Update for March, 2012

Harold Camping recently released a public letter in which he officially recanted his date-setting views and apologized for misleading people.19 He no longer believes that we can know the day of Christ’s return, and he admits that he had a faulty understanding of passages such as Matthew 24:36. However, he is still teaching that you must leave your church and follow his own version of the gospel.20


Update for October, 2011

May 21 came and went. There was no worldwide earthquake. There was no rapture. The Lord did not choose that day to return. Harold Camping once again demonstrated the biblical truth, “You know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming” (Matthew 25:13).

Unfortunately, like so many false prophets before him, Camping refuses to admit he was wrong.18 Instead, he has stated that Judgment Day really did occur—it was just a “spiritual” judgment—and Christ will actually return on October 21.

What about the rapture? Well, that just meant that the elect were finalized and no one else can now be saved. And that earthquake? Well you see, since man was created from dust, “earth” must really refer to “man,” and thus “all of mankind was shaken with fear” on May 21.

One problem. I wasn’t shaking. Nor was anyone else who reads the Bible for what it clearly states rather than for what we want it to mean. Nor were many unbelievers afraid who mocked Christ and His followers by holding “rapture parties” on May 21, acting as if Camping’s false prophecies accurately represented Christian belief.

Harold Camping has given us a clear example of the absurdities one must go to in defense of an allegorical interpretation of the Bible. I urge you to simply take the Bible as it is written and to interpret a given passage according to the principles consistent with its particular genre. When we try to spiritualize a historical account or add in a double-meaning not clearly stated in scripture, we do injustice to the Word of God.

We are reposting the below article as an illustration of how to discern the difference between sound biblical teaching and eisegesis (reading ideas into the text).


I would really love to know if any of your staff have followed-up on Harold Camping’s work regarding the time-line of history and Judgment Day being in May of this year. I think it would be very important to hear the conclusions of some of AiG’s very learned people regarding this matter.


Thank you for contacting Answers in Genesis.

As a parachurch ministry, Answers in Genesis does not usually involve itself in questions of eschatology (the end times). This is because our focus is on biblical authority, and most eschatological viewpoints are based on differing interpretations from those who do hold the Bible to be the ultimate authority. However, we have received numerous inquiries concerning this increasingly popular theory about the end times. Because it clearly contradicts the Bible and is deceiving many we feel it is important to examine this view in the light of Scripture.

Overview

For those who may be unaware of Harold Camping’s teachings, he claims that Judgment Day will occur on May 21, 2011. The home page of his Family Radio website boldly states “The Bible guarantees it!”1 Here is a brief summary of the thought process he uses to come to this conclusion:

  1. The coming of the Son of Man” will be “as the days of Noah” (Matthew 24:37).
  2. After God told Noah to enter the Ark, there were seven days before the rain came (Genesis 7:4, 10).
  3. With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8), and seven times 1,000 equals 7,000, so the final judgment must be 7,000 years after the Flood.
  4. Camping believes that the Flood occurred in the year 4990 BC,2 and 7,000 years later would be the year AD 2011.3
  5. The Flood started “In the second month, the seventeenth day of the month” (Genesis 7:11), and when we convert that from the Hebrew calendar, we get the twenty-first day of fifth month in our calendar, so Judgment Day must occur on May 21, 2011.

Interpretation

We should first inspect Harold Camping’s starting point. If you were to ask him, he would claim that he believes in biblical authority. However, what he teaches is often in blatant contradiction with what the Bible actually states. This largely comes from a faulty methodology of interpreting the Bible.

Answers in Genesis advocates the historical-grammatical method of interpretation. This means that we examine the context to find the intended meaning. It is exegetical rather than eisegetical—we accept the plain meaning from the text rather than reading our own ideas into it. Camping flatly rejects the historical-grammatical method.4 Rather, he holds to the idea that we must spiritualize the Bible by adding in double-meanings that are not indicated by the text itself. He often employs the mystical practice of numerology to support his views.5

Let’s go through his process again to see what the verses he cites are really communicating.

  1. Matthew 24:37 and the following verses refer to the fact that the unbelieving world will be unaware that the Lord is returning. The Bible does not claim that the Flood was the starting point for a countdown to Judgment Day. That idea is pure speculation.
  2. Genesis is written as historical narrative. That means it is an account of actual events that took place. So, when Genesis 7:4 says that God told Noah to enter the Ark seven days before the Flood began, it simply means what it says. There would be no reason to claim that those seven days had any special prophetic significance unless the Bible itself indicates as much, which it does not.
  3. 2 Peter 3:8 is a paraphrase from Psalm 90:4. Psalm 90 talks about the eternality of God and the frailty of man. Verse 4 is a statement to show that God is not bound by our linear time. Peter used that to remind his readers that Jesus will return, even if it seems like He is taking a long time. It is all according to God’s perfect plan and timing. The idea that we should multiply the seven days by 1,000 years and make that a timeline for the Lord’s return is, once again, pure speculation.
  4. Next, we get to the interesting point of Camping’s supposed timeline of biblical history. He would have us not only believe the Flood occurred in 4990 BC, but also that God created the world in 11,013 BC.6 The Genesis genealogies simply do not support these dates. Rather, they suggest a creation date of around 4000 BC, and they place the Flood around 2300 BC. So even if there were any validity to the 7,000 year speculation, it would place Judgment Day at around AD 4701, not 2011.
  5. Genesis 7:11, like the surrounding context, is an account of what happened. So the month and day given simply indicate the historical date on which the Flood occurred. There is no biblical reason to assume that Judgment Day will occur on the Flood’s anniversary.

A False Prophet

It is interesting to note that most of the same passages referring to Christ’s return are also filled with warnings against false prophets.

Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. (Matthew 24:11)

Then if anyone says to you, “Look, here is the Christ!” or, “Look, He is there!” do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. But take heed; see, I have told you all things beforehand. (Mark 13:21–23)

But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. (2 Peter 2:1–2)

So what about Harold Camping? Is he a false prophet?7

A standard definition for a prophet is “one who foretells future events.”8 Clearly, that is what Camping claims to do. He also specifically claims that his interpretation of the Bible is a new revelation from God.17 While he would say that this new revelation is given to all believers, in reality, he seems to be the only one who has come to this interpretation. Yet Peter tells us that “No prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20). Furthermore, the Bible gives us an easy test to determine whether a prophet is from God.

“But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.” And if you say in your heart, “How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?”—when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him. (Deuteronomy 18:20–22)

Put simply, if a prophet is from God, his predictions will come true at the appointed time. This is because God cannot err. If God reveals the future to a prophet, that revelation will come to pass. Therefore, if someone foretells a future event that does not come to pass, the prophecy must not have been from God, and that person is a false prophet. With that in mind, consider the following statements:

Repeatedly the year 1994 A.D. [sic] appears to be a likely candidate for the year of the end of history.9

Select any year other than 1994 and then try to find Biblical support for that year.10

Would it surprise you to hear that those are both quotes by Harold Camping, taken from his earlier book, 1994? In fact, he even mentioned the year 2011 and rejected it as a possibility.

We must conclude that the return of Christ will not be 2011 A.D. [sic] but some years before this.11

In the same book, he made yet another statement that is quite telling.

Each predicted date passed by and the world continues to exist right up to the present day. Thus the prophets who made the predictions have been shown to be without authority and without wisdom.12

Interestingly enough, Harold Camping has made his books available to read free on his website, with the notable exception of 1994?

By making a prophecy that did not come true, Camping has unequivocally established himself as a false prophet. By his own admission, he has proven himself “to be without authority and without wisdom.” He has tried to explain this away by saying that he simply made a mathematical error in his calculations, but that does not work either. It would once again place his prophecy in the category of “private interpretation,” which is also a sign of false prophets (2 Peter 1:20–2:2).

There is another, much more important sign for identifying false teachers. Paul strongly warns against those who preach a false gospel. “If anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:9). He tells us that “such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:13, ESV).

Harold Camping teaches a false gospel. He teaches that you must leave your local church. “The unsaved of the world . . . includes all those who are still in any church anywhere in the world when the rapture occurs.”13 He teaches that no one has the true message of salvation other than those who follow his own interpretation.14, 15 His version of the gospel requires Harold Camping’s teachings in addition to Jesus Christ, but we know from the Bible that “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Can We Know?

Camping was not the first to set a date for Christ’s return, nor is he likely to be the last. An important question must be raised: can we even know? Is it at all permissible? What does the Bible say?

One recurring theme in the New Testament is the idea that “The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night” (2 Peter 3:10).

The truth that Christ will come as a thief has two implications. The first is that He will come to judge those who are in darkness. Believers, however, are told, “But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief” (1 Thessalonians 5:4). Note the word “overtake.” The Greek word used is καταλαβη (katalabe), which literally means “catch” or “seize.” Christ will come as a thief to seize the unbelievers and take them to judgment.

The other implication is that we cannot know when that will be. Jesus stated, “But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Luke 12:39–40). We as believers should be ready and waiting for His return, because we do not know when it will be. The exhortation of 1 Thessalonians 5:1–11 is to be watching. Stay awake! If we knew the exact date, such a command would be irrelevant.

Another key consideration is the direct statement from Christ, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is” (Mark 13:32–33). This statement is paralleled in Matthew 24:36, and then it is echoed in Matthew 25:13, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.

Harold Camping simply glosses over these statements by saying that they used to be true but are not any more. He claims that God has just recently revealed the timeline.16 However, this new “revelation,” has apparently been granted to Camping alone. Remember that bit about private interpretations? Remember also that these same supposed revelations previously led him to predict Christ’s return in 1994.

Conclusion

The Bible makes it perfectly clear that only God has perfect knowledge of the future, and this includes knowledge of the exact date of Christ’s return. We are to be ready and watching, and we are to stay awake and alert, but we are not to make predictions about when it will happen. Furthermore, Harold Camping has proven himself to be a false prophet by preaching a different gospel and by making failed predictions.

On May 22, thousands of misled people are going to face a rude awakening. They are going to realize that they have been deceived. This is especially sad as many of these people have abandoned their jobs, their churches, and even their families to follow this false prophet. I hold nothing but the sincerest sorrow for them.

If anyone reading this article is or has been among those deceived, I want to make something very clear—Harold Camping is the one who deceived you, not the Bible. The Bible is still the inspired, accurate, and authoritative Word of God, and it does not set May 21, 2011 as Judgment Day. I pray that none on May 22 will reject the Bible when they realize Camping’s prophecies have failed yet again; rather, I pray that it will be a day on which those deceived will turn back to the true teachings of the Bible.

In Christ,
Chuck McKnight, AiG–U.S.

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Footnotes

  1. Family Radio Worldwide, http://www.familyradio.com/. Accessed April 14, 2011. Back
  2. Harold Camping, “Judgment Day,” Family Radio Worldwide, http://www.familyradio.com/graphical/literature/judgment/judgment.html. Back
  3. This may seem to be an error in calculation, as 7,000 – 4,990 = 2,010. However, there was no year 0 in our calendar, so an extra year must be added to compensate. Back
  4. Harold Camping, We Are Almost There, p. 4. Available online at http://www.familyradio.com/graphical/literature/waat/almost_ch01.html. Back
  5. Harold Camping, “Another Infallible Truth,” Family Radio Worldwide, http://www.familyradio.com/graphical/literature/proof/proof.html. Back
  6. Harold Camping, Adam When (Oakland, California: Family Stations, Inc., 1974), p. 70. Available online at http://www.familyradio.com/graphical/literature/adamwhen/ch_02-03-04.pdf, p. 60 for the online edition. Back
  7. Many people in our day object to making judgments about an individual’s words. In support of this notion, Matthew 7:1 is often cited—“Judge not, that you be not judged”—but Jesus is warning us about self-righteous judgment, which is hypocrisy. One should continue reading this chapter. In verses 15–16, Jesus stated, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.” Furthermore, when someone tells you not to judge, notice that they are judging your actions, and consequently, are often self-righteously judging you. Back
  8. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, 2011, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/prophet. s.v., “prophet.” Back
  9. Harold Camping, 1994? (New York, New York: Vantage Press, 1992), p. 470. Back
  10. Ibid., p. 483. Back
  11. Ibid., p. 495. Back
  12. Ibid., p. 311. Back
  13. Harold Camping, We Are Almost There, p. 15. Available online at http://www.familyradio.com/graphical/literature/waat/almost_ch02.html. Back
  14. Harold Camping, I Hope God Will Save Me (Oakland, California: Family Stations, Inc., 2009), pp. 1–2. Available online at http://www.familyradio.com/PDFS/ihgwsm_en.pdf. Back
  15. Harold Camping, We Are Almost There, p. 8. Available online at http://www.familyradio.com/graphical/literature/waat/almost_ch02.html. Back
  16. Harold Camping, “No Man Knows the Day or the Hour?” Family Radio Worldwide, http://www.familyradio.com/graphical/literature/nomanknows/nomanknows.html. Back
  17. Harold Camping, We Are Almost There, p. 3. Available online at http://www.familyradio.com/graphical/literature/waat/almost_ch01.html. Back
  18. Harold Camping, “What Happened on May 21,” Family Radio Worldwide, http://www.familyradio.com/x/whathappened.html. Back
  19. Harold Camping, “An Important Letter from Mr. Camping,” Family Radio Worldwide, http://www.familyradio.com/announcement2.html. Back
  20. Harold Camping, “Special Announcement,” Family Radio Worldwide, http://www.familyradio.com/announcement.html. Back