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The Generation Game

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The Generation Game
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Jehovah’s Witnesses firmly believe that in 1914 Jesus set up his invisible Kingdom to rule mankind. Read The Gentile Times to understand how they reached the year/date of 1914 for the establishment of God’s Kingdom.

Since 1914, they have been fervently preaching door-to-door, on the streets and on-line a message that “very soon” God is going to bring an end to the world and its wickedness and set up a new kingdom that will rule earth. Why they believe it will be “very soon” is based on the words of Jesus Christ in the scripture at Matthew 24:34, where it reads:

Truly I say to you that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things happen.

– New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (2013)

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Because they believe that God’s Kingdom was set up under the rule of Jesus Christ since 1914, and this is a facet of “until all these things happen” (Matthew 24:30, 31), they are biblically tied to defining how long a period of time “this generation” is. However, their definition of “this generation” has, and continues to get them into a lot of hot water.

How Long is a Generation?

Simply put, a generation is the period of time between when a person is born and when they reproduce. This is typically a period spanning between 30 & 40 years. When Jesus was warning his apostles of the destruction of Jerusalem, he said it would take place in “this generation”. He made that prophecy in 33 A.D. 33 years later the Romans surrounded Jerusalem and, by 70 A.D., 37 years later, the city was completely destroyed. “This Generation” that Jesus referred to was within the typical time period for a “generation” as defined in secular sources: 30 – 40 years.

Is this how Jehovah’s Witnesses define a generation?

C.T. Russell’s Generation

Charles Taze Russell, the founding member of Jehovah’s Witnesses, initially reckoned a generation to be averaging out at 36.5 years. This application of a “generation” would be consistent with the secular definition:

A “generation” might be reckoned as equivalent to a century (practically the present limit) or one hundred and twenty years, Moses’ lifetime and the Scripture limit. (Genesis 6:3) Reckoning a hundred years from 1780, the date of the first sign, the limit would reach to 1880; and, to our understanding, every item predicted had begun to be fulfilled at that date;-the “harvest” or gathering time beginning October 1874; the organization of the Kingdom and the taking by our Lord of his great power as the King in April 1878, and the time of trouble or “day of wrath” which began October 1874 and will end October 1914; and the sprouting of the fig tree. Those who choose might without inconsistency say that the century or generation might as properly reckon from the last sign, the falling of the stars, as from the first, the darkening of the sun and moon: and a century beginning 1833 would be still far from run out. Many are living who witnessed the star-falling sign. Those who are walking with us in the light of present truth are not looking for things to come which are already here, but are waiting for the consummation of matters already in progress. Or, since the Master said, “When ye shall see all these things,” and since “the sign of the Son of Man in heaven,” and the budding fig tree, and the gathering of “the elect” are counted among the signs, it would not be inconsistent to reckon the “generation” from 1878 to 1914 – 36 1/2 years – about the average of human life to-day.

– Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. 4 The Day of Vengeance, pp. 604, 605.

Needless to say, the “generation” that C.T. Russell spoke about didn’t see the world end in october 1914, even if the World’s first world war broke out the same year, just 3 months earlier than Russell had foretold.

J.F. Rutherford’s Generation

After waiting patiently for the World to end at some point during The War – and it didn’t – the Watchtower remained silent for almost 10 years after the war ended. Then in 1927, under the leadership of Joseph Franklin Rutherford, the second President of the Watchtower society, a new interpretation was sought to define the biblical meaning of “generation”. This was found within a Watchtower section entitled, Interesting Questions:

Question: In Matthew 24:34 Jesus said: “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” What did he mean by “this generation” ?

Answer: It could hardly be said that he meant any human being living on the earth at that time. He was giving testimony concerning things that were to trans-spire at the end of the world. That was a long way off. No generation of the human race has ever existed as long as a thousand years. It follows then that Jesus must have meant something else. What could he have meant ? At the Jordan Jehovah started a new generation, a new creation, of which Christ Jesus is the Head. Jesus selected twelve disciples, who were with him for three and one-half years. Eleven of these we have every reason to believe constitute a part of that new creation. In 1 Peter 2:9 the apostle, speaking to the church of course, referred to those who are faithful. The irresistible conclusion therefore is that Jesus referred to the new creation when he said: “This generation shall not pass until all these things be fulfilled.” This then would be a strong indication that some members of the new creation will be on the earth at the time of Armageddon.

– The Watchtower, Feb 15, 1927, pp.62

The “generation” here is hazily defined as a period of time starting with the baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan and ending at Armageddon before all members of the “new creation” had died. The “New Creation” are those who have a heavenly calling, otherwise known as “The Anointed”. This is clearly explained in an earlier Watchtower article (The Watchtower, January 1 1927, pp.6, para 32 & 33). This interpretation of a “generation” was unique to Jehovah’s Witnesses as no secular or religious organizations have or had a similar view of a “generation”.

N.H. Knorr’s Generation

This interpretation of “generation”was followed for 24 years. Then, in 1951, under the tutelage of Nathan Homer Knorr, the third President of the Watchtower society, “this generation” was redefined. It no longer started with the baptism of Jesus Christ. Nor did it start in 1878. No, a new date for when “this generation” began was set and how long the period would be:

Though the statement pertaining to the time of trouble is brief, we should not understand that to indicate it is a very short time. For we are bound to take into account the many other prophecies in the book of Daniel, and elsewhere, in order to grasp how much is involved. Christ Jesus groups many such prophecies and enlarges on them when explaining to his disciples some of the things which must come to pass in the last days. (See Matthew 24.) He shows the beginning of this time and how the troubles increase, and mentions some of the sorrows to fall on the world, during the time of trouble. The length of time is indicated by him when he said, “Truly I say to you that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur.” (Matt. 24:34, NWT) The actual meaning of these words is, beyond question, that which takes a “generation” in the ordinary sense, as at Mark 8:12 and Acts 13:36, or for those who are living at the given period. So it was on “this generation” that the accumulated judgments were to fall. (Matthew 23:36) This therefore means that from 1914 a generation shall not pass till all is fulfilled, and amidst a great time of trouble.

– The Watchtower, July 1, 1951, “Vision of the Time of the End”, pp.403 – 404, para 11.

Interestingly, Nathan H Knorr’s Watchtower society reverted to interpreting a “generation” in a secular context: “those who are living at the given period” and they quote Mark 5:12 and Acts 13:36 to reinforce this interpretation. Therefore, if “this generation” began in 1914, and a “generation” lasts between 30-40 years, then maybe Knorr and company expected Armageddon to occur imminently. However, 1951 passed without incident. So what would the next interpretation be for the Watchtower society?

N.H. Knorr’s Revised Generation

In Questions from Readers, this question was answered by the Watchtower Society that was not consistent with every other inconsistent interpretation they have provided:

Your publications point out that the battle of Armageddon will come in this generation, and that this generation began A.D. 1914. Scripturally, how long is a generation?—G. P., Liberia.

Webster’s unabridged dictionary gives, in part, this definition of generation: “The average lifetime of man, or the ordinary period of time at which one rank follows another, or father is succeeded by child; an age. A generation is usually taken to be about 33 years.” But the Bible is not so specific. It gives no number of years for a generation. And in Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30 and Luke 21:32, the texts mentioning the generation the question refers to, we are not to take generation as meaning the average time for one generation to be succeeded by the next, as Webster’s does in its 33-year approximation; but rather more like Webster’s first-quoted definition, “the average lifetime of man.” Three or even four generations may be living at the same time, their lives overlapping. (Psalms 78:4Psalms 145:4) Before the Noachian flood the life span was hundreds of years. Down through the centuries since, it has varied, and even now is different in different countries. The Bible does speak of a man’s days as being threescore and ten or fourscore years; but it assigns no specific number of years to a generation.—Psalms 90:10.

Even if it did, we could not calculate from such a figure the date of Armageddon, for the texts here under discussion do not say God’s battle comes right at the end of this generation, but before its end. To try to say how many years before its end would be speculative. The texts merely set a limit that is sufficiently definite for all present practical purposes. Some persons living A.D. 1914 when the series of foretold events began will also be living when the series ends with Armageddon. All the events will come within the span of a generation. There are hundreds of millions of persons living now that were living in 1914, and many millions of these persons could yet live a score or more years. Just when the lives of the majority of them will be cut short by Armageddon we cannot say.

– The Watchtower, Sep 1 1952 Questions from Readers, pp.542 – 543.

Did you notice how The Watchtower simply plucked part of a dictionary definition for “generation” and then using biblical scriptures formulated a new definition for “generation”. They then dismiss this formula as being “speculative”. However, they brazenly hold onto this non-biblical interpretation so that they can say “some persons living A.D. 1914 when the series of foretold events began will also be living when the series ends with Armageddon”.

It’s cleverly dishonest.

The average reader wouldn’t even have noticed that the Watchtower dismissed their own interpretation! It’s this dishonest interpretation that is still held by many Jehovah’s Witnesses today. But worse, this interpretation incorporates a blatant lie. How? Those persons living in A.D. 1914 are now all dead. They are no longer alive to see “when the series ends with Armageddon”.

How Young is This Generation?

The Watchtower continued to use the interpretation of an “average lifetime of man” for many years after 1951. Even though they dismissed such an interpretation as non-biblical! Yes, they continued to build upon this interpretation for many years later. In 1968, the age of the “generation” of 1914 was considered anyone who was at least 15 years old. In an Awake! article entitled, What Will The 1970’s Bring, they said the following:

THE fact that fifty·four years of the period called the “last days” have already gone by is highly significant. It means that only a few years, at most, remain before the corrupt system of things dominating the earth is destroyed by God. How can we be so certain of this?

One way is by noting what Jesus said when he gave his great prophecy about the “last days.” After he listed the many events that would mark this period, he also stated: “Truly I say to you that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur.”-Matt. 24:34.

Jesus was obviously speaking about those who were old enough to witness with understanding what took place when the “last days” began. Jesus was saying that some of those persons who were alive at the appearance of the ‘sign of the last days’ would still be alive when God brought this system to its end.

Even if we presume that youngsters 15 years of age would be perceptive enough to realize the import of what happened in 1914, it would still make the youngest of “this generation” nearly 70 years old today. So the great majority of the generation to which Jesus was referring has already passed away in death. The remaining ones are approaching old age. And remember, Jesus said that the end of this wicked world would come before that generation passed away in death. This, of itself, tells us that the years left before the foretold end comes cannot be many.

– Awake! Oct 8, 1968, What Will The 1970’s Bring? pp.13-14 (589 & 590)

In 1968, the Watchtower was certain “that only a few years, at most, remain”. Yes, because 15 year olds in 1914 were almost 70 years old in 1968, they were certain that the years left before the foretold end could not be many. How wrong they were! Jesus was obviously NOT speaking about those 15 year-olds in 1914. One should read that Awake! article in full to get a full sense of the nonsense that the Watchtower published in 1968 to scare its readers into thinking the end of the world was imminent.

Ten years later, in 1978, they reduced the age of those from the generation of 1914 from 15 to somewhere older than a baby but old enough to know that a World War was taking place. See The Watchtower Oct 1, 1978, Questions from Readers, pp. 31.

In 1980, they made the assumption that a 10 year old was old enough. See The Watchtower Oct 15, 1980, Questions from Readers, pp.31.

Eventually, as time went on, a 10 year old child was not young enough. Babies had to be included in the “generation” mix. See The Watchtower May 15, 1984, pp.5, 4th paragraph.

So how long is a “Generation”? According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, up until the early 1990’s it was somewhere between 36.5 years and the average lifespan of a man, if the average lifespan of a man was 80+ years.

The Choice of a New Generation

The Watchtower eventually gave up trying to define “this generation” because they continually got it wrong. None of their annihilistic interpretations unfolded. Yes, after 125 years in business of foretelling the end of the world, The Watchtower Society took a new view of “this generation”.  This is what they said in 1995:

In Noah’s day “all flesh [that] had ruined its way on the earth” and that was destroyed at the Flood was “this generation.” In Jesus’ day the apostate Jewish people that were rejecting Jesus was “this generation.”—Genesis 6:11, 12; Genesis 7:1.

Therefore, in the final fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy today, “this generation” apparently refers to the peoples of earth who see the sign of Christ’s presence but fail to mend their ways. In contrast, we as Jesus’ disciples refuse to be molded by the life-style of “this generation.” Though in the world, we must be no part of it, “for the appointed time is near.” (Revelation 1:3; John 17:16)

No human can say when that end will be, but we know that the end of “this generation” of wicked people will come once the witness has been given to God’s satisfaction “to the most distant part of the earth.”—Acts 1:8.

When the global witness has been accomplished to the extent Jehovah purposes, it will be his “day and hour” to dispose of this world’s system. We do not need to know the date in advance. Thus, following Jesus’ example, the apostle Paul admonished: “Now as for the times and the seasons, brothers, you need nothing to be written to you. For you yourselves know quite well that Jehovah’s day is coming exactly as a thief in the night. Whenever it is that they are saying: ‘Peace and security!’ then sudden destruction is to be instantly upon them just as the pang of distress upon a pregnant woman; and they will by no means escape.” Note Paul’s focus: ‘It is when they are saying.’ Yes, when there is talk of “peace and security,” when it is least expected, God’s judgment will suddenly be executed. How appropriate is Paul’s advice: “So, then, let us not sleep on as the rest do, but let us stay awake and keep our senses”!—1 Thessalonians 5:1-3, 6; see also 1 Thessalonians 5:7-11; Acts 1:7.

Does our more precise viewpoint on “this generation” mean that Armageddon is further away than we had thought? Not at all! Though we at no time have known the “day and hour,” Jehovah God has always known it, and he does not change. (Malachi 3:6) Obviously, the world is sinking further and further toward terminal ruination. The need to keep awake is more critical than it has ever been. Jehovah has revealed to us “the things that must shortly take place,” and we should respond with an absorbing sense of urgency.—Revelation 1:1Revelation 11:18; Revelation 16:14, 16.

Concerning ‘all these things that must occur’ Jesus said: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will by no means pass away.” (Matthew 24:34, 35) Jesus likely had in mind the “heaven and earth”—the rulers and the ruled—of “this generation.”

A righteous “generation” of mankind is even now being gathered. Today the anointed “faithful and discreet slave” is providing divine education in line with the words of Psalms 78:1, 4: “Do give ear, O my people, to my law; incline your ear to the sayings of my mouth . . . , relating them even to the generation to come, the praises of Jehovah and his strength and his wonderful things that he has done.” (Matthew 24:45-47)

“The time left is reduced,” said the apostle Paul. It is time, therefore, to keep ever awake and busy in Jehovah’s work, as we endure trials and hatreds imposed by a wicked generation of mankind. (1 Corinthians 7:29; Matthew 10:22; Matthew 24:13, 14) Let us keep on the watch, observing all the things foretold in the Bible to come upon “this generation.” (Luke 21:31-33)

– The Watchtower, Nov 1, 1995 A Time To Keep Awake, pp.19 – 21

In 1995 the new “Generation” had been redefined as all worldly people who see the sign of Christ’s presence but fail to mend their ways. This time, “this generation” was no longer a timeframe but a group of persons. “This Generation” was wicked people who’s end would be taking place shortly. This in turn meant that Jehovah’s Witnesses should no longer focus on when it would happen but rather understand that it would be “soon” and therefore they “should respond [by preaching] with an absorbing sense of urgency”.

They were clearly getting their prophecies wrong but they needed their adherents to continue peddling their literature to the world. After all, this is how they make their money. There was no better way than to change completely the meaning  of”this generation”. Initially it was a period of time when the world would be destroyed. But it was changed drastically: it became a group of people who would be destroyed very shortly.

The change in definition of “this generation” made it more personal. Jehovah’s Witnesses were being told to focus on “saving lives” before the world ended rather than focus on the end of the world. Did it work?. Somewhat. Even though the Watchtower has changed their definition of “this generation” so many times, their adherents continue to preach regularly in the misguided belief that they are “saving souls”. However, growth in the religion has been rather stagnant since 1995.

The Anointed Generation

Up until 1935, the Anointed were said to have been sealed since 1935. What this meant is that anyone born after 1935 could not be of the anointed. However, this all changed in 2007.  In Questions from Readers, a seemingly simple question had a brand new answer:

When does the calling of Christians to a heavenly hope cease?

The Bible does not reveal a precise answer to that question. We do know that the anointing of Jesus’ disciples with a view to their heavenly inheritance began in 33 C.E. (Acts 2:1-4) We also know that after the death of the apostles, genuine anointed Christian “wheat” came to “grow together” with counterfeit Christians, “weeds.” (Matthew 13:24-30) Then, starting in the late 1800’s, anointed Christians were again prominently active. In 1919 “the harvest of the earth,” including the gathering of the final ones of the anointed, began to be reaped.—Revelation 14:15, 16.

From the late 1800’s until 1931, the main thrust of the preaching work was the gathering of the remaining members of the body of Christ. In 1931 the Bible Students took the Bible-based name Jehovah’s Witnesses, and in the November 15, 1933, issue of The Watchtower, the thought was expressed that this unique name was the “denarius” referred to in Jesus’ parable recorded at Matthew 20:1-16. The 12 hours mentioned in the parable were thought to correspond to the 12 years from 1919 to 1931. For many years after that, it was believed that the call to the heavenly Kingdom had ended in 1931 and that those called to be joint heirs with Christ in 1930 and 1931 were “the last” called. (Matthew 20:6-8) However, in 1966 an adjusted understanding of that parable was presented, and it became clear that it had nothing to do with the end of the calling of the anointed.

In 1935 the “great crowd” of Revelation 7:9-15 was understood to be made up of “other sheep,” Christians with an earthly hope, who would appear on the world scene in “the last days” and who as a group would survive Armageddon. (John 10:16; 2 Timothy 3:1; Revelation 21:3, 4) After that year, the thrust of the disciple-making work turned to the gathering in of the great crowd. Hence, especially after 1966 it was believed that the heavenly call ceased in 1935. This seemed to be confirmed when almost all who were baptized after 1935 felt that they had the earthly hope. Thereafter, any called to the heavenly hope were believed to be replacements for anointed Christians who had proved unfaithful.

Without a doubt, if one of the anointed unrepentantly falls away, Jehovah does call another individual to take his place. (Romans 11:17-22) However, the number of genuine anointed ones who have become unfaithful is likely not large. On the other hand, as time has gone by, some Christians baptized after 1935 have had witness borne to them that they have the heavenly hope. (Romans 8:16, 17) Thus, it appears that we cannot set a specific date for when the calling of Christians to the heavenly hope ends.

How should a person be viewed who has determined in his heart that he is now anointed and begins to partake of the emblems at the Memorial? He should not be judged. The matter is between him and Jehovah. (Romans 14:12) However, genuine anointed Christians do not demand special attention. They do not believe that their being of the anointed gives them special “insights,” beyond what even some experienced members of the great crowd may have. They do not believe that they necessarily have more holy spirit than their companions of the other sheep have; nor do they expect special treatment or claim that their partaking of the emblems places them above the appointed elders in the congregation. They humbly remember that some anointed men in the first century did not qualify to serve as elders or ministerial servants. (1 Timothy 3:1-10, 12, 13; Titus 1:5-9; James 3:1) Some anointed Christians were even spiritually weak. (1 Thessalonians 5:14) And sisters, although anointed, did not teach in the congregation.—1 Timothy 2:11, 12.

Hence, anointed Christians along with their other sheep companions strive to stay spiritually strong, cultivating the fruitage of the spirit and working for the peace of the congregation. All Christians, whether anointed or of the other sheep, work hard at preaching the good news and making disciples under the direction of the Governing Body. Anointed Christians are content to do this for as long as it is God’s will that they remain on earth as Jehovah’s servants.

– The Watchtower May 1, 2007, pp.30-31.

In the above answer to “Questions from Readers”, lots of dates are bandied about: late 1800’s, 1919, 1930, 1931, 1933, 1935, 1966. To The Watchtower and its adherents, these dates are all supposed to have some biblical context. However, and unwittingly, The Watchtower crush all of those dates with just one simple sentence: “it appears that we cannot set a specific date for when the calling of Christians to the heavenly hope ends”.  Really, if they cannot set a specific date for this doctrine, how do they think they can have authority to set a specific date for any of their doctrines?

If 1930, 1931 and now 1935 cannot be set by them for when the calling of Christians to the heavenly hope ends, how can the 1919 date have any biblical significance? Indeed how can they even assume that God blessed them in 1931 with the name Jehovah’s Witnesses? Their 1935 interpretation of the “other sheep” could be very very wrong.

If they get dates wrong, prophecies wrong, and interpretations wrong, how is one to believe that anything they prophecy or interpret is truth?

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Jason Wynne is a husband to one wife, father to two children, and writes extensively on the activities of Jehovah's Witnesses having been baptized as a member in 1995.

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