Several weeks ago, Dr. W. Robert Godfrey posted a 5-part series of blogs on Harold Camping from the perspective of one who knew this apocalyptic radio personality. When Godfrey was a child, he was a member of the same Christian Reformed congregation as Harold Camping—we’re talking, back in the ‘50’s! With this personal connection, Dr. Godfrey was able to introduce us to Camping and his teachings, not from a malicious and mocking point of view, but as one who grieves and prays for Harold Camping and his followers. I highly recommend his series, the links to which are given at the end of this post.
In part one, we learn how Camping reads the Bible.
Camping was a bright and studious man who had been educated as an engineer. In the 1950s he owned a very successful construction company which built churches as well as other significant buildings. This educational background is critical to understanding Camping. His education was not in the liberal arts or theology. He had not been prepared to read literature or ancient texts. He knew no Greek or Hebrew. He was not formally introduced to the study of theology. His reading of the Bible, as it evolved over the decades, reflected his training in engineering. He reads the Bible like a mathematical or scientific textbook.
Yesterday, I downloaded the archived episodes of Harold Camping’s radio show “Open Forum” beginning with last Saturday’s episode, and I’ll continue downloading and listening through the time after his predicted date of the beginning of Judgment Day.On the May 15 episode of Open Forum, one caller points to Camping’s mathematical calculations as evidence that he’s not basing his prediction on what the Bible says but that he is instead “leaning on his own understanding.” The caller is correct, in that, just as Dr. Godfrey informs us, Camping’s presupposition about the Bible is that it is a precise mathematical text (Camping’s “own understanding”), when in fact, it is not. Sound interpretation of the literary genres of Scripture often involves the use of round numbers. But this is a fact which Camping denies. At minute 14:38 in the May 15 episode, we hear the following:
Caller: But you’ve had to apply these calculations…and-and-and with the calendars and adding. Nowhere does it say to do that, and that’s leaning to your own understanding. You would have to be perfect in your interpretation and unfallible (sic).
Camping: Well, first of all-first of all, when we developed the time in the Bible, we’re not looking at the calendars that have been developed by the various nations because sometimes they have dropped out some days or whatever. We work through the information that is all from God, namely, going from one year to the next, we go from 365.2422 days. We’re not looking at calendars, but when we come to talking about when in the Old Testament or whatever, we have to relate it to some kind of calendar, and so always—and archaeologists do the same thing—they coordinate it with our modern calendar, otherwise you’re neither coming or going, you don’t know where you are. You don’t pay any attention to all the different calendars that have been developed throughout time, only pay attention to the actuality. The astronomers have measured this again and again. It’s the way God has created the world, that there are 365.2422 days in a year. So if we multiply the number of years from one point to another, times that number, we can know exactly the number of days, and so on. So it’s all done with exquisite accuracy. And the Bible is a very, very analytical book. It is not—and when you’re working with the timeline in the bible and any evidence in the Bible, it has to be looked at very analytically, just like an engineering book, and that’s why we can come to such solid truths as what we’re talking about. But if we look at the Bible like the philosophers do [certainly by this he means seminary trained Bible scholars], they are not very careful in what they are using for their measurements. They can give an idea based on, “It could well be this…” and then they go ahead and they introduce some other information on that kind of a statement. “It could well be this.” No way! You can’t do that. It has to be, “It will be this because of what we read in the Bible,” and we go to our facts all the time. The Bible is dripping with facts, not with guesses. But thank you for calling and sharing and shall we take our next call, please? Welcome to Open Forum . . . (emphasis mine)
So, we see that according to Harold Camping, theological and hermeneutical expertise is “leaning on one’s own understanding,” but appealing to the laws of mathematics, astronomy and the practice of archaeologists, or looking at the Bible like an engineering book, will not make you misinterpret the Bible. This is the typical attitude of the rationalistic Biblicist.
Those who’d like to read an introduction to the proper approach to Scripture can learn a lot by reading The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy which may be accessed from my “Creeds, Etc.” page.