The Bible’s Definition of a Generation

Once the Bible’s chronology is known with precision it is possible to start using that chronology to explain interesting passages.

One example, used earlier to establish the rules on Biblical genealogies, was Matthew chapter 1. Here the author spelled out 3 sets of 14 generational tiers. He limited himself to a stylized list, there being more than 14 generations for the same list in other Bible passages.


One of the reasons was a time riddle built on the time value of generations.


A common misconception surrounding the return of the Jews to Modern Israel was the thought that 40 years would separate that event and something to do with the return of Jesus. This math in part is one reason why some people thought the "Rapture" would happen in 1988, 40 years after 1948.

The passage that sparked this though is found in Matthew. The following is the relevant verse:

41 Matthew 24:34
34Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away, until all these things happen.

Jesus is of course talking about the generation that sees the return of the Jews to modern Israel and that happened in 1948. He is also talking about all the other things that are to happen at the end of the age. Those things, of course, are following a repeating pattern at least through the spring of 2010. This is not the end of the end-times story, though. It runs through the end of this interval described here as a "generation."

What time interval is Jesus implying? The answer lives in Psalm 90. The following is the relevant verse:

26 Psalms 90:10
10The years of our lives are 70, and if by reason of strength they be 80 years, yet most of them are labor and sorrow, for life is soon cut off and we fly away.

This actually defines the word "generation," used in some translations in this Psalm. The number of years people live is 70, or 80 if strong.

Jesus is implying that the time suggested in the Olivet Discourse is 70 or 80 years. Other passages reveal which.

Confirmation of the Lengths

Matthew begins by providing a particularly stylized genealogy of Jesus. He deliberately leaves out known generations in order to teach something new: 14 generations operated each of several key points in the history of ancient Israel.

The first set of 14 generations ends with David. What had happened with David? He was made king over ancient Israel under and everlasting covenant. Jesus will eventually sit on David’s throne, cycling that covenant back to himself. But, initially the nation had God himself as king, and it was a national rejection of God’s leadership that lead the nation to get a king at all. 14 generations mark the time to this first national denial of God.

The second set of 14 generations spans the time to the Babylonian deportation. Here the nation had rejected the law itself, and as a consequence the nation invoked the clauses in the Mosaic covenant that caused them to loose their land. This period in history was the second national denial of God.

The 3rd set of 14 generations spans the time from the Babylonian captivity to the Christ. This is interesting too, since the ancient nation rejected the Messiah when Jesus was crucified. This was the third national denial of God.

41 Matthew 1:17
17Therefore all the generations from Abraham down to David are 14 generations; and from David down to the captivity of Babylon are 14 generations; and from the captivity of Babylon down to this anointed, are 14 generations.

Matthew is using the Psalm 90 definitions of Generation in order to tell a specific chronological time story. The first interval of that story is strictly historical, the interval from Abraham to David.

The last year of Abraham’s life was 8958 AA, the first year past his last year was 8959 AA.

Using 70 as the length of a generation, the interval implied by Matthew is 14 * 70 = 980 years. With 8959 AA being the first of these 980 years, the last is 9938 AA. This year ended with David early in the 1 year 4 months he was spending with the Philistines. 1 An exact hit.

The other generational lengths implied by Matthew’s genealogy are more interesting because they span past the end of the historical chronology. A veil lives in this account because without understanding the meaning of "Babylon" we may think Matthew is implying the departure to Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon. Certainly the kingly chronology points there, but Matthew is telling a prophetic chronological story and the ancient departure to Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon is predictive for another. The other use of a Generation, the strong one, the one were Jesus showed up, shows is the implied departure and a different Babylon. Here’s the math.

Using 80 years as a length for a generation yields 14 * 80 = 1120 biblical years. Using 9939 AA as the first of those 1120 years, yields the end of 11058 as the end. We can look at the first day in the next year for a hit as to the departure Matthew is exploring.

End of Matthews’ 2nd run of 14 generations
First year immediately after indicated year
Mon11059/1/1 AA16 Jun 70 NS18 Jun 823 AUCAAN: 4033951
1559/1/1 FE 18 Jun 70 OS18 Jun 70 ADJDN: 1746794

This is smack in the period when Roman General Titus, a future Emperor, invaded Jerusalem, killing or selling into slavery most of residents of Jerusalem. His men would burn down Herod’s temple that summer.

The departure to Babylon that Matthew is referencing in his stylized genealogy is the departure to Rome the Babylon of his time.

To Christ

The third run of 14 generations is also important and prophetic. Without understanding the math, the casual reader expects the 14 generations to land in Jesus’ era. There are of course 2 problems with that. First, the second set of 14 generations already passed Jesus’ era. Second, there may or may not have been 14 generations in history. Matthew has left generations off already, so he is not recording history for his readers, but providing a prophetic story for the future.

The other problem with this passage is what ends the genealogy. The word translated ’Christ’ when it stands alone from the word ’Jesus’ implies the Holy Spirit and Jesus’ office. Remember, it is the ’Christ’ who is formed in people through the process of discipleship. That this passage does not name Jesus, but Christ, is important. It is providing a riddle about Christ being formed in someone, or some group, at some interesting time in history.

Because the word Jesus is left off, this passage is not revealing the return of Jesus. Christ has been here all along, formed in disciples, we await the return of Jesus, but not Christ.

The math works out something like this. Either Matthew means 70 years per generation, or he means 80 years per generation. Each is possible, and they yield different times in world history.

The first case is the 70 year case. 14 * 70 = 980 years. The second case is 14 * 80 = 1120 years.

The following is the date report, remember, Green dates are trustworthy.

End of Matthew’s 3rd run of 14 generations
70 years/generation, year immediately after
Fri12039/1/1 AA16 Mar 1049 NS10 Mar 1802 AUCAAN: 4391431
2539/1/1 FE 10 Mar 1048 OS10 Mar 1049 ADJDN: 2104274
80 years/generation, year immedately after
Tue12179/1/1 AA31 Jan 1189 NS24 Jan 1942 AUCAAN: 4442521
2679/1/1 FE 24 Jan 1188 OS24 Jan 1189 ADJDN: 2155364

There are two ways to read this, the first, with 70 years to the generation, lands very close to the millennium break. If this is the correct answer the date is dealing with the Christianization of Russia. (Remember that word, Christ.)

Starting in about 990 AD the Russian peoples turned to Christ. The process of Christianization took several decades. (That last generation.) When it was over Russia had become Christian. It would remain so for 1000 years until the collapse of the Communist system in 1990 and 1991.

The second way to read this, with 80 years to the generation, is nearly 200 years into the millennium. Interesting because it is the start of Peter’s denial, when Passion Week is overlaid on the main chronology. Also interesting, since this entire passage is dealing with the various denials of Israel.

The Modern Generation

Returning to the original question. A ’generation’ will see all the events at the end of the age. What time period does that generation cover?

When the Bible uses the word "Generation" it implies either 70 or 80 years.

1 First Samuel 27:7