How long is a generation in the Bible?

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By BibleAsk Team


A Generation

The concept of a generation in the Bible is a subject that has generated considerable discussion and interpretation. The term “generation” is used in various contexts throughout the Bible, and its meaning can differ based on the specific passage and historical context. While the Bible doesn’t explicitly provide a fixed number of years that define a generation, there are references that offer insights into how the term is used.

Generations in Biblical Genealogies:

In many instances, the term “generation” is linked to genealogies, providing a record of individuals and their descendants. The structure of these genealogies often includes phrases like “So-and-so begot so-and-so” and spans multiple generations. For example, in the genealogy of Jesus found in the Gospel of Matthew, the term “generation” is used to mark key transitions:

“So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations.”

Matthew 1:17, NKJV

In this context, a generation is part of a structured genealogy, and the number fourteen appears to be a thematic choice rather than a strict measure of years.

The 40-Year Generation:

Another significant biblical association with a generation is the 40-year period often mentioned in connection with the Israelites’ wandering in the wilderness. The idea of a generation lasting 40 years is rooted in the events following the Exodus from Egypt. Due to disobedience and lack of faith, the Israelites were condemned to wander in the desert until the rebellious generation passed away:

“And the Lord’s anger was aroused against Israel, and He made them wander in the wilderness forty years until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of the Lord was gone.”

Numbers 32:13, NKJV

The idea of 40 years representing a generation is also seen in Moses’ life. After fleeing Egypt, Moses spent 40 years in Midian before returning to lead the Israelites out of slavery.

Psalms and the Shortened Lifespan:

The Book of Psalms, attributed to various authors including David, reflects on the brevity of human life and the concept of a generation. One notable passage is Psalm 90, attributed to Moses:

“The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”

Psalm 90:10, NKJV

Here, the psalmist reflects on the span of a human life, suggesting that a generation may be roughly 70 to 80 years. This idea is in line with the general understanding that a biblical generation represents a human lifespan.

Jesus’ Use of “This Generation”:

In the Gospels, Jesus uses the term “this generation” in various contexts. One notable example is found in Matthew 24, where Jesus speaks about the signs of the end times:

“Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.”

Matthew 24:34, NKJV

Interpreting the phrase “this generation” has dual meanings:

1-Commentators, generally, have understood that the phrase “this generation” of Matthew 23:36 points to the generation of the apostles. Jesus repeatedly used the expression “this generation” in this sense (Matthew 11:16; 12:39, 41, 42, 45; 16:4; 17:17; etc.). clearly, Christ’s predictions concerning the fall of Jerusalem, which occurred in A.D. 70, did, literally, come to pass within the lifetime of many then living.

2-The words “this generation” in verse 34 are in the context of verse 27–51, which deal primarily with the second coming of Christ. The signs mentioned in these verses and in Luke—“signs” in the heavens and “upon the earth” (Luke 21:25)—would happen near the day of His coming that Christ declared that the “generation” that sees the last of the signs, shall not pass before “all these things be fulfilled.

Conclusion:

The concept of a generation in the Bible is multifaceted. It is often associated with genealogies, periods of time such as the 40-year wilderness wanderings, and reflections on the brevity of human life. While there isn’t a specific, fixed number of years universally designated as a biblical generation, the Bible provides various insights into the understanding of time spans and the passing of generations. Each insight should be studied within its Biblical context.

In His service,
BibeAsk Team

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