Letting the Bible Speak for Itself—The Literal Meaning of “This Generation”

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    Letting the Bible Speak for Itself—The Literal Meaning of “This Generation”
    A Response to Ed Hindson’s “The New Last Days Scoffers”—Part 6
    [Part 1 • Part 2 • Part 3 • Part 4 • Part 5]

    By Gary DeMar

    Ed Hindson, writing in the May 2005 issue of the National Liberty Journal on the topic of “The New Last Days Scoffers, states that “The basic assumptions of preterism rest on passages that refer to Christ coming “quickly” (Revelation 1:1), or ‘this generation will not pass’ (Matthew 24:34). [Preterists] insist these must be related to and limited to the first century. By contrast, premillennialists believe that Christ’s coming is imminent and; therefore, could occur at any moment. Darrell Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary counters the preterist view, observing: ‘What Jesus is saying is that the generation that sees the beginning of the end, also sees its end. When the signs come, they will proceed quickly; they will not drag on for many generations. It will happen within a generation.’”1 But Bock recognizes that there is a problem with this interpretation—one of six he discusses—a point not noted by Hindson: “The main objection to this view is that genea [generation] usually refers to the present generation, rather than to a deferred generation.”2 Bock concludes his nearly four-page discussion of Matthew 24:34 by stating, “It is hard to be dogmatic about the meaning of this difficult text.”3 It’s not hard to be dogmatic if the text is read without additional words being added (see below) or theological systems imposed upon it (Hindson’s form of premillennialism). If “this generation” is interpreted literally, it refers to the generation to whom Jesus was speaking.

    In 1980, Hal Lindsey wrote, “We are the generation that will see the end times . . . and the return of Christ.” With the publication of Late Great Planet Earth in 1970, Lindsey made a cautioned prediction that a pre-tribulational rapture would take place in the early part of the 1980s, seven years before Israel’s fortieth anniversary as a reestablished nation. He wrote: “A generation in the Bible is something like forty years. If this is a correct deduction, then within forty years or so of 1948, all these things could take place. Many scholars who have studied Bible prophecy all their lives believe that this is so.”4 If these many “scholars” have studied Bible prophecy “all their lives” and have come to this same conclusion, then what does this say about their study of the Bible? They, along with Hal Lindsey, were obviously wrong. Keep in mind that the methods used by Lindsey and his many unnamed scholars are the same methods being used today by those making similar claims about the nearness of Jesus’ return to “rapture” His church.

    Dave Hunt, who also believes that Israel’s national reestablishment is the time indicator for future prophetic events,5 laments that Lindsey’s prophetic recklessness had a negative effect on many Christians: “Needless to say, January 1, 1982, saw the defection of large numbers from the pretrib position. . . . Many who were once excited about the prospects of being caught up to heaven at any moment have become confused and disillusioned by the apparent failure of a generally accepted biblical interpretation they once relied upon.”6 The confusion and disillusionment has led many of these prophetic believers to study the Bible for themselves, and when they did, they found that Lindsey’s understanding of “this generation” was all wrong. Little has changed in the ranks of those who continue to insist that “this generation” of Matthew 24:34 should not be interpreted literally.

    When Jesus answered His disciples’ questions about “when these things” related to the temple’s destruction would be and what signs would indicate His coming, He said, “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matt. 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32). “This generation,” therefore, is the timing key. If we can know what the Bible means by “this generation,” we can determine the timing of the events Jesus describes. Every time “this generation” is used in the Gospels, it always refers to the generation of people who were alive when Jesus spoke. “This generation” never means a future generation.7 Thomas Ice, an associate professor of Religion at Liberty University and the Liberty Theological Seminary, in a radio debate with me, admitted that each use of “this generation” in the Gospels, except the one used in Matthew 24:34, refers to the generation to whom Jesus was speaking. In his written debate with Kenneth L. Gentry, Ice writes: “It is true that every other use of ‘this generation’ in Matthew (11:16; 12:41–42, 45; 23:36) refers to Christ’s contemporaries, but that is determined by observation from each of their contexts, not from the phrase itself.”8 This means that seventeen times it means Jesus’ contemporaries, and one time it means a future generation. William Lane disagrees:

    “[T]his generation” clearly designates the contemporaries of Jesus (see on Chs. 8:12, 38; 9:19) and there is no consideration from the context which lends support to any other proposal. Jesus solemnly affirms that the generation contemporary with his disciples will witness the fulfillment of his prophetic word, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem and the dismantling of the Temple.9

    Like he does with Acts 2:16, Ice must add words to Matthew 24:34 to get it to say what he needs it to say. For example, in Charting the End Times, Ice and LaHaye reconstruct Matthew 24:34 to read this way: “The generation that ‘sees’ these things will not pass away till all is fulfilled.”10 In the LaHaye Prophecy Study Bible, of which Ed Hindson is one of the editors, the verse is given this treatment: “[T]he future generation that will live to see all the signs listed in the previous verses fulfilled in their lifetime”11 will not pass away until all is fulfilled. The near demonstrative “this” is removed, and from 5 to 19 words are added to make the verse refer to a future generation. And this is interpreting the Bible literally? Hindson writes the following in the Liberty Bible Commentary:

    [T]he previously listed signs will continue to multiply throughout the Church Age and reach their ultimate climax at the end of the age in the generation of those who will live to see the entire matter fulfilled in their lifetime.12

    There is nothing in the entire context of the Olivet Discourse that says anything like this. Dr. Hindson is reading his dispensationalism into the chapter. William Sanford LaSor writes, “If ‘this generation’ is taken literally, all of the predictions were to take place within the life-span of those living at that time.”13 D.A. Carson takes a similar position: “[This generation] can only with the greatest difficulty be made to mean anything other than the generation living when Jesus spoke. . . . [T]o make ‘this generation’ refer to . . . the generation of believers alive when eschatological events start to happen, is highly artificial.”14 There you have it. If Matthew 24:34 is interpreted literally, it refers to the generation to whom Jesus was speaking.

    Matthew 24:33 tells us as much: “even so you too, when you see all these things,15 recognize that He is near, right at the door” (Matt. 24:33). The first use of “you” certainly refers to Jesus’ first-century audience. So why wouldn’t the second use of “you” refer to the same audience? Hindson comments that this verse “has caused some to speculate that these predicted events only relate to the coming destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, within the disciples’ lifetime.”16 He doesn’t explain why this is not what it means except to reference commentaries by John Walvoord and R.C.H. Lenski whose explanations are convoluted and do not deal with the way “this generation” is used elsewhere in the Gospels.

    You will notice that Matthew 24:34 expressly states that it’s “this generation” that will not pass away until all the things listed in the previous verses take place. How significant is the use of “this” rather than the non-specific definite article “the” that is substituted by Hindson, LaHaye, and Ice? The use of “this” in the NT tells us that what’s being identified is near either in time or distance. By changing “this” to “the,” the entire meaning of the verse changes. Instead of a specific generation, it now reads as if it could be any generation. “This” is a near demonstrative, and as the name suggests points “to someone or something ‘near,’ in close proximity.”17 Near demonstratives “appear as the singular word ‘this’ and its plural ‘these.’ The distant demonstratives, as their name suggests, appear as ‘that’ (singular), or ‘those’ (plural).”18 The near demonstrative “this” is used nearly 950 times in the NT, and it always refers “to something comparatively near at hand, just as ekeinos [that] refers to something comparatively farther away.”19

    Later in his article, Dr. Hindson raises the issue of “the literal meaning of the Bible.” He writes: “Once you start arguing that the language of prophecy cannot be taken literally, you are not that far removed from not taking the rest of the Bible literally either.” So here’s my question to Dr. Hindson: Why don’t you take Matthew 24:33–34 literally?

    http://www.americanvision.com/articlearchive/06-17-05.asp
     

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