The strange case of Harold Camping’s hermeneutics
This article is adapted from a section of the book ‘Truth is the Word’ by Dr Christopher Peppler www.truthistheword.co.za
Harold Camping is the Calvinist radio Bible teacher based in California. He has sprung to notoriety by predicting that the Rapture would occur at 6 pm on 21 st May, 2011. The day has come and gone and the Christian world is left puzzling over the question of how he could have got it so wrong.
Apart from radically reinterpreting Jesus words, that no one knows the day or the hour, as applying only to the disciples of His time, Camping fell on the sword of his faulty interpretive method. He uses and abuses a method commonly referred to as allegorical interpretation, but he is not the only teacher who does this. Several years ago I heard the leader of a major church group preach on how the twelve gates in the walls of ancient Jerusalem each stood for a particular church age. He went around the gates in a clockwise direction and concluded that we were currently in the age signified by the Dung Gate – phew!
Camping uses an extreme form of allegorization but there are several variants in today’s church, and so it would be useful to examine the issue and come up with a balanced approach to biblical interpretation.
On the one end of the hermeneutical continuum are those who adopt, what I have called, a strict rational-biblicist hermeneutic. At the other end are the allegorical Harold Campings’ who believe that every text contains a veiled ‘deeper’ meaning. The allegorical approach to Bible interpretation was popular in the middle ages but with the reformation came a swing to the other end of the continuum.
Can a text contain more than one meaning and more specifically, can it contain a hidden mystical meaning? Is there a place for allegorical interpretation, and if there is then how do we protect the biblical text from irresponsible interpretation, and what I have called campingitis?
Sensus Plenior means ‘the fuller sense’. A question that theologians often argue concerns whether the biblical authors were always cognisant of the full meaning of what they wrote For instance, Isaiah wrote of the young woman (virgin) who was to give birth to one who would be called Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14). The prophet might have had in mind the birth of a contemporary king but Matthew 1:23 applies his reference to Jesus…