I’ll have 10 letter words for $800, Alex.
“A COHORT OF CONTEMPORARIES; AS A TIME SPAN IT’S OFTEN GIVEN AS 30 YEARS.”
“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.]