Harold Camping, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Population Bombers: Fool Me Once…

I’d been looking forward to being able to say that Harold Camping had done the manly and Christian thing by boldly facing his arrogant mistake.  He presumed to know the mind of God, when Christ clearly describes the time and date of the End Times as concealed from man and known only by the Father (Mt. 24:36).  Much of what Camping does is good, so if he could get back on his feet after this, he could actually end up helping the Kingdom of God.  Instead, we got this:

Judgment Day forecaster points to new doomsday date

Now, Camping’s old timeline was:

  • May 21, 2011: Judgment Day. Massive Earthquakes, the saved are raptured up to Heaven.
  • May 22 – October 20, 2011: Hell on Earth.  Nobody can be saved.
  • October 21, 2011: The End of the World.
Camping’s new timeline is:
  • May 21, 2011: Judgment Day. Now we know, Camping says, that it was just Invisible.
  • May 22 – October 20, 2011: Plain Ol’ Earth.
  • October 21, 2011: End of the World. The rapture has been rescheduled.
In fairness to Camping, October 21 was always an important date in his eschatology, so it’s not like he’s pulling a date out of thin air.  This is a date he “calculated” some time ago.  It just turns out that nothing he’s forecasted is coming true.  Because he (again, quite arrogantly) assumes that God Himself endorses Camping’s invented eschatology, he’s convinced the model must just need some slight tinkering.  He’s actually declared, “We had all of our dates correct.”
The reason that Camping’s eschatology bugs me is four-fold:
  1. It’s arrogant. It presumes to know the mind of God, and it boldly charges into the one area He makes clear is off-limits, making the same mistake of Adam and Eve.
  2. It’s not really Scriptural.  That is, it tries to use Scripture just as a history book so it can run some calculations off of a few eschatological prophesies.  Every one of the failed Doomsday Prophets does this. They assign specific year to Biblical events (even though the Bible doesn’t actually give us that level of detail), and then decide how long the world will last, before coming to a date that always happens to be in the near future. So they’re not really reading the Bible to come to better know Christ, but to just figure out when some events occurred to put into their mathematical model. Scripture serves virtually no purpose apart from a history text, and it can be used interchangably with, say, the writings of Josephus.
  3. It makes Christianity look stupid.  The media, and particularly professional atheists, like to treat this fringe as if it were what Christianity is all about. Christians feel compelled to side with either nasty secularists or clearly-wrong Rapture believers.
  4. It’s a spiritual hazard.  The reason God doesn’t provide us with the end date is that we could die at any time. Each year, roughly 57 million people die. To put this in context: Camping claimed that only three percent of the world would be raptured, about 200 million people. His first false prediction (Judgment Day in 1994) dates back to 1992.  That means that since Camping started falsely predicting  that 200 million people would be raptured, approximately 1.08 billion (with a B) people have left the Earth the old-fashioned way.  That’s the equivalent of roughly one out of six people currently living, and it surely includes a good chunk of Camping’s flock.  While they were eating, drinking, and being merry in preparation for the May 21 Rapture, many of them, and those around them were dying. Read Luke 12:16-21, and tell me whether you think God wants us to speculate as to the End Times, or just be ready to go whenever it happens.

The fact that Camping’s speaking of an Invisible Judgment Day is ominous. This was how Jehovah’s Witnesses rationalized Charles Taze Russell’s false prophesy that the Second Coming and the end of the Age of the Gentiles would come be on October 1, 1914. After they moved the date a few times (up through 1935), they eventually declared that the End Times actually began in 1914.  But invisibly. They point to World War I as a turning point in human history, because there were wars and famines… but the Great War started months before the all-important October 1 date, and the most notorious elements of industrialized warfare preceded that war by decades (there were Gatling guns in the Civil War, and concentration camps in the Second Boer War). As for famines, the Chalisa famine killed 11 million people… back in the 1700s.

What Camping is heading for is a totally non-falsifiable theory, like the sort the Jehovah’s Witnesses have. No amount of evidence can disprove that last Saturday was an Invisible Judgment Day, just as no amount of evidence can disprove that October 1, 1914 wasn’t the end of the Age of the Gentiles. Sure, there’s absolutely no evidence for either assertion, but look at the mathematical model!  James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal points out an interesting parallel between religious doomsday false prophets like Harold Camping, and their environmental doomsday false prophet counterparts:
Something else bothers us about the media mockery of Harold Camping, as justifiable as it may be. Why are only religious doomsday cultists subjected to such ridicule? Reuters notes that “Camping previously made a failed prediction Jesus Christ would return to Earth in 1994.” Ha ha, you can’t believe anything this guy says! But who jeered at the U.N.’s false prediction that there would be 50 million “climate refugees” by 2010? We did, but not Reuters.

I’d add to the list of environmental doomsday prophets the Population Bomb theorists, like Paul Ehrlich, who famously predicted that throughout the 1970s and 80s “hundreds of millions” of people would starve to death, and that,  “If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.” In fact, virtually every prediction Ehrlich made was proven false, as I describe here.  What happened to this absurd false prophet?  He was awarded a MacArthur Foundation “genius” award for promoting “greater public understanding of environmental problems” in 1990, after nearly all of his prophesies had already been debunked.  Like Camping and the UN’s chicken-little wing, whenever a doomsdate date would come and go, Ehrlich would claim he just needed to tinker with a model, but the Big Doom was coming… and soon!


  1. Actually, I’m glad you mentioned the Jehovah’s Witnesses here, because I consider them more wrong and dangerous than Camping. Their numbers are bigger and they’re doing more damage to the Body of Christ. (I say this after having some relatives fall away from the faith to them a few years ago and it’s been painful, so I’ve made it a goal to go after the JWs)

    That’s why I wrote an Article (see here) showing just how off the wall and absurd the JW “math” is – including a whopper of an arithmetical error! So we very much can verify the JWs have the wrong date, aside from the special pleading on the “signs” we should see.
    It is more important for folks to know about how to refute the JW year 1914 than for the Camping mess.

  2. According to Wikipedia’s page on Camping’s 2011 End Times Prediction, Camping and his followers cite 1 Thessalonians 5:1-5 in response to the plain words of Mt 24:36:

    (1) But of the times and moments, brethren, you need not, that we should write to you; (2) For yourselves know perfectly, that the day of the Lord shall so come, as a thief in the night. (3) For when they shall say, peace and security; then shall sudden destruction come upon them, as the pains upon her that is with child, and they shall not escape. (4) But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. (5) For all you are the children of light, and children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.

    I guess they’re clinging to verse 4, but even so, that’s an extraordinarily thin reed to hang an apocalyptic prophecy on!

  3. MGL,

    An extraordinarily thin reed indeed. You can be prepared for the Final Judgment without knowing the day or the time — that’s point #4 in the post above.

    In fact, we’re called to always be prepared — just as a good night-watchman is always prepared for a thief in the night (even though he doesn’t know the exact time the thief will come). The metaphor itself works against them.

    Matthew 24:42-44 makes it absolutely clear that the very reason we have to be always ready is that we don’t know (a) when the world will end, or (b) when we’ll die.

    42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

    I don’t know how that could be clearer. The “thief in the night” is a surprise “visitor,” but one that a good watchman is ready for.

  4. Well said, Joe. But at the same time we who believe in Christ’s return must work so much harder to put the truthful, accurate Biblical account out there to counteract Camping’s misguided meanderings.

  5. Does Camping have anything to offer other than a date which didn’t pan out? Jehovah’s Witnesses did, which is why after three years of slight decline (2%) they resumed their numerical growth.

    Dunno if that is true of Camping or not.

  6. Tom,

    I read your post on the subject, and hope you don’t find me rude for wanting to respond to that directly, rather than simply your comment. In the post, you argue that Matthew 24:36 confounds Trinitarians, because it shows the Father knowing something that the Son does not. Unlike Unitarians, Trinitarians have no problem with this passage — we believe that the Father and the Son are distinct. So God the Son, in His Incarnated form, grew in wisdom as well as stature (Luke 2:40). The Hypostatic Union of Christ’s two Natures does not mean that His Divine Nature annihilated His Human Nature, but that the two were kept perfectly intact. Likewise, the fact that God is One does not mean that the Father, Son, and Spirit are not distinct. We frequently see only One of the Three acting (just the Holy Spirit descending at Pentecost, just Christ dying on the Cross, just the Father declaring “This is My Son,” &c.). So Christ’s Human Will was prevented from knowing the date and time of the Second Coming.

    In the comments, you turn your sights on “Mike,” who I take is an Evangelical Christian. Trying to smear him with the “you’re basically like Camping” brush, you say: “Sorry. But is he not trinitarian, as are you? Does he not believe in hell, as do you? Does he not believe in the rapture, as do you?” On at least two of those three points, you’re wrong. Let’s look at the issues in reverse order. Catholics and virtually all other Christians throughout history reject “the Rapture” in the sense folks like Camping use that term, so we have no dispute there. I say “at least” two, because I don’t know Mike’s own views. Plenty of Evangelicals reject the Rapture as nonsense.

    On the issue of Hell, Camping is an annihilationist, and like you, rejects the notion of an eternal Hell. Finally, also like you, Camping seems to reject the classical doctrine of the Trinity. He appears to affirm some sort of bizarre quasi-Modalism. If you’re not familiar, Modalism is the heresy that “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Spirit” are different names for the different roles of the same Divine Person. Camping appears to affirm this pretty explicitly:

    “Because God is so great and glorious He calls Himself by many different names. Each name tells us something about the glorious character and nature of God. Thus in the Bible we find such names as God, Jehovah, Christ, Jesus, Lord, Allah, Holy Spirit, Savior, etc.”

    But of course, while “Jesus” and “Christ” are different names for the same Divine Person, that’s just not true of “Jesus” and “Holy Spirit.” It so happens that I discussed yesterday why that heresy was wrong. (This post also explains the Trinity a little more thoroughly than I did in the first paragraph). On this issue, it’s not clear to me whether Camping is actively heretical, or just doesn’t understand basics like the Trinity. Either way, he’s wholly unqualified to serve as a pastor of souls.

    My point is that your attack that one Trinitarian is as good as another is not only an obviously poor argument, but backfires on you pretty badly here, since on two of the three issues (Trinity and Hell), you and Camping are the ones who reject the classical Christian doctrine. This also, I think, identifies Camping’s other “contributions,” such as they are. He’s a heretic on all sorts of issues, so in that sense, he brings plenty to the table, just nothing good.

    In Christ,


  7. If at First You Don’t Succeed, Spin It Off
    Harold Camping sounds like he plagiarized Jehovah’s Witnesses
    Jehovah Witnesses are a spin-off of the second Adventist which all came from the Millerite movement

    **Feed your faith and starve your doubts.**
    What keeps doomsday cults going after repeated prophetic failures?
    Jehovahs Witnesses are still expecting the end because their rational mind no longer works it has become irrational because the desire for a new world is so potent it overwrites everything else”~ Greendawn
    Cognitive dissonance:In brief, the theory of cognitive dissonance holds that contradicting cognitions serve as a driving force that compels the mind to acquire or invent new thoughts or beliefs, or to modify existing beliefs, so as to minimize the amount of dissonance (conflict) between cognitions.

    Watchtower doctrinal structure has had many flip-flops and back ups.
    If the leaders owned up to their errors instead of white washing they would have more respect.They set bogus dates over and over…
    The Watchtower JW has made apocalyptic proclamations profitable.
    The end of the world is coming someday….. but it wont be the Watchtower society Jehovahs Witnesses fulfillment.

  8. Danny,

    I like a lot of what you’re saying, but I find your general tone in saying it quite off-putting. I know I’m guilty of violating this myself, but whatever happened to presenting the Gospel “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15)?

  9. Harold Camping sounds like he plagiarized Jehovah’s Witnesses.
    Jehovah Witnesses are a spin-off of the second Adventist which all came from the Millerite movement.American war of 1812 army captain William Miller is ground zero for Jehovah’s Witnesses.
    Yes,the “great disappointment” of Oct 22 1844 has never died out… it lives on in the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
    The central CORE doctrine of the Watchtower,yes the reason the Watchtower came into existence was to declare Jesus second coming in 1914.When the prophecy (derived from William Miller of 1842) failed they said that he came “invisibly”.
    Watchtower reckless predictions of the (1914) (1975)….. second coming of Christ hardens skeptics in their unbelief and provides new fodder for cynics to mock the Christian faith.

    Danny Haszard been there

  10. JWs are simply the ancient heresy of arianism rearing its satanic head: deny the divinity of Christ and thus the Incarnation, the long-planned event upon which salvation history is reconciled, and our faith falls apart at the seams and we are utter dupes. Christians would revert back to Mosaic solo first person (Father) theology, but we would not have the strength to sustain even that, frankly. Devil wins. St. Athanasius, pray for us.

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