gregorian calendar) when the Prophet Muhammad fled from Mecca to Medina. Known as the Hijra or Hegira, this is the defining event in Muslim history. Each year, which is labeled A.H. (Anno Hijrae), has twelve lunar months, alternately of 30 and 29 days in length, thus making it 354 days in length. Because the Qur'an specifies that a year has only twelve months, there is no thirteenth month. This means that the months move backward through all the seasons and complete a full cycle every 32 1/2 years. The year 2000 in the Islamic calendar is A.H. 1420/1421. A new month does not begin until the new moon has been sighted and the announcement made by some prominent figure in the Muslim community. The days run from sunset to sunset, and Friday, the day of worship ("day of gathering"), marks the beginning of the new week. Some of the more westernized Muslim countries use the Gregorian calendar alongside the Islamic one. (16)

The Chinese calendar is quite regular and is based on the motion of the sun, moon, and planets. Dating through it can be traced back to 2953 B.C., the mythical founding of the empire. It developed two systems of numbering, both of which covered a 60 year cycle, that linked the twelve animals of the zodiac (rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, fowl, dog, and pig) with ten celestial signs of the Chinese constellations or the five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water). The date of the Chinese New Year varies within a thirty-day period from mid-January to mid-February. The New Year in 2000 will fall on February 4 and mark the beginning of the Year of the Dragon. However, the Chinese calendar was backward looking and its cycles were not oriented toward the future. In 1949, me People's Republic of China officially adopted the Gregorian calendar, but the traditional Chinese one continues to be used. (17)

A variety of calendars is used in other countries, such as the Coptic calendar in Ethiopia, the Zoroastrian and Saka calendars in India, and some Buddhist ones in Southeast Asia. In these the year 2000 is 1994 (Coptic), 2389/2390 (Zoroastrian), 1921/1922 (Saka), and 2176 and 1362 (two different Buddhist calendars). (18) The date 2000, so meaningful to us in the West, is of little importance to people in many other parts of the world.

End of the Century, End of the Millennium

Dates have a way of providing identity to a specific era of cultural history. In the last decade of the nineteenth century there was a great outpouring of literary and artistic material in Europe, that contemporaries gave the period a name--fin de siecle--French for "end of the century." Intellectuals looked on the last years of their century as an era of cultural decadence and despair, an age of anxiety. European bourgeois or middle-class society seemed to have lost its way. Unable to influence political developments in an age of mass society and faced with the mounting crises of imperialistic expansion in Europe and overseas, industrial growth and economic depression, and the worsening armaments race, intellectuals and artists retreated into aesthetic or psychological pursuits. The most radical among them welcomed the imminent collapse of a "botched civilization," as poet Ezra Pound once put it.

The prophets of the new age about to dawn were Nietzsche, Darwin, and Freud. It was a world of chaos. Neither God nor human reason counted. Impersonal forces determined human existence, both within the psyche and society at large. Christianity was a "slave morality" that softened the resolve of humankind to deal with the demands of the age. Survival of the fittest was the law not only of the jungle but also of the realm of business and the competition among the nations and races for mastery of the world. The easy optimism of the Victorian Era and the Gilded Age was fading. An age of accelerating growth and change lay ahead, but many feared it would be one of conflict--between labor and capital, rich and poor, and the nations themselves. (19)

This was not a problem in previous centuries because people looked at time differently. The first instance of a new century being celebrated in the Christian calendar was the Jubilee of 1300, proclaimed by Pope Boniface VIII. This action was facilitated by invention of the mechanical, weight-driven clock in the previous century which was used in the monasteries to determine the times for worship and prayer during each day. A "time consciousness" gradually developed that simply was not known before. (20) Subsequent popes declared Jubilees in each century year. Known as a "Holy Year," the faithful who made a pilgrimage to Rome during this time received a generous indulgence (reduction of the amount of time one would have to spend in purgatory before going to heaven) for visiting various churches. Also a special "Holy Door" in St. Peter's Basilica was opened for pilgrims to pass through, and after the conclusion of the year it was sealed once again.

By the 1600s, centuries were taking on an identity of their own. They had their own personalities and life courses (beginning, first half, middle, second half, end) and names, such as the Reformation Century or Century of Louis the Great (Louis XIV of France). Until this time, birthdays were not recorded with any particular precision except for rulers and very important people, and they were usually not observed. However, the increasing use of exact calendar dates in business affairs and private life and the recording of births, marriages, and deaths in church registers caused people to become more aware of their birth dates and ages. Nevertheless, the century years were not occasions for major observances until the end of the eighteenth century. Then the French Revolution, the rise of Napoleon, and prophetic speculation made people much more conscious of the year 1800/1801, and considerable attention was paid to the passing of the old century and advent of the new. At this time some writers even began looking forward to future century years such as 1900.

The nineteenth century had a distinctive identity, and even magazines and journals took its name, something that had not occurred in the previous century. The most prestigious of the many periodicals that did so was The Nineteenth Century, founded in London in 1877. At midnight on December 31, 1900 it was renamed The Nineteenth Century and After.

As the twentieth century neared, people were quite aware of the new era coming and keenly anticipated it. From this time forward, consciousness of the coming of the next century was an integral part of Western thinking about time and dates. Moreover, as the years passed, people increasingly discussed the prospects that the next millennium might hold for humanity and society. As mentioned above, this became a time of intense and even anxious eschatological speculation, and many eagerly looked for the return of Christ at the end of this millennial century.

It is often argued that a thousand years ago the century preceding the arrival of the second millennium of the Christian era also was a time of anxiety. However, historians have vigorously debated just how much this was the case. Asa Briggs and Daniel Snowman argue that rumors of tenth-century apprehension did not circulate in Europe until the sixteenth century. (21) Others maintain that as the year 1000 approached, many in Europe were gripped by what one contemporary writer labeled as "terrors." (22) The primary source for this characterization of the times was the monk Radulphus (or Raoul) Graber (or Glaber), whose Five Books of Histories chronicled events during the period 900-1044. Born around 985 in Burgundy, he entered a monastery at the age of twelve and lived into the 1040s. He was quite well-read but not a skillful writer, and he must have had problems with interpersonal relations as he was forced to spend his life traveling from abbey to abbey without finding a permanent home.

Millennial speculation had receded in the church after the time of Augustine but did not die out. After all, Augustine in his City of God suggested that the thousand-year period since the birth of Jesus was the millennium mentioned in Revelation 20, and thus 1000 or 1033 (the anniversary of the death of Christ) could be seen as a time for expecting the Anti-Christ and the last judgment. In the tenth century, this resulted in a groundswell of speculation that the world was drawing to a close. Various monastic writers predicted the imminent coming of the Anti-Christ and the end of the world, and that may have led to heightened tensions and fears as the year 1000 approached. Both in the years immediately preceding and following that fateful date, various signs such as a comet, meteors, and famines were seen as indications of the approaching apocalypse.

However, the documentary record is unclear as to how widespread the alleged "terrors of the year 1000" actually were. Papal statements between 970 and 1000 and the principal monastic documents (annals as well as biographies) make no mention of such a happening. One writer, Thietmar of Merseburg, referred to 1000 not as a year of horror but as the comforting anniversary of Christ's birth: "When the thousandth year since the salvific birth of the Immaculate Virgin had come, a radiant dawn rose over the world." (23) Another problem was the imprecision of dating. At least one important monastic writer at the time maintained the A.D. calculation currently in use was 21 years off. Most modern-day scholars agree that the "terrors" of 1000 have been overstated and that anxieties about the end of the world prevailed throughout the eleventh century. What should have been the decisive year turned out to be just one more year in a lengthy period of fear and anxiety. (24)

Modern-day Apocalypticism and Non-Western Peoples

Just as a thousand years ago apocalyptic speculation was widely prevalent, so it is today. To be sure, the present world is vastly more complex and the varieties of Christian and secular apocalypticism have multiplied almost beyond comprehension. Both an interest in the future and realization of the possibilities of global destruction have increased immeasurably as the end of the twentieth century approached. Yet the "terrors" of the year 2000 are largely a Western Christian phenomenon. Our calendar has little meaning to many in other parts of the world. The fears that people there have are not based on the turn of a calendar page but the realities of grinding poverty, ethnic conflicts, failed political systems, and a globalization that seems to be relegating them to permanent marginalization. The millennial change means much to people in the West. Does it hold the same significance to people elsewhere? The answer must certainly be a resounding no.

Four Views of the End Times

Following are four views evangelical Christians commonly hold of the end-times. The descriptions are condensed from the introduction to The Meaning of the Millennium, edited by Robert Clouse and published by Intervarsity Press.

* Amillennialism. Views most biblical prophecy figuratively rather than literally. Thus the 1,000-year reign of Christ on the earth referenced in Revelation 20 is said to symbolize Christ's present rule from heaven with the souls of deceased believers. Amillennialism teaches that at the second coming of Christ, the dead shall be raised and the last judgment held, with a perfect kingdom of God to come afterward for those who have trusted in Jesus as the Messiah.

* Postmillennialism. Views the kingdom of God as being extended through Christian preaching and teaching that will cause the world to be Christianized and result in a long period of peace and prosperity called the millennium. This period will close with the second coming of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and the final judgment. Not a widely held position today.

* Historic premillennialism. Based on a strictly literal reading of Scripture, anticipates the second coming of Christ to be preceded by certain signs such as the preaching of the gospel to all nations, a great apostasy, wars, famines, earthquakes, the appearance of the Anti-Christ and a great tribulation. Christ's return will be followed by a period of peace and righteousness before the end of the world. During this time the Jews will be converted and figure prominently in the unfolding drama.

* Premillennial dispensationalism. Based on historic premillennialism, but with the added view that the purposes of God in Scripture may be understood through a series of time periods called dispensations. Sees the coming of Christ before the millennium in two stages, with the first being a secret "rapture" of the church before the great tribulation. This view came to prominence in the 1800s, and was spread widely by C. I. Scofield, who integrated the doctrines into his Scofield Reference Bible.

--Adapted from The Baptist Record, February 19, 1998, 12.


Richard V. Pierard is professor of history, Indiana State University, Terre Haute, Indiana.

(1.) Henry Grunwald, "Can the Millennium Deliver?" Time (May 11, 1998), 18.

(2.) Atlantic Monthly, 67 (June 1891), 860.

(3.) George Gallup Jr. and Sarah Jones, 100 Questions and Answers: Religion in America (Princeton: Religion Research Center, 1989), 18-21.

(4.) Princeton Religion Research Center, Emerging Trends 16 (June 1996), 4.

(5.) Ibid., 13 (February 1991), 1.

(6.) J. T. Fraser, Time: The Familiar Stranger (1987), quoted in L. E. Doggett, "Calendars," in Explanatory Supplement to the Astronomical Almanac, ed. P. Kenneth Seidelmann (Mill Valley, Calif.: University Science Books, 1992), 75. The Doggett essay is an insightful discussion of the varieties of calendars from the perspective of an astronomer.

(7.) This is discussed in David Ewing Duncan, Calendar: Humanity's Epic Struggle to Determine a True and Accurate Year (New York: Avon Books, 1998), 10-15.

(8.) Ibid., 28; Agnes Kirsopp Michels, The Calendar of the Roman Republic (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967).

(9.) The zero apparently was developed in India in the seventh century A.D. and was transmitted to Europe by Arab scholars around 400 years later. Anthony F. Aveni, Empires of Time: Calendars, Clocks, and Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1989), 85-118; Duncan, Calendar, 71-75.

(10.) Peter Hunter Blair, The World of Bede (London: Secker & Warburg, 1970), 268-69; Duncan, Calendar, 75.

(11.) Roger Bacon, Opus Majus, trans. Robert Belle Burke (New York: Russell & Russell, 1962), 1:290-303.

(12.) Duncan, Calendar, 179-84.

(13.) G. V. Coyne, et. al., eds., Gregorian Reform of the Calendar: Proceedings of the Vatican Conference to Commemorate Its 400th Anniversary, 1582-1982 (Vatican City: Pontificia Academia Scientarum, Specola Vaticana, 1983); Peter Archer, The Christian Calendar and the Gregorian Reform (New York: Fordham University Press, 1941).

(14.) William Ecenberger, "Comes the Millennium," Chicago Tribune Magazine (February 18, 1996), 21.

(15.) Frank Parise, ed., The Book of Calendars (New York: Facts on File, 1982), 12-13.

(16.) Ibid., 71-72; G. S. P. Freeman-Grenville, The Muslim and Christian Calendars (London: Rex Collings, 1977), 1-3.

(17.) Parise, Book of Calendars, 216.

(18.) Ibid., 147, 108, 185, 209, 212.

(19.) See the discussions in John Stokes, ed., Fin de SiEcle/Fin du Globe (Houndmills: Macmillan, 1992), and Mikul o Teich and Roy Porter, eds., Fin de SiEcle and Its Legacy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

(20.) Asa Briggs and Daniel Snowman, Fins de SiEcle: How Centuries End 1400-2000 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), 3.

(21.) Ibid., 10.

(22.) Damian Thompson, The End of Time: Faith and Fear in the Shadow of the Millennium (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1996), 36.(23.) Ibid., 48.

(24.) This view is confirmed in the most recent book on the topic, James Reston Jr., The Last Apocalypse: Europe at the Year 1000 A.D. (New York: Doubleday, 1998).
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Author:Pierard, Richard V.
Publication:Baptist History and Heritage
Geographic Code:00WOR
Date:Mar 22, 1999
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