Harold Camping has widely asserted that “the Bible guarantees” his prediction regarding the end times. This invites us to us examine his Biblical claims. One large chunk of the basis for Harold Camping’s claims with respect to May 21, 2011, is that 2011 is allegedly 7000 years from the flood. Camping’s date for the flood is unique and springs from work that he published as “Adam When?” in 1974 (I understand that the book may have undergone some revisions or editions since then, and in the following discussion I am referring to the current version available at his website.)
Adam When? purports to be a book that seeks to uphold the integrity of the Bible, and particularly the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible. These are noble and right aims. The book quickly goes astray, however.
At page 36, Camping begins a section entitled “Inspired Verbs.” While the verbs of the Bible are inspired, Camping treats them as though they represent a code. In short, Camping says that in the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11, whenever the text describes A begetting B and living a set number of years, this should be interpreted as A being just an ancestor of B, with B being born the year of A’s death.
There’s no Biblical proof for this approach. In other words, Camping cannot point to any passage where the Bible explains that this way of speaking is being used. This is a key point: nowhere in Scripture does it tell us that when it says “A lived so and so years and begat B and lived so and so more years after he begat B and he died,” that B was actually born not after the first so and so years, but rather at the very end of A’s life. This particular patriarchal generation idea is just something Camping dreamed up.
Moreover, Camping is forced to admit that in certain cases it is clear that this terminology is used of direct father-son relationships. Camping actually provides an exception for those cases in the genealogies where the text says that the father “called [his son’s] name [name of the son].”
But this exception is as arbitrary as the rule. Camping does not provide a Scriptural basis for why the expression “called his name” should be a sign of direct father-son relationship that holds water. After all, the term is frequently used to refer to a mother naming her son, or even to neighbors of the grandmother naming a child:
Ruth 4:17 And the women her neighbours gave it a name, saying, There is a son born to Naomi; and they called his name Obed: he is the father of Jesse, the father of David.
And, of course, a very old man could name his grandchild born in the year of his death just as easily as neighbors could name their friend’s grandchild. So, again, the idea that “called his name” is a special sign of direct father-son relationship is yet another thing that Camping just dreamed up.
What is truly bizarre is that begetting is something that only a father actually does, whereas calling a child’s name is something that the mother or even the neighbors of the grandmother can do.
Camping’s only answer to this objection is to point to Matthew 1:8 and to allege that Matthew declares that Joram begat Uzziah, although there is not an actual father-son relationship between the two. According to Camping: “Ahazial, Joash, and Amaziah should come between Joram and Uzziah.”
Various explanations have been given as to why there are those three apparently missing generations in the Matthew genealogy. What is key about the Matthew genealogy, however, is that it does not purport to provide us with a chronology (i.e. dates). There are no ages or years of life mentioned. Instead, it is providing a lineage, much the way the Ezra 7 lineage does (the Ezra 7 lineage apparently omits 6 generations).
We could speculate about the apparent missing generations (are there really missing generations? have they been omitted because of a curse placed against Ahab? or does Ozias not correspond to Uzziah, but rather to a brother of Ahazial?), but such speculation isn’t really necessary.
Why isn’t such speculation necessary? Matthew 1’s genealogy does not follow the patriarchal generation model that Camping has described. In Matthew 1’s genealogy the only “called his name” is – you guessed it – Joseph calling Jesus’ name in Matthew 1:25. It would be blasphemous to assert that Joseph was Jesus’ biological father.
Thus, we see the arbitrary nature of Camping’s pick-and-choose hermeneutic. Camping picks the apparently missing generations of Matthew 1:8 to establish a mere ancestry interpretation of the term “beget,” while ignoring the “called his name” in the same genealogy, where such usage undermines Camping’s theory.
1) Camping simply dreamed up his unique patriarchal generations theory. The Bible does not tell us that, for example, the following passage should be understood as saying that Jared was born in the year that Mahalaleel died:
And Mahalaleel lived sixty and five years, and begat Jared: and Mahalaleel lived after he begat Jared eight hundred and thirty years, and begat sons and daughters: and all the days of Mahalaleel were eight hundred ninety and five years: and he died.
2) Camping simply dreamed up the “called his name” exception. The Scriptures do not tell us that “called his name” is a special clue that there is direct father-son relationship between the person who called the name of the other person. Indeed, many times it is a woman who calls the name of the child (Genesis 4:25, Genesis 19:37, 1 Chronicles 4:9, 1 Chronicles 7:18) and sometimes it is even the neighbors of the grandmother, as we saw in the case of Obed.
3) Camping appeals selectively to irrelevant texts to make his case. As we noted above, Matthew’s genealogy does not provide years, only lineage. Thus, Matthew’s genealogy is not especially relevant to the Genesis 5 and 11 genealogies. Moreover, if Matthew’s genealogy is relevant, Camping ought also to take into account the fact that “called his name” in Matthew 1:25 refers to Joseph naming Jesus, though Joseph was only the adoptive father of Jesus, much like Pharaoh’s daughter was only the adoptive mother of Moses where she “called his name” in Exodus 2:10.
So, to answer the title question of this post, no – the Bible does not guarantee Camping’s prediction. Camping’s prediction is something that Camping dreamed up and attempted to impose on the Bible. Even if a very generous person would say that the Bible does not unequivocally deny Camping’s imposed reading, certainly Camping’s claim that “The Bible Guarantees It” falls short.