Beliefs Politics

Self-proclaimed prophet spawns apocalypse movement

OAKLAND, Calif. (RNS) Save the date: May 21, 2011.

If preacher Harold Camping is right, that’s the exact date Jesus will return and the righteous will fly up to heaven, leaving behind only their clothes.

That will be followed by five months of fire, brimstone and plagues, with millions of people dying each day and corpses piling in the streets. Finally, on Oct. 21, the world ends exactly as the Book of Revelation says it will — with a bottomless pit, a lake of fire and, at last, a new heaven and new earth.

Doomsday preachers come and go, but at nearly 90 years old, the spry Camping has managed to ignite a nationwide movement that has garnered national attention.

Camping is not an ordained pastor with a church, and has no formal religious training. He can’t read or speak Greek, Hebrew or Jesus’ native Aramaic. His main predictive tool rests by his side in his wood-paneled office that looks like it was borrowed from the set of AMC’s “Mad Men.”

“I made a very deliberate decision to make the Bible my university,” Camping said, reaching for his battered, brown King James Bible and flipping nimbly through pages with marked-up margins and taped-up tears.

“I bought a Bible with a good leather cover. This is the sixth one. When you use them all the time they wear out.”

The same can’t be said for Camping. Since the 1950s, he has broadcast his views via Family Radio, a global network of Christian stations where he now serves as unpaid president and primary on-air talent. His teachings air worldwide five nights a week via `Open Forum,’ a call-in show that draws listeners as far away as China and Ghana.

“Thank you for calling `Open Forum,”‘ Camping has said countless times in his trademark baritone, “and shall we take our next call, please?”

One of those callers is Chris McCann, an independent preacher who is part of a Philadelphia group of Camping followers that is spreading the word about May 21.

“God has put his stamp of approval that this is the day,” McCann said in a telephone interview. “I don’t doubt it, and I don’t look at the possibility of May 22 happening.”

Neither does Camping. Asked how he arrived at the date, he opened his Bible to Genesis and said Noah loaded animals into the ark in 4990 B.C., a number he said he arrived at years ago after looking at carbon dating, tree rings and other data. Paging forward to 2 Peter, he read aloud, “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years and a thousand years is one day.”

Leafing back to Genesis, he said that the seven days Noah spent loading the ark was really 7,000 years. He then added 7,000 to 4990 B.C to arrive at 2010. He added one more year, he said, because there is no year one in the Bible.

As for the exact date of May 21, he pointed again to Genesis, which says the flood began on the “17th day of the second month.” According to the Jewish calendar, which he believes God uses, that is May 21.

“Now I am telling you, that gets pretty heavy when you see this coming right out of the Bible,” he said, looking up from his Bible’s dog-eared pages.


Camping finds further proof in the headlines: same-sex marriage, devastation in Japan, popular uprisings across the Arab world. They’re all divine warnings of the earthly obliteration to come.

“There are still people that God has to save, and he uses them to get them to cry out for his mercy,” Camping said.


Camping is not the first to be enthralled with biblical numerology. In the 1500s, Scottish mathematician John Napier invented logarithms to better predict Jesus’ return. American farmer William Miller (the founder of Seventh-day Adventism) picked dates in 1843 and 1844. More recently, Chen Tao, a group based in Garland, Texas, predicted God’s return in the late 1990s.

A poll conducted last year by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that 41 percent of Americans expect Jesus’ return before 2040. But pinpointing an exact date is unusual, said John R. Hall, a sociology professor and author of “Apocalypse,” an examination of doomsday groups.

“What is interesting is that (Camping) is claiming he is studying the Bible and this is what the Bible says,” Hall said. “That is a very different thing than saying God has spoken to me and this is what has been revealed. It leaves him quite a bit of wiggle room.”

Camping has wiggled before. He first predicted Jesus’ return in 1994 in a book named for that year — but with a big question mark at the end. While writing the book, he said the year 2011 began to come up in his calculations, but 1994 was more prominent.

When the year came and went, Camping explained that he was wrong and needed more study. “It just was a cudgel to keep studying,” he said.

Camping was once well-regarded in the evangelical community, both for his encyclopedic knowledge of Scripture and his radio empire. But in the late 1980s, when he began teaching that churches have strayed from the Bible and embraced false doctrine, he lost much of that support.

He announced his current prediction in his 2005 book, “Time Has an End,” and spreads the word through tracts, postcards and his radio shows. The final countdown has brought an international billboard campaign and a fleet of 20 decorated recreational vehicles that tour the country like movable billboards.

One set of RVs came to the University of Oregon, where Daniel Wojcik is a professor of folklore and author of “The End of the World As We Know It,” a study of end-times groups. Wojcik said prophets and their followers generally regroup after their prophesy fails, often recommitting themselves to the prophet.

“People try to rationalize it,” he said. “Often they say the end didn’t come, but a spiritual transformation took place, so the prediction was right on. Then there is the test-of-faith response, where they say, `Well, we weren’t ready for it.’ Or he (Camping) might just admit to being wrong.”

Asked about that, Camping does not hesitate.

“I do not even think about that possibility because I am trusting the Bible implicitly.”


His followers, in turn, are trusting Camping. Allison Warden, a 29-year-old office manager in Raleigh, N.C., runs a website,, dedicated to spreading news of Camping’s predictions. But what if he is wrong?

“It is a fair enough question,” she said. “But the fact that it is in Scripture is why you can say it with such a degree of certainty. It’s one of those things where you have to trust God.”

About the author

Tracy Gordon


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  • Jesus Christ said no one knows the date of His return – looks like this man like so many other false prophets, only read the parts of the Bible that agree with their doctrine.

  • It is wonderful that Mr. Camping has spent his life studying the Bible. I’m certain he has many insights. But Matthew 35:36 states “No one knows…neither the angels in heaven nor the Son; the Father alone knows.” Impressive on finding a date, though. Overlooked that several times, though I have never worried about the end of the world, as the end of our own lives is the “end of our world”ly time.

  • I remember this guy from my youth. He was a big-time preacher who would whip people up in a frenzy.

    I remember attending a youth conference where they locked the doors so we couldn’t get out, and he revved everybody up. I had just attended a seminar in cults, and all the warning signs existed at this conference.

    When I got home I called my parents encouraged me to call my friends and tell them not to fall for this guy, that, he was using brainwashing techniques. I was villified at the time, by the others, including the pastor.

    Well, it turned out I was right about this guy. What a dork.

  • He and his supporters keep reiterating that Scripture says that the Lord will come on May 21, 2011. But that simply isn’t true. No where in the Bible does it say any such thing. Mr. Campbell is interpreting certain verses in the Scripture to come up with that date. As mentioned there is even Scripture that to all appearances contradict Campbell’s claim. Though I’m sure he has a work around. There is a profound difference between an interpretation of Scripture and Scripture itself. Scripture is inspired and inerrant. Mr. Campbell’s interpretations of Scripture aren’t. Nor does Scripture establish Mr. Campbell as any sort of authourity for interpreting Scripture. Sola scriptura doesn’t work.

  • When, O when will the Protesters understand? Never? I am coming to believe that this is the case, save some extraordinary intervention on God’s part. Harold’s post above pretty much says it all. People believe (and rightly so) that God’s Word is inerrant, but what they don’t realize is that when they form more general teachings from it, they are INTERPRETING it, and they themselves are NOT infallible interpreters. Why can’t they get this through their heads? They cringe at the claim that God has given the successor of St. Peter the charism of infallibility but this is what they are, in fact, giving themselves. I’m glad that so many people, and even internationally, are taking this guy very seriously. When May 22 comes, maybe at least one or two of them will say to themselves, “enough is enough” and “see the light.” One can only hope and pray, but it’s happened time and time before. Even Mr. Camping has already posited 1994.

    So where in the Bible does it say that Noah built the ark in 4990 BC? Where does it say that Noah has been loading his ark for 7×1000 years, as opposed to him completing the loading in 7×1 years? Where does it say that the 7 years should be combined with the verse from 2 Peter to get 7000 years instead of the 7 symbolizing that the “fullness” of people (Noah’s family) and all the animals of the earth entered the ark? Where does it say that God uses a calendar, and the Jewish one, at that? Where does it say that I should trust Harold Camping as an infallible interpreter of Scripture? He would say, “Nowhere. I’m not interpreting Scripture. I’m reading the plain sense. It’s right there in my well-worn brown leather Bible.” I’m truly confounded about the 4990 BC – he says he conjured up this number from “from looking at carbon dating, tree rings and other data.” So how is it that he claims all his calculations are from Scripture? Again, for some reason, he can’t see that he is, indeed, INTERPRETING Scripture. I suppose this all started with Luther’s “teaching” of the “perspicuity” of all Scripture. Anybody with any common sense who is at all familiar with the Bible realizes that Scripture is not perspicuous, though in some places it is more and in some places it is less so (eg the Book of Revelation). Mr. Camping should’ve continued for a few verses in 2 Peter where it says that, “There are some things in them [Paul’s letters] hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.”

    As far as interpretations of the story of Noah’s ark goes, I wonder if Mr. Camping has ever been baptized? I certainly hope so, but who knows? I wonder if he believes that baptism is necessary for salvation and actually has an effect on your soul? As I know nothing of the man save from what I have read in this and similar articles, I don’t know. Because Scripture itself gives an interpretation of Noah’s ark, in 1 Peter, where it says, “…eight persons were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you.” So there you have it, Scripture gives us its own interpretation of Noah and the ark. But Mr. Camping insists on telling us that what it really means is that the “Rapture” will occur on May 21, 2011. I thought we weren’t supposed to “go beyond what is written.”

    See you all on May 22. I’m sure Mr. Camping will be coming up with excuses and will start calculating another date. I’ll stick with the Lord Jesus, who has told us, over and over again, to repent, to prepare ourselves, and to always be ready. He didn’t say to believe you’re “saved, once for all” and then speculate on the date of His coming to destroy all the “unsaved,” like us poor Catholics. And what are we to “prepare” for? What are we to be always “ready” for? Our death and then immediate judgment, that’s what! This time of Lent is a great preparation to do what Jesus says we must do, a time to fast, confess our sins, and pray. I wonder if Mr. Camping celebrates Lent? Probably not – after all, the word “Lent” isn’t even in the Bible! Forest for the trees…

  • First of all, thank you for the article and the good comments above.
    I encountered a number of these “believers” at the George Washington’s Birthday parade in Alexandria, VA in February of this year. ON the main thoroughfare, I first caught sight of two of their paneled vans or trucks with big signs trumpeting the date and website. Then there were guys walking around with big signs above their backpacks, handing out leaflets and engaging people in conversation. I asked one guy point blank how they came up with the dates (he mentioned Daniel as part of the explanation) … and I said what about that Jesus said, that no one except the Father knows the day or the hour. I read through the pamphlet and then spoke with the guy again. I said, I agree with a lot of what’s in the pamphlet. I believe in Jesus Christ, as the Son of God, in His life, teaching, redeeming Passion, Death and Resurrection, the forgiveness of our sins, life everlasting and the resurrection of our bodies on the last day. But I said to him, there are some serious gaps and errors and presumptions in terms of calculating times, saying that the age of the Church is over already and Satan had taken over the Churches (we certainly see his influence in some denominations – but Jesus said to Peter after his profession of faith in Him as the Messiah, the Son of God. “Right you are, Simon, son of John (Bar-Jonah). You are Peter (Rock) and upon this rock, I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. To you I give the keys of the kingdom. Whatsoever you bind on earth is bound in heaven and whatsoever you loose on earth is loosed in heaven” Though the gates of hell may try, they will not prevail against the Church which He Himself founded and promised to remain with until the end of time). I said to the street evangelists, “If you were simply preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and the promise of eternal life, by turning in Faith to Jesus and the fact that He will come again (we just don’t know the day or the hour of His coming or our own death, for that matter)and that NOW is the time to get ready and be prepared … I could support you. But, if you connect these predictions, stated as fact, with the Gospel and Christianity in general, and then it doesn’t happen … many people will conclude that the Gospel then must be false. As a result you will be doing more harm than good.” So I find it sad and distressing, that this man and his followers are spending so much time, energy, talents to spread this guy’s message which has elements of truth to it, but is fundamentally flawed and therefore false. He is a false prophet and teacher IN FACT, although he probably did not intend to be, and certainly not in his own mind and those of his followers. Too bad, because they are so motivated and sincere, but they are sincerely headed down the wrong path and drawing others with them and won’t listen to the truth, spoken in love.

  • There is a book called the Kitab-i-Iqan which unseals the Books which Daniel and Jesus testified as to being sealed up in the Bible. The Iqan, which means Book of Certitude, was written in 1863 and answers questions about Resurrection and the 2nd Coming of Christ.

    Also, someone above mentioned briefly about the years 1843 and 1844. In that period leading up to 1844, several new Christian religions were started to restore the Gospel in the immediate return of Christ as were Shi’a Muslims across the globe. On May 23, 1844, the day the Seventh Day Adventists predicted the “last day” would be, 2 events happened. Samuel Morse, on the world’s first electric communication (using “lightning”) wrote on the telegraph “What hath God wrought?” On the same day, a young man in Persia proclaimed a Revelation from God and was executed a few years later. I will finish by saying the Last Day, as described in the Book of Revelation in the dream of St. John the Divine, is full of real symbolism as are many dreams had been (remember the story of Joseph and the prophecies of Daniel)

    If anyone is interested in learning more, feel free to contact me at [email protected]

  • Matthew 24:11 says,”Many false prophets will come and deceive many”. This man is one of them. It says in Scripture, “No one knows the day or the hour, except the Father(God)”. Some humans try to be smarter than God but that is impossible.

  • Protestant nutty professor-The real bible is the Latin Vulgate and the real church is the Traditional Roman Catholic Church. Protestants and their false beliefs were declared anathema by Pope Leo X-Period!

  • From an atheist’s point of view, I have to say that Camping’s reasoning is imaginative, but fairly misplaced. He’s used tree rings to calculate the time of the Great Flood… Where was this tree? And who’s to say that this tree is the most accurate?

    Aside from this he’s used a rather poetic verse from the bible and using this as a fact! A day is like a thousand years and vice versa… So which is it?

    To be honest, I’m a little disappointed that the world will end in less than two months, as my birthday’s in June and I had my heart set on this beautiful watch with a skeleton gear movement… My girlfriend will be more disappointed, as her birthday is in August!

    But seriously, the end of the world? I think if “God” or whatever one chooses to believe in, chooses to end the world and life as we know it, we would have greater signs provided to us, than vague interpretations twisted to suit one’s theory.

  • Greetings,

    Careful study of the Scriptures has show me that Harold Camping is the Anti-Christ. Of course, I could be wrong, since there are so many competing figures who aspire to that title, e.g. Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, Rev Moon, Bishop Spong, etc. Besides I have already listed 2012 for the end of the world, so I am all booked up until then.

  • @ the Honorable Reverend Johnstok: I’d be curious to know how you derived that title for Mr Camping, let alone why that title wasn’t attributed to your other suggestions…!

  • Dear Kimberly Winston,

    I truly appreciated the report on Mr. Camping’s prediction of the return of Jesus Christ. In fact, I must complement you on the accuracy of your report. It is difficult to find these days news reports that are honest, unbiased and properly informed. As a journalist, one must take seriously the tasks of making categorically viable statements, particularly as it relates to people, institutions and businesses. Irresponsible statements create confusion and lead to unnecessary prejudice.

    As a Christian, I must admit that I wholeheartedly believe in the Second Return of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It matters not what Christian denomination we represent, most of us agree in the eschatological return of Jesus of Nazareth. One simple and honest reading of the Scriptures, will make it apparent to the sincere reader that the message of the Bible is clear and progressively climaxes from Genesis to Exodus, to the Gospels and finally Revelation. All with one theme, the salvation of human kind through the person of the Messiah.

    It is this theme that carried the hopes of Jews in the Hebrew Scriptures and Christians in the New Testament. Even Muslims acknowledge the Second Coming of Jesus. The prophet Mohammed included this great truth in the Qur’an. Over the centuries, people of all walks of life have predicted the coming of the Messiah. In fact, beginning with Eve, Jewish mothers were aware of the this very prophecy that first appeared in Genesis 3:15. Many of them hoped they would bear the Anointed Child that would save the world from its condemnation as a result of rebellion against the government of YHWH.

    In the New Testament, we find hundreds who claimed to be the Messiah. In fact, Barrabas, who was freed by the request of the people, was one such Messiah. Jesus, an innocent man by the mouth of Pilate, was sentenced to the cross in place of Barrabas.

    In the last 2000 years, there have been all kinds of claims about the return of Jesus. It is true that William Miller, an American Baptist preacher, was one such man. He used the book of Daniel, specifically the prophecy of the 2300 days, and calculated the end of the prophecy to be in 1844. In all fairness, history records that Miller was reluctant to set a date. His followers, Millerite leaders, practically led him to set a date October 22, 1844.

    Unfortunately, Jesus did not come. They all forgot that Jesus’ own statement: “you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” (Matthew 25: 13, NKJV)

    These Millerites were also known as “Adventists,” because they promoted the second “advent,” coming or appearing of Jesus Christ. In 1844, there was no such thing as the Seventh-day Adventist Church. In fact, Millerite Adventists were Sunday-keeping Christians and not Sabbatarians as the Seventh-day Adventists who were formally organized on May 21, 1863, in Battle Creek Michigan. Seventh-day Adventists, some of them who had been former Millerites, have never set a date for the Second Coming of Christ. This group of Christians learned from the Millerites’ mistake and delved into the Scripture to continue studying the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation. Miller eventually left his own movement and gave up all his views, never to be involved in public events.

    Ironically, uninformed people continue to pass on news and reports that are far from the truth when it comes to Adventism. Well, this is to be expected. Just about every religious group has been the victim of misquotes, misunderstandings and lies. This is the reason why sincere people like Wesley Esmada continue to make erroneous statements in his comments that perpetuate fables that harm other people.

    It would serve us all well to speak when we are well-informed and to remain silent when we are simply regurgitating urban legends.

    Most Respectfully,

  • Hey… it’s May 23rd… Where was this rapture I was waiting to witness?

    Mr Camping… sorry, but you are the weakest link… Goodbye.

  • Thank you Victor for your great commentary. I also did some reaserch, it is clear that the article is wrong when it points out that Miller, a Baptist pastor, was the founder of the Seventh-Day Adventist church. It is not true. Miller was never a Seventh-Day Adventist,the SDA church did not exist in 1844. The Seventh-day Adventist church was founded by Joseph Bates, Ellen G. White, and James White not Miller.

    Resources: Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, vol. 10, 1996 ed., p. 170; vol. 11, pp. 873, 890.

  • Well done, Juan. Proper education is valuable. Careful research is extremely necessary when making public claims that may harm other people. I just wish the author of this entry, Kimberly Winston, sees our post and write a short entry acknowledging this historical truth. Blessings to you.