Harold Camping, owner of the Family Radio Network who has set the date for the Lord's return at May 21, 2011, approaches biblical interpretation in a way that could be summarized as reckless.
First, he often takes prophecies that apply to a specific historical period and relates them instead to the end times. The context of Daniel 8:14 makes it clear that the prophecy of 2,300 days applies to the time when a tyrant by the name of Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem. It was 2,300 days later, after the Maccabean Revolt, that the Temple was cleansed and rededicated. The prophecy has nothing to do with the end times or with a cleansing of the Church.
Camping's greatest error of interpretation is rooted in his insistence that the Bible is a parable from beginning to end and thus must be interpreted allegorically.1 He insists that the real meaning of any passage is to be found in its hidden spiritual meaning that can only be decoded by true believers. Such an approach to Scripture makes it possible for Camping to interpret passages in any way he pleases, and that is exactly what he does.
As an example, he argues that the Two Witnesses in Revelation 11 represent the Church, and that when the time for the Church's witness comes to an end, God will kill (or destroy) the Church. The fact of the matter is that there is nothing in Revelation 11 that even hints that the Two Witnesses are anything other than two persons who will be anointed by God to call the world to repentance during the first half of the Tribulation.
Another trick Camping constantly resorts to is re-translating Scriptures in unorthodox ways to give them the meaning he desires. An example of this can be found in his effort to prove that God is revealing new truths today. He quotes Hebrews 8:8 which declares that God "will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah." This, of course, is speaking of the New Testament, but Camping says, no, it is talking about providing new revelations in the end times and should therefore be translated to say that "God will finish a new covenant" rather than make one!2
Often times he will simply quote only part of a verse, giving it a meaning it never was intended to have. An example of this will be provided later in this series.
Since Camping was trained as an engineer, he loves numbers, and he plays with them constantly, giving them any meaning that he happens to need to support his off-the-wall interpretations. Thus, when he needs a number to be literal (as with the 2,300 days in Daniel 8:14), he interprets it literally. But if he needs it to be symbolic, then so be it, regardless of the context. Accordingly, he interprets the one thousand years of the Millennium to be 1,955 years! That's because he equates the Millennium with the Church Age.
In the next part of this series examining the madness of Harold Camping's date-setting, we'll look at Camping's End Time scenario and its problems.
1. GotQuestions.org, "Is Harold Camping and Family Radio a cult?" www.gotquestions.org/Harold-Camping-family-radio.html.
2. Harold Camping, We Are Almost There! (Oakland, CA: Family Stations, Inc., 2008), page 3.