The Problem is your Hermeneutic, Harold Camping!!!!!!!!

As I am sure many of you are aware, the end of the world did not come. As I had expected, May 21, 2011 passed in silence. It is hard to know even where to begin to untangle the mess that Harold Camping has created with this whole prediction.

First, the atheists and secularists are loving it. People who are fundamentalist secularists simply lump anyone who believes the scriptures to be the inerrant word of God together, such that someone like myself is put together with Harold Camping. The amount of disgrace that this whole senario has brought to the faith is huge. Unfortunately, there is not a whole lot that someone like myself can do; I can only try to model good Christian scholarship, and, hopefully, that will help me to distance myself from this man. However, if people are determined to irrationally think of me in the same category as Harold Camping, there is not a whole lot I can do about it. In that regard, I simply let God be the judge of the irrational secularist, as well as Harold Camping.

There are a few things that people should know about this. First of all, this is not the first time Harold Camping has done this. He predicted the end of the world in 1994. In fact, Dr. Greg Bahnsen wrote about this in the October 1994 issue of Penpoint. I would invite you take the time to read what he said; what he said back in 1994 is every bit as relevant now. Of course, this has lead to all kinds of other errors on Camping’s part, such as the idea that the church age has ended, and everyone must flee from their churches, annihilationism, the idea that Christ died twice, and even inconsistently supporting a form of modalistic monarchianism.

However, while I certainly don’t want to belittle the importance of those topics, the problem with Harold Camping is really his hermeneutics. This brings me to the second and third things that people may not know. The first is that Dr. James White, who has taught at many seminaries in the United States, has debated Harold Camping [first day, second day]. The topic of the debate was hermeneutics. The second thing is, after the debates, I had some interaction with a few of Harold Camping’s followers. As you can see, it was like talking to a brick wall.

However, it did make me appriciate that the real issue with Harold Camping is his Hermeneutic. You see, I constantly argued that using Camping’s hermeneutic on any normal human writing would result in utter gibberish. Those who follow Harold Camping objected that we cannot treat the Bible as human language, because the Bible is divine. Of course, the traditional Christian view is that the Bible is both divine and human. What I kept on hearing was a form of gnostic platonism. This is not something that is uncommon amongst heretical eschatological groups. When things do not match reality, you must introduce a realm other than reality, and a meaning other than the real meaning of scripture in order to hold that the scriptures actually support your position.

We have seen the same thing from hyperpreterism. Why do hyperpreterists support this whole “interpretational maximalism?” Why do they insist on drawing parallels between texts, and then never exegetically defending them? The reason is because they cannot allow the text to simply say what it says in its own context, and for parallels to only have varing degrees of overlap. That would destroy their whole position. Of course, the platonic tedencies of hyperpreterism, both in terms of their view of language and in terms of their view of reality are well documented.

It is actually the same thing with Harold Camping. If the Bible is simply allowed to say what it says, it refutes Harold Camping. That is why he has to attack the historical-grammatical hermeneutic, and say that scripture is a kind of secret code that must be unlocked. Hence, you need a kind of secret knowledge in order to truly understand the scriptures. We have already seen that a similar view exists in the Roman Catholic Church where you allegedly need the magisterium in order to properly understand the scriptures.

The problem with these kinds of platonic views of language is that it is difficult to bring these two together. If you believe that the Bible is both a divine and human book such that God wrote it, and it is inerrant, but that we can understand it because it is written in human speech, this is no problem. God himself provides the connection, because he has condescended to us to speak to us in a way that we can understand. However, if you take this view of language, then how do you bring together the correct interpretation of the code together with the code itself? There is only one consistent way to do this, and that is with someone else being the mediator of the correct method of unlocking this code. In the case of Rome, it is the Roman Catholic Magisterium. In the case of the followers of Harold Camping, it is Harold Camping himself.

However, once you do this, you completely destroy the ultimate authority of the Bible. The Roman Catholic [although they may deny it] holds to the ultimate authority of the Roman Catholic Church. For the followers of Harold Camping, it is Harold Camping who becomes the ultimate authority. Why? Because it is Harold Camping who must provide us with the rules to unlock the “code.” He is the one who is always defining the meanings of numbers, and it is totally arbitrary. He is the one who decides that Genesis 7:4 has something to do with eschatology [even though it is in the context of the flood narrative], and he is the one who decided that 2 Peter 3 and the “thousand years is like a day” is somehow relevant [even though the contrast is between the *patience* of God verses the *patience* of man. A thousand years is like a day to God in the sense that *waiting* a day to us seems like *waiting* a thousand years to God in terms of our *relative patience,* not in terms of how God experiences our time]. How do we know all of these things are relevant? Because Harold Camping told us so!

When you abandon the idea that the Bible is human language for a notion that it is some divine code that must be unlocked, whoever holds the key becomes the ultimate authority. Hence, although Harold Camping might *claim* that all he follows is the Bible, his hermeneutic requires some other factor to unlock this code, and thus, he *must,* by the very nature of his system, go beyond scripture. That is why this stuff is very dangerous. That is why I would say to Harold Camping and his followers who are so “perplexed” that the end didn’t come, and are “looking for answers” that the answer lies in your hermeneutic. Abandon this idea that the Bible is only divine, and allow that it is also human. Then, you can go to the text, and allow it to speak for itself.

I would also warn Harold Camping and his followers of the ethical issues that are at stake here. Playing with God’s word is very serious indeed. When you misinterpret what God has said by numerology, you are, in fact, guilty of breaking the ninth commandment. However, it is much worse than that. It is not just bearing false witness against your neighbor; it is bearing false witness against God himself. That is why I say that the only way to interpret the scriptures is to treat them as God’s word to man written in human language. Once that human element is removed, the hermeneutical and ethical problems will always burn you.

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2 Responses to “The Problem is your Hermeneutic, Harold Camping!!!!!!!!”

  1. Jason Stumpner Says:

    Well, if the Bible is written in clear, simple, language, then it might be argued that Jesus should have returned by now. Here are some scriptural references to prove my point. http://www.religioustolerance.org/end_wrl16.htm So then, how else might one interpret the passages to mean? It seems pretty straight forward to me. I’m actually rather amazed that Christianity of any kind has endured throughtout the ages, with there being such seemingly incorrect verses, such as these. I’d think that it would have been dismissed as being a false religion by anyone with a thorough knowledge of scripture.

  2. otrmin Says:

    Jason,

    It depends on what you mean by “clear, simple language.” As I mentioned in an earlier post, people do tend to confuse the notion that the Bible was written *for* us with the idea that the Bible was written *to* us. Paul did say that we were to be diligent to present ourselves approved unto God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth [2 Timothy 2:15]. In other words, one is going to have to engage in some hard work to learn how to handle the scriptures aright. I am not talking about a naive, surface level reading of scripture.

    Take other fields such as Egyptology. Obviously, it would be rediculous for a person untrained in Egyptian to take up a text, and start interpreting it, when he knows nothing about Egyptian language and culture. The Book of Abraham in Mormonism is a perfect example of what happens when someone tries to do this. However, if a person studies Egyptology, learns the ancient Egyptian language and culture, he will easily be able to handle Egyptian texts.

    What I am talking about is the fact that the scriptures are written in human language, and if you do the hard work to understand the scriptures as normal human language in its own context, you will be able to come to the meaning.

    If you are interested in a discussion along these lines, Dee Dee Warren, who has done a lot of work in dealing with both hyperpreterism and atheists who have left the faith over eschatology, did a program on the Unbelievable Radio Program, and she put it into her podcast. In this program, you have a premillenial dispensationalist [one who would hold that the passages you linked to are still future], an atheist [who believes that these passages show the Bible is in error], and an orthodox preterist [Dee Dee Warren, who believes that you can still take them consistently]:

    [audio src="http://www.preteristpodcast.com/mp3/pretcast0029.mp3" /]

    It is well worth the listen. My position would be very similar to Dee Dee.

    God Bless,
    Adam

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