Everyone is talking about Harold Camping and the failed prediction of the beginning of Judgment day marked by the rapture on May 21, 2011. When citing reasons that he was wrong, many are citing the words of Jesus which state:
“But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. (Mark 13:32 & its counterpart in Matthew 24:36)
The irony of this sort of argumentation is that those who use it are tacitly affirming that even though his conclusions may be wrong as no one knows the day his approach is not, that is, it is ok to see the Bible as some sort of crystal ball that reveals future events. I submit that using this verse as a refutation of Harold Camping fails for the same reason Harold Camping’s reasoning fails: it is based on a faulty and sloppy hermeneutic. It abuses the text and teaching of Jesus and the Prophets and Apostles.
Observation 1: The verse in question is not a reference to the end of the world. Both passages reflect the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13 and Matthew 24) and Jesus is answering a very clear and direct question: When will the temple be destroyed? Jesus is referencing a judgment event that will occur in the lifetime (generation) of his hearers and is not referring to the “end of the world” as perceived by the latter day prognosticators like Harold Camping and Hal Lindsey. This verse has been torn from its context and abused by so many. I rarely hear anyone use it contextually. So, go back and read the whole chapter and read it in light of the question asked by Jesus’ disciples at the front end of the discourse. The destruction of the temple marked the “end of the age”, not necessarily the same as the “end of the world”.
Observation #2: The real problem is the approach of Harold Camping to the Bible as a whole. He sees it as a book full of codes that need to be deciphered. Once you have cracked the code you can predict the future events and characters in the future that will rise and be the main players in the end time scheme. The real criticism of Harold Camping is not Mark 13:32 rather it is his faulty approach. It is a mistake to treat the Bible like a crystal ball. It is a mistake to use it like a Ouija Board. It is a mistake to use it as a road-map of future events. Ignoring the clear meaning of the text in its context and transporting its meaning two millennia into the future is bad Bible study. Camping is wrong not because he misunderstands a single passage or group of passages, or made a mistake in calculation or even because of Mark 13:32 – he is wrong because he mistreats the Bible, misunderstands its main message, and ignores universally agreed upon principles of interpretation.
Observation #3: The real problem is not Harold Camping. Most people recognize him as obviously disturbed and wrong. The real problem is the massive amount of “acceptable” teachers out there who use the same faulty methodology but know better than to be too specific about their predictions. The list of people in this camp include: Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye, Jerry Jenkins, Jack Van Impe, Chuck Smith, Chuck Missler, and a whole bunch of others who are willing to “predict” the time of the end. This trend in the church is “fringe” and not substantively different than Harold Camping. Many of these teachers were certain and convinced that 1988 was a key year in the end time calendar. When that date passed, they adjusted their interpretations and main characters in their dramas.
So, if you are going to jump on the criticism bandwagon with regard to Harold Camping (and you should, he is wrong about this and so many other things) then you should look very carefully at the teaching of these other men who are essentially treating the Bible in the same way and arriving at similar conclusions that are also wrong and misleading.