Tuesday, August 3, 2010

This Generation

On the Answering Muslims blog the question of the meaning of "this generation" as used in the Olivet Discourse as found in the synoptic Gospels came up (see the comment section - here). Some argued that it could mean "this race" or something other than "this generation". Many Christians believe it is necessary to make this move in order to prove that Jesus (or the disciples) did not make a false prediction that He would come in the first century. Ironically, it is just because people have argued that Jesus did not return in judgment in the first century that has led unbelievers who take the phrase "this generation" according to its clear meaning to argue that Jesus and the early Christians were wrong in their expectations. But taking the phrase as it is uniformly translated does not at all create a problem, at least not if one interprets the rest of the passage(s) that bear on the subject according to the way such language is used throughout the Bible, particularly in apocalyptic sections. In other words, the phrase should be translated "this generation", and these things did come to pass exactly as Jesus, interpreted against the backdrop of the Old Testament prophets, predicted that they would.

The following are my reasons for thinking the phrase is properly translated as "this generation". Perhaps in future posts I will go through the entire discourse in Matthew, beginning back in chapter 23, and show how all of these things comport with what happened in the first century. Suffice it to say here, beginning back in Matthew 23 Jesus is clearly indicting His first century hearers, particularly the Jewish leadership, for rejecting Him, and telling them the wrath of God would fall on them. As Jesus exits the Temple area with His disciples, they point out the beauty of the Temple, apparently because He has just said it will be desolated, which provokes Christ to respond that the Temple would be destroyed. At this the disciples ask Jesus when these things will be, and Jesus proceeds to tell them what to look for. He speaks of many things that will happen before the end, including earthquakes, wars, famines, the coming of false Christ's, the abomination of desolation being set up in the temple, Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, etc. After they see all of this happen, they are to flee from Jerusalem, for her destruction is near. Immediately after all of the above happens, the very heavens would be shaken, the sign of the Son of man would appear in the sky, and faithless Jerusalem would be no more. He concludes this part of the discourse by saying, "All these things shall come upon this generation". [This of course is a paraphrase and a rough synopsis.]

When one interprets these things in light of their Biblical context, and when one compares this to what happened in the first century, as we have recorded for us in detail by Josephus, who was an eyewitness, there is every reason to believe that they happened just like Jesus predicted.

There were wars, famines, earthquakes, false prophets, and false Messiah's during that time period. (Many of these things are listed several times over in the book of Acts.)

Jerusalem was surrounded by the armies of imperial Rome. The armies briefly withdrew only to return a short time later, and during the interim while the Jews were rejoicing thinking their disaster had been averted, the Jewish Christians left the city according to Christ's command.

The Son of Man did coming riding the clouds in judgment, and Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed just like He predicted. In fact, they were destroyed within a generation - AD. 70.

There is, therefore, no problem on this view with taking the phrase "this generation" literally.

None of this impinges on the truth of the return of Christ at the end of history to resurrect the dead, judge the world, and create a New Heavens and a New Earth. There are several other passages that speak of these events in contexts that are not qualified by time texts or other temporal indicators.

With that said, here are my reasons for taking "generation" and "this generation" to be the correct translation of the words, as did many of the early Christians (Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, Theophlacyt, et. al.) and many other able men closer to our own times (John Gill, J. B. Lightfoot, Albert Barnes, John Wesley, C. H. Spurgeon, John A. Broadus, F. F. Bruce, and D.A. Carson, just to list a few).

1. All standard English translations render the Greek word genea in the Olivet Discourse as “generation”, not race (KJV, NKJV, NAS, ESV, etc.). Many other translations are even more explicit.

2. Greek lexicons and reference works on Greek grammar give “generation” as the primary meaning of the word (Thayer, BAGD, et. al). Even those who say the word could sometimes mean “race”, and many do not, list it as a very remote meaning.

3. A number of lexicons even make reference to the relevant passages in the Olivet discourse when giving “generation” as the meaning of the word (e.g. Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, rev. ed., 112; Arndt and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Vol. 1), as do other reference works.

4. No example can be brought forward from anywhere in the New Testament outside of the Olivet discourse – excepted here because that is the verse in question – where genea must be translated as “race”. Furthermore, “race” does not appear to even be a very likely reading of any verse outside of the Olivet discourse.

5. If the disciples wanted to say race, the best word for this, a word that was at their disposal since they use it elsewhere, would have been genos.

6. Every time the word genea is used in Matthew’s Gospel (and the other Synoptics) outside of the Olivet discourse it is not only translated as “generation”, but that is the only possible translation. Translating it as “race” in such places would not fit.

7. Most importantly, the full phrase, “this generation,” which is only used by Jesus in the New Testament, can never mean “that generation”, “this race”, or “that race”. The following is every time the phrase is used (outside of the times it occurs in the Olivet discourse as recorded in the Synoptic Gospels):

“To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge and you did not mourn.' For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners." But wisdom is proved right by her actions. “ Matthew 11:16ff.

“The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon's wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here. “ Matthew 12:41-42

“The Pharisees came out and began to argue with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, to test Him. Sighing deeply in His spirit, He said, "Why does this generation seek for a sign? Truly I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation." Mark 8:12

“To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children who sit in the market place and call to one another, and they say, 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.' For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, 'He has a demon!' "The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, 'Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'” Luke 7:31

“As the crowds were increasing, He began to say, "This generation is a wicked generation; it seeks for a sign, and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. The Queen of the South will rise up with the men of this generation at the judgment and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. Luke 11:29-32

“One of the lawyers said to Him in reply, "Teacher, when You say this, You insult us too." But He said, "Woe to you lawyers as well! For you weigh men down with burdens hard to bear, while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens with one of your fingers. "Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets, and it was your fathers who killed them. "So you are witnesses and approve the deeds of your fathers; because it was they who killed them, and you build their tombs. "For this reason also the wisdom of God said, 'I will send to them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and some they will persecute, so that the blood of all the prophets, shed since the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the house of God; yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation.' "Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not enter, and you hindered those who were entering." Luke 11:50-51

Note the following salient facts:

a. Often in these verses Jesus is directly addressing His contemporaries making it clear that what he is saying has particular reference to them.

b. To make the word mean race in many of these contexts is to put the Jews of all time under a perpetual curse. It was the generation then living that was guilty of rejecting Jesus and on whom the wrath of God would fall, not a future generation.

It is for such reasons that commentators almost never give an example where “generation” or “this generation” could be translated as “race” or “this race” and make it fit the context; they most often just assert that the word or phrase could mean the latter. On those rare occasions when they do try to give examples, I would maintain that they are not dealing squarely with the facts.

Interestingly enough, even the unprovable (and demonstrably false) assumption that the phrase means “that race” does not refute the view that the passage is talking about the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, for people who have thought this to be a possible translation have still recognized the incredible fit of everything in the passage – using the Bible of course to control how they interpret prophetic discourse, rather than ignoring Biblical idioms and imposing on the passage what such words “literally” mean to them – with what happened in the first century. For instance, the relatively well known commentator Adam Clarke, writing in 1810, believed that the phrase “this generation” could mean “this race”, though he gave no argument for this (which is but to be expected). But interestingly enough, Clarke interpreted the passage as a reference to Jerusalem’s destruction.

“This chapter contains a prediction of the utter destruction of the city and temple of Jerusalem, and the subversion of the whole political constitution of the Jews; and is one of the most valuable portions of the new covenant Scriptures, with respect to the evidence which it furnishes of the truth of Christianity. Everything which our Lord foretold should come on the temple, city, and people of the Jews, has been fulfilled in the most correct and astonishing manner….” Clarke’s Commentary, 3:225


Mike A Robinson said...

The muslims should toss the books of H. Lindsey, C. Smith, Van Empty, Haggee, along with the koran, and actually read what the NT teaches about the last days.
Ill trust the NT over an unjst warrior speaking garbled messages 600 years later; and ill trust Christ over the TV preachers 2000 years later.

Anonymous said...

The Quran is so full of contradictions and faults (ie Sura 19:1, incrompehensible letters)that it cannot be taken seriously.

Concerning your article I would like to add another text from www.jerusalemcouncil.org which treats Daniel´s timeline and prophecy.
They treat this passage as future prophecy, as Yeshua still has not returned:
"And learn this parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these, know that He is near, at the doors. Truly I say to you, this generation shall by no means pass away until all this takes place.[Mattithyahu 24:32-34]

In biblical typology, “the fig tree” is the nation of Israel . But when did the fig tree nation begin to bud forth again? In 1897, Theodore Herzl, known as the father of the Zionist Movement, made an entry in his diary declaring the manifestation of the State of Israel. That year marked the budding forth of a homeland for Jews worldwide – a people who had been scattered for nearly 2,000 years. We are without a doubt, the generation of the fig tree nation that Y’shua said would see His return."



Royal Son said...

Excellent points made in your Article brother.

Bfoali said...

Very interesting.I was actually just listening to a discussion on a topic similar to this, and thought this highlighted some interesting points.

If you don't mind though, I do have one question(I have more, but this is one that I'm more interested in at the moment).

You wrote the following:

To make the word mean race in many of these contexts is to put the Jews of all time under a perpetual curse. It was the generation then living that was guilty of rejecting Jesus and on whom the wrath of God would fall, not a future generation.

I'm sure you know the slanders thrown against the Jews throught most of European history. I was wondering why the disconnect existed between what you say--which I think is the correct interpertation-- and the many Christian communites who saw fit to claim deicide on behalf of the Jewish population.

Do you know of any of the debates surrounding this topic? I recently bought a book on Martin Luther--it hasn't arrived yet-- and there is a huge section on Martin Luther and his Jewish feelings . . . I always expect to find such section in books on Christian history.

Sorry for the long question. Thank you.

Anthony Rogers said...

I wouldn't pretend that this is the only reason why the charge was perpetuated throughout church history, but the fact that Christians have by and large held interpretations other than the one I offered here, which isn't to say there were not many many who did interpret the passage this way, played no small part in such a view.

You might be interested to know that I have a series (not yet finished) of articles on the Olivet Discourse that can be found on AI. I wrote them as a response to Shabir Ally, Paul Williams, et al. It goes into the fulfillment of the passage in greater detail, particularly to refute their charge that Jesus falsely predicted that the world would end in the first century.

While there is more that can be said in the case of Luther, I know he very much wanted the Jews of his day to be converted. When they proved to be impervious to his efforts, he became quite sour towards them.

Anthony Rogers said...

Here is the first article in the series on the Olivet Discourse. It should link you to the others articles I have so far finished when you get to the end of it.

Coming On the Clouds of Heaven

Bfoali said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bfoali said...

Ah, brilliant. Thank you for the link Anthony, I will most certainly be taking a look at them.

John Bob said...

Brother Anthony, I just came across your blog...I see the dates are old, r u no longer blogging here?

Anthony Rogers said...

Hi John Bob,

The blog is not dead, but it is inactive for now. When I have time I usually post on the Answering Muslims blog (where I have seen you left some comments). Other than that I continue to write articles for Answering Islam.

John Bob said...

Cool...it must be real time consuming writting all those articles..Anthony, thanks for all you do!

God Bless.

Hazakim1 said...

Though I disagree vehemently with Amillennialism, I feel that its understanding of Matt 24 has some merit (though aspects are over-stated). Overall I think the amill view fails to deal with the full weight of other eschatological/prophectic passages.

Anthony, would you ever be open to cordially debating the issue of eschatology in a formal setting - for the edification of God's people? It seems that so many theologians run from addressing this issue - about which so much is said in the Bible - head on. I would love to participate (as I have in the past) in such dialogue. Let me know...

Anthony Rogers said...

The position I articulated here has nothing to do with the millennial question. It is in fact held by advocates of all millennial persuasions. The only view that would have a tough time accommodating the above would be the Dispensational approach to the millennium, which of course still leaves intact Historic Premill, Amill, and Postmill.

I don't usually get caught up in the Millennial madness found in some circles, and I also have never told anyone (except at my own church and perhaps a few others) what my actual position is on the Millennium.

Anonymous said...

It does seem to me that the early disciples probably thought that Jesus would be returning soon - the writer of Revelation also seems to give that indication - certainly not a time line of two millenia or more before Jesus returns.
But candidly I do not find it a vexing question, after all the intertestamental period is full of eschatological literature; including that of the Essenes, who came off at the wrong end in 68 AD anyway.