Why You Shouldn't Go Camping on May 21rst

The twittersphere has been all abuzz about Mr. Camping’s prediction that the rapture is happening on May 21rst.  One response was — Weather Forecast for Saturday—- ‘Doomy with a Chance of Rapture’.    Unfortunately,  Mr. Camping is about to be proved a false prophet twice over (yes, he already went down this road once in 1994 or so, but we have such short attention spans that we’ve forgotten that).

Here are my top ten reasons why you should pay exactly no attention to Mr. Camping and his false predictions:

No. 10— Every such prediction since the time of Christ has had an 100% failure rate!   That should have put a stop to theological weather forecasting, but alas, pious curiosity knows no bounds

No. 9— There is no basis for such a prediction. Even if you believe in the modern notion of a pre-trib or mid-trib rapture  (and I definitely don’t), the New Testament tells us nothing at all about when exactly  it might happen.   Camping’s computations are based on his own flawed assumptions not only about the Bible but about the 21rst century.

No. 8– You shouldn’t trust any such predictions that come from someone who can’t even read the Bible in its original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, but instead bases his predictions on some English translation. As I like to say, there are no infallible English translations, and every translation is already an interpretation of the original.

No. 7  There have been earthquakes, wars, famines, screwy weather, and distressing political and economic events in every age of Christian history. There is nothing special or unique about 2011 when it comes to those things.

No. 6 Biblical prophecy in any case doesn’t work like Mr. Camping thinks it does! The Bible does not give specific details about events transpiring 2000 years after the writing of the Bible.  As I like to put it— God reveals enough about the future to give us hope, but not so much that we don’t have to live by faith every day.  Imagine for a moment what would happen if we all actually knew what Mr. Camping says he knows— the specific date of the eschatological come to Jesus meeting— well then we wouldn’t have to be particular good or pious day after day,  only at the very end of the process right before May 21rst.  ‘Sin in haste, repent at leisure’ would be the motto of a world that knows in advance the day of its demise. Fortunately,  God has not revealed any such date.

No. 5— Prognostications and calculations are a human activity based on human reasoning about the Bible and current events. They are an attempt to get hold of or control over the future, so we can plan ahead.  God doesn’t allow us to control our futures. He reveals enough to give us reason for great expectations, but not so much that we have a basis for precise calculations.

No. 4— Jesus quite specifically said he was coming back like a thief in the night, a metaphor applied also by Paul and in Revelation to this event.  The whole premise of the metaphor is that Jesus would show up at an unexpected and surprising time, a time when know one would be looking for him or knew he was coming.

No. 3— The Bible specifically warns against people like Mr. Camping.  They shouldn’t be listened to, they shouldn’t be given a following, they shouldn’t be give media attention (but sadly all of this has happened).   Even when the 12 asked Jesus for more specific information about the timing when God would do the rest of the eschatological things, like restore the kingdom to Israel  Jesus warned “It is not for you to know the times and the period set by his own authority”  (Acts 1.7).  Jesus is not just talking about the future of Israel, he is talking about the whole future eschatological scenario including his own return which as Rom. 11.25-27 makes clear is linked to the future of Israel.   We should have listened to Jesus!

No. 2— It’s just bad theology to listen to folk like Mr. Camping— there is plenty of zeal, but it’s not according to knowledge.  You shouldn’t listen to any preacher who says he knows more than Jesus.  Here is what Jesus said about his own return—- “Of that day or hour, no one knows,  not even the angels in heaven, not even the Son,  only the Father”  (Mk. 13.32).  If God only knows, then why should we think any of us know?  If Jesus says during his earthly ministry even he didn’t know the day, why should we combine arrogance with ignorance and insist we do?

No.1–  If you’re determined to listen to bad rapture theology and false predictions then at least apply some critical thinking to what is being said.  Why would God, who wants us to live by faith and not by sight every day of our Christian lives (see Hebrew 11– now faith is assurance of things hoped for, and a conviction about things not seen!!! Not in evidence, not predictable), take away our reason to continue to trust God EVERY DAY, by giving us a due date for the end of all things?  This doesn’t even make common sense, never mind Biblical sense.  So my word to one and all is the words of my granny—- When it comes to Mr. Camping and his ilk— don’t be so open minded that your brains fall out.  You shouldn’t go Camping on May 21

P.S.  We need to pray for all those poor gullible souls who have managed to ruin their lives, and will discover they have done so,  on May 22, by following Camping’s advice.   Many apparently have sold their property etc.   This reminds me of a post I did in 2008 about one of my favorite old books— Colin Morris’ Epistle to the Apostle.  Here is what I said then….

Sometime ago, my fellow Methodist Colin Morris from the U.K. wrote a wonderful little humorous book entitled Epistles to the Apostle, now long out of print, imagining what the letters written to Paul would have looked like, The following is a sample that could have prompted 1 Thessalonians.

My dear Paul,

The followers of Jesus in this city are in receipt of your letter, which was read out in church a month ago and which appears to confirm a widely held view here that our Lord will be returning in glory at any moment to take believers such as my humble self back with him to heaven. Being a hard-headed businessman I took your words with utmost seriousness. To prepare myself and my family for the Day of the Lord, I sold my business at a knock-down price and gave the proceeds to the poor—and that, let me add, was a tidy sum, but I assume I won’t need cash in heaven! So here I am with my bags packed, my property disposed of and myself, my wife, and my children taking it in shifts to scan the skies for something unusual to appear. In fact, every time I hear a trumpet, I nearly jump out of my skin! And what has happened? Nothing.

I can’t help feeling that I’ve been made to look an utter fool in the eyes of my friends and business acquaintances. They all think I’ve gone stark, raving mad. Meanwhile, the man who bought my business, far from suffering the catastrophe reserved for the wicked, is making a handsome profit and living in my house, which is one of the finest in the city . . . .

Would you kindly tell me what I do next? The tax people are pestering me for last year’s assessment, and I haven’t a lead shekel to pay them with. Being a man of God you are probably unaware that disposing of one’s assets in the interests of a religion which is not recognized by the state does not qualify one for retrospective tax exemption. So, I’m in a pretty pickle, let me tell you! I feel most strongly that the financial implications of the Second Coming should have been given more serious consideration by the apostles . . .

I am in a most embarrassing situation, what with a nagging wife and three children who have gotten completely out of hand because they prefer earthly pranks to what they imagine will be heavenly boredom . . . it is one thing to suffer for the faith; quite another to be made to look ridiculous. However I do not intend to move from this spot until Jesus comes to collect me. Meanwhile it would be quite dishonest of me not to express grave concern at the most unbusinesslike way in which this whole matter is being dealt with. I await an eager reply, other wise I shall be forced to turn the whole matter over to my lawyers.


[There followed a letter from Paphlos’ lawyer telling Paul he had exactly thirty days to make good on his promise of heaven or the second coming or face litigation in Thessalonike!]  Thanks to Omar for the following.

  • http://jmsmith.org JM

    Great list. I’m sharing it on FB.

    It’s the followers of this foolish man that I’m concerned about.

    Here is my open letter to them: http://jmsmith.org/blog/harold-camping

  • Scott

    I for one hope the Lord makes an exception and DOES rapture Mr. Camping on Saturday ! ;-) ;-)

    (Not that I’d like to be in Mr. Camping’s shoes were such an event to happen, of course.)

  • http://www.benwitherington.com ben witherington

    There seem to be several Mr Campings already under the altar in heaven according to Revelation— they keep asking ‘How long o Lord’ and are given a choir robe and told to hush.


  • Charles

    Was it Luther who said that if he knew (or was told?) the world would end tomorrow he’d plant a tree? He might now choose to go camping and see some trees.

  • Galen

    Well done, Ben!

  • Jonathan


    Thanks, great read. Also thanks for great material. The “Disperse with Dispensationalism” talk you gave about 5 years ago was great and has kept me reading material you put out since.



  • http://hhhhooooeee Ryan

    You need a different shirt under that sweet sport coat. Update your picture Ben. Nice article.

  • Thorn

    Saturday would be a great day for “The Return”…no critical thinking Christian would expect it! :)

    Setting dates is such a fool’s errand. There is no upside to it. If Christ doesn’t come back on that date, you are crushed; if you get lucky and he does, it won’t matter.

  • Amy

    I don’t even believe in a rapture, so why would I worry about this?

  • http://www.benwitherington.com ben witherington

    And let me tell you the huge downside of silly rapture predictions—- it provides more grist for the mill of all those in our culture who want to write off Christianity as a benighted religion whose believers are both ignorant, arrogant, prideful, and frankly out of touch with reality.


  • http://defideorthodoxa-informadordeopiniao.blogspot.com Rodrigo

    Dr. Witherington,

    Did you have read Casey’s latest book, the one on the historical Jesus? If yep, what did you think?

  • christian

    In his book “The Human faces of God” Thom Stark said that Jesus was wrong concerning his eschatological view. Maybe you’ll take the challenge to review his book as you have also written about the inspiration of the Bible ? His challenge to those who are struggling with inerrancy is very strong.

  • http://www.benwitherington.com ben witherington

    I already answered that sort of book a long time ago— It’s called Jesus Paul and the End of the World.

    Ben W.

  • http://nestheology.org Pennoyer

    Dr. Witherington:

    Since this issue already has massive publicity, I think it is important that thinking Christians go on record against Camping and his type of misreading of Scripture. Also, for some people this may be “a teachable moment.”

    My own post on this issue can be found at http://www.nestheology.org/2011/05/06/harold-campings-judgment-day/ and I’ve updated it now with a link to yours.

    - Ray Pennoyer

  • http://None Bonnie

    I looked up your book on Amazon (Jesus Paul and the End of the World). One reviewer calls you a “premillennial posttribulationist”. I have several of your books, but not that one and due to that review, I am not confident that I would come away any wiser for attempting to plow through it. Still, would that be the book that you recommend for end time interpretations? I wish you would write an article giving your thoughts on Daniel, Ezekiel and Revelation. There are so many theories out there and many would respect your insight. Thank you!

  • Drane

    Camping and his ilk are not only an embarassment, but a serious barrier to the gospel. He and those like him create more atheists and agnostics than Dawkins and Hitchens ever will.

  • Bunni

    it’s 21st not 21rst, and why are we even giving Camping our time?

  • http://godswordtowomen.wordpress.com/ Charis

    As for No. 8–

    “You shouldn’t trust any such predictions that come from someone who can’t even read the Bible in its original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, but instead bases his predictions on some English translation. As I like to say, there are no infallible English translations, and every translation is already an interpretation of the original.”

    Camping would be a wing nut even IF he could read Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

    And though I know you have the agenda of wanting to provide a thorough education for pastors, you have erred in excluding probably 99.99999 percent of Christians from being able to “rightly divide” God’s word. Your statement reminds me of my Catholic childhood when the Mass was in Latin and laypeople were discouraged from reading the Bible because only priests qualify to read and interpret it for us.

    I don’t think God has structured His revelation in such a way that is is only accessible to language Geeks. With the abundance of translations and biblical language helps, the Bible is more accessible to the layperson than ever!

  • Mike Taylor

    Amen. Camping brings scorn on the Lord and His gospel.

  • http://aprilalderman.blogspot.com/ April Alderman

    Thanks for this. Your wisdom helped me realize what God was helping me deal with. I used your info in my own blog and placed a link for people to come to yours. Thank you again.

    Just in case…. http://aprilalderman.blogspot.com/

  • Brianisha

    The old tired excuse, Harold Camping was a false prophet wont cut it.

    Perhaps instead of popping out bible quotes, Christians should ask themselves, if this man, who did research is wrong about this date, then what else is wrong with christianity?

    That is what people should be asking, not whether or not so and so is a true christian.

    Besides, doesnt the bible say not to judge several times? its not my book, but christians expect everyone to follow THEIR bibles, when they cannot. Hypocracy.

  • Quiddity

    I really like that 5-day forecast Ben posted.

  • http://nestheology.org Pennoyer


    It seems to me the answer to bad bible interpretation is good bible interpretation. Want proof? Take your little diatribe and apply it to, say, quack science and then ask if it makes any sense:

    The tired excuse, so-and-so was a bad scientist won’t cut it.

    Perhaps instead of pointing out where the research was wrong, Scientists should ask themselves, if this man, who did research is wrong about this issue, then what else is wrong with science?

    That is what people should be asking, not whether or not so and so is a true scientist.

    You can do the same thing for so many fields of study: Literature, Linguistics, Anthropology, Archaeology. The fact that there can be unreliable workers in those fields does not condemn the field as a whole. So why should Camping’s errors cast doubt on the Christian faith as a whole?

  • Jarvis

    Hi Ben,

    Your blogs and books are a great resource for ministry! I have recommended your work to many pastors et al. Thanks for your response about Mr. Camping! One preacher said, “[Harold's predictions] doesn’t say anything about the Bible. It says a lot about [his] imagination.”

    I read your older blog entry, “Lenten Leavings: Things That Should Now be Left Behind.” I compared this article to your recent article, “Why You Shouldn’t Go Camping on May 21rst.” Consequently I have a few questions, and probably you don’t need more questions with your schedule!

    1) When referring to Lindsey’s and Chafer’s rapture prediction, you state, “They don’t even pause to ask– Has the Gospel been preached yet to all the language groups in the world? Well no, there are still about 500 such languages and dialects to go before we get there, and Mark told us that had to happen first in Mk. 13″ (Lenten Leavings). In your recent article about Mr. Camping, you state, “The Bible does not give specific details about events transpiring 2000 years after the writing of the Bible.” The gospel being preached to all people seems specific. What are your thoughts? Moreover, the gospel being preached is one of those events preceding the temple destruction?

    2) You state in Lenten Leavings, “But there will be no such earthly signs before the return of Christ, only cosmic ones that accompany that return if you read Mk. 13 carefully. Those earthly signs in Mk. 13 preceded the fall of the Temple in A.D. 70. They won’t be coming around again, in Mark’s view.” Are you saying there will be no earthly signs like earthquakes, famines before Christ’s returns? These were the signs before the destruction of the temple in 70A.D? You also say there will be cosmic signs “that accompany that return.” Are there signs for the second coming, or are most signs we say today come before the temple’s destruction?

    3) My next question is about the season of Christ’s return. Jesus said in Mark 13, ” Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. Truly I tell you, this generation (Who is the generation?) will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” In “Lenten Leavings” you say, “it does not mean “we can know the general year or decade.” Can the “decade/general year” be the season? As the old question goes, “Can we know the season, but not the specific dates?” It seems we are not supposed to know even the season because Jesus warned, “…It is not for you to know the times and the period set by his own authority” (Acts 1:7). Some translations use the word “season” instead of the word, “period” (i.e. A.S.V.). Jesus seems to be saying we can know the season of the coming kingdom, and then he seems to be saying we will not know the season. With this, what characterizes the season?

    My professor Ralph Richardson (Crandall University) once said, ” I am not a pre-mellennialist, a post millennialist. I am a pan-millennialist. It’s all going to pan out in the end.”

    I hope you can answer my questions,

  • Brian Bair

    Dear Dr. Witherington,

    I am hoping and praying that you will be able to respond to this. It could help a great many people. You mention in your article…

    “Even if you believe in the modern notion of a pre-trib or mid-trib rapture (and I definitely don’t), …”

    …so I am wondering what do you believe about the whole “rapture” and “tribulation” concepts? Is there a reliable website with good sound teaching on the subjects? I am worried about my own beliefs and the beliefs of many members of my church, since many of them believe the pre-trib rapture is as sure as the trinity.

    thanks for your time,
    ~Brian Bair
    Kent City, MI

  • Terri Miller

    When I was a young adult back in the late 80s, there was a man who made similar predictions. I knew from my religious education that the guy was wrong in making those kinds of predictions, but at that time, I wasn’t living as a Christian. His predictions created a stir in my heart, because I was convicted and reminded that I had put my trust in the wrong things.

    I certainly think God used that bad prophecy to create a stir in my heart to bring me closer to Him.

    So, do I promote false doctrine? No. Do I support goofy prophecy? No. Do I worry about the affect on Christianity these goofy preachers have? Not really.

    God wins…no matter what. ;-)

  • http://www.spar-mehr-geld.de Tonie Waldvogel

    Your web page doesn’t display properly on my iphone4 – you may want to try and fix that