Harold be thy name – Camping’s date left behind
I do not really know what has happened to create the Harold Camping monster, but something enormous has happened in his life to bring him to this point.
If you have never heard of Harold Camping, then he will just be another nutter in a long & inglorious list of vocal preachers who have predicted the very day of the Lord. But for those of us who have some idea of where he has come from, this is a very sad day.
Normally, whenever someone predicts the end of the world, we can comfort ourselves with the knowledge the ‘prophet’ was not really “one of us” or that he/she led a crazy cult hell bent on destruction. Not so with Harold Camping.
The painful truth is Camping hails from the Christian Reformed Church of America: Calvinist in its understanding of the Bible and most certainly within the evangelical fold. This is no radical faith and Camping was true to his roots for many years.
And it must be said, Camping is no dummy. A successful engineer & construction company owner, Camping has been a success as whatever he does and is accustomed to calling the shots. This mathematical training and autocratic business manner would manifest themselves regularly in later years.
Camping developed a voracious appetite for Bible study but instead of enrolling in Theological College and either attending lectures or applying to study externally, Camping became his own teacher. A great reader, yes, but not someone who would ever submit to an examiner’s scrutiny of his Biblical understanding.
There are many fine laymen who have not undertaken formal Bible study, but we are talking about one with a very high public profile who predicts the end of the world. And more than once. Had Camping submitted to the authority of orthodox Bible scholars, we probably would not be talking about him.
As it stands, Camping not only drowns out the rest of the Church with his billboards and radio broadcasts, but he turns his blow torch on every one of the orthodox denominations who disagree with him. Camping’s audience is told the "Church: is apostate and he alone dispenses the truth on this matter.
It is manic mathematics and autocratic charisma combined with the financial resources to fully promote both. There was never any doubt if Camping wanted to make a big splash he could do it. His ego demands he does things big and is a success at them.
And so here it is: May 21st. And soon it will be May 22nd, then the 23rd and so on. I am confident Jesus will return one day, but not according to this timetable. So, how did we get to this date?
Like many people before him & no doubt many to come, Camping has become infatuated with the numbers in the Bible. I can understand this up to a point, because I remember the amazement I felt when I first read Ivan Panin’s Bible Numerics many years ago. It stunned me to think that the Bible was so symmetrically and perfectly put together. (I will return to Panin’s work later)
But after being amazed by this, I went on to study the Bible, not its ‘numerics’. That is, I found the unfolding message of the gospel fitted just as beautifully as any numbers. I’m not sure Harold Camping has ever left the numbers behind.
And let’s be honest, there are plenty of numbers in the Bible. There is no doubt, for example, the numbers seven, 10, 12 and 40 occur time and time again. And there are many more we could mention, but those are enough. The point is we can all see them.
And I have always been fascinated by Matthew 1:17:
So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.
God obviously had a timetable for these generations which shows up nicely in mathematics. God could just have easily had 13, 14 then 15 generations or any other combination, but he didn’t. Don’t ask me why he did it this way: I just accept it.
I think men like Harold Camping are so convinced there is a mathematical pattern to everything God does (and there might be!), they have devoted their lives to finding them. And there is the problem. I think they have devoted their lives to the wrong thing.
I do a lot of preaching at my local Church, but I never mention the numerical patterns in the Bible. Have you seen the email which points to the middle verse of the Bible and makes such a big deal out of it? Did you know the book of Isaiah has 66 chapters, just like the Bible has 66 books? Or how about the letters of the word “Torah” being spaced seven letters apart throughout the Torah itself.1
You can see the problem. Pretty patterns exist everywhere, but no one is quite sure what it all means. If you’re trying to tell me only God could have put the Bible together, I’m happy to believe it, but Harold Camping does not settle with that.
Camping tends to find mathematical equations in the Bible, then explains them as though they are obvious to all and attaches a significant event to them: usually the second coming.
Arriving at May 21st
I have read a bit about Harold Camping over the years and recently there has been a flood of media reporting on his fantastic theory that May 21st is the date of the second coming, but I’m still not sure I know how he arrived at the date.
All I know is he is convinced the “day is a thousand years” formula is a crucial element and that the Genesis flood gets the ball rolling. What he is basically doing is finding a date 7,000 years on from the flood and he believes it is May 21st 2011.
To arrive at this date, Camping somehow worked out that the flood occurred in 4990 BC; 7000 years on from that is 2010; throw in an extra year because one was lost in the BC to AD changeover and hey presto, Jesus will come back in 2011.
How Camping gets to 6pm on May 21st a complete mystery, but he’s worked it all out over many years of mathematical gymnastics. I also assume, without insulting my American readers, that Camping believes Jesus is on USA time, although he does not state whether it is 6pm eastern or Pacific. If, however, Jesus is on Jerusalem time, even Camping will have to wait until the early hours of Sunday morning.
In Australia, we hit 6pm California time around 10am Sunday morning, just when I take to the pulpit for my weekly sermon. Could be an interesting one this week!
And while we’re at it, there are a few other assumptions in the mix: why the flood is the catalyst, why it must be 7000 years and how the calendar can be synchronised with the Bible among them.
Watch this interview Camping recorded with Stephen Myers recently. Perhaps you can follow his reasoning.
But wait, there’s more!
Just in case you’re still here after May 21st, don’t worry, there’s still time. Camping has added a 153 day period of testing before the destruction of the universe on October 21st. Exactly why he has added the 153 days is uncertain, but I have a sneaking suspicion Mr Panin may be able to help us here.
Panin’s theory was because Peter caught 153 fish in his net (John 21:11), and Jesus told Peter he would become a fisher of men, the 153 represent converts to the faith, or “Sons of God”. Using gematria2, Panin discovered the Hebrew expression for “Sons of God” was exactly 153. What’s more, the words for ‘fishes’ and ‘the net’ adds up to 1,224 (8 x 153).
Believe me, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Panin.
Take this sentence for example:
The second chapter of Matthew tells of the childhood of the Christ. Its vocabulary has 161 words, or 23 sevens, with 896 letters, or 128 sevens, and 238 forms, or 34 sevens; the numeric value of the vocabulary is 123,529, or 17,647 sevens; of the forms, 166,985, or 23,855 sevens; and so on through pages of enumeration.3
Men like Panin and Camping have an indefatigable passion for calculation. Some have questioned the accuracy of their calculations, especially the gematria, but I am not interested in going there. I am quite willing to believe the Bible is mysteriously and wonderfully put together and if it turns out it was perfectly balanced, weighted and symmetrical down to the last jot and tittle, then praise the Lord.
The difference between Panin and Camping is that while Panin was content just to analyse the text of Scripture, Camping has taken the work of people like Panin, found dates on a calendar and done the mathematics to predict the second coming.
The problem is, he does not adequately explain how he knows the date of the flood with such specificity. It is rather stating the obvious to say you must prove that point before you can arrive at 6pm on May 21st as the day of the second coming, not to mention the whole assumption that the flood itself kick starts the apocalyptic clock.
As for the 153 days between the second coming and final destruction, I'm afraid Camping is way out there on his own. I am convinced Camping has taken Panin’s ‘discovery’ of the true significance of the 153 and massaged it until he could use it to flavour his theory. I cannot really think of any other reason for it being there.
Sadly, this is not the first time Harold Camping has predicted the second coming. He was every bit as sure that 1994 was the year until it passed by. No doubt, there has been a lot more money spent on promoting this one through billboards etc. but the basic theory is the same.
You would think with such a mistake blotting his copybook, Camping would be too ashamed to have another go, but it has only fuelled his desire pin the return of Jesus down to the very minute! It is incredible that anyone takes him seriously, let alone follows him. Will people continue to listen to him after this one passes us by?
A history of schism
Unfortunately, I suspect many will continue to follow Camping; even after this train wreck of an episode. I can only imagine what might be their reasoning. Perhaps they will all conclude that God fully intended to end the world this year, but due to the prayers of the saints etc. he decided, out of his compassion and forbearance, to postpone the big day.
I don’t like speaking like a skeptic because I do firmly believe in the physical return of Christ one day. I take issue with the date setting and the cultish nature of Camping’s ministry. And that is what it is.
Years ago, with his Family Radio show in full swing, Camping began teaching an adult Sunday school class at Alameda Christian Reformed Church. There is no reason to blame the Alameda for this. It must happen all around the world as churches earnestly seek mature, God-fearing, Bible believing volunteers to lead their study groups.
However, this one took a dangerous turn. The Sunday school class became a sub-group as it attracted people from Camping’s radio program who had no intention of entering the church proper.
At this point Alameda CRC would have been in an awkward position. The people in the Sunday school class were not really part of the fellowship at all; they were a new church operating within the existing church.
It was not long before the elders of the Church, wisely I think, removed Camping from his position. The fallout was predictable as Camping and his followers left en masse to form their own 'Reformed Bible Church'.
That was in 1988. From that point onwards, a series of worrying events took place. The first was his rather brazen attempt to rewrite the Heidelberg Catechism4. I think Camping was honestly surprised when no Reformed Church would accept it, such was his confidence.
Then there was the 1994 prediction, followed by the regular denunciation of the orthodox Church. One man who was present for some time under Camping’s teaching recalls the astonishment he felt.
Camping’s calculations and allegorical readings eventually led him to a truly heretical conclusion: that the age of the church was over and that all Christians were required to separate themselves from all churches. I had rather admired him over the years for not making himself a minister without proper education. I had never dreamed that he would instead abolish the pastoral office and the church.5
Camping had become a cult leader. He consistently refused to be properly trained, he dismissed any view which opposed his (all the while asking to be disproven from Scripture) and he boldly announced that any true Christian would leave the established Church.
It has been a sad decline for this knowledgeable man. To think that someone with such a passion for the Bible would use his considerable intellect in such a way. It seems to me that as Camping has grown older (he is now 90) he has tried to look more and more for the return of Jesus, convinced it must occur during his time on earth. It’s as though God has promised Camping would not die before the second coming.
Where is the gospel?
The other rather obvious thing to say at this point is that Camping seems to have dropped the authentic gospel message altogether. Do a search for anything by Harold Camping and see what you come up with. How much of it would you say is good old fashioned ‘gospel’ evangelism? Not much.
When Camping dies and the story of his life is told, it will make sad reading. What a waste.
I have been trying to think what Camping will say following this debacle. My overwhelming feeling is one of sadness. He is an arrogant man, but it will still be sad to see him cut down by his error. Yet, that is what must happen when people speak such nonsense publicly on behalf of the Church. Public error deserves public rebuke.
I have wondered whether he might be planning a suicide in order to prove the date was the day of coming face to face with Jesus, but that is more like David Koresh. Harold Camping is nothing like that.
I guess I come back to the conclusion that Camping will claim God has proven patient once more, wanting “all people to be saved” (1 Tim 2:4). I can see no other way out. At least that answer would shift the blame to someone else & that’s is Camping’s style.
My prayer is that Harold Camping will repent of his error and that his followers would find a local church and submit to its leadership asap. But somehow I doubt they will.
After all, we now have only 153 days until final destruction.
1. For some truly eye popping Bible "codes", see two books by Grant R. Jeffrey: The Handwriting of God (1997) and The Signature of God (1998) Word Publishing Nashville, Tennessee. See especially chapter 7 of The Handwriting of God which it titled "The Incredible Bible Codes" and chapter 10 or The Signature of God titled "The Mysterious Hebrew Codes" where a vast array of modern events are said to be coded within the pages of the Bible. What is interesting is there is no mention of the September 11 attack, which you would think would be almost highlighted in the Bible were it a book of secret predictions. The reason is simple: the books were written two or three years before the events of 9/11. One suspects the code could be found if these scholars went searching for them today.
2. Gematria the practice of assigning numerical values to letters of the alphabet, then adding the value of those letters together to find a numerical value for each word, sentence, paragraph etc.
3. Ivan Panin, letter to the New York Sun, 1899 reprinted at http://www.asis.com/users/stag/numerics.html.
4. The Heidelberg Catechism is the document published in Germany in 1563 which has become one of the main statements of faith for the Reformed Church. It can be viewed in full at www.reformed.org.
5. W. Robert Godfrey, Harold Camping and the End of the World, Westminster Seminary California. http://wscal.edu/blog/contributor/W.+Robert+Godfrey