How Long Is a Generation in the Bible?
How many years is a generation? Today we use terms such as Generation X (the post-Baby Boomer generation born between 1965 and 1980) and Gen Z (“Zoomers”—those who have been “digital” since a young age, having birth years from the late 1990s-2010). Next up? Generation Alpha (Gen Alpha—those born in the 2010s-mid 2020s, and the first generation born entirely in the twenty-first century. Their generations are not determined by the length of their lives but by those who simultaneously live within a particular cultural and societal norm (e.g., pre-digital, etc.).
How does the Bible define a generation?
How Many Years Is a Generation in the Bible?
The Christianity.com article “How Many Years Is a Generation?” defines a biblical generation as “about thirty years, as one generation will be parents to the next. Although, in some biblical contexts, a “generation” can refer to a more extended age or a group of people spanning a longer period of time.”
The first use of generation in the Bible is Genesis 2:4, meaning history.
Easton’s Bible Dictionary reports the Hebrews seem to have calculated time by the generation. “In the time of Abraham, a generation was a hundred years, thus: Genesis 15:16, “In the fourth generation” = in four hundred years (Exodus 12:40). In Deuteronomy 1:35 and 2:14, a generation is a period of thirty-eight years.”
What Are Some Places the Bible Talks about Generations?
The term “generations” occurs 119 times in the Bible. In its singular form, generation occurs ninety-three times. The variances which add richness to the concept are found in (but not limited to):
- Genesis 7:1, in this verse, generation is likened to the age (period).
- Psalm 49:19, “to the generation of his fathers” refers to the dwelling place of the generational dead-those in the grave.
- Psalm 73:15, “the generation of your children” is their current-day race of people.
- Isaiah 53:8 says, “as for His generation [speaking of Jesus], His future people will be so numerous as to be uncountable.”
- Matthew 1:17, “the generations from . . .” includes the progression of people from the same bloodline.
- Matthew 24:34, “this generation” is people alive at Christ’s time.
- 1 Peter 2:9, “a chosen race” is a generation.
Why Were Generations Important In Biblical Cultures?
God reveals the beginning of the greatest genealogy in history in Genesis 3:15, commonly called the Proto-Evangelium (“The First Gospel”). The “seed” to which God refers in this verse culminates in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Because of Adam and Eve’s sin (The Fall), enmity between God and humanity now pervades humanity. It could only take an act of God to restore the relationship severed by Adam’s sin. Therefore, all the generations proceeding from Adam are from either the woman’s seed (The crusher of Satan’s head) or the serpent’s (Satan’s) seed (the bruiser/irritator of Christ’s heel).
Eve hoped Cain was the fulfillment of God’s promise in Genesis 3:15, but we soon learn he is not.
The great cosmic conflict narrative continued when Cain murdered his brother, Abel. God banished Cain and gave Eve another son, Seth, whose generations would lead to the promised Messiah.
Cain’s generations excelled at human endeavors and vocations such as building, music, metal forging, etc. (Genesis 4:17-22). God is not mentioned in this passage regarding Cain’s descendants. They advanced in one sense, but corruption identified them (polygamy came through Cain; Lamech boasted about murdering a man, etc.).
In the generation stemming from Seth, he fathered Enosh, and “at that time people began calling upon the name of the Lord” (Genesis 4:26). From Seth’s lineage came Enoch, “who walked with God, and he was not, for God took him” (Genesis 5:22-24). Hope springs from the generation of Seth.
Throughout the generations leading to the birth of Jesus, rich oral and scroll-written traditions carried the generational histories forward. From Adam to Noah to Abraham, Jacob and his sons, Moses, and on to David, each generation furthered what they had been taught about God, His mighty act of creation, and God’s movement through His people. Jewish people know the Old Testament prophecies and keep detailed records of their family generations. They identify themselves as God’s chosen people through their history, connecting them to the Bible’s chronicled lists of generations. The Levitical priesthood is of great importance to them, and they follow generational genealogies to verify one’s worthiness for that distinguished role. Discovering a Jewish man descended from David (or another of the kings) also holds great importance.
The Jews were (and are) looking for the Promised One—the Messiah. They thought their generation would see a warrior savior remove Roman oppression and establish a Jewish kingdom in Israel. Instead, as Christians know, Jesus came as a man—fully God and fully man—to save us from our sins as He testified to the Truth. Looking back at the generations progressing from Cain, we see great evil throughout his lineage and a clear demarcation between Abel’s righteousness and Cain’s sin (Matthew 23:35; Luke 11:51).
What Do We Gain by Thinking about Past Generations of Christians?
Since we were first called Christians (Acts 11:26), we have been aware of the relevance of the Old Testament and the prophecies fulfilled in Christ. The early Christians had the Old Testament as their Scriptures, and the Gospels and epistles added to their knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. So, beginning in Antioch, we Christians have an abundant, generational biblical legacy.
Throughout the first century, when the New Testament was written, the first generations of Christians lived and learned how to be what they were called to be—followers of Christ. We can read the accounts of the first disciples and the first churches and follow the Apostles’ examples and commands on how to conduct ourselves as believers.
If we consider about twenty years as a generation, there have been around 116 generations since Jesus walked the earth. Evil will exist until the Lord returns, banishes Satan and his minions to the “lake of fire” (Revelation 20:10), and establishes His earthly kingdom. Even now, however, the earth and all its people are ultimately subjected to Jesus Christ and are “under His feet” (1 Corinthians 15:25-27; Ephesians 1:22; Hebrews 2:8).
Every generation faces the effects of the Fall, and every Christian generation has opportunities to include, encourage, and edify Christ followers in its ranks. The world will not get better, but nothing will separate Christians from the love of Christ (Romans 8:35, 39). That’s a truth one Christian generation can pass to those who come after them.
Our churches are filled with multiple generations of people. Grandparents attend worship services with their children and grandchildren, sharing the joy of the Christian community. In attendance, we not only learn about the previous generations and their kingdom successes and failures, but we can also teach those in our families.
Hebrews 12:1-2 is a great generational passage. The verses tell us to run our races with endurance, looking back to those who have gone before and have persevered in the faith. The passage also tells us to look to Jesus, our faith’s founder and perfecter, who “for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Every member of a generation—young and old—is valuable in service to the Lord Jesus. Every generation has members who can use God-given gifts to teach, practice hospitality, show mercy, etc. (Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4; Hebrews 2:4). No one in any generation of Christians, however, is exempt from prayer. Prayer is a generational legacy whose power is fueled by the Holy Spirit for God’s purposes (2 Corinthians 1:11).
Speaking the Gospel is another principal legacy for the generations. It’s so important Paul said, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16). Our greatest act of love toward an unbeliever is sharing the Gospel, and that’s a boast in Christ and His power (Colossians 1:29).
Perhaps Christians should call themselves Gen J—Generation Jesus—the only eternal generation.
Photo Credit: © Getty Images/Lee Edwards
Lisa Loraine Baker is the multiple award-winning author of Someplace to be Somebody. She writes fiction and nonfiction. In addition to writing for the Salem Web Network, Lisa serves as a Word Weavers’ mentor and is part of a critique group. She also is a member of BRRC. Lisa and her husband, Stephen, a pastor, live in a small Ohio village with their crazy cat, Lewis.