Jimmy was born in Texas, grew up nominally Protestant, but at age 20 experienced a profound conversion to Christ. Planning on becoming a Protestant pastor or seminary professor, he started an intensive study of the Bible. But the more he immersed himself in Scripture the more he found to support the Catholic faith. Eventually, he entered the Catholic Church. His conversion story, “A Triumph and a Tragedy,” is published in Surprised by Truth. Besides being an author, Jimmy is the Senior Apologist at Catholic Answers, a contributing editor to Catholic Answers Magazine, and a weekly guest on “Catholic Answers Live.”
Yes! It’s true! A major supernatural event will be occurring *this* Saturday, May 21, 2011!
I’m *not* kidding!
Harold Camping—president of the Protestant radio outreach known as Family Radio—has been predicting for some time that the long-awaited Rapture will occur on May 21st of this year.
Of course, he’s made similar predictions before. He famously got his followers worked up back in 1994 about that being the year the world would end (or something) and, well ... y’know.
But this time is different!
There really *is* a major supernatural event occurring this Saturday!
That doesn’t necessarily mean that the reasoning Camping uses to arrive at his conclusion is sound. In fact, it’s not.
If you go to Family Radio’s page explaining why the Rapture is supposed to happen this Saturday, the reasoning used is astronishingly weak. Even incoherent. Dig it:
God declared in 2 Peter 3:8:
But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
God had written in the Holy Bible in Genesis 7:4:
For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living substance that I have made will I destroy from off the face of the earth.
God added in Genesis 7:10-11:
And it came to pass after seven days, that the waters of the Flood were upon the earth. In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.
The ark that Noah had built was the only place of safety from the destruction of the Flood. Likewise, God’s gracious mercy is the only place of safety from the destruction that is coming on the Day of Judgment.
In 2 Peter 3:8, which is quoted above, Holy God reminds us that one day is as 1,000 years. Therefore, with the correct understanding that the seven days referred to in Genesis 7:4 can be understood as 7,000 years, we learn that when God told Noah there were seven days to escape worldwide destruction, He was also telling the world there would be exactly 7,000 years (one day is as 1,000 years) to escape the wrath of God that would come when He destroys the world on Judgment Day. Because Holy Infinite God is all-knowing, He knows the end from the beginning. He knew how sinful the world would become.
Seven thousand years after 4990 B.C. (the year of the Flood) is the year 2011 A.D. (our calendar).
4990 + 2011 – 1 = 7,000
[One year must be subtracted in going from an Old Testament B.C. calendar date to a New Testament A.D. calendar date because the calendar does not have a year zero.]
Thus Holy God is showing us by the words of 2 Peter 3:8 that he wants us to know that exactly 7,000 years after he destroyed the world with water in Noah’s day, he plans to destroy the entire world forever. Because the year 2011 A.D. is exactly 7,000 years after 4990 B.C. when the flood began, the Bible has given us absolute proof that the year 2011 is the end of the world during the Day of Judgment, which will come on the last day of the Day of Judgment.
So let’s employ a technique commonly used by philosophers when trying to analyze someone’s argument. Let’s try to put it in logical form. As near as I can tell, Camping’s argument has a form something like this:
1) Noah’s Flood occurred in 4990 B.C.
2) Noah was warned seven days before the Flood that it would occur, per Genesis 7.
3) A day with the Lord is like a thousand years, per 2 Peter 3.
4) Therefore, 7,000 years after Noah’s Flood some great, Flood-like judgment will occur.
5) 4990 B.C. + 7000 -1 = A.D. 2011.
6) Therefore, the end of the world will occur in 2011.
Camping has other arguments zeroing in on May 21st as the date for the Rapture and for October 21st for the final end of the world (if I understand correctly), but before messing with days, let’s first see if his argument concerning years holds water.
The first thing to be remarked about the argument as I’ve put it above is that it’s not in a logically valid form. The premises do not entail the conclusions. I could fix that by rephrasing and introducing some extra, hidden premises, but Camping’s logic is so obscure that I don’t want to go too far beyond what he explicitly says. So let’s simply look at the premises of the argument and see how likely they are to be true, remembering that if even one premise is false then the whole argument is unsound (and that’s if it had a valid form to begin).
Premise 1, that the Flood occurred in 4990 B.C. is an idiosyncratic claim on Camping’s part. You’ll note that this date is earlier than the conventional Protestant Ussher chronology, which had the world beginning in 4004 B.C. and had the Flood occurring around 2348 B.C. Camping rejects the Ussher dating, and I can’t fault him for that. I reject it myself, as do most Protestants these days, because it is based on unsound methodology and results in unlikely, unprovable, and over-precise dates.
Unfortunately, I have no more confidence in Camping’s dating, which also strikes me as unlikely, unprovable, and over-precise. I don’t know what house of cards he has supporting that date, but I view basing any argument regarding the end of the world on this date as extremely shaky.
Premise 2, that Genesis depicts Noah being told that the Flood was going to begin in seven days (this was after he’d been given an earlier warning and built the ark) is true.
Premise 3, that Peter states that a day with the Lord is like a thousand years is also true.
But can we infer from this that some Flood-like judgment would occur 7,000 years after the original Flood?
Not on your life.
For a start, why zero-in on the warning Noah got seven days before everything started happening? Why not focus instead on the earlier warning he got? Why not at some other time in this narrative? The proposed starting point is arbitrary.
For another thing, why suppose that there’s any kind of prophetic significance to this at all? There is nothing in the text telling us that these seven days, or any span of time mentioned in the narrative, is a scale-model prophecy of when the end of the world will take place relative to the Flood. This is sheer supposition.
What’s more, why should the scale be a thousand years to a day? This is a notorious bugaboo with predictions of the end of the world. Over and over different interpreters pick out some random mention of days in the Old Testament, multiply it by a thousand years, and then declare some prophesied even must occur on the corresponding date.
It’s true that 2 Peter says that a day is as a thousand years with the Lord, this doesn’t give us a license to take any mention of a day and interpret it as a thousand years. Quite the opposite! The exact same passage also says the reverse: That a thousand years is like a day with God (per Psalm 90:4). In other words, time is meaningless with God. He’s an eternal being who can find as much experience in a day as we would in a thousand years and who can encompass huge spans of time like a thousand years in what is only a moment for him. Rather than providing a license to multiply any reference to a day as code for a thousand year prophetic period, this verse is actually a warning against trying to determine God’s timetable for events. That timetable is unpredictable because we cannot know what temporal calculus God is applying to particular prophecies.
Camping’s use of this verse is thus not only over-precise but flatly contrary to the literal meaning of the verse!
And would be even if the seven days mentioned Genesis 7 were a prophetic scale model, which we have no reason to think.
And if those days were prophetic in some way, why treat them and only them in such a way? What God says is that in seven days he would start flooding for 40 days and 40 nights. Does that mean that once the judgment starts it will go on for 40,000 years?
Camping doesn’t think so. He’s got the final end coming in October. This only underscores the arbitrary nature of the figure he has picked out and multiplied. If the seven days mentioned must be literally multiplied by 1,000 years, why should the 40 days also mentioned in the same passage not be similarly multiplied?
Camping does, at least, avoid the trap of thinking that there’s a “year zero” on our timeline. There’s not. It jumps from 1 B.C. to A.D. 1, so he gets points for that. Not all end-time speculators have been so fortunate on that one.
But even if we were to grant all of the foregoing, even if there were some big Flood-like event scheduled to occur 7,000 years after a 4,990 B.C. Flood, why would it have to be the end of the world? Why not just Another Big Judgment?
Even that is giving him too much credit, however. The fact is that this whole prediction is a house of cards. It’s based on over-precise, unknowable dates, arbitrary starting points, arbitrary parallelisms, invalid logic, and a multiplication factor that is wrenched out of context and used in a way flatly contrary to the clear meaning of the text.
Given that his overall year calculation is so shot through with holes, we need not be detained by his more precise datings of the Rapture or the final end. (I should also note that Catholics do not typically use the term “Rapture,” though they do acknowledge the reality of the event St. Paul mentions in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, though it is seen as occurring at the Second Coming of Christ at the end of the world, not before an earthly millennium.)
The whole thing is comic—but it is also tragic, because many people have been misled by Camping, and some have been misled into spending vast sums of money in support of his advertising campaign, telling their friends and co-workers that the world is about to end, and generally bringing scorn on the cause of Christ.
As St. Paul wrote: “It is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you’” (Rom. 2:24).
You have to admire the courage of people like this gentleman who spent his life savings promoting these speculations, but not their wisdom.
God help everyone who bought into this come Sunday morning.
Of course, that’s not to say Christ couldn’t come back on Saturday. I don’t see the signs being right for that, but who am I to say it couldn’t happen?
Harold Camping is right, though, that a major supernatural event will be happening this Saturday.
One of my godsons is being confirmed!
So ... what do you think?