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Opinion: Will the world end on May 21?

By Jim Denison

jim denison
Jim Denison

(ABP) -- A billboard on the way to my office proclaims "Judgment Day May 21" and states that "The Bible Guarantees It." The group behind this prediction has purchased 1,200 billboards in the United States and 2,000 in foreign countries announcing their claim. They have also sent 20 recreational vehicles around the country emblazoned with their message. Media professionals believe they have spent as much as $3 million in advertising.

What is the logic behind their claim? What does the notoriety of their campaign say about us?

Harold Camping is president of Family Radio Worldwide and the author of its message. Camping has no formal religious training and is not an ordained minister. He states, "I made a very deliberate decision to make the Bible my university," and uses only the King James Version.

Camping earlier predicted Sept. 6, 1994, as Judgment Day but insists that we now have more complete information which guarantees May 21 as the day when the Rapture will occur. How did he arrive at his date? Here's his formula:

After studying carbon dating, tree rings and other data, he determined that Noah loaded animals into his ark in 4990 B.C.

2 Peter 3:8 states that "a day with the Lord is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day."

The seven years Noah spent loading the ark (Genesis 7:4) therefore represent 7,000 years. Adding 7,000 to 4990 B.C. we arrive at 2010. But since there is no "year one" in the Bible, the correct year is 2011.

Noah's flood began on the 17th day of the second month in the Jewish calendar (Gen. 7:11), corresponding to May 21 on ours.

Here's another calculation:

Camping claims that the biblical number 5 signifies "atonement;" 10 symbolizes "completeness;" and 17 stands for "heaven."

He believes that Jesus died on April 1, A.D. 33.

When we calculate (5 x 10 x 17) x (5 x 10 x 17) we arrive at 722,500. Put into words, this is "atonement x completeness x heaven," squared.

According to Camping, 722,500 days from April 1, A.D. 33 is May 21, 2011.

His website concludes: "In the face of all of this incredible information, how can anyone dare to dispute with the Bible concerning the absolute truth that the beginning of the Day of Judgment together with the Rapture will occur on May 21, 2011."

What of Jesus' warning, "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (Matthew 24:36)? Camping applies Jesus' statement to the spiritually ignorant of his day and ours, and interprets Amos 3:7 and Ecclesiastes 8:5 to promise that God's true servants will know what others do not.

Camping also asserts that Satan now rules in all churches, so that no person remaining in a church on May 21 can be saved. What will happen on that day? According to Camping, a great earthquake will throw open all graves, so that the remains of true believers will be transformed instantly into glorified bodies with God. The bodies of the unsaved will be thrown onto the ground; those who survive the coming earthquake will live in "a world of horror and chaos beyond description." Each day people will die until God completely destroys the world on Oct. 21, 2011.

The notoriety of Camping's campaign shows that we are fascinated by things we cannot know, such as the age of the earth and the timing of Jesus' return. Meanwhile, the Bible is clear about what we can know: "Now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2), for today is the only day there is.

We are one day closer to eternity than ever before. Mark Twain was right: it's not the parts of the Bible we don't understand that should bother us, but the parts we do.

Jim Denison is president of the Center for Informed Faith and theologian-in-residence for the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Published May 18, 2011

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