“Truly I say to you that this generation will by no means
pass away until all these things happen.” (Mt 24:34)
There are essentially two methods we can use to understand the meaning of Jesus’ words regarding “this generation”. One is called eisegesis, and the other, exegesis. The Governing Body makes use of the first method in this month’s TV broadcast to explain Mt 24:34. We will use the second method in a follow-up article. For now, we should understand that eisegesis is employed when one already has an idea of what a text means. Entering with a preconception, one then works to make the text fit and support the concept. This is by far the most common form of Bible research.
Here’s the scenario the Governing Body is burdened with: They have a doctrine that claims that Jesus began to reign invisibly in the heavens in 1914, a year that also marked the beginning of the last days. Based on this interpretation, and making use of typical/antitypical representations, they have further deduced that Jesus appointed them to be his faithful and discreet slave over all true Christians on earth in the year 1919. Therefore, the authority of the Governing Body and the urgency with which the preaching work must be carried out all hinges on 1914 being what they claim it is.[i]
This creates a serious issue with regard to the meaning of “this generation” as expressed in Matthew 24:34. The people making up the generation that saw the beginning of the last days in 1914 had to be of an age of understanding. We are not talking newborn infants here. Therefore, the generation in question is well past the century mark – 120 years of age and counting.
If we look up “generation” in a dictionary as well as a Bible lexicon, we will find no basis for a generation of such a great length in the modern era.
The September Broadcast on tv.jw.org is the latest attempt by the Governing Body to explain its solution to this apparent conundrum. However, is the explanation valid? More important, is it scriptural?
Brother David Splane does an excellent job of expounding the latest interpretation of Matthew 24:34. I’m sure his words will convince the vast majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses that our current understanding is accurate. The question is, “Is it true?”
I daresay that the majority of us would be fooled by a high-quality counterfeit $20 bill. Counterfeit money is designed to look like, feel like, and totally replace the real thing. Nevertheless, it is not the real thing. It is literally not worth the paper it is printed on. To reveal its worthless nature, store keepers will expose a bill to ultraviolet light. Under this light, the security strip on a US $20 bill will glow green.
Peter warned Christians about those who would exploit them with counterfeit words.
“However, there also came to be false prophets among the people, as there will also be false teachers among you. These will quietly bring in destructive sects, and they will even disown the owner who bought them…they will greedily exploit you with counterfeit words.” (2Pe 2:1, 3)
These counterfeit words, like counterfeit money, can be virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. We must examine them under the right light to reveal their true nature. Like the ancient Beroeans, we examine the words of all men using the unique light of the Scriptures. We strive to be noble-minded, that is, open to new ideas and eager to learn. However, we are not gullible. We may well trust the person handing us the $20 bill, but we still put it under the right light to be sure.
Are David Splane’s words the real thing, or are they counterfeit? Let us see for ourselves.
Analyzing the Broadcast
Brother Splane begins by explaining that “all these things” not only refers to the wars, famines, and earthquakes mentioned in Mt 24:7, but also to the great tribulation spoken of in Mt 24:21.
We could spend time here attempting to show that the wars, famines, and earthquakes were not part of the sign at all.[ii] However, that would take us off topic. So let us concede for the moment that they do form part of “all these things,” because there is a much bigger issue that we might otherwise miss; one which Brother Splane would apparently have us overlook. He would have us infer that the great tribulation Jesus is speaking of is still in our future. However, the context of Mt 24:15-22 can leave no doubt in the mind of the reader that our Lord is referring to the great tribulation that was the siege and destruction of Jerusalem from 66 to 70 C.E. If that is part of “all these things” as David Splane states, then the generation had to have seen it. That would require us to accept a 2,000-year-old generation, not something he wants us to think about, so he just assumes a secondary fulfillment though Jesus made no mention of one, and ignores the very inconvenient actual fulfillment.
We must regard as highly suspect, any explanation of Scripture which requires us to pick and choose which parts apply and which do not; especially when the choice is arbitrarily made without providing any scriptural support for the decision.
Without further ado, Brother Splane next employs a very astute tactic. He asks, “Now, if you are asked by someone to identify a Scripture that tells us what a generation is, what scripture would you turn to?… I’ll give you a moment… Think about that…. My choice is Exodus chapter 1 verse 6.”
This statement together with the manner in which it is delivered would have us infer that the scripture of his choice holds all the information we need to find support for his definition of “a generation”.
Let us see if that turns out to be the case.
“Joseph eventually died, and also all his brothers and all that generation.” (Ex 1:6)
Do you see a definition of “generation” contained in that verse? As you’ll see, this is the only verse David Splane uses in support of his interpretation.
When you read a phrase like “all that generation”, you might naturally wonder what “that” refers to. Fortunately, you do not need to wonder. The context provides the answer.
“Now these are the names of Israel’s sons who came into Egypt with Jacob, each man who came with his household: 2 Reuʹben, Simʹe·on, Leʹvi, and Judah; 3 Isʹsa·char, Zebʹu·lun, and Benjamin; 4 Dan and Naphʹta·li; Gad and Ashʹer. 5 And all those who were born to Jacob were 70 people, but Joseph was already in Egypt. 6 Joseph eventually died, and also all his brothers and all that generation.” (Ex 1:1-6)
As we saw when we looked at the dictionary definition of the word, a generation is, “the entire body of individuals born and living at about the same time” or “a group of individuals belonging to a specific category at the same time”. Here the individuals belong to the same category (the family and household of Jacob) and are all living at the same time. What time? The time when they “came into Egypt”.
Why does Brother Splane not refer us to these clarifying verses? Simply put, because they do not support his definition of the word “generation.” Employing eisegetical thinking, he concentrates only on the one verse. For him, verse 6 stands on its own. There is no need to look elsewhere. The reason is that he does not want us to think about a point in time like the entry into Egypt any more than he wants us to think of another point in time like 1914. Instead, he wants us to concentrate on the lifespan of an individual. To begin with, that individual is Joseph, though he has another individual in mind for our day. To his mind, and apparently the collective mind of the Governing Body, Joseph becomes the generation Exodus 1:6 is referring to. To illustrate, he asks whether a baby born 10 minutes after Joseph died, or person who died 10 minutes before Joseph was born, could be considered part of Joseph’s generation. The answer is no, because neither would be a contemporary of Joseph.
Let us reverse that illustration to show how this is counterfeit reasoning . We will assume that a person – call him, John – died 10 minutes after Joseph was born. That would make him a contemporary of Joseph. Would we then conclude that John was part of the generation that came into Egypt? Let us assume a baby – we’ll will call him Eli – was born 10 minutes before Joseph died. Would Eli also be part of the generation that entered Egypt? Joseph lived for 110 years. If both John and Eli also lived 110 years, we can then say that the generation that entered Egypt measured 330 years in length.
This may seem silly, but we are simply following the logic that brother Splane has provided to us. To quote his exact words: “For the man [John] and the baby [Eli] to be part of Joseph’s generation, they would have had to have lived at least some time during Joseph’s lifespan.”
Considering when I was born, and based on the explanation that David Splane provides, I can safely say that I am part of the generation of the American Civil War. Perhaps I shouldn’t use the word “safely”, for I fear that if I were to actually say such things in public, men in white coats might come to take me away.
Brother Splane next makes a particularly shocking statement. After referring to Matthew 24:32, 33 where Jesus uses the illustration of leaves on trees as a means to discern the coming of summer, he states:
“Only those with spiritual discernment would draw the conclusion, as Jesus said, that he is near the doors. Now here’s the point: Who in 1914 were the only ones who saw the various aspects of the sign and drew the right conclusion? That something invisible was occurring? Only the anointed.”
Drew the right conclusion? Are Brother Splane and the rest of the Governing Body, who have obviously vetted this talk, willfully misleading the congregation? If we are to assume they are not, then we must assume that all of them have no idea that all of the anointed in 1914 believed that Christ’s invisible presence began in 1874 and that Christ was enthroned in the heavens in 1878. We would also have to assume that they have never read The Finished Mystery which was published after 1914 and which stated that the last days, or “the beginning of the time of the end”, began in 1799. The Bible students, those Splane refers to as “the anointed”, believed that the signs Jesus spoke of in Matthew chapter 24 had been fulfilled throughout the 19th century. Wars, famines, earthquakes – it had all already happened by 1914. That was the conclusion they drew. When the war began in 1914, they did not read “the leaves on the trees” and conclude that the last days and Christ’s invisible presence had begun. Rather, what they believed the war signified was the beginning of the great tribulation which would end in Armageddon, the war of the great day of God the Almighty. (When the war ended and peace dragged on, they were forced to rethink their understanding and concluded that Jehovah had cut short the days by ending the war in fulfillment of Mt 24:22, but that soon the second part of the great tribulation would begin, likely around 1925.)
So either we must conclude that the Governing Body is pathetically uninformed about the history of Jehovah’s Witnesses, or that they are in the midst of some group delusion, or that they are willfully lying to us. These are very strong words, I know. I do not use them lightly. If someone can provide us with a real alternative that does not reflect badly on the Governing Body and yet explains this egregious misrepresentation of the facts of history, I will gladly accept it and publish it.
The Fred Franz Overlap
We are next introduced to the person who, like Joseph, represents a generation – specifically, the generation of Mt 24:34. Using the lifespan of Brother Fred Franz, who was baptized in November of 1913 and who passed away in 1992, we are shown how those who were contemporaries of Brother Franz constitute the second half of “this generation”. We are now introduced to the concept of a generation with two halves, or a two-part generation. This is something you will not find in any dictionary nor Bible lexicon. In fact I’m unaware of any source outside of Jehovah’s Witnesses that supports this concept of two overlapping generations constituting a kind of super generation.
However, given David Splane’s example of the man and baby who could constitute part of Joseph’s generation by virtue of overlapping his lifetime, even by a few minutes, we must conclude that what we are looking at in this chart is a three-part generation. For example, C. T. Russell died in 1916, overlapping the period of Franz’s anointing by three full years. He died in his sixties, but there were undoubtedly anointed ones in their 80s and 90s at the time that Fred Franz was baptized. This puts the start of the generation back in the early 1800s, meaning that it is already approaching the 200 year mark. A generation spanning two centuries! That is quite a thing.
Or, we could look at it based on what the word actually means in modern English as well as in both ancient Hebrew and Greek. In 1914, there was a group of individuals of one category (the anointed) who were living at the same time. They made up a generation. We could call them “the generation of 1914”, or “the First World War generation.” They (that generation) have all passed away.
Now let’s look at it by applying Brother Splane’s logic. We often refer to the individuals who lived during the late 60s and early 70s (the period of the American presence in Vietnam) as being the “Hippie generation”. Using the new definition provided to us by the Governing Body, we can also say that they are the “World War I generation.” But it goes farther. There were people in their 90s who saw the end of the Vietnam War. These ones would have been alive in 1880. There were individuals in 1880, who were born at the time Napoleon was waging war in Europe. Therefore, there were people alive in 1972 when the Americans pulled out of Vietnam who were part of the “War of 1812 generation”. This is what we have to accept if we are to accept the Governing Body’s new interpretation of the meaning of “this generation”.
What is the purpose of all this? David Splane explains with these words: “So brothers, we are indeed living deep in the time of the end. Now is no time for any of us to get weary. So let’s all heed Jesus’ counsel, the counsel found that Matthew 24:42, ‘Keep on the watch, therefore, because you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.’”
The fact is Jesus was telling us that we have no way of knowing when he is coming, so we should keep on the watch. Brother Splane, however, is telling us that we do know when he is coming – approximately – he is coming very, very soon. We know this because we can run the numbers to figure out that those few remaining ones of “this generation”, of which the Governing Body is all part, are getting old and will soon die off.
The fact is Brother Splane’s words run contrary to what Jesus tells us just two verses later.
“On this account, you too prove yourselves ready, because the Son of man is coming at an hour that you do not think to be it.” (Mt 24:44)
Jesus is telling us that he will come at a time when we actually think he isn’t coming. This flies in the face of everything the Governing Body would have us believe. They would have us think he is coming within the remaining lifespan of a select few aged individuals. Jesus words are the real deal, true spiritual currency. That means the words of Governing Body are counterfeit.
A Fresh Look at Matthew 24:34
Of course, none of this is satisfying. We still want to know what Jesus meant when he said that this generation would not pass away before all these things occur.
If you have been reading this forum for a some time, you will know that both Apollos and I have attempted several interpretations of Matthew 24:34. I have never really been happy with any of them. They were just too clever. It is not through wise and intellectual reasoning that Scripture is revealed. It is revealed by the holy spirit operating in all Christians. For the spirit to flow freely in all of us and do its work, we must cooperate with it. That means we must remove from our minds such impediments as pride, bias, and preconceptions. The mind and heart must be willing, eager, and humble. I see now that my previous attempts at understanding the meaning of “this generation” were colored by preconceptions and false premises originating from my upbringing as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Once I freed myself of those things and took a fresh look at Matthew chapter 24, the meaning of Jesus’ words just seemed to fall into place. I would like to share that research with you in my next article to see what you think of it. Perhaps collectively we can finally put this baby to bed.
[i] For a detailed analysis of whether 1914 has any basis in Scripture, see “1914 – A Litany Of Assumptions“. For a full analysis of the topic on how to identify the faithful and discreet slave of Mt. 25:45-47 see the category: “Identifying the Slave”.
[ii] See “Wars and Reports of Wars – a Red Herring?“