False Prophets and Fuzzy Math

by Mark Cowles

“But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die. And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.” — Deuteronomy 18:20-22

In several communities across our country, large billboards have sprung up along the highways announcing May 21, 2011, as the day of the return of Jesus Christ. Though the Bible clearly teaches that Jesus is coming again, the Scriptures also make it clear that no man will know the day or the hour. Jesus warned, “Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not” (Lk. 12:40). The author of the billboard, Harold Camping, is leader of the Family Radio Network. Camping first established himself as a false prophet with his 1992 release of a book which prophesied that the Lord would return in 1994. Quoting from page 531 of that book, we read: “Last Day and return of Christ sometime on or between: September 15, 1994: Beginning of 1994 Jubilee year, and September 27, 1994: Last Day of Feast of Tabernacles.” These purported dates passed without the promised fulfillment. Undaunted, though, this false prophet then adjusted the date for early 1995.

Fortunately for Camping, we now live in the “Day of Grace” under the New Testament economy. Had he lived under the “Law” his words “Judgment Day, May 21, 2011” would indeed be his own personal “Judgment Day.” The words of Moses are sobering, “…even that prophet shall die” (Deut. 18:22).

How did Camping presumptuously claim to know that which the Bible says no man would know? He arrived at this conclusion as a result of his “fuzzy math.” Camping’s entire premise rests upon the belief that May 21, 2011 is exactly to the day 7000 years after the day Noah’s flood began. Ignoring the fact that the Bible does not explicitly state that the final judgment would occur exactly 7000 years after the flood, of equal gravity is the fact that one cannot biblically, historically or geologically prove that the flood began 7000 years ago.

Most Bible scholars, whether conservative or liberal, literalist or allegorist, would disagree with Harold Camping’s math. In order to obtain the desired number of 7000 years, he changes the family genealogical records from strict chronologies into what he refers to as “periods.” Rejecting the normal and intended meaning of the “begats” which overlap the lives of sons and grandsons, Camping places them end to end with startling and exponentially exaggerated dates. For example, Genesis 11:10-11 clearly states: “These are the generations of Shem: Shem was an hundred years old, and begat Arphaxad two years after the flood, And Shem lived after he began Arphaxad five hundred years, and begat sons and daughters.” The honest Bible student observes that the life of Shem not only overlapped, but outlived, his son. Disagreeing with Scripture, Camping dates the birth of Arphaxad not two years but 502 years after the flood, placing Shem and Arphaxad’s lives end to end.

The Bible gives a clear test for determining a false prophet. The biblical test of a false prophet is simple and straightforward: If what has been prophesied does not come to pass, the author of the prophecy is a false prophet. Harold Camping, by biblical definition, is a false prophet, and God tells us how we should respond: “Thou shalt not be afraid of him” (v. 22). As noted earlier, it is fortunate for Camping that God will not immediately judge him as would have been accomplished under the age of Law (v. 20). Today, we need to be careful to test all teachings by God’s Word. Be prepared for the return of Jesus at any moment. It could be today, or it could be years away. Regardless, be ready!

— Mark Cowles is the pastor of Highway Bible Church in Placerville, CA, and a regular contributor to the FEA’s Feature: A Daily Bible Study Guide.