Is Date Setting Biblical?

by Manfred E. Kober, Th.D.

Harold Camping, owner of Family Radio Network, claims, “God has led us in these last days to discover Biblical evidence that judgment day for the unbelievers and the rapture of believers will occur on May 21, 2011.” (FRN Pocket Calendar for 2009).

Hundreds of previous dates set for the return of the Lord and the end of the world were erroneous predictions uttered by false prophets. Date setting is unbiblical. Below are some reasons why it is dangerous and wrong.

1. It disregards the fact that all previous date-setting attempts were doomed to failure. Rather than repenting, most erring date setters just recalculate and recalibrate. When Edgar Whisenant’s book 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be In 88, turned out to be a false prophecy, he promptly suggested 89 reasons why the rapture would be in 1989. Camping’s publication 1994? Failed to come true but he is now certain that the rapture will be on May 21 of this year.

2. It disobeys the injunction from Christ to refrain from unwarranted speculation. A hundred years ago, Sir Robert Anderson, chief of Criminal Investigation for Scotland Yard, and great theologian, said of date setters: “They have brought reproach on Scripture itself, and have given a stimulus to the jaunty skepticism of the day. We might have hoped that whatever else might be forgotten, the last words which the Lord Jesus spoke on earth would not be thus thrust aside: ‘It is not for you to know the times nor the seasons which the Father has put in His own power’ (Acts 1:7) … the result has been that the blessed hope of the Lord’s return has been degraded to the level of predictions of astrologers, to the confusion and grief of faithful hearts and the amusement of the world” (The Coming Prince, 11th ed., 132).

3. It delves into areas of privileged knowledge that only belongs to God. Christian psychiatrist O. Quentin Hyder warns believers, “God has not given us knowledge of the future nor the ability to obtain it. In this dispensation we are limited in knowledge but expected to live by faith. One day we shall know even as we are known. Craving for knowledge of the future is absolutely contrary to God’s will for man and therefore any attempt to obtain it is devil inspired and eventually damaging or even destructive to all who pursue it.” (The Christian’s Handbook of Psychiatry [1971], 75-76).

4. It discounts the fact that even secular predictions are totally inaccurate and impossible. Who in the summer of 1989 would have predicted the collapse of the Iron Curtain on November 9 of that year? Who predicted the ouster of Egyptian President Mubarak a week before it happened in February 2011?

5. It destroys the concept of imminence, namely, that Christ could return at any moment. Camping’s insistence on a May 21 rapture means that the Lord cannot return today. Yet we are to look daily and hourly for His coming. In Titus 2:13 Paul literally says that we are “excitedly expecting continually the joyous prospect” of Christ’s glorious appearing.

6. It displays a certain arrogance of the date setter by suggesting a novel interpretation hidden from everyone else. Date setters claim to have special insights. Camping observes that previous speculators were wrong because “they did not base their conclusion upon a careful analysis of everything the Bible had to say about the return of Christ” ("We Are Almost There," 18). As for himself, Camping says, “We indeed can be certain that the rapture will occur on May 21, 2011, and the final day of the history of the world is October 21, 2011” (Ibid., 63, emphasis in the original).

7. It distorts genuine interpretation and holds all legitimate teachers of prophecy up to ridicule. Camping’s sensational warning has appeared on many billboards: Judgment Day—May 21, 2011—The Bible Guarantees It. The news media are ridiculing these precipitous predictions. After May 21, skeptics will point out that Camping’s claim that the Bible guarantees his view implies that the Bible cannot be trusted. Unfortunately, doctrinal error seldom stands by itself. Harold Camping’s horrible and heretical hermeneutics also lead him to insist that the church age ended in 1988, that there is no millennial rule of Christ, and that all the wicked will be annihilated rather than suffer everlasting punishment in hell.

8. It disseminates its error with missionary zeal and thus influences others to be heretical. Untold harm is done to immature and young Christians! What will the life of Camping’s followers and employees be like when the Rapture does not occur on May 21? What of their witness to their neighbors or their credibility and usefulness in any future ministry?

Conclusion: Rather than engaging in speculation and sensationalism, the believer is characterized by:

1. Eager anticipation (Titus 2:13, “excitedly expecting…”)

2. Energized activity (Luke 19:10, “occupy till I come”)

3. Extraordinary alertness (2 Thessalonians 2:13, “Let no man deceive you…”)

May this be our concern until the trumpet sounds and summons us into the presence of the Savior.

— Reproduced with permission from the Spring 2011 edition of "The Seed," a publication of Mustard Seed International. Questions or comments can be directed to MKober@mustardseedint.com