THE TWO-EDGED SWORD
Pastor Jim West
(M. Div. Westminister Theological Seminary)
NEWSLETTER OF THE COVENANT REFORMED CHURCH
2020 16th Avenue, Sacramento, Ca. 95822 (916) 451-1190
HAROLD CAMPING'S BIBLE
PRINCIPLES (Part 2)
Having shown in the last issue of THE TWO-EDGED SWORD some
of the prominent errors of Harold -Camping's principles of interpretation, we
now focus upon specifics.
Let us remind ourselves that Mr. Camping's approach to the
Word of God is characterized by wholesale allegorization. This means that every
verse of the Bible, according to him, has "hidden" meaning. Every verse is an
"historical parable" with a secret, redemptive meaning. Our final assessment of
his approach highlighted five dangers. They are: (1) It leads us away from the
natural interpretation, (2) It renders the Scripture ambiguous and destitute of
certainty, (3) It stifles the ethical impact of Scripture, (4) It reduces the
importance of creation and history, and, (5) It turns the Bible into a mystery
book, to be understood only by the esoteric few. Only these can decipher its
secret codes and riddles.
The sixth and final danger of Mr. Camping's Bible
principles concerns disunity in the body of Christ. The bottom line is that Mr.
Camping's "Bible" principles have created a widening chasm between fellow
believers. How great is this disunity? Because of Mr. Camping's errant
hermeneutic, we disagree with virtually every verse of the Bible. Because
of the allegorical interpretation, a self-conscious Campingite can only feel
deprived, if not cheated, if he does not receive similar Campingite instruction.
Yet, Mr. Camping's creative use of the Bible goes much further than the attempt
to read a "spiritual" meaning into the most elementary historical incident. The
allegorical approach is symptomatic of other exegetical gaffes.
WHAT ARE SOME SPECIFIC
Mr. Camping and his followers embrace the doctrine of soul
sleep – for the wicked. They are not annihilationists in the strict sense of
that word, as they do believe in the resurrection of the wicked on the last day
and the final sentencing of the wicked into eternal damnation.
The passage used to support soul sleep is found in Psalm
115:17, which states that "the dead praise not the Lord, nor any that go down
into silence." (See The Fig Tree, p.183.) The verse has no
relationship to soul sleep. All it says is that those who die no longer enjoy
the noisy activities of this world. Because they are physically dead,
they are in physical quietude. The other verse used (Revelation 20:5 –
"The rest of the dead did not live again until the 1000 years were finished...")
has nothing to do with soul sleep. This disputed verse is describing either the
non-martyred Christians or the wicked and their bodily resurrection.
Although Camping believes in eternal damnation, we may
properly ask if there are any harmful ramifications that may ensue to the church
militant because of the soul sleep doctrine. Does even a limited doctrine of
soul sleep jeopardize any other doctrine or activity of the Christian church? Is
the doctrine of soul sleep a legitimate difference among fellow believers, or
the compromise of a cardinal article of Christianity? A few preliminary things
may be said that could anticipate further deviation from Biblical truth.
To begin with, Mr. Camping's doctrine of soul sleep may
have precisely the opposite effect that the doctrine of the sleep of the soul
for Christians, as stated by the 7th
Day Adventists, has for the church. Whereas the Adventist doctrine robs the
Christian of his comfort in Christ, thinking that death will in fact sever his
fellowship with Christ which is defined in Scripture as "eternal life"
fellowship, the Campingite doctrine of temporary soul sleep for the wicked
implicitly provides the wicked with additional comfort and ease in his sin. The
bottom line is that death for the wicked would be temporary annihilation – not
entrance into eternal hell.
The effect of this is detrimental for Biblical preaching.
If death does not spell immediate damnation for the wicked, then the urgency of
the "repent or perish" proclamation of the Gospel might be threatened. In short,
the unbeliever receives additional time and excuse for procrastination. Sudden
damnation is no longer a heartbeat away.
The soul sleep doctrine also means the interruption of the
wrath of God against sinners and their sin. While the unrepentant sinner lives,
Scripture teaches that the wrath of God "is abiding" (present tense) upon him (John
3:36). At death, that wrath is now suspended until the day of wrath. God, in
effect, stops being angry until judgment day.
There is, perhaps, an implicit relaxation of the
heinousness of sin in all this too, for how can a holy God stop hating what
deserves eternal wrath? Moreover, if an unrepentant sinner can cease to
experience the wrath of God for a millennia or two, why cannot the justice of
God on the day of judgment be further suspended, so that the sinner does not
have to face eternal hell after all? If the doctrine of soul sleep for the
wicked is true, then it is also true that there is no inherent necessity in the
nature of God for the sinner to be punished everlastingly.
All the above are logical implications that flow from the
soul sleep doctrine. Whether they have been formally owned by Campingite
followers is unclear; we only specify them to portray what could (and,
logically, should) materialize in the future.
IS THIS REALLY AMILLENIAL
Harold Camping is a decided Amillenialist. It is beyond
the scope of this writing to assess the Amillenial position, as we are most
concerned with Mr. Camping's misuse of Scripture. Not all 'amils,' however,
argue identically. Indeed, Amillenialists may want to disassociate themselves
from Mr. Camping's expression of that position, an Amillenialism whose hallmark
is not only doom and gloom, but an amillenialism that often relies upon poor
In recent years, some who know him have claimed (we hope
erroneously) that he believes that the church is now in the Great Tribulation
and that he knows the approximate time of the Lord's return. Our goal is to
evaluate the things that he has written in his books, and only that.
In his treatment of Matthew 24, for example, Mr. Camping
completely passes over the "time text" of verse 34, which places everything that
appears before it in the generation of the first century church. He simply
assumes that the great tribulation described will have its final fulfillment in
the days shortly before the second coming of Christ. That this is a
characteristic amillenial interpretation cannot be denied and should not create
tension among brethren who disagree. Mr. Camping, however, seems to take the
Amillenial position one giant step further when he makes the coming great
tribulation the center of his "paranoid" focus. He seems to specialize in
writing books on this subject and relates many Scriptures to it. For example,
while using his parabolical approach in the interpretation of Acts 27 and the
shipwreck in which 276 sailors were saved, he posits that the storm represents
the final tribulation period and the 276 sailors those who will not be
spiritually lost. He tells us in no uncertain terms that 276 is a special
number. Here are his words:
"The number 276=3x4x23. It also equals the sum of all
the numbers that come before 23. Thus, 276=1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8+9+10...+21+22+23.
By this unique arrangement, God focuses our attention on the number 23."
"The number 3 signifies the purpose of God, and the
number 4 signifies universality... "
"The number 23 is identified with the final
tribulation period, when God's judgment comes upon the church. Therefore, one
can understand why God gives the precise number 276 in the Acts 27 account:
the ship represents the church. During the final tribulation, the era of the
New Testament church will end, i.e., the ship is entirely destroyed.
"True believers within the church, represented by the
276 people aboard the ship, are saved... The number 276, which equals 3x4x23,
represents the purpose of God that in all the world the believers who are
present during God's judgment on the external church – during the final
tribulation period – cannot lose their salvation..." (The Great
Tribulation, pp. 149-150).
This virtually unintelligible statement is based upon the
premise that God would never have allowed the number 276 appear in the Bible
unless there was some salvational significance. One again, we are thrown back
into the secret meaning syndrome.
Keep in mind that for Mr. Camping the most elementary and
routine historical incident or statement possesses secret meaning. In addition
to this, it might well be asked how 276 unsaved sailors could represent the
Camping's eschatology is an eschatology of woe. He says
that no one will be saved during the final tribulation and that the church will
be ruled by Satan. Mr. Camping's definition of the "man of sin" who sits in the
temple of God, showing himself to be God, is that this man is no man at all, but
rather Satan (The Final Tribulation, p.123). He believes that just as the
king of Babylon was a type of Satan, so the man of sin is also a type of Satan.
Yet, he seems to say that, unlike the king of Babylon, there will be no
(literal) man who sits in the temple of God; rather, it is Satan himself.
His logic for denying the humanity of the "man of sin" is difficult to
understand. Mr. Camping does not even entertain the idea that "the abomination
of desolation that stands in the holy place" could have any reference to the
Roman desecration of the temple in 70 A.D. (Matthew
Mr. Camping's millenialism often sounds more premillenial
than amillenial. Just as we might ask the premillenialist how Christ could be
King when He rules sitting in Jerusalem for 1000 years, sitting over a worldwide
rebellion against His authority, we could also ask Mr. Camping how Christ's
church, which He rules, could be taken over by Satan? True, churches do become
apostate. But the promise of Christ in Matthew 16:18, that "the gates of hell
shall not prevail against it," guarantees the victory and protection of the
The Bible reader should also be aware that Mr. Camping's
hermeneutics concern far more than the parabolical method that he so
thunderously claims. Not only does he posit the hidden meaning of Scripture, he
also misuses Biblical words. To be sure, his word errors are quantitatively less
than his wholesale allegorizations, but still plentiful in number. For example,
by affirming that the shipwreck of Acts 27 represents the final tribulation, he
"proves" this contention by the name of the storm, Euroclydon. He tells us that
this word is identified with the Greek word eurochoors, which is used
only in Matthew 7:13, and is translated broad: "broad is the way that leads
to destruction." He goes on to speak of the Acts 27 storm and the storm that
Jesus Himself quelled, as historical parables of the final tribulation. Just how
the word "broad" relates to the final tribulation is not clear. Moreover, he
seems to say that because the word Euroclydon sounds similar to eurochoors, that
they must be referring to the same thing. This example is typical of his
irrational jumps and leaps.
In his book, Feed My Sheep, he argues that the
"cultural mandate" of Genesis 1:26, where man was commanded "to subdue the
earth," was intended "strictly for our first parents and must have no
relationship to the believer today" (p.10). He argues that the Hebrew word
radah, which means to rule or reign, is never used outside of Genesis 1.
Therefore, Mr. Camping draws the premature conclusion that man is not
commanded to exercise dominion over the creatures, excluding man. Thus, a
significant portion of the covenant of creation is deemed obsolete.
In his treatment of Psalm 8:4-8, where man is
commanded to have "dominion" over all the works of God's hands (the Hebrew word
being mashal), Mr. Camping appeals to Hebrews 2:5-9 "where these verses
are quoted to show that it is in the world to come that this condition will
apply" (Feed My Sheep, p. 34). Why the world to come? Because Hebrews 2:8
says "we see not yet all things under him." So, Mr. Camping argues that
"this will be in the world to come." A careful reading of the text,
however, indicates that if we see not yet all things under him, then
certainly some things, or even many things must now be under Him!
Brother Camping then goes on to argue that the Psalm 8
passage is to be realized only in Christ, not in the believer. True, Psalm 8 is
about Christ because Christ is the ideal man, the second Adam. But is it not
also true that believers are united to Christ, that they are "in Christ?" In
short, the Psalmist is reflecting upon the creation and the loftiness of man's
creation. But he also speaks prophetically of Christ Who is the ideal Man and,
by implication, of all those who are in Christ. When men are in Christ, then
they will rule in the radah or mashal sense!
Mr. Camping's misunderstanding of the "dominion covenant"
leads him to depreciate the physical at the expense of what is considered
spiritual. Certain anti-material statements become intelligible when we
understand his reluctance to own the fullness of the covenant of creation. For
example, he says: "The Gospel is concerned with the spiritual needs of mankind.
Only within the congregation does the Gospel concern itself with physical needs"
(The Final Tribulation, p.80). Apparently, Mr. Camping has not read such
verses as Galatians 6:10.
Divorce occupies center stage for Mr. Camping's unique
interpretations of Scripture. His book, What God hath joined together...,
contains a large number of his mistaken hermeneutical principles.
Basically, (and this is fundamental) Mr. Camping's
beginning place is Romans 7:1-4
and Mark 10:2-10. The Romans
passage says that "the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her
husband as long as he lives." Someone phoned Mr. Camping on Open Forum,
and asked: "My husband has been committing adultery for years. What should I
do if he will not break it off?" Mr. Camping replied: "The Bible says
that you're bound to your husband as long as he lives. You're to love him
unconditionally. By praying for him and loving him, you may win him back. But
you're not ever to divorce him for his infidelity." Thus, Mr. Camping's
starting place is Romans 7 and it is Romans 7 that colors all of his thinking
about the sin of divorce in all circumstances. (See What God hath joined
together, p. 79.)
There are two problems here. To begin with, it is usually
unwise to make an illustration the beginning place of one's hermeneutic. In
Romans 7 Paul is addressing the relationship of the believer to the law. He uses
marriage as an illustration of that relationship. His purpose is not to give us
information about grounds for divorce. A better Bible principle would be to
start with those passages that deal more directly with marriage and divorce and
interpret Romans 7 in the light of them.
Second, there are many absolute statements in the Bible
that appear incapable of qualification. Romans 7 is no different from these. For
example, Jesus tells us in Mark 11:24 that "what things soever you desire
when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them." A
first reading may tell us that this verse is a carte blanche promise; whatever
you desire when you shall pray, you shall certainly receive. There are no
qualifications attached, other than the qualification of faith. However, when
you compare this verse with other verses in the Bible, you will shortly see that
the promise of Mark 11:24 is qualified. For example, when you pray, you must
pray according to the will of God and you must pray with thanksgiving (1
John 5:14; Philippians 4:6).
Likewise, the Romans 7 statement about the wife's "permanent" marriage, is not
dealing with the divorce question. It does not anticipate possible sins that may
make a divorce lawful.
Because Mr. Camping starts in the wrong place of the
Bible, he prematurely comes to the conclusion that there is to be "no divorce
for any reason whatsoever" (What God hath joined together..., p. 35).
This forces him to do two things: (1) He inordinately exalts Romans 7 as "the
king of the hill" divorce passage; (2) He must change the "exceptive clause" of
Matthew 19:9, and all such verses like it. Matthew 19:9 reads: "And I say to
you, whoever divorces his wife, except for fornication, and marries another,
commits adultery..." Mr. Camping's rendering of the verse is: "And I say
to you, whoever divorces his wife, in addition to fornication, and marries
another, commits adultery..." Thus, the clause that is universally
translated by Greek scholars as meaning "except" is translated to mean precisely
Is there support for this daring translation? Mr. Camping
says there is, and proceeds to illustrate his point that the Greek word (ei me)
means "other than" or "in addition to" in Matthew 19:17 and Mark 8:14. In the
Matthew 19:17 passage, Jesus said to the rich young ruler: "there is none
good but (ei me) one, that is, God." Camping writes: "This verse
could be read:'"there is none good 'in addition to' or 'other than' one, that
is, God."' Notice that if we translate Matthew 19:17 as "other than," then
the thought of exception stands. If we translate it: "in addition to," then that
makes little linguistic, and zero theological sense. Jesus is not telling the
ruler: "There is none good, in addition to God." Such would be rigmarole.
Mr. Camping tells us "many other examples could be
given..." without telling us where to find these examples. The truth is that
there are not a plentitude of examples. He also does not tell us that the
normative meaning of ei me in the Gospel of Matthew, indeed, in the
whole Bible is "except," "but," "save," – words that stress contrast and
exception (see Matthew 17:8; 19:9; 24:22; Mark 2:21-22; 3:20; 9:9; 29; John 19:11; Romans 7:7; 9:29; 1 Corinthians 8:4). He also does not tell
us that the Greek word that appears in Matthew 5:32, and that is also translated
"except for fornication," is parektos, a different word, and can have
meaning than "except" (see Acts 26:29 another example of parektos). Clearly, Mr.
Camping has read his own prejudices into Matthew 19:9,
while at the same time slighting over the parallel passage in Matthew 5:32.
Camping next deduces that allowance even of limited
divorce, that is, for fornication, is due to permissiveness and the abandonment
of the unconditional love that Christ requires of husbands and wives. Indeed,
many of his disciples will accuse the church of liberalism and heresy for
countenancing any kind of divorce. It is not our purpose to react to each and
every criticism against those who enlist fornication as a legitimate grounds of
divorce. But we will say that there are two extremes, not just one, that the
modern church needs to avoid. Is there the danger of liberalism? Yes. But there
is also the danger of Phariseeism. And one of the hallmarks of Phariseeism is
that of imposing burdens upon men that cannot be borne (Matthew 23:4). The goal
interpreter is to teach only what the Bible says, recognizing that
both liberalism and Phariseeism are equally anti-scriptural.
What about Camping's claim that marrieds are to love each
other unconditionally? Is this really what Paul means when he says: "Husbands,
love your wives, even as Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it"
(Ephesians 5:25)? We would simply say that while love has no limits (love is
always in the red), marital love does have limits. Because God has allowed
fornication as a lawful grounds for divorce, we know that marital love does have
specified perimeters. We see this not only in the Old Testament when God "put
away" Israel the harlot, but in the New Testament when Joseph, "a just man,"
sought to put away Mary his wife (Matthew 1:19). In short, only God can love
unconditionally. The Lord has placed unrepented fornication as a limit upon
marital love. The husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church; but
the husband cannot love his wife in such a way that if he were to literally die
for her, that he would accomplish her salvation. Remember too that Christ's love
for His bride is an omnipotent love that actually keeps His bride on 'the
straight and narrow.' Human love is not
omnipotent. There are limits to what husbandly love can accomplish.
Camping believes (on the "basis" of Romans 7) that even if a
divorce does come about, that the two are still married in God's eyes. He says:
"Even though she is legally (by the state) divorced, in God's sight she is still
bound to her first husband" (What God hath joined together p. 31).
Interestingly, Mr. Camping does not grapple with the thorny problem that if the
two are still married
even upon a legal divorce, then divorce becomes the one sin that
can never really be committed!
A GRIEVOUS, FINAL ASSESSMENT
The Bible in the hands of Mr. Camping is all too often
distorted. We are not too bold to say that Mr. Camping should not be teaching on
the radio or in the church. Christians who regularly listen to him should be
zealots for their own churches. Sadly, the "Open Forum" program has become for
many an electronic church that occupies the center place in their lives. And the
fanciful theology that they often learn in this "church of the sky" all too
often becomes ammunition that they use upon the local churches that they have
covenanted to support.
We praise God that souls have benefited from those teachings' that are in accord
with Biblical truth (of which there are many). The problem, however, is that Mr.
Camping emphasizes teachings that are not consonant with Biblical truth. These
are what he
usually talks about; certainly, they are what his books are about.
As an allegorist, Mr. Camping is a schismatic. Unsuspecting
Christians and churches need to be informed. Certainly, churches that have an
open door policy to Campingitism need forewarning about the inherent dangers of
schism and church polarization.
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