I am sure that you’ve probably read everything you want to read about Harold Camping and his failed prediction that the Rapture of the church would occur on May 21, 2011. However, I would like you to indulge me for just a moment, because I think his failed prediction can actually teach us something about how we Christians need to respect the Bible a bit more than we currently do.
Look at the picture of the van above. It proclaims Camping’s prediction of the coming Judgment, but note what it says on the bottom right. It says, “The Bible Guarantees It.” Now, of course, anyone who knows much about the Bible knows that it actually guarantees that no one (not even the angels) knows the hour or the day of Christ’s return (Matthew 24:36). Thus, to say that the Bible guarantees Camping’s prediction is absurd.
Unfortunately, however, many Christians make one of the the same mistakes that Harold Camping made. They may not be so Biblically illiterate as to think they can state the date of the Rapture, but they do claim the Bible says something when, in fact, the Bible doesn’t even come close to saying that.
Consider, for example, what Answers in Genesis says when discussing the scientific evidence for a young solar system:
Recent observations confirm that the universe is only a few thousand years old, as the Bible says.
The problem is, the Bible says no such thing! If the creation days were 24-hour days (or roughly that long), if the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 contain every name (or almost every name) that is a part of the genealogy, if we make certain assumptions about how long generations have been throughout history, and if you are measuring the age of the universe with time as it passes on earth, then the universe is roughly 6,000 years old.
In other words, given certain assumptions, we can conclude from what the Bible says that the universe is roughly 6,000 years old. However, the Bible doesn’t say that. Now don’t think I am splitting hairs here. There is a huge distinction between what the Bible says and what I conclude from what the Bible says.
I believe the Bible is inerrant. Thus, I believe that what it says (in its original autographs) is absolutely true. However, what we conclude from what the Bible says is not inerrant, because our conclusions might be based on faulty reasoning, faulty assumptions, or both. So the phrase “the Bible says” means something entirely different from the phrase “here is what I conclude from what the Bible says.” When people fail to make that distinction, they open the Bible up to ridicule, as Harold Camping did.
Of course, the age of the earth is not the only example of Christians claiming that the Bible says something it really doesn’t say. You can find those who claim the Bible says the Flood discussed in Genesis 6-8 was not global. Others tell you that the Bible says to diversify your income sources. You can even find those who say the Bible claims the earth has a speed of zero through space. The fact is that the Bible makes no such claims. The authors of these websites conclude those things from what the Bible says. Thus, while the Bible cannot be wrong, every one of those websites could be wrong.
If we respect Scripture, we should make a strong distinction between what the Bible actually says and what we conclude from it. If we don’t, we make one of the same mistakes Harold Camping made.