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Harold Camping, the 90-year-old California radio host who wrongly predicted the world would end in September of 1994 and on May 21, 2011, applied complicated mathematics that he said he believed was encoded within the Bible. However, that math seems to have only applied to the May 21 prediction, as Camping has offered no complex equations for the Oct. 21 rapture prediction.
In a May episode of his radio program, Open Forum, Camping famously explained the math processes lying behind his May 21 end-of-the-world predictions. He laid out the world's timeline that was to begin with the crucifixion of Christ and end with the Judgment Day. In order to do that, the California broadcaster used complicated numerology techniques applied while studying the Scriptures over years.
"In the Bible, the numbers are words," Camping, an engineer by trade, said at the time.
Number five signifies the atonement, he explained. Ten signifies completeness, "whether it's 10 or 10 times ten, or 10 times 10 times 10," Camping said during his Open Forum show. Seventeen points to heaven, he said, and being with Christ.
"I've learned that through studying and studying and studying, that a larger number can be broken down into its significant numbers," Camping said. That is how he came up with May 21, 2011. Below is the mathematical equation the Bible teacher used:
(5 x 10 x17) x (5 x 10 x 17) = 722,500
The 722,500 is the number of days from April 1, 33AD - the date many believe to be the day Christ was crucified - to May 21, 2011.
But after the end of the world did not occur on that day as predicted, Camping shifted it without fanfare to Oct. 21. He also did not provide a substitute mathematical explanation.
After May 21, people all over the United States and the world tuned in to listen to Camping's explanation. But his speech was calm, as usual, and the statement lacked drama, except when the radio host raised his voice to emphasize that the judgment did occur on May 21, even if our eyes did not see it.
Below is an excerpt of Camping's statement from that period:
If people want me to apologize, I will apologize, yes, I did not have all of that worked out exactly as I should have or I wish I could have had it. That doesn’t bother me at all. I’m not a genius. I pray all the time for wisdom and when I make an error, then I admit it. I say, yes I was wrong. … It was to be understood spiritually, not physically. And yet the sense of it is still the same. That judgment has come, the world is now under judgment where it was not prior to May 21. Spiritually, there is a big difference in the world that we can’t detect at all with our eyes. But we can know from the Bible.
Camping has also calmly shifted the date of the rapture to Oct. 21., saying:
"That's not a new date. We've already been talking again and again about the end of the world being Oct. 21, 2011," he said in the program. "But we have not emphasized that because the first down payment, or the beginning of it was the fact that we would see all of these things happening and usher into a period of five months of a very, very terrible time."
Still, Camping's warnings about a "terrible time" were toned down in his most recent audio address to his believers. In his latest message, recorded some time after he left the hospital in June after suffering a stroke, Camping included an affirmation of his previous announcement that the world will end on Oct. 21, though this time the Bible expert used the word "probably." He also described the last day as quiet and peaceful, where the unbelievers will quietly "die." He said:
We must believe that probably there will be no pain suffered by anyone because of their rebellion against God. This is very comforting to all of us, because we all have children, and have loved ones that are dear to us that we know are not saved; and yet we know that they'll quietly die. We can be more and more sure that they will quietly die and that will be the end of their story.
Before May 21, Camping's message received unprecedented public attention, largely thanks to the massive advertising campaign launched by Camping and his Family Radio followers. CNN reported at the time that Family Radio received some $80 million in contributions between 2005 and 2009.
Mainstream evangelical Christians remained much more skeptical at the time than some of Camping's followers. Robert Jeffress, the Dallas pastor known in recent times for his controversial comments about Mormons, told MSNBC on May 21:
"Jesus said: no man knows the hour or the day when the second coming will occur. Not even the son of God, only God the father knows. And I tell people: if God hasn't even told his own son when the second coming is going to be, I doubt he told this radio evangelist Harold Camping."
The Bible, Jeffress said at the time, "has nothing to say about the date [of the rapture]."