The End Wasn’t As Near As He Thought: The Non-Existence of “Secret” Bible Codes

There was a great deal of news the past few weeks about the possibility of the Rapture (or Day of Judgment, depending on your perspective) occurring last Saturday.  Harold Camping, the 89 year-old founder of Family Radio, made claims that he had discovered a complicated formula in the Bible “that would probably crash Google’s computers” revealing that Jesus would return to earth sometime around 6 PM on May 21.  Obviously, that didn’t occur.  I sound pretentious writing a post “after the fact,” but I did plan to post this Saturday morning until something more important came up- playing bubbles with my daughter.  My purpose to go ahead with this post is to remind us that we will see the likes of false teachers like Harold Camping again who claim to have found mysterious “codes” in the Bible and that we should not be led astray.

In 1994, Camping made a claim that the end of the world would occur in that year.  Afterward, he said he miscalculated and that this time he was more than certain about the May 21, 2011 date (Camping said yesterday he has miscalculated again and the actual date is Oct. 21).  Camping told New York magazine, “There’s nothing in the Bible that holds a candle to the amount of information to this tremendous truth of the end of the world. I would be absolutely in rebellion against God if I thought anything other than it is absolutely going to happen without any question.”  Apparently, Camping’s followers were just as certain.  They spent a very large amount of money putting up over 3,000 billboards across the globe.

Here are a few of my observations and some lessons I think we can learn based on this incident with Harold Camping:

One, and most basic, is that Camping’s teaching stands in egregious opposition to the clear teaching of Scripture.  For someone who claims to have studied the Bible so thoroughly and knows its innermost “secrets,” this is either a gross oversight or prideful refusal to adhere to the truth.  Matt. 24:36 states of the Second Coming, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.”  In Acts 1:7 when the early church asked if Jesus was about to consummate His Kingdom, He replied, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.”  We must always remember that the Bible emphatically states that no person will ever know the date of the return of Christ.  No matter what you hear, or how convincing the argument and evidence may seem, always reject any teaching that claims to know what Jesus said was unknowable

Two, we need to be careful with the cult-like following most false teachers such as Harold Camping generate.  On Camping’s website he states, “However, it was not until a very few years ago that the accurate knowledge of the entire timeline of history was revealed to true believers by God from the Bible.”  Note that only “true believers” are privy to the secret knowledge.  The “true believers” are followers of Camping.  As with most false teachers of a religious genre, we need to always ask if this person is genuinely trying to help people or simply trying to make a name for himself and get rich doing so.

Three, hidden or mysterious “codes” latent in the biblical text that only a certain few have the good fortune of being able to decipher do not exist.  I am certainly no scholar, but I have been a student of the Bible for all of my adult life, hold a doctorate with an emphasis in biblical hermeneutics, and teach New Testament and hermeneutics adjunctly for a seminary, and have discovered nothing remotely close to any legitimate evidence of Bible codes.

Grant Jeffrey published a book titled “The Mysterious Bible Codes” in 1998 where he claims the Bible secretly predicts the events of World War II, the death of Princess Diana, and the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building to name only a few.  Jeffrey makes this claim based on a dubious formula known as ELS- equidistant letter sequence.  This method takes each letter in an arbitrary sequence and spells out some hidden name or word.  For example, according to Jeffrey, if you begin in Deut. 10:17 in the Hebrew language and count every 22nd letter the word that results is “Hitler.”  The problem is that there are no rules.  You can go forward or backward, start at any verse you want, and choose whatever number sequence you want to employ. This method essentially lets anyone make the Bible say whatever they want it to say.  There is also a question of whether such formulas are carried out in the original languages of Hebrew or Greek, or in English.  It appears that Camping has done his research in an English Bible.  If God were to hide a code in the text, would He not have done so in the original languages?

The point is that “hidden” codes betray the very reason God gave us the Bible in the first place- to reveal Himself and His truth to us.  The purpose of the Bible is not to further obfuscate faith in God, but to make it clear that God exists, created the universe, sent His Son to die on a cross for our sins, etc.  We do not need complicated mathematical formulas to understand the message of the Bible.  The truth it reveals is plain and clear.

Four, though we should not be surprised that Harold Camping was wrong about the return of Christ, neither should we be relieved.  As Christians, we are to eagerly anticipate the Second Coming.  Heb. 9:28 states, “So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”  We should never get so comfortable in this life that we lose sight of, and passion for, the next life

It’s fitting to end this post with the next to last verse in the Bible- Rev. 22:20- “Surely I am coming soon.’” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”


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