Harold Camping (1921—2013) was a false teacher who was most infamous for his repeated, failed “judgment day” predictions. Through the use of publications, mass marketing, and a radio network, Camping spread his ideas and gained a following.
In 1958 Harold Camping helped establish Family Radio in Oakland, California, under the name Family Stations, Inc. As president of Family Radio, Camping hosted “Bible Class of the Air” and a call-in program, “Open Forum.” For years, the Family Radio network was the vehicle through which Camping promulgated his particular brand of allegorical biblical interpretation.
In 1988, Camping declared that the church age was over, the great tribulation had begun, and all institutional churches were apostate. He said the Holy Spirit was no longer present in the church and, because of the Spirit’s absence there, people in church who accepted Christ as Savior were not saved. Camping’s first prediction of the end of the world pointed to May 21, 1988. The prediction failed, of course, but that did not stop Camping, who in his book 1994? speculated that Christ would return and judge the world in September 1994.
After the 1994 speculation proved amiss, Camping blamed incomplete research and went on to set another date: the world would end on May 21, 2011, which Camping figured to be exactly 7,000 years after the Flood of Noah’s day. The judgment on that day would include an earthquake at 6:00 P.M. and begin several months of suffering, culminating in the demise of the whole planet on October 21, 2011.
Harold Camping and his followers sought to get the word out about the end of the world through Family Radio and Project Caravan, which involved renting space on 20,000 billboards worldwide and organizing a caravan of RVs to travel around North America warning people of impending doom. Many of Camping’s followers emptied their saving accounts, said good-bye to loved ones, and joined the effort, believing time was short.
When May 21, 2011, came and went without the catastrophes Camping had predicted, Family Radio issued an apology on its website. Camping modified his teachings to say that judgment did indeed fall on May 21, but it was “invisible,” i.e., spiritual in nature. The world would still be destroyed, he said, on October 21, 2011. Harold Camping suffered a stroke in June 2011 and entered a nursing home. The October 21 date passed without a fulfilment of his prophecy. Camping subsequently issued a statement that his end-of-the-world prediction had been an “incorrect and sinful statement” and that he had “learned the very painful lesson that all of creation is in God’s hands and he will end time in his time, not ours! . . . We humbly recognize that God may not tell his people the date when Christ will return” (Banks, Adelle, “Harold Camping says May 21 prediction was ‘incorrect and sinful,’” The Washington Post, Mar. 8, 2012). Camping died in December 2013.
In October 2018, Family Radio severed all ties to Harold Camping, removing his teachings from the air. Tom Evans, Family Life president and general manager, said, “Family Radio has come out of self-imposed isolation and we’ve repented from many of our former positions, date-setting the end of the world and all that, as well as the condemnation of the church” (Gryboski, Michael, “Harold Camping Programs Canceled by Family Radio, Says Teachings ‘Not Scriptural,’” Christian Post, Sep. 27, 2018). Family Radio is now committed to airing biblical teaching from the likes of John MacArthur, Alistair Begg, and R. C. Sproul.
Harold Camping was an obvious false prophet and therefore did not speak for God, whose prophets were held to the standard of 100 percent accuracy (see Deuteronomy 18:21–22). Camping made Jesus’ return the centerpiece of his teaching, yet he consistently ignored the words of the Lord Jesus regarding His return: “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36). Camping fancied himself as knowing what not even the angels knew—what not even Jesus knew.
Setting a date for Jesus’ return has been the pursuit of many, including Joseph Smith, William Miller, Ellen G. White, Pope Sylvester II, Charles Taze Russell, and Edgar Whisenant. Harold Camping is just one more. All such false prophets were eventually proven wrong, and, what’s worse, millions of people have been and continue to be led astray by their teachings.