Tag Archives: Earthquake

Historian Michael F. Bird assesses the historicity of Matthew 27

Australian historian Michael F. Bird responds to the Geisler/Licona dust-up on the Euangelion blog, a blog that “exists for the purpose of promoting the gospel by commenting on issues relating to the Christian Scriptures and evangelical faith in contexts of the academy and the church”. (H/T Near Emmaus)


But people need to evaluate the debate for themselves. Here is the text in question, Matt. 27.51-53:

51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split
52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.
53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

What is the fuss? Well, Lincona calls Matt. 27.52-53 a “strange little text” (p. 548). Many strange phenomena like earthquakes and cosmic portents were said to accompany the death of great leaders in ancient sources. Licona writes: “[I]t seems to me that an understanding of the language in Matthew 27:52-53 as ’special effects’ with eschatological Jewish texts and thought in mind is most plausible. There is further support for this interpretation. If the tombs were opened and the saints being raised upon Jesus’ death was not strange enough, Matthew adds that they did not come out of their tombs until after Jesus’ resurrection. What were they doing between Friday afternoon and early Sunday morning? Were they standing in the now open doorways of their tombs and waiting?” Lincona then regards “this difficult text in Mathew as a poetic device added to communicate that the Son of God had died and that the impending judgment awaited Israel” (pp. 552-53).

In my chapter about the resurrection in How Did Christianity Begin: A Believer and Non-Believer Examine the Evidence, co-authored with James Crossley (London: SPCK, 2008/ Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2010), I said in a footnote about Matt. 27.51-53: “My understanding of this text is that it is not historical and it blends the present and the future together so that Matthew provides a cameo of the future resurrection at the point of Jesus’ death to underscore its living-giving power” (p. 69, n. 30). That was my off-the-cuff thought, but I stand by it, since Matt. 27.51-53 is a strange story that is reported nowhere else in Christian or non-Christian literature.

I don’t see any reason why Licona’s or my interpretation of Matt. 27.51-53 does not conform to a view of scripture as infallible, inspired, and authoritative. I think it explains the text and it explains why you don’t hear Josephus or Tacitus talking about the day that many Jewish holy men came back to life.

But I see further problems with Licona’s critics. If I can give another example, is the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16.19-31 a “true” story or a “parable”? Now the word parable does not occur! What if I said that it was a true, literal, and factual story about the afterlife in Hades and everyone who called it a parable about riches and possessions was using ancient genres to dehistoricize the Bible and deny the existence of the intermediate state? Does believing that Luke 16 is a parable violate inerrancy? To employ the logic of Geisler and Mohler, I’d have to say, “yes”. But is it hermeneutically responsible to rule certain literary genres out of bounds based on theological prolegomena, rather than discern them based on the phenomenon of the text and its relationship to extant biblical and non-biblical literature? Moreover, Geisler and Mohler are systematicians, not New Testament scholars, and most of those who came to Licona’s aid in his open letter are New Testament scholars. I think there’s a big lesson to be learned in that!

About Michael F. Bird:


Dr. Michael Bird (Ph.D University of Queensland) is Lecturer in Theology and New Testament at Crossway College in Brisbane, Australia. He is the author of several books including Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission (2006), The Saving Righteousness of God (2007), A Bird’s-Eye View of Paul (2008), Colossians and Philemon (2009), Crossing Over Sea and Land: Jewish Missionary Activity in the Second Temple Period (2009), and Are You the One Who is to Come? The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question (2009). He attends Acacia Ridge Presbyterian Church where he preaches regularly. He is married to Naomi and has four children.

Michael F. Bird is an evangelical historian, and has debated atheist James Crossley on the Unbelievable show (part 1, part 2). I have the book he mentions, which is a debate with Crossley, but haven’t had a chance to dig into it, yet. I really enjoyed the Bird/Crossley debates though. Sometimes, Unbelievable picks a bad defender of the Christian side, but Bird was solid. If I recall correctly, the Matthew 27 passage came up in that debate, and it came up in Crossley’s debate with William Lane Craig as well.

By the way, the other passage that is disputed a lot in the New Testament is the guard at the tomb in Matthew. I wrote a post about it before, featuring a clip from William Lane Craig. William Lane Craig wrote an essay about the guard at the tomb story. My take on that one is that the guard is historical, although I would not want to defend that tradition as a minimal fact in a debate, because it fails all the tests. However, the genre there is clearly historical, not apocalyptic imagery. I do understand the case against the guard story being an apologetics response to the Jewish accusation that the disciples stole the body.

New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham has debated Crossley as well, and you can find the shows here.


Michael Licona responds to Al Mohler on Matthew 27

Mike Licona's new book on the resurrection of Jesus
Mike Licona's new book on Jesus' resurrection: buy it!

Here’s Michael Licona’s response to Al Mohler’s disapproval of his historical analysis of Matthew 27.

Full text:

Because I am leaving the country today and must attend to last minute preparations, brevity is required. I am grateful to Dr. Mohler for his kind remarks pertaining to both me and my book, which has recently raised quite a bit of controversy in certain evangelical circles. Although I disagree with much of what he has asserted pertaining to my treatment of the raised saints in Matthew 27:52-53, one should not doubt my respect for him and gratitude for the contributions he has made for the cause of Christ and to the Southern Baptist Convention.

An accurate interpretation of a particular biblical text is assisted by an accurate understanding of the cultural milieu in which it was written. It is unfortunate that this does not appear to be a practice of my detractors Drs. Mohler and Geisler. Their judgment that an incompatibility exists between the doctrine of biblical inerrancy and interpreting Matthew’s raised saints at Jesus’ -death as apocalyptic symbols—or even to consider this interpretation as a viable way of understanding what Matthew was communicating (which is my present position)—without engaging in a thorough and sophisticated discussion of the milieu in which Matthew wrote is quite premature.

Dr. Mohler asks, “What could one possibly find in the Greco-Roman literature that would either validate or invalidate the status of this report as historical fact?” This is the wrong question. For it presupposes that Matthew intends the report of the raised saints to be understood as a historical event. So, the first question one should ask is how Matthew intended for his readers to understand this text. If he intended for us to regard the raised saints as apocalyptic symbols, then Drs. Mohler and Geisler are mistaken when regarding them as “historical fact.” It is only IF one can determine after an exhaustive study that Matthew intended for us to regard the raised saints as an event that occurred in space-time that Dr. Mohler could legitimately claim that the Greco-Roman literature offers nothing to assist us toward a correct interpretation of the text. Instead, Drs. Mohler and Geisler have pre-determined what the text means. But it is Scripture that is inerrant. Thus, we must be careful not to canonize our interpretation of Scripture so that we come to believe that it, too, is inerrant.

Article XX of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics states,

“We affirm that since God is the author of all truth, all truths, biblical and extrabiblical, are consistent and cohere, and that the Bible speaks truth when it touches on matters pertaining to nature, history, or anything else.WE FURTHER AFFIRM THAT IN SOME CASES EXTRABIBLICAL DATA HAVE VALUE FOR CLARIFYING WHAT SCRIPTURE TEACHES, AND FOR PROMPTING CORRECTION OF FAULTY INTERPRETATIONS [emphasis mine]. We deny that extrabiblical views ever disprove the teaching of Scripture or hold priority over it.”

Thus, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics asserts that extrabiblical data can assist us in clarifying what Matthew is teaching and correct faulty interpretations.

We find a similar statement in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy:

“We affirm that canonical Scripture should always be interpreted on the basis that it is infallible and inerrant. However, in determining what the God-taught writer is asserting in each passage, we must pay the most careful attention to its claims and character as a human production. In inspiration, GOD UTILIZED THE CULTURE AND CONVENTIONS OF HIS PENMAN’S MILIEU, A MILIEU THAT GOD CONTROLS IN HIS SOVERIGN PROVIDENCE; IT IS MISINTERPRETATION TO IMAGINE OTHERWISE [emphasis mine].

“So history must be treated as history, poetry as poetry, hyperbole and metaphor as hyperbole and metaphor, generalization and approximation as what they are, and so forth. DIFFERENCES BETWEEN LITERARY CONVENTIONS IN BIBLE TIMES AND IN OURS MUST ALSO BE OBSERVED” [emphasis mine].

Thus, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy asserts that an inattention to the culture and literary conventions in Bible times could lead to a misinterpretation of the biblical text.

Examples in the extrabiblical literature of phenomena similar to the raised saints in Matthew 27 may provide insights pertaining to how Matthew intended for us to interpret his raised saints. When we study the literary conventions in Bible times, we identify specific language in the Greco-Roman (Virgil, Dio Cassius, Plutarch), Jewish (Josephus) and biblical (Matthew 24, Acts 2) literature that may be employed to accent an event believed to have cosmic or even divine significance. Thus, when I noticed what might be similar language in Matthew 27:52-53, the interpretive possibility I proposed in my book emerged. Couldn’t the same be said 2,000 years from now pertaining to a proper interpretation of a text in which it was asserted that “the events of 9/11 were earth-shaking” while others may wrongly interpret the statement “Hell will freeze over before Ahmadinejad converts to Christianity” as a prophecy of two events rather than as a statement of enormous improbability?

The charge that I have “dehistoricized” the text is also problematic, since it likewise presupposes that Matthew intended the raised saints to be understood as historical. But what if he intended for them to be understood as apocalyptic symbols? It would then be misguided to “historicize” them. This would be little different than regarding as historical the seven-headed great red dragon in Revelation 12:3-4 whose tail sweeps up a third of the stars and casts them to earth. I regard this description as entirely symbolic and that to regard it as a real space monster would be to “historicize” the text.

The text in Matthew 27:52-53 has puzzled many New Testament scholars for years and will continue to do so. I remain puzzled but continue to seek a better understanding of what Matthew intended to communicate here. The calls of Drs. Geisler and Mohler for me to retract my opinion that it is possible Matthew intended for his readers to understand the raised saints in Matthew 27:52-53 as apocalyptic symbols is not helpful. Instead, such premature calls stifle scholarship and authentic quests for truth. I will be happy to retract my opinion once I am convinced that Matthew’s authorial intent was to communicate that the raised saints are to be understood as an event that occurred in space-time. So far, I have found the arguments offered by Drs. Geisler and Mohler to be unpersuasive and misguided.

I am grateful to the Southeastern Theological Review for their invitation to participate in a roundtable discussion on the meaning of this text and whether the solution I proposed in my recent book is compatible with the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. It is their desire to publish that discussion within the next 60 days. I will reserve my defense and further criticisms for that discussion and want to express my gratitude to the many who have sent words of support and to those who have written in my defense on the web. It is sad—and perhaps telling—that they have been ignored by Drs. Mohler and Geisler, since some of their arguments are quite good.

Below, I outline some problems I have with Al Mohler attacking anyone about anything.

Opinions not confirmed by evidence

There are degrees of understanding topics based on what sort of learning you have done to understand them. Reading about how to replace an engine is one thing, but replacing an engine is a completely different level of knowledge. Michael Licona has actually had to read a lot of history that he disagrees with, and to write papers that were peer-reviewed, and to defend his views with opposing scholars in formal academic debates. Al Mohler hasn’t done nearly as much of that, especially the debating. And that tells me something about Al Mohler. You see, the danger with not having to prepare for debates with your opponents is that you don’t really know whether what you say you believe is actually true. Everything sounds good to a person before they are cross-examined.

For example, take the existence of God. Al Mohler believes in a Creator, but he is a young-Earth creationist. Young-Earth creationism is completely unsupported by scientific evidence, although evidence could emerge to support it in the future. However, the cosmology that most scientists support today, the Big Bang cosmology, supports the existence of God as Creator, because it requires that a non-material agent outside of time brings space, matter, energy and time into being out of nothing. Now, Mohler can write column after column assuming that God exists – we all agree on that – but he will never know that God exists from cosmology, because he doesn’t believe that cosmology provides us with reliable evidence. He couldn’t make an argument for his view that God created the universe out of nothing using science. So he has a belief in a Creator, but not knowledge.

On the other hand, Christian scholars make a case for God’s existence based on mainstream cosmology that confounds atheists in public debates. I submit that people who understand mainstream cosmology and use it in debates have gone beyond mere opinion about God’s existence and into knowledge of God’s existence, based on scientific evidence from experiments. Mohler is in the opinion stage – he doesn’t know that God created the universe, based on scientific evidence. And similarly with history. When involved in disputers with historians who have studied and debated, he is at a disadvantage. He may have beliefs, but those beliefs might be in conflict with the evidence. It doesn’t bother him that he is in conflict with the evidence, but it shows us that it is at least possible that he makes claims without knowing whether they are true or not.

Preaching to the choir instead of persuading opponents

When you take a look at Al Mohler’s writings, it seems to me that he just compares his views to other people who disagree with him, and then he shuns the other people, and urges people who have the same preferences as he does to shun them, too. He doesn’t make factual arguments against the people with whom he disagrees. Let’s see some specific posts.

In this column, Mohler argues that a church should sanction an atheist pastor. We agree on that. Atheists should not be pastors. But does Al Mohler know how to argue against atheists? His response to the atheist pastor problem is to urge churches to expel him by force. He doesn’t urge them to get better at debating with atheists, and he doesn’t suggest that they try to persuade the atheist. He doesn’t mention any arguments to defend theism, or to defeat atheism. He has an opinion, and when he finds someone with a different view, he just shuns that person and urges others to shun them as well. He doesn’t seem to know how to use evidence one way or the other to decide what is true.

In this column, he disagrees with abortion. We agree on that. But again, in this column, he doesn’t try to make a case against abortion, or to urge his readers to learn how to make a case against abortion. He just shuns the bad abortionists without arguing against the pro-abortion view. He has nothing to say to persuade those who disagree with him. He just shuns them, and urges people who have the same preferences as he does to shun them too.

In another column, he disagrees with same-sex marriage. We agree on that. But he doesn’t discuss why same-sex marriage is wrong. He just expects that everyone reading will agree with his opinions. He just wants to say that it’s not OUR thing, it’s THEIR thing, and then shun it. He doesn’t talk about the purpose of marriage, or the needs of children for mothers and fathers, or the demographic crisis, or the dangers of the gay lifestyle, or anything. He just stays at the surface level of mere disagreement without reasons.

And in this column, he surveys the opinions of theistic evolutionists. Again, I agree with him on that. But he presents no positive, evidence-based case evolution is false, or that there was a literal Adam and Eve. He doesn’t talk about mitochondrial Eve or Y-chromosome Adam, or intelligent design, or fossils or any evidence at all. He talks about how theistic evolution is troubling, without giving any scientific arguments against it.

I call his writing style “fundamentalist hand-wringing”. I AM a fundamentalist, but I don’t whine and wring my hands and complain that things are changing and urge retreat and shunning of other views. His columns are always addressed to Christians, urging us to shun the other, and providing us with no reasons or evidence to buttress our own views as being true, or providing us with neutral arguments and evidence to show our opponents why their views are false.

In case you are wondering what my posts look like compared to his, here is a post against atheism, a post against abortion, a post against same-sex marriage, and a post against theistic evolution. And I write lots of posts like those ones, filled with new studies, new research, new evidence, debates and arguments – all the time! With evidence like this, you don’t have to shun your opponent – you can take them out to lunch and try to persuade them that you are right. I try to write about issues using evidence that NON-CHRISTIANS would find persuasive. I don’t just wring my hands and say “woe is us! woe is us!”. Even though I agree with Mohler on his conclusions practically across the board, I wish he would try to be more convincing to people who don’t agree with him by using actual evidence. One thing is for sure – he isn’t qualified to make statements about the way the world is, because all he has is opinions without reasons.

His disagreement with Licona is just his opinion

So we’ve seen that Mohler basically does the same thing over and over. He expresses an opinion. He has not studied anything in detail. He doesn’t do debates with other scholars. He just wants to disagree with others and then shun them – without explaining why he is right or why they are wrong.

Here are some words that Mohler uses to describe Licona’s argument:

  • shocking
  • disastrous
  • greatest concern
  • deeply troubling
  • very troubling
  • disappointing in the extreme

That’s it. That’s his entire argument against Licona. He has nothing persuasive to say, except “Oh noes! Oh noes!” like some sort of low-self-esteem spook worried about becoming irrelevant. If Mohler wants people to take him seriously, then maybe he should do some research of his own and publish a rebuttal to Licona, instead of using scare quotes and smear tactics (the Robert Gundry story he trots out). A threat is not an argument. A smear is not a refutation.

And by the way, I have very conservative views on things like God creating the animals directly, non-material souls, a literal, eternal Hell with active tormenting and real flames, and a literal Adam and Eve, and so on. I’m sure Licona does, too. Conservatism is not the issue. The issue is what the author of Matthew meant to convey in that passage. If what Matthew intended to convey is apocalyptic imagery, then that is the literal, conservative interpretation.

Finally, consider a different scenario. Gary Habermas is at least as conservative as Al Mohler, but I do think that if HE disagreed with Licona then that would be worth listening to – and they could even have a debate about whether Matthew was using the styles of the authors of his time, which allow for this apocalyptic imagery. Because that would be a debate about historical concerns, not opinions.

Learn more about Dr. Licona

Here is Dr. Licona’s web site. I have an autographed copy of Mike’s new book, and I bought another one for reading. I highly, highly recommend this book, but for students who have read an introductory book on the resurrection first. Here is the best introductory book on the resurrection of Jesus, authored by Michael Licona and Gary Habermas. Both books I would say are essential for anyone who claims to be a mature Christian. These are required reading.

If you would like to hear Michael in a debate with skeptical scholar Bart Ehrman, click here for the playlist. This is their 2nd debate, and Michael pwns Bart.

Michael Licona on the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27

Mike Licona's new book on the resurrection of Jesus
Mike Licona's new book on Jesus' resurrection: buy it!

Michael Licona, in his awesome must-read book on the resurrection, argues that the earthquake and resurrection of the saints story is probably not historical, but is instead apocalyptic imagery. Norman Geisler, another Christian apologist, disagreed with this view publicly, claiming that it compromises inerrancy. Must we accept that the earthquake and resurrection of the saints is real history in order to be inerrantists?

I got permission from Michael to post this Facebook note verbatim.

Full text:

Norman Geisler has taken issue with a portion of my recent book, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, in which I proposed that the story of the raised saints in Matthew 27:52-53 should probably be interpreted as apocalyptic imagery rather than literal history. In response, Dr. Geisler has offered strong criticisms in two Open Letters to me on the Internet. Until now I have been unable to comment because I have multiple writing deadlines, two September debates in South Africa for which to prepare, and, consequently, no time to be drawn into what would probably turn into an endless debate. I shared these first two reasons with Dr. Geisler in an email several weeks ago. Yet he insisted that I “give careful and immediate attention” to the matter. I simply could not do this and fulfill the pressing obligations of my ministry, which is my higher priority before the Lord.

Dr. Geisler questions whether I still hold to biblical inerrancy. I want to be clear that I continue to affirm this evangelical distinctive. My conclusion in reference to the raised saints in Matthew 27 was based upon my analysis of the genre of the text. This was not an attempt to wiggle out from under the burden of an inerrant text; it was an attempt to respect the text by seeking to learn what Matthew was trying to communicate. This is responsible hermeneutical practice. Any reasonable doctrine of biblical inerrancy must respect authorial intent rather than predetermine it.

When writing a sizable book, there will always be portions in which one could have articulated a matter more appropriately. And those portions, I suppose, will often be located outside the primary thesis of the book, such as the one on which Dr. Geisler has chosen to focus. When writing my book, I always regarded the entirety of Matthew 27 as historical narrative containing apocalyptic allusions. I selected the term “poetic” in order to allude to similar phenomena in the Greco-Roman literature in general and Virgil in particular. However, since Matthew is a Jew writing to Jews, “apocalyptic” may be the most appropriate technical term, while “special effects” communicates the gist on a popular level.

Further research over the last year in the Greco-Roman literature has led me to reexamine the position I took in my book. Although additional research certainly remains, at present I am just as inclined to understand the narrative of the raised saints in Matthew 27 as a report of a factual (i.e., literal) event as I am to view it as an apocalyptic symbol. It may also be a report of a real event described partially in apocalyptic terms. I will be pleased to revise the relevant section in a future edition of my book.

Michael R. Licona, Ph.D.

August 31, 2011

And then there is this addendum to the letter:

We the undersigned are aware of the above stated position by Dr. Michael Licona, including his present position pertaining to the report of the raised saints in Matthew 27: He proposes that the report may refer to a literal/historical event, a real event partially described in apocalyptic terms, or an apocalyptic symbol. Though most of us do not hold Licona’s proposal, we are in firm agreement that it is compatible with biblical inerrancy, despite objections to the contrary. We are encouraged to see the confluence of biblical scholars, historians, and philosophers in this question.

It has come to my attention that this matter may become a political/theological hot potato. The scholars on the list have stood with me. It was not my intent to amass a huge list. It was my intent to demonstrate that a significant number of the most highly respected evangelical scholars, all of whom are members of ETS, see no incompatibility between the position I took in my book and the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. The list has served its purpose. I have no desire to be the cause of pressure brought on those who have stood with me or on their academic institutions. Therefore, I have decided to remove the list of names for the present time at least. In no case, did an institution demand that their professors withdraw their names.

A number of scholars have suggested that this discussion is better played out in the theatre of an academic forum. I could not agree more! Southeastern Theological Review (STR) has offered to host a ‘virtual’ roundtable discussion involving several significant scholars commenting on my book. A main subject of this roundtable will be the raising of the dead saints in Matthew 27:52-53. This roundtable discussion(s) will be posted on the STR web site and will precede a full journal devoted to my book in the Summer 2012 edition of STR.

[UPDATE: Originally, Dr. Licona had included a list of incredibly conservative evangelical scholars but then asked for the names to be withdrawn, and replaced with the two paragraphs above.]

My take

I think that Matthew is using apocalyptic imagery in Matthew 27. I also think that if the event was historical, then it would have been recorded by Josephus or other historians. And I hold to inerrancy.

Dr. Licona is hardly a squish on doctrine, so I don’t think it was nice for Dr. Geisler to attack him in public like that. Bringing additional facts to a debate is permissible, but attacking someone like Dr. Licona over inerrancy is personal. Frankly if I had to choose who is making a bigger impact for Christ at this time, I would choose Dr. Licona. I haven’t read anything by Dr. Geisler in about a decade, nor has he been in any debates recently that I am aware of. I would not recommend his work either.

Learn more about Dr. Licona

Here is Dr. Licona’s web site. I have an autographed copy of Mike’s new book, and I bought another one for reading. I highly, highly recommend this book, but for students who have read an introductory book on the resurrection first. Here is the best introductory book on the resurrection of Jesus, authored by Michael Licona and Gary Habermas. Both books I would say are essential for anyone who claims to be a mature Christian. These are required reading.

If you would like to hear Michael in a debate with skeptical scholar Bart Ehrman, click here for the playlist. This is their 2nd debate, and Michael pwns Bart.

Harold Camping’s 1994 doomsday/end of the world prediction

Here’s the video, the prediction is at the 1:00 mark.

And we all know that the world didn’t end in 1994. Camping was wrong the last time, so I don’t think we have anything to be concerned about this time, either. But there is more to say about Camping than his false predictions.

What does Jesus say?

Jesus says that no one except the Father knows when the world will end.

Mark 13:32-33:

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.

Matthew 24:36-44:

36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.

38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark;

39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.

40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left.

41Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.

43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.

44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

That passage is in Mark and Matthew. Mark is early, and Matthew provides multiple attestation. But this passage also passes the criterion of embarrassment, because it ascribes ignorance to Jesus – something that the early church would not have made up if they were hoping to gain converts by falsely portraying Jesus as the Messiah. Therefore, it is very likely that this passage is authentic, and would be viewed as authentic even by those who are non-Christians. But Harold disagrees with Jesus – he thinks he knows the day and the hour. It seems to me that he thinks that Jesus is either lying or mistaken as quoted in this passage.

So, let’s re-cap. We know that Harold Camping seems to be in disagreement with Jesus about whether we can know the time that the world will end. Jesus says no one can know, and Harold Camping says he knows. We also know that Harold Camping made prophecies about the end of the world occurring in 1994, and his prophecies turned out to be false. That makes him a false prophet.

What does the Bible say about false prophets?

Deuteronomy 18:21-22:

21 You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?”

22 If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.

If he was wrong the first time, then we shouldn’t take him seriously this time.

Why is Harold Camping doing this?

This article from CNN Money explains how Harold Camping collects millions of dollars in donations.


By now, you’ve probably heard of the religious group that’s predicting the end of the world starts this weekend.

Harold Camping and his devoted followers claim a massive earthquake will mark the second coming of Jesus, or so-called Judgment Day on Saturday, May 21, ushering in a five month period of catastrophes before the world comes to a complete end in October.

At the center of it all, Camping’s organization, Family Radio, is perfectly happy to take your money — and in fact, received $80 million in contributions between 2005 and 2009. Camping founded Family Radio, a nonprofit Christian radio network based in Oakland, Calif. with about 65 stations across the country, in 1958.

[…]According to their most recent IRS filings, Family Radio is almost entirely funded by donations, and brought in $18 million in contributions in 2009 alone.

According to those financial documents, accountants put the total worth of Family Radio (referred to as Family Stations on its official forms) at $72 million.

With those kind of financials — and controversial beliefs — it’s no wonder skeptics have accused the group of running a scam.

Camping first inaccurately predicted the world would end in 1994. Even so, he has gathered even more followers — some who have given up their homes, entire life savings and their jobs because they believe the world is ending.

I wonder how this looks to non-Christians who are trying to see what Christianity is really about? Is this what we are about?

Is Harold Camping open to being corrected?

Finally, I noticed that Camping has declined to go on the radio and discuss his ideas with Christian scholars like Dr. Michael Brown. Brown reproduces an e-mail exchange here, showing how the false prophet is not willing to debate the truth of his claims on the air. That should be a clear warning to Christians to stay away from this man. Not only is he bad for us if we believe him, but he is actually undermining the cause of Christ due to his ignorance and his lack of accountability to people like Dr. Brown who have studied these things more than he has.

UPDATE: Camping may also have problems with the Trinity, according to James White. (H/T Glenn)