We recently had our 2012 service year circuit assembly. There was a four-part symposium on Sunday morning dealing with the sanctification of God’s name. The second part was entitled, “How Can We Sanctify God’s Name By Our Speech”. It included a demonstration wherein an elder counsels a brother who is having doubts about our latest interpretation of the meaning of “this generation” found at Matthew 24:34.  The demonstration reiterated the logic upon which this latest understanding is based and which is found in the Watchtower issues of February 15, 2008 p. 24 (box) and April 15, 2010 Watchtower p. 10, par. 14.  (These references are included at the end of this post for the reader’s convenience.)

The fact that such a topic would be presented from the assembly platform combined with the increased incidence of exhortations in the Watchtower over the past year to be loyal and obedient to the faithful steward leads one to the conclusion that there must be a significant level of resistance to this new teaching.

Of course, we should be loyal to Jehovah and Jesus, as well as the organization being used today to proclaim the good news.  On the other hand, it is not disloyal to question the application of a scripture when it is evident that such is based largely on speculative reasoning.  So we will continue ‘examining the Scriptures to see if these things are so’.  That is God’s direction to us.

A Synopsis Of Our Current Interpretation

Mt. 24:34 uses generation to refer to the anointed Christians during the last days.  A generation is made up of people whose lives overlap during a particular time period.  Ex. 1:6 is our Scriptural support for this definition.  A generation has a start, an end, and is not of excessive length.  The lives of anointed Christians alive to witness the events of 1914 overlap with the lives of those who will witness the end of the system of things.  The 1914 group are now all dead, yet the generation continues to exist.

Argument Elements Accepted Prima Facie

According to our current understanding, anointed Christians do not pass away during the last days.  In fact, they do not taste death at all, but are transformed in the twinkling of an eye and continue living.  (1 Cor. 15:52)  So it could be argued that as a generation, they do not pass away and thus do not fulfill that requirement of Mt. 24:34.  Still, we can concede that point since it really doesn’t matter whether the generation is made up of anointed Christians exclusively, or all Christians, or everyone living on Earth for that matter.

We will also stipulate that for purposes of this discussion, a generation has a start, an end, and is not excessively long.  In addition, we can agree that Ex. 1:6 is a good example of the type of generation Jesus had in mind in Mt. 24:34.

Argument Elements To Be Examined

In the symposium part, the elder uses the account at Ex 1:6 to explain that a generation is made up of people living at different times, but whose lives overlap.  Jacob was part of that group entering Egypt, yet he was born in 1858 B.C.E.  His youngest son Benjamin was born in 1750 B.C.E. when Jacob was 108.  Yet they both were part of the generation that entered Egypt in 1728 B.C.E.  These overlapping lifespans are used to support our idea of two separate but overlapping groups.  The first group does pass away before all Jesus words are fulfilled.  The second group does not see the fulfillment of some of his words because they aren’t born yet.  However, combining the two groups makes up one single generation like, we contend, that mentioned in Ex. 1:6.

Is this a valid comparison?

The event that identified the Ex. 1:6 generation was their entry into Egypt.  Since we are comparing the two generations, what might be the modern-day counterpart to that event.  Would it seem fair to compare it to 1914.  If we liken brother Russell to Jacob and young brother Franz to Benjamin, we could say that they make up the generation that saw the events of 1914 even though brother Russell died in 1916 while brother Franz lived on until 1992.  They were men of overlapping lifetimes who lived during a particular event or time period.  That perfectly fits the definition we’ve agreed upon.

Now what would be the Scriptural counterpart for those yet to be alive at the end of this system of things?  Does the Bible refer to another group of Jews, none of whom were alive in 1728 B.C.E. but who still comprise part of the generation mentioned in Ex. 1:6?  No, it does not.

The generation of Ex. 1:6 started, at the earliest, with the birth of its youngest member.  It ended, at the latest, the date the last of the group entering Egypt died. Its length would therefore be, at most, sometime between those two dates.

We, on the other hand, have a time period the end of which we still do not know, even though the youngest member comprising those at its start is now dead.  It currently spans 98 years.  Our generation could easily exceed the life span of its oldest member by 20, 30, even 40 years without compromising the new definition.

It cannot be denied that this is a new and unique definition.  There is nothing in Scripture to compare with it, nor is there a precedent in secular history, or classical Greek literature.  Jesus did not offer his disciples a special definition for ‘this generation’ nor did he imply that the commonly understood definition didn’t apply in this case.  We must therefore assume he meant it to be understood in the vernacular of the day.  In our explanation we make the statement that “He evidently meant that the lives of the anointed who were on hand when the sign began to become evident in 1914 would overlap with the lives of other anointed ones who would see the start of the great tribulation.” (w10 4/15 pp. 10-11 par. 14) How can we say that common fisherman would have ‘evidently’ understood such an unusual application of the term ‘generation’.  It is hard for a reasonable person to concede that such an interpretation would be ‘evident’.  We mean on disrespect to the Governing Body in stating this.  It is simply a fact.  Additionally, since it has taken us 135 years to arrive at this understanding of generation, is it not hard to believe that the first century disciples would have evidently understood he was not meaning generation in the traditional sense, but rather a time frame spanning more than a century?

Another factor is that the word generation is never used to encompass a time period greater than the lifespan of those making up the generation.  We might refer to the generation of the Napoleonic Wars, or the generation of the First World War.  You could even refer to the generation of World War soldiers because there were those who fought in both world wars.  In each and end every case, Biblical or secular, the time period marking the generation is less than the collective lifespan of those actually comprising it.

Consider this by way of example: Some historians consider the Napoleonic Wars to be the first world war, making 1914 the second and 1939 the third.  If those historians wanted to refer to the generation of world war soldiers, would that mean Napolean’s soldiers were of the same generation as Hitler’s?  Yet if we claim our definition of generation is evident from Jesus words, we would have to permit this usage as well.

There is simply no definition of generation that allows all the members experiencing a key part of the events that mark it as a generation to die while preserving the generation alive.  Yet since this conforms to our definition of generation, we would have to allow for that usage, as bizarre as it may seem.

Finally, we say that a generation is not excessively long.  Our generation is nearing the century mark and still counting?  How long would it have to be before we could consider it excessive?

In Conclusion

“Jesus did not give his disciples a formula to enable them to determine when “the last days” would end.” (w08 2/15 p. 24 – Box) We have stated this many times as far back as the mid-90s.  Yet we continue, almost in the same breath, to use his words in just that way.  The symposium part did so, using our current understanding to inspire a sense of urgency because the generation is almost over.  Still, if our statement that Jesus didn’t intend it for that purpose is true—and we believe it to be so since that harmonizes with the rest of Scripture—then Jesus words at Mt. 24:34 have another purpose.

Jesus words must be true.  Yet for a single generation of modern man to witness 1914 and the end, it would have to be 120 years old and counting.  To solve this conundrum, we have chosen to redefine the term ‘generation’.  Creating an entirely new definition for a word seems like an act of desperation, does it not? Perhaps we would be better served by re-examining our premise.  We are assuming Jesus meant something very specific when he used “all these things” to identify ‘this generation’.  It is likely that our assumptions are incorrect given that the only way we can continue to make them work is to redefine the meaning of a key word.

However, that is a topic for a future post.

References

(w08 2/15 p. 24 – Box;  Christ’s Presence—What Does It Mean to You?)
The word “generation” usually refers to people of various ages whose lives overlap during a particular time period or event. For example, Exodus 1:6 tells us: “Eventually Joseph died, and also all his brothers and all that generation.” Joseph and his brothers varied in age, but they shared a common experience during the same time period. Included in “that generation” were some of Joseph’s brothers who were born before him. Some of these outlived Joseph. (Gen. 50:24) Others of “that generation,” such as Benjamin, were born after Joseph was born and may have lived on after he died.

So when the term “generation” is used with reference to people living at a particular time, the exact length of that time cannot be stated except that it does have an end and would not be excessively long. Therefore, by using the term “this generation,” as recorded at Matthew 24:34, Jesus did not give his disciples a formula to enable them to determine when “the last days” would end. Rather, Jesus went on to emphasize that they would not know “that day and hour.”—2 Tim. 3:1; Matt. 24:36.

(w10 4/15 pp. 10-11 par. 14 Holy Spirit’s Role in the Outworking of Jehovah’s Purpose)
What does this explanation mean to us? Although we cannot measure the exact length of “this generation,” we do well to keep in mind several things about the word “generation”: It usually refers to people of varying ages whose lives overlap during a particular time period; it is not excessively long; and it has an end. (Ex. 1:6) How, then, are we to understand Jesus’ words about “this generation”? He evidently meant that the lives of the anointed who were on hand when the sign began to become evident in 1914 would overlap with the lives of other anointed ones who would see the start of the great tribulation. That generation had a beginning, and it surely will have an end. The fulfillment of the various features of the sign clearly indicate that the tribulation must be near. By maintaining your sense of urgency and keeping on the watch, you show that you are keeping up with advancing light and following the leadings of holy spirit.