The claim being circulated that May 21 will mark the end of the world and be a day of judgment by God has no basis in Scripture or authentic Christian teaching, according to Catholic scholar Dr. Jared Staudt.
The professor of theology at the Augustine Institute, located in Denver, said that Biblical teaching and Church tradition show “it's clear that it is not scriptural to seek for a date for the day of judgment.”
“It sometimes can be easy to ridicule groups like this for coming up with such calculations, but we should remember that this is a perennial problem,” Staudt told CNA.
“In the end, I think it is a problem of faith. We have a hard time simply trusting in the Lord and waiting for Him.”
Family Radio, a religious group out of Oakland, California that has been broadcasting for several decades, recently launched a nationwide campaign claiming that May 21 at 6:00 p.m. will signal the beginning of hell on earth for non-believers, and a day when Christians around the world will be “raptured” into heaven.
The group has worked around the clock in recent weeks to push their message, using radio and TV broadcasts, billboards, t-shirts, pamphlets and even bumper stickers. Their website received over 3 million visits in April.
Family Radio president Harold Camping, 89, has been hosting the live, call-in talk show “Open Forum” for 50 years.
During a May 15 show, he speculated that “people will be dying by the millions” in the terror-laden months that will follow Judgment Day, until the final destruction of the earth on October 21.
The group uses multiple verses from the Bible to calculate the end of the world, asserting in a booklet that the “great amount of Biblical signs and proofs absolutely guarantee Judgment Day is May 21, 2011.”
In an May 19 interview, however, Dr. Staudt explained that the group uses literal interpretations of several Bible verses taken out of context.
“Family Radio’s prediction of the day of the judgment is premised on the literal interpretation of 2 Peter 3:8, which states: 'with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day,'” Staudt explained.
“Building upon this interpretation, Family Radio then applies it to the surrounding context in 2 Peter, the day of judgment in relation to the flood – 2 Peter 3:6.”
Staudt explained that the group also draws its warning from the passage in the book of Genesis where God warns Noah of the flood arriving in seven days. Since “one day is as a thousand years” God, Family Radio concluded that 7,000 years from the start of the flood, or May 21, 2011, will be Judgment Day.
However, Staudt emphasized, St. Peter also clearly says that “'the day of the Lord will come like a thief,' echoing our Lord’s own words.”
“Jesus said he would come as a thief in the night and also clearly stated that it did not pertain to His mission to announce the time of His Second Coming,” he clarified. “It is clear that Jesus did not want us to know the time of His coming, but rather to remain in watchful expectation.”
“He said that He would come soon – Rev 22:20 – but this is not meant to create fear in the disciples, but rather hope, knowing that Christ is the Lord of history and will triumph in the end.”
Additionally, the rapture “is not part of Catholic teaching,” Staudt said. “We do not separate the resurrection of the just and the reprobate, nor the final tribulation and the Lord’s coming.”
“We are to have a faith filled expectation of the Lord’s coming, but without trying to have control over it,” he said.
“We also have to remember that the Lord comes to us every day in the Eucharist and He also comes to us in our own death. Our lives should be centered on watchfulness so that we have open hearts to Him in prayer and in expectation of the future glory, which He promises us.”
Staudt noted that a primary factor in cult-like groups making misguided claims about the end of the wold comes “from a lack of union with the Church established by Christ.”
“When a group is on its own, it sits down with the Bible and tries to figure things out,” he noted. But these groups do not have the context that comes from hearing the Word of God proclaimed in the liturgy or “the authority of the Magisterium to interpret the Bible in unison with Tradition.”
Rather than respond with ridicule or dismissiveness, however, Staudt reiterated the importance of engaging such groups with charity and truth.
“Throughout the Catholic tradition, the response to a contrary position is always to find the good in what is presented and to seek dialogue,” he said. “In this particular case, one could certainly affirm and even praise the desire to proclaim the biblical message of the need for conversion and forgiveness.”
“However, one could also see the sensational presentation as a trivialization of this message. Regardless of that fact, it is still an opportunity to discuss the topic, which has been brought up in a very vocal way.”
Staudt said it's important to remember that “many people, if not most, have never heard a clear and well founded presentation of the Catholic faith.”
“People are drawn towards cults because they are looking for the truth and also for a sense of belonging,” he observed. “Cults provide simple clear cut answers and usually a well defined way of life. We know that this is simply a parody of what Christ intends and actually offers.”
“We need to use opportunities like the one presented by Family Radio to engage in conversation, to listen, and to gently, yet firmly, proclaim the truth of Christ with which we have been entrusted in His Church.”