By the Numbers: How May 21, 2011, Was Calculated to Be Judgment Day

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Romeo Ranoco / Reuters

Debra Schaper of Maryland, holding a placard on the streets of Manila, spreads the prediction that the world will end on May 21, 2011

A radical Christian group has determined that the beginning of the end of the world will occur this week. But is the math correct?

Most of us roll our eyes when we stumble across an apocalypse theory. But Family Radio has been proclaiming May 21, 2011, as the veritable Judgment Day, and the prediction has been getting a lot of attention. How could the network come up with such a specific date? NewsFeed crunched the numbers to see if the calculations could indeed signal the second coming of Christ, using passages from the New International Version of the Bible.

The Bible lists very few specific dates for events, so calculating Judgment Day is a daunting task. It takes a healthy leap of faith to take the Family Radio summation as fact, but if the numbers are correct — and biblical evidence stands true — Judgment Day could indeed be upon us on Saturday.

(PHOTOS: See a cinematic view of the apocalypse.)

The Great Flood Struck in 4990 B.C.
Family Radio president Howard Camping determined the date of the flood by cobbling together information from the Bible. Starting with the exodus of the Jews out of Egypt, commonly thought to have occurred in 1447 B.C., he counted back through each generation to form a timeline, reaching the year 4990 B.C. for the flood.

The accuracy of this date is paramount to Camping’s argument, but he seems to be one of a minority group in arriving at this number. Other biblical scholars say the flood happened around 2000 B.C.

Seven Days’ Warning of the Great Flood

“Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.” (Genesis 7: 4)

People had seven days to prepare for the great flood — an apocalyptic event in that time. This number serves as a benchmark.

Seven Days Equals 7,000 Years

“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” (2 Peter 3:8)

Using the seven-day warning as a benchmark, Camping’s calculations take this passage to heart. He added 7,000 years to the great flood date of 4990 B.C. (accounting for the fact that Year Zero doesn’t officially exist in the Gregorian calendar we use today) to determine the date of the next destruction of humanity. But isn’t this number a bit contrived? After all, no other biblical event used a multiplier of 1,000. So why this one?

Month 2, Day 17

“In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened.” (Genesis 7: 11)

The great flood occurred on 17 Iyar of the then standard Hebrew calendar, which 7,000 years later corresponds to May 21 in 2011.

Taking this evidence into account, Camping and his crew predict that earthquakes will shake the world at 6 p.m. on May 21. But many nonbelievers of the prediction, particularly religious ones, refute Family Radio’s claims using other biblical evidence. After all, would God truly reveal his plans in a calculated manner?

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24: 36)

And it appears that not even Camping truly knows. After all, he predicted the same situation before — in 1994 — and 17 years later, we’re still here. He later blamed that failed prediction on a miscalculation. Will he have to draft a similar excuse after Saturday?

See more on Judgment Day: Will Saturday be the end of the world?