Harold Camping was a Christian radio broadcaster who gained notoriety in 2011 for predicting that the rapture would take place on May 21, 2011, and that the end of the world would occur five months later on October 21, 2011. Camping used elaborate mathematical calculations based on Biblical timelines to arrive at these dates.
Camping was born in 1921 in Colorado and studied civil engineering at the University of California Berkeley. He founded the Family Radio network in 1958 which grew to over 150 outlets nationwide by 2011. Though Family Radio was nonprofit, it was a $120 million-a-year enterprise by 2011.
Camping believed all churches had strayed from the Bible and therefore encouraged his listeners to leave their churches. He taught that God had stopped saving people after the founding of the Christian church in the first century. Camping believed that the Bible, especially the Book of Revelation, laid out a precise timeline for when Christ would return and this could be calculated by analyzing Biblical genealogies and timespans.
Camping calculated that the rapture would take place on May 21, 2011, when true believers would ascend to heaven. This would be followed by five months of fire, brimstone and plagues on Earth, with the world ending definitively on October 21, 2011. Camping spread his prediction through an extensive billboard campaign and on his radio network. When May 21 passed without incident, Camping claimed he had gotten the math wrong and revised the rapture date to October 21. After that date also passed uneventfully, Camping issued an apology for being wrong and soon retired.
The Bible does not support date-setting for Christ’s return. Jesus states in Matthew 24:36 that “concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” Acts 1:7 also affirms “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” Rather than date-setting, Jesus and the apostles emphasized the need to spiritually prepare for Christ’s return at an unknown hour.
While Camping was sincere in his desire to analyze Scripture, his attempts at date-setting were fundamentally misguided. Jesus explicitly warns against focusing on dates and times for the end times. Camping’s failed predictions became a cautionary tale about the dangers of trying to out-calculate God rather than trusting in His timing.
Harold Camping was born on July 19, 1921 in Boulder, Colorado. His father was a construction engineer and his family were members of the Christian Reformed Church. Camping attended the University of California Berkeley and graduated in 1942 with a degree in civil engineering.
After college, Camping worked briefly as a teacher before joining his family’s construction business. In 1943, he married Shirley von Puymbrouck and eventually the couple had seven children together. Though trained as an engineer, Camping felt called to the Christian ministry and joined the staff of the Alameda Bible Fellowship in 1944.
Camping left the fellowship in 1958 to start his own ministry focused on Christian broadcasting. He launched the nonprofit Family Radio network and over the decades it grew to over 150 outlets nationwide. Family Radio programming consisted of Camping’s Bible teachings as well as traditional hymns. The network was funded by donations from listeners.
From its early days, Family Radio consider itself a ministry outside of traditional church structures. Camping believed that all churches had veered from Biblical truths. He encouraged listeners to leave their churches and follow Bible teachings as he presented them. This made Family Radio somewhat controversial in Christian circles.
A core part of Camping’s teachings was the belief that God had stopped saving people after founding the Christian church. Camping taught that salvation was no longer taking place and God’s final judgment was imminent. He did not put emphasis on traditional evangelism or leading people to Christ, as he felt the age of salvation had already passed.
Camping was deeply interested in analyzing Biblical timelines and numerology to discern God’s plan. He pored over passages like Genesis, Daniel, and Revelation that he believed laid out a precise schedule for the apocalypse. Camping used these passages to create elaborate math equations that calculated significant end times dates.
Drawing on his engineering background, Camping relished the mathematical analysis he applied to Scripture. This led him to calculate that September 6, 1994 would be the date of Christ’s return. When this did not occur, Camping acknowledged his mistake and moved on to other date predictions.
Undaunted by his 1994 failure, Camping developed a new mathematical model based on the idea that the seven days of creation in Genesis foreshadowed 7,000 years of history between Adam’s creation and Christ’s return. Camping posited May 21, 2011 as the date of the rapture and October 21, 2011 as the final day of judgment.
As May 21, 2011 approached, Camping spread news of his rapture prediction on Family Radio and through an extensive billboard campaign. When May 21 passed without the rapture occurring, Camping claimed his math was slightly off and revised the rapture date to October 21. After that date also passed uneventfully, Camping issued an apology to his followers and soon retired.
Though Camping’s failed prophecies damaged his credibility, he remained steadfast that Biblical analysis could unlock God’s precise end times timeline. Before his death in 2013, Camping continued to believe that he had simply made calculations errors but would eventually determine the correct dates.
Camping’s date-setting represents a mistaken approach to Bible prophecy. Jesus explicitly states that “concerning that day and hour no one knows” when speaking about his return (Matthew 24:36). Jesus affirms only the Father knows the precise timing. The Bible repeatedly warns against attempts to discern dates and times which God has chosen to keep hidden.
Rather than mathematical calculations, Jesus and the apostles emphasized the need to be spiritually prepared for Christ’s return at an unknown hour. In Matthew 24:44, Jesus urges his followers to “be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” The thrust is on constant spiritual watchfulness rather than discerning elusive dates.
Camping made a classic error of trying to outsmart and out-calculate God rather than submitting to God’s supreme wisdom regarding the end times. Date-setting often stems from pride in trying to figure out what only God knows. The Bible portrays Christ’s return as a sudden, unexpected event; it resists precise schedules and timetables.
Though Camping was wrong in his predictions, he was sincere in wanting to analyze Scripture and prepare people for Christ’s return. This reflects a noble desire to want to understand God’s plans. However, his fundamental approach of date-setting was faulty and unbiblical. His legacy serves as a cautionary tale against reading too much into speculative end times calculations.
Harold Camping’s life and ministry contained lessons both positive and negative. On the positive side, he built up a successful Christian media ministry in Family Radio that featured solid Bible teaching and uplifting hymns for decades. This reflected his sincere dedication to studying and sharing the Bible.
Negatively, Camping’s assertions that the church age was over and Christians should leave their churches contradicted Christ’s clear teaching to build up the church on earth (Matthew 16:18). Camping’s discouragement of traditional evangelism also opposed the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19).
Most controversially, Camping ventured into unbiblical territory with his multiple attempts to use numerology to pinpoint dates for Christ’s return. This date-setting stemmed from arrogance and a desire to know more than Christ himself about end times scheduling. Jesus explicitly warns against such date-setting (Matthew 24:36).
So while Camping sought to faithfully analyze Scripture, his methods were fundamentally misguided. Biblical prophecy contains themes and general descriptions of end times events but resists the notion of hidden codes or precise timetables. Camping’s legacy serves as a sobering case study in the dangerous exegetical errors that can unfold when one tries to out-calculate an all-knowing God.
Nevertheless, Camping’s sincerity and devotion to the Bible should not be dismissed. His date-setting represented zealousness without wisdom. Camping ultimately proved willing to acknowledge his errors and apologize. This shows humility and integrity even amidst faulty theological methods. While Camping’s calculations were profoundly mistaken, his life depicts a imperfect but serious believer trying to make sense of complex biblical prophecies.
Harold Camping’s legacy offers several lessons for Christians today regarding biblical prophecy and end times doctrines:
1. Date-setting is dangerous – Camping’s failed predictions highlight the unbiblical nature of trying to discern hidden clues about Christ’s return. Scripture warns against this.
2. Avoid pride – Date-setting often stems from arrogance and a desire to know more than Scripture reveals. We should humbly accept the limits of our knowledge.
3. Focus on spiritual readiness – Rather than chasing elusive timetables, we should emphasize being spiritually prepared for Christ’s return at an unknown hour.
4. Handle Scripture carefully – While Camping was sincere, his mathematical calculations led him astray. We must be careful not to read too much into prophetic passages.
5. Submit your thoughts to Scripture – Camping elevated his own reasoning over the clear biblical warnings against date-setting. We should conform our ideas to Scripture, not the reverse.
6. Remember Christ’s centrality – End times theorizing can distract from Jesus’ overriding message of salvation through faith in him. Christ-centeredness must anchor our bible study.
7. God’s ways are higher – Camping’s story illustrates the limits of human knowledge about the divine. We must approach prophecy with humility, recognizing that God’s ways and timing are perfect and higher than ours.
While one can find both positive and negative lessons from Harold Camping’s ministry, his unbiblical emphasis on date-setting stands as a firm warning. We must be vigilant not to arrogantly repeat Camping’s mistakes today but to embrace biblical wisdom and sobriety in how we think about Christ’s glorious but unknowable return.
Harold Camping faced much criticism and even scorn after his highly-publicized Doomsday predictions failed to come true. Understandably, many people mocked him as credulous or even dangerous for misleading followers into thinking the world would end.
However, Christians should have a balanced perspective on Camping. It is easy to condemn his unbiblical methods. But believers should also have humility in light of his sincere efforts to study Scripture and pursue what he thought was sound biblical analysis, however mistaken.
Christians can apply lessons from Camping’s failures without dismissing him as a heretic or charlatan. We all have blind spots. Camping’s painful errors remind us of the need for epistemic humility – recognizing the limits and imperfections in the way we interpret God’s Word and will.
Rather than harbor contempt toward Camping, we would do well to feel pastoral concern at how far his well-intended but faulty apocalyptic calculus led him astray. We must all submit our biblical interpretations to the collective wisdom of the church rooted firmly in Christ. None of us have a monopoly on perfectly understanding God’s truth.
While Camping’s legacy carries profound warnings, we can balance righteous caution with grace, sympathy and heartfelt hopes that this teacher of God’s Word has been received lovingly by the God he desired to serve. The body of Christ should encompass those who stumble in their walk, so long as they rise again in humility and new understanding.
Harold Camping made national headlines in 2011 for his prediction that the rapture would occur on May 21, followed by the end of the world on October 21. While most Christians dismissed his claims, Camping convinced many followers to earnestly expect Christ’s imminent return.
This raises important questions – why were so many people persuaded by Camping’s faulty teaching? And how can Christians avoid similar deception today?
First, we must remember that humans have an innate longing to make sense of the future and end times prophecies offer spiritual security amid chaos. Camping took advantage of that natural longing by claiming to find precise dates for Christ’s return.
Second, Camping used elaborate numerology and mathematical calculations to make his predictions seem well-reasoned and authoritative. But his formulas amounted to little more than smoke and mirrors that awed laypeople but had no substantive biblical foundation.
Third, Camping attracted followers because many people lack discernment and biblically-informed critical thinking skills. They fail to carefully evaluate teaching against Scripture. Instead they rely on teachers who seem learned.
Fourth, Camping capitalized on people’s disenchantment with churches to attract former churchgoers to his teaching. Rightful frustration with churches’ flaws fueled gullibility to Camping’s unorthodox ideas.
Fifth, Camping benefitted from a modern distrust of mainstream opinions. His fringe eschatology thrived on people’s skepticism of dominant end times perspectives in churches.
In sum, Camping relied on human vulnerabilities that Christians must become self-aware of in order to avoid deception. We must have spiritual discernment and test all teaching against Scripture. We should place our hope in Christ rather than fallible prophets’ predictions. And we must humbly rely on centuries of church wisdom rather than novel fringe theories. Self-awareness and vigilance can help prevent future Camping-like false teaching on the end times from misleading Christ’s flock.
Harold Camping’s legacy highlights key principles for Christians regarding how we interpret and teach about biblical prophecy:
1. Scripture must be the first and final authority – Any interpretation must square fully with the Bible’s clear revelatory word, not human speculation or calculation.
2. Beware sensational claims – Teachings that claim to definitively pinpoint dates, unlock hidden codes, or reveal novel secrets should raise immediate red flags.
3. Submit to church wisdom – Novel teachings should be avoided in favor of doctrines rooted in centuries of sound church scholarship and spiritual discernment.
4. Maintain humility – We must humbly acknowledge that God alone fully understands the details and timing of unfulfilled prophecy.
5. Test the spirits – Prophecy teachers must be carefully examined against Scripture to determine if they are trustworthy or misleading (1 John 4:1-3).
6. Focus on Christ – Prophecy study can become an unhealthy fascination; teachers must point people to Jesus rather than speculative timetables.
7. Approach with caution – Even sound prophecy teaching requires much grace and wisdom in light of the complexities and uncertainties involved.
8. Let love prevail – If mishandled, prophecy breeds fruitless arguments; teachers must emphasize biblical love over divisive opinions on unclear matters.
9. Point to preparedness – As Camping exemplified, chasing unreliable predictions neglects the biblical call to relational preparedness for Christ’s return.
Harold Camping’s legacy reinforces that prophecy teaching is fraught with risks and requires great restraint, care, humility and reliance on Scripture illuminated by centuries of Spirit-led church discernment.