A few days ago, my son was approached by a woman who asked him if he was prepared for the end of the world. According to this woman, the final judgment will be on May 21, 2011. During the conversation the woman told my son that she had quit her job to spend these last days telling people to prepare for the coming of judgment day.
But how do we know that judgment day will occur on May 21, 2011? Who has set that date? The euphoria that has caught thousands of people and has resulted in billboards across the nation proclaiming the date of the coming judgment is the result of the work of Harold Camping, a civil engineer turned preacher.
Camping has used his mathematical academic background to study the Bible, primarily the chronologies behind the Biblical text. As a result of his study, Camping has concluded that the Bible teaches that judgment day will be on May 21, 2011.
So many people have asked me what I think about this prediction of what will happen on May 21 and the coming judgment that I decided to read some of Camping’s works and ascertain whether his conclusions have any merit and whether judgment day will happen on May 21, 2011.
Camping believes that God has given us a complete calendar from creation to Christ. Included in this calendar is the precise date for the end of the world. It is impossible for me to present all the data Camping has developed to arrive at his conclusions. His argument is complex and the proper understanding of his argument requires a close reading of his research and his conclusions. What follows is a brief summary of the data in his book The Biblical Calendar of History.
First, Camping believes the world was created in 11,013 B.C. He arrives at this date by beginning with the date when the building of the temple began in the days of Solomon (1 Kings 6:1), then tracing the generations of the patriarchs through Adam. His argument is that the genealogies in Genesis 5 do not represent an immediate father-son relationship, but that they are reference points that refer to the time span between one generation and another.
Camping’s argument is a modification of the long accepted chronology of Bishop James Ussher, who, using a father-son relationship in the genealogies of Genesis 5, concluded that creation occurred on October 23, 4004 B.C.
Second, by developing his chronology and correlating it with the Biblical text, Camping concluded that the flood in Noah’s day occurred on May 21, 4990 B.C. rather than on 2348 B.C., the date proposed by Ussher.
Third, according to Genesis 7:10, Noah and his family went into the Ark seven days before the waters of the flood came upon the earth. Beginning with this statement, Camping concludes that since a day with the Lord is equal to one thousand years (2 Peter 3:8), then the final judgment will occur 7,000 years after the Flood, that is, on May 21, 2011.
Fourth, in developing his chronology, Camping also concluded that the 13,000th anniversary of the foundation of the world occurred on May 21, 1988. According to him, on that day the Spirit left the church, the church age ended, and the period of the tribulation began. According to Camping, the period of the tribulation will last 23 years. These 23 years of tribulation began at the end of the church age on May 21, 1988 and will end on judgment day, May 21, 2011.
So, according to Camping, on May 21, 2011 believers in Christ will be taken from life on this world to be with the Lord forever. The rest of humanity, those who died without Christ, will be left behind to experience God’s judgment, which will begin on May 21, 2011. The period of judgment of the wicked will last precisely five months.
After the five months are over, the end of the world will occur on October 21, 2011. According to Camping this period of five months was announced in Genesis 7:24: “And the waters swelled on the earth for one hundred fifty days,” that is, five months of 30 days. The five months are also confirmed in Revelation 9:3-5, which announces a period of torment lasting five months for those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.
Thus, in Camping’s calculation, May 21, 2011 will be a dreadful day, but the worse is still to come because on October 21, 2011, God will completely destroy his creation.
What can I say about this whole bunch of nonsense? Time and space will not allow me to point to all the flaws in Camping’s argument. So, I will only discuss a few of the problems I found in Camping’s argument.
1. No one knows the precise day or year of creation. I do not accept the view that the genealogies in Genesis represent father-son relationships, but to believe that they represent generation periods as Camping argued in his book, requires a great deal of juggling of the Biblical evidence.
2. It is impossible to say with any degree of certainty that the flood occurred on May 21, 4990 B.C. To accept such a date for the flood, then one must accept Camping’s chronology in full, a chronology which rests on a very weak foundation.
3. There are some basic flaws in Camping’s chronology. Let me mention just two. Camping places the fall of Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom, in 709 B.C. This date contradicts every historical document, including Assyrian records. The historically accepted date for the fall of Samaria is 722 B.C.
Camping said that Christ was born in 7 B.C. and that he was crucified in 33 A.D. This means that Christ was 40 years old when he died. But Camping’s numbers contradicts what the Bible says about Jesus’ ministry: “Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his work” (Luke 3:23). Jesus’ ministry lasted about three and a half-years.
4. The Bible is clear about the return of the Lord: “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36). If the Father in heaven did not reveal the day of Christ’s return to his angels nor to his own Son, what makes Camping such a special person that God chose to reveal this mysterious date to him?
The Bible speaks of true prophets and false prophets. The prophet Jeremiah said to the prophet Hananiah: “When the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the LORD has truly sent the prophet” (Jeremiah 28:9). So, on May 22 we will know whether Harold Camping is a true prophet or a false prophet.
About false prophets, the Bible says: “Any prophet who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak–that prophet shall die” (Deuteronomy 18:20).
Speaking to the false prophet Hananiah, the prophet Jeremiah said: “Listen, Hananiah, the LORD has not sent you, and you made this people trust in a lie” (Jeremiah 28:15). I believe Camping’s predictions are lies, that he is deluding God’s people by speaking visions of his own mind, not from the mouth of the Lord (Jeremiah 23:16).
I do not wish that the Biblical injunction against false prophets be applied to Camping on May 22, 2011. However, there is one thing I can say about May 21, 2011: I am quite sure that the Lord is very upset about this nonsense.
Read my second post on this topic: May 22, 2011: Left Behind
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary