Harold Camping has been in recent headlines as he predicts that the world will end this Saturday: May 21, 2011.
For those who don’t get to read this post until after Saturday, my apologies. Camping was wrong.
Actually, Camping says that May 21 is the first day of Judgement. The world will not be destroyed until 5 months later. Camping arrived at these figures by combining two Bible verses and a lot of date calculations. See specific details below.
Jesus himself warns us to not predict when he will return:
“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.”
Despite this warning, there is a long line of people in history who have attempted to predict when Jesus will return. Camping is not alone. So far, not one of them has been correct.
One such man in the early 1800’s was William Miller. Miller had calculated that Jesus would return on October 22, 1844 (revised from March 22). Several of Miller’s followers had sold their farms and stood with Miller on that night in October. That night would go down among these followers as “The Great Disappointment”. Afterward, some of Miller’s followers revised their understanding of these events and began the movement that we now know of as the Seventh-day Adventist Church. See here for more details.
I was in college when a popular booklet was distributed, entitled, “88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988″. The author, Edgar C. Whisenant, had done extensive research into arriving at the conclusion that the Rapture would occur on September 1988. I can recall my pastor at the time critiquing Whisenant’s findings, yet commending him on his scholarship. But Whisenant was mistaken and the rapture did not take place in 1988.
Even in our more recent past, several people believed that Jesus would return in the year 2000. (This belief was often in conjunction with the widespread fear of Y2K computer failures).
Harold Camping himself had originally predicted that the world may end in 1994. Once again, the passage of time has shown these people to be mistaken.
Why does Camping believe that the world will end on May 21, 2011? Camping bases his conclusions on the following premises:
- Amos 3:7 says that “The Lord GOD does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets“. Camping takes this as a promise that God will reveal the timetable of the world’s end.
- In Genesis 7:4, God is commanding Noah to enter the Ark and says, “For in seven days I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground“. Camping takes from this that God will destroy the world in “Seven Days” after Noah entered the Ark.
- 2 Peter 3:8 says that, “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day“. Camping combines this with the Genesis account above to conclude that the “seven days” from Genesis 7:4 really mean 7,000 years. Therefore, he concludes that the world will be destroyed exactly 7,000 years after Noah entered the Ark.
- Camping has concluded “by careful study of the Bible” that the flood occurred on May 21, 4990 B.C. Therefore, 7,000 years later will be May 21, 2011.
Camping has done a lot of calculations in order to arrive at this date. However, he has these problems in each of the above premises:
- He uses Amos 3:7 to prove that God will show us his timetable. Amos 3 is warning Israel of their pending judgement. But God also promises that he will deliver a warning through his prophets before sending judgement to Israel — a warning that God is currently doing through Amos. There is no basis for extending the prophecy in Amos 3 beyond the Old Testament judgement on wicked Israel. Also, Camping is equating himself (and his followers) with the Old Testament prophets. He makes this conclusion without any basis.
- He uses Genesis 7:4 to set a timetable for the end of the world, yet the context of Genesis 7 is God’s command to Noah personally. He has a week to get himself and all the animals onto the Ark. There is no indicator here that the “7 days” has a further meaning beyond the worldwide flood of Noah’s day.
- He uses 2 Peter 3:8 to translate the “7 days” above to 7,000 years. In addition to the problem mentioned above with trying to stretch the command to Noah beyond the flood, Camping is being inconsistent with translating days into thousands of years. For example, why translate the 7 days waiting for the rain as 7,000 years, but not translate the 40 days of rain as 40,000 years? 2 Peter is not a tool to convert timetables from days to thousands of years. Instead, a better understanding of of 2 Peter 3 is to look at 3:8-9 and realize that God will keep his promises, even if it takes a thousand years!
- He says that he discovered that the flood occurred on 4990 B.C. “by careful study of the Bible”. Unfortunately, I could not find any information to support his claims for why he has so definitively chosen 4990 B.C. (There is an option to order a free book with these details, but I fear that they will not be able to ship it if the world ends). This date is much older than any research that I have done, and it is in conflict with other Bible scholars who date the flood at approximately 2304 B.C. See the link here for specific details on 2304 B.C.
You can see the full details on Camping’s treatise here.
What are the consequences of making predictions like this? Unfortunately, there are two groups that are hurt by false predictions:
The first group is Camping’s followers. Like William Miller in the 1800’s, false predictions can leave a trail of disillusioned followers. Many of these people have contributed greatly to his cause, selling property and contributing to help spread his message. These people have put their credibility on the line for a belief without a solid basis. Like Miller’s followers in the 1800’s, this disillusionment can be fertile ground for new false teachings.
The second group that is hurt are those who are lost. The mockery of a Christian leader grows as the word spreads about this prediction. Christians lose their credibility and the lost have one more obstacle in their way before they will listen to the truth about Jesus. Regardless of attitudes, we need to pray for those around us.
What should we do?
The best advice comes from reading the rest of 2 Peter 3:
Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
Wait for Christ’s Return!
Be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and be at peace!
Don’t be carried away by the error of false teaching!
Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
Jesus can come today, tomorrow, Saturday, or any day after that! Until he returns!