What is a Generation? Alex.

I’ll have 10 letter words for $800, Alex.


“What is a Generation?” was the correct response that earned Sandie $800 in the Jeopardy game that aired on April 15, 2014. (Season 30, Episode 75)

That question aired on Jeopardy earlier today (as of this writing). But I was already thinking about that same question since yesterday evening. That’s because yesterday was the Memorial (as celebrated by JWs) and I had just attended in a rented banquet hall, where a wedding reception and a Sweet Sixteen birthday party had just occurred the day before.

It’s not common for the person giving the Memorial talk to mention either the date 1914 or 1935 anymore, and this speaker didn’t mention them either. The idea of the “this generation” was only mentioned in a very general way during the speaker’s conclusion and he happened to use the term in his closing prayer.  Yet, I happen to know that it was already on the minds of more than one person in the audience.  I know that because I spoke with one attendee just a few days prior to the Memorial on that very subject.

But mostly I know it because there was an awkward moment of excessive whispering at one point during the passing of the Memorial emblems that became a topic of discussion immediately after the closing prayer, even before I could make our way  to the aisle.

Here’s how it started.

The audience of at least 350 was made up of 2 congregations who rented the banquet hall. The speaker was a relatively young elder, probably about 40 years old, from one of the two congregations. Out of the 350, there was nary a nibble or a sip taken from any of the emblems.

But there was one exception. And it was done in such a way that no one could miss it.  It wasn’t so obvious with bread, but very obvious with the wine. There was a little table that started out with 6 glasses, all filled to the half-way point, to the exact same point. After the 6 servers completed the task of passing the wine across all the rows they brought the glasses back to the little table and it they were all still filled perfectly to the midpoint. No sips, no slips, no mishaps.

The servers sat down just off to the left of the stage facing toward the audience, and the speaker very ceremoniously walks 20 feet to that table, picks up a glass of wine and then over to the servers to offer it to each one of them. No takers. Then he walks back to the table, replaces it, and walks 20 feet back to the podium. Then in a move that looked like a mistake at first,  one of the servers gets up and in a deliberate slow-motion stride, picks up the same glass of wine that the speaker had just put down, and he walks 20 feet over to the speaker’s podium and offers it to the speaker. And the little boy next to explains to his sister in a whisper, “Oh yeah, they have to give it to him too.” I was thinking that it might be clever to whisper: “The rite of last refusal.” But, of course, I didn’t, and I made a mental note to look up exactly what the original phrase, “right of first refusal” means in contract or real estate law.

It surprised me to see the 40-year elder partake. And, judging by all the young whisperers and subsequent parental hushing, it surprised a lot of others, too. The same boy next to me asked “Why is he drinking it, Daddy?” There was even a “hmm?” and a barely audible mumble from the brother sitting to my right. And one of the two sisters right behind me whispered something like “That’s right.” showing that she (or they) already knew that he would partake.

There was a time when elderly visitors from Brooklyn Bethel were often invited to congregations to give the Memorial talk, and it was fairly common to see him partake. It’s often why they were invited. As a Bethelite, assigned to a Bronx congregation, I was more than once asked if I knew of any partakers who could be invited to give the Memorial talk in our congregation. Back then, the only other person who partook was a sister who, for reasons I won’t go into here,  no one wanted to believe was really “one of the anointed.”

Meanwhile, back at yesterday’s Memorial: After the closing prayer, and before I could manage to squeeze toward an aisle (about 20 tightly packed folding chairs in either direction).  I overheard a brother from the first row answering a question about the “age of the anointed generation.” From what I could tell, I think he was answering it wrong, from the current JW perspective,  but it was none of my business.  The idea behind the question had been recently brought up in a Watchtower magazine that  had just been studied a couple weeks ago. From the time of that magazine, the question had also been recently addressed to me personally in an online discussion forum that I participate in, from time to time.

The question arises because the Watchtower had created a direct connection between the “anointed” and the meaning of “this generation.”  And this person, because he was a relatively young elder, clearly begged the question, based on the Watchtower‘s specific comments. Along with repeating the new long-winded definition of “this generation,” the January 15, 2014 Watchtower said:

We understand that in mentioning “this generation,” Jesus was referring to two groups of anointed Christians. ,. . .[yet] not every anointed person today is included in “this generation” of whom Jesus spoke.”

The simple Jeopardy clue, above, highlighted to me just how ridiculously the Watchtower had twisted and stretched the natural meaning of a term like “this generation.” In the original context of Matthew and Luke, it appeared that it could refer to the time between 33 CE when Jesus made the statement, and 68 to 70 CE when Jerusalem was surrounded by encamped armies.  About 37 years passed  people of “that generation” might see “all these things occur.” (Matt 24, Mark 10, Luke 17 & 21) So a generation of 40 years might easily match what Jesus had in mind.

Another definition of generation — likely the one implicit in the Jeopardy clue —  is the span of time from a person’s birth to the time period when their own children are born, usually 25 to 35 years later, and then again from the time of those children to the time period when the grandchildren are born, and then on to the great-grandchildren, etc. These “generation” periods might average about 30 years each.

In other words, using a common definition of generation, we’ve already had 3 or 4 since 1914, and could easily squeeze in one or two, or even three more before the Watchtower‘s legalese-laden definition runs out.  For the Watchtower, “this generation” equals 3 to 6  “unstretched” generations.

In fact, if the Jeopardy question had been specifically about the current meaning of “this generation” to JWs, the clue would have to be changed. It would need to look more like this:


Seems to me this generation might just run out by the time Alex Trebek could finish reading the clue.

It’s a question I have seen a few times online, twice directed toward me personally in the last couple of weeks, one of which I answered on my Facebook page. (See below.) The exact question, as it was put to me by a Witness, went like this: (She quoted verbatim from the January 15, 2014 Watchtower)

March 29th, 7:11am

In his detailed prophecy about the conclusion of this system of things, Jesus said: “This generation will by no means pass away until all these things happen.” (Read Matthew 24:33-35.) We understand that in mentioning “this generation,” Jesus was referring to two groups of anointed Christians. The first group was on hand in 1914, and they readily discerned the sign of Christ’s presence in that year. Those who made up this group were not merely alive in 1914, but they were spirit-anointed as sons of God in or before that year.—Rom. 8:14-17. 16 The second group included in “this generation” are anointed contemporaries of the first group. They were not simply alive during the lifetime of those in the first group, but they were anointed with holy spirit during the time that those of the first group were still on earth. Thus, not every anointed person today is included in “this generation” of whom Jesus spoke. Today, those in this second group are themselves advancing in years. Yet, Jesus’ words at Matthew 24:34 give us confidence that at least some of “this generation will by no means pass away” before seeing the start of the great tribulation. This should add to our conviction that little time remains before the King of God’s Kingdom acts to destroy the wicked and usher in a righteous new world.—2 Pet. 3:13.

March 29th, 7:12am

My question is, Do you know who among them (second group) still alive? And their specific age? I plan to include that in my comment in the watchtower study next week. Hope you can help me. Thanks- sister [name removed]

March 30th, 9:27pm [my response]

I have seen this same question come quite a few times, lately. I get the sense that some people ask the question as a means of trying to figure out just how long — at most — this system can last. But from a purely Christian standpoint, that can be a dangerous proposition. First, we can agree that the end can come at any time, and that no matter when that is, even many true Christians will be surprised. That day will come as a thief in the night. And it can be just as big a problem when we believe that we can identify the most distant point in the future when the end is expected. What will happen if, for some reason, our understanding even among Jehovah’s Witnesses, turned out to be mistaken? If shared, this could produce a stumbling block for other Witnesses and outsiders who might otherwise have shown interest and goodwill. I’m sure you understand that but I wouldn’t feel comfortable without mentioning it first.

The first thing you’d want to look for are any possible examples from the first group described. Remember that “The first group was on hand in 1914, and they readily discerned the sign of Christ’s presence in that year.” Unfortunately, it turns out that we don’t really know even one person who met that test in its most accurate sense. Technically, anyone associated with the Watchtower Society at that time (in 1914) still believed that the last days had started in 1799, and that Jesus’ presence had begun invisibly in 1874. 1914 was to be seen as the end of Christ’s invisible presence, a time when Bible Students (as we were called then) would now see Jesus face to face, visibly. There was no specific “sign” of Christ’s presence to discern that year, because no sign would be needed to see Jesus in person. This teaching remained until around 1930 and parts of it were not officially changed until 1943. So what the Watchtower means is that there were people who saw the “sign” of Jesus’ presence in 1914 even though they did NOT readily discern anything that was true or correct about it. We can assume at least, that the Watchtower means anyone who recognized ANY significance to World War I would be in that intended group. One person in that intended group, therefore, would have been Charles Taze Russell. He saw a significance to the Great War in 1914 (even if he gave it a false significance) and he then died in 1916. So he would be one of the first that would most likely meet the intention of the contemporary generations of anointed. Any who were anointed contemporaries of him are therefore a part of that second generation of anointed. We expect that would include persons like Joseph Rutherford and Frederick Franz. Therefore, some persons who are part of that second generation of anointed contemporaries have already died. (1942 and 1992, respectively.) However, to pick an ideal example of a person many might recognize as anointed who was also part of that first generation we could, again, pick Frederick W Franz. He was alive in 1914 and old enough to recognize it as a significant event during Jesus’ presence (even if not readily discerned for what it was, based on their current understanding of Christ’s presence). Franz began his association with the Watchtower Society around 1914. So now we have someone of the first generation who lived until 1992. Any anointed persons who were contemporaries with him would therefore also be part of that second generation. Therefore even a person who became one of these anointed as late as 1992 could technically be part of this second defined group of anointed. No one can specifically say if another person is anointed, however, it is true that the youngest member of the Governing Body (Brother Sanderson, who would now be 49), for example, was born in 1965, and could therefore be seen as fitting this situation — if we assume he was “of the anointed” between 1965 and 1992, using this case. Although interesting, I still think it’s a bad idea to publicize such information in the context of the generation Jesus spoke about. There is still a danger that persons could take such an example, and think it’s the same as saying that the system could potentially last until 2055, if the example (Sanderson) lives to be 90, or as late as 2085, if he lives to be 120. I know this might seem absurd to you, but it’s how a lot of persons tend to think. Hope this helps. And I hope you understand why my answer is probably a bit longer than you might have expected.

March 31st, 4:06am

Thank you so much for your help. Jah bless u.

very kind and informative answer. it really feed my mind. Thanks

March 31st, 10:39am

No problem. It’s an interesting question. Hope all is OK with you and your friends and congregation

[Note: above was slightly edited to avoid identifying participants, etc.]

2 thoughts on “What is a Generation? Alex.”

    Today with well-kept vital statistics (birth and death certificates) along with technology, it is possible more than ever to measure, quantify and qualify populations and generations. In order to determine the length of a generation this study will use the calendar year, Pre-World War One, the World War One generations and a single family line of decent as an example.
    The Calendar Year
    A calendar year generation expires when the last oldest living person born in that specific year dies. It’s just that simple.
    As an example; Emma Morano was born November 29, 1899 and is considered to be the current oldest verifiable living person in the world at 117 years 108 days old; as of March 17, 2017.
    Secondly, Emma Morano has one other distinction; she is believed to be the very last verifiable person alive who was born in 1899. Keep in mind Emma Morano was once a new born baby. On Dec. 31, 1899 the last newest born baby (ies) and the oldest living person(s) marked the parameters of the generation of 1899, with everybody else, the entire world population, in between. They all continued to die off until the last one, Emma Morano is left. When she dies, the generation of 1899 will be dead. In fact all other generations in the past years 1898, 1897, 1896 etc. have already passed away.
    Historical Events
    The second way to mark a generation is by using an historical date. It works the same way as the calendar year except a specific historical date is used. When the last oldest living person, who was born the closest to the event, or on the day of the event, dies, that generation is dead. That’s it!
    One question is: How many people left, from a given time period, amount to a generation? Is it 10,000; 1000; 100; 10 or just 1? There is no answer to this question. However, once the last living person dies, so dies the generation.
    Because Emma Morano was born in Nov. 1899, before WWI began, she is part of the pre-World War One generation, Today there are still thousands of people who were born on or before July 27, 1914, the day before WWI began. Therefore the pre-WWI generation is still alive and will be for a short time until the last oldest living person, who must have been born on or before July 27, 1914 dies.
    In other words, when the oldest living verifiable person is found to be born on or after July 28, 1914, the day World War One began, the pre-World War One generation will be dead; it’s the generation’s end.
    Therefore to determine the length of a generation, all you have to do is keep an eye on who is the oldest living person, the date of this person’s birth and the event date in question.

    Measuring a Generation-A World Population
    It should be kept in mind that because WWI was a world event, the entire world population can be used to take the measurement of a generation. WWI was declared, erupting on July 28, 1914 a historically marked time period. Therefore, anyone born on and before July 27, 1914 is part of the pre-WWI generation. Most were also alive to experience WWI at that time. (If a person wants to be accurate to the extreme, you can use the very day, hour, minute and second before WWI was declared to divide the pre-WWI generation from the WWI generation. Just find the official document of declaration of war and check for a time stamp, if one exists.)
    Statistical Data
    It is possible to know how many people are still alive from that WWI area. According to the World Almanac there were approx. 1.6 billion people on the face of the earth about that time. As always the world population age ranged from the very oldest people to the newest born babes. Today in 2017 those newest born babes are some of the oldest people on the face of the earth
    In 2014 it was estimated by the United States that there were 450,549 people around the world who were 100 years old or older. Statistically, of all those who live to be 100 years old, only 1 out of 1,000 will live to be 110. That means at the 110 year mark from the date of July 27, 1914, there will be at best approximately 451 people round the world who will be 110 years old and older.
    According to supercentenarian studies, (supercentenarians are people 110 years old and older) once people hit the age of 110 they will die off at 2 out of every 3, until full mortality is reached at around 114 to 116 years of age, with possibly, not always, only a very few, 1 or 2 or so, going beyond that age. Very few make it to 117 or older. In fact from 1955 to the time of this writing, March 2017, only six verifiable people have lived to be 117. Only 2 lived beyond that age, one to 119 and the other, Jeanne Louise Calment who lived to 122 years, 164 days. Most of the oldest living people died at 114 years of age. (Keep in mind researchers are unable to determine whether they have all the information at hand and so use best figures at that particular time.)
    The question is how long will they live and so mark the end of the Pre-World War One generation? Only time will tell. (One point of note: the Spanish Influenza took many lives and may have cut short the length of time of the oldest living people from that pre-WWI generation, the WWI generation and the post-WWI generation. Nevertheless as always, when the last one dies, regardless of their age, the generation dies.)
    The WWI Generation
    WWI ended on November 11, 1918. Therefore the generation of WWI was composed of those people living when WWI broke out and those who were born during WWI. (July 28, 1914 to November 10, 1918.) Once the last pre-WWI generation member dies, the next generation to become the oldest living people on the face of the earth will be those who were born during WWI. They will die off a few years after the pre-WWI generation. Anyone born after Nov.10, 1918, is not of the WWI generation but they are part of the post-WWI generation.
    This being said, people live through various events in their lives. Someone who was part of the pre-WWI generation, if they lived long enough, was also part of the WWI generation and the post-WWI generation. If they lived even longer they were also part of the pre-WWII generation and the WWII generation. Some of them actually participated in WWII. (Note: the post-WWI generation can also be known as the pre-WII generation depending on how someone wants to present an idea.)
    A Step Down
    A generation can also be used to mean a step down or the next step in the line of one’s decent. As an example, a married couple who were born in the pre-WWI era has a baby born the day after WWI began. That baby cannot be part of the pre-WWI generation. But it is a part of the WWI generation as are the parents. Generations cannot perpetuate but events can go on a long time after a generation has died such as some wars which have historically lasted hundreds of years.
    Consider the seasons of the year. Summer, fall, winter and spring are specific. They each are definite marked time periods starting on a given day every year and ending on a given day every year. Spring does not and cannot perpetuate or overlap into summer regardless of the temperature or world events. So it is with a generation, it is marked either by a specific historical date or calendar year. When the last oldest living person dies, the generation dies. Generations come and go just as spring time and the other seasons come and go. Multiple events can go on within the life of a generation. Likewise the reverse is true, past wars of history have prolonged for hundreds of years, while multiple generations have been born and died within those war years.
    There may be some claims that generations are built around historical events. However, this claim brings up the question, when does the generation end? How many years after an historical event must be counted to still mean a specific generation is in existence? It becomes arguable and hazy and not worth discussing as it yields no certain answer. It is much more specific and exact to count those who were born after an event ended as the post- generation of such an event.
    Use of the Word Generation
    BEWARE: It’s important to know how the word generation is being used within the context of the speaker or writer to understand the specific meaning of the word. This report doesn’t cover every use of the word. See a dictionary f or more information.
    Unverifiable Ages
    At this point take note we have been dealing with verifiable birth records and not unverifiable claims of a person claiming to be older than those whose ages are verifiable. How these unverifiable individuals should be viewed depends upon other factors or questions. Here are some examination questions to use to determine if such a person’s age can be accepted.
    1) Is the person male or female? Usually women live longer than men. So the odds against male claimants being the age claimed is reduced but not out of the question.
    2) Is the person from a developed country or a third world country? In third world countries there is usually little to no health care and more lawlessness. A person’s life is cut short by these and other factors.
    3) Is the person literate? If the person is not literate, they probably can’t count. Nonetheless to be certain, ask the person if they can count? If so, ask when did they learn how to count? Was it late in life? If late in life this isn’t a valid test. But if a person claims they learned to count at an early age, use this test:
    As an example, if a person claims to be 150 years old, ask the person to count from 0 to 150. If that person misses half the numbers than its probable that person is 75 years old or close to that age. In other words, however many numbers they miss during the count, subtract that from the age they claim.
    4) Does the claimant know what a calendar is? Do they know how to use it? If they never or sporadically had a calendar, then it’s much easier to lose track of time and they may have guessed at their age now and then.
    5) Does the person smoke, chew tobacco, use drugs for recreation, over eat or engage in any habits that cut a person’s life short? In developed countries these habits, despite medical care, do indeed cut one’s life short; so it becomes very questionable if a third world claimant is the age they claim.
    6) Does the person have any health problems? As an example, a weak heart. This in itself will affect a person’s memory as a weak heart doesn’t pump enough blood to the brain and so affects the memory.

    World Population by Age and Sex – U.S. Census Bureau
    https://www.census.gov › … › Data › International Data Base

    List of the verified oldest people – Wikipedia

    Supercentenarian – Wikipedia

    Typologies of Extreme Longevity Myths – Hindawi
    Centenarian – Wikipedia

    Guinness World Records, see oldest living person.
    (http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/theme/ageing/index.shtml). Their current estimate for world population 100+ in the year 2015 is 451000
    (https://esa.un.org/unpd/popdev/Profilesofageing2015/index.html). If you have further questions on this information, you can contact Population Division directly at population@un.org.
    “Table C – World’s Oldest Person (WOP) Titleholders Since 1955”. grg.org. Retrieved 27 July 2015.

  2. The Amplified Bible reads Matt. 24:34 this way, “Truly I tell you, this generation (the whole multitude of people living at the same time, in a definite given period) will not pass away till all these things taken together take place.”

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