Land or Earth, Race or Generation, and Who Were the Mockers?


This is the third installment in the series on “Eschatology and Biblical Apologetics.” To complete the series go to Part 1 and Part 2. Be sure to check out the videos at the end of each article.

It’s obvious that the author of “Jesus’ Failed Prophecy About His Return” is not familiar with biblical decreation language even though it’s typical of the Bible. If you want to understand Shakespeare, you’ll need to read Shakespeare. This is true of all literature. It’s no different from the Bible.

Many people who read the Bible are often tripped up when they come across the word “earth.” The Hebrew word eretz and the Greek word gēs can be translated “earth,” “land,” or “ground,” or “soil,” depending on the context. We see this in Genesis 41-42. Eretz is translated as “land” (41:53-55), “earth” (41:56-57), and “ground” (42:6). The Greek word oikoumenē is often used for local events but is often translated “world” (Matt. 24:14, the only time it’s used in Matthew’s gospel; Luke 2:1; Acts 11:27-28) but is better translated as “inhabited earth” or “known world.” In these cases, it refers to the political boundaries of the Roman Empire.

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“THIS GENERATION” OR “THIS RACE”?

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The author of “Jesus’ Failed Prophecy About His Return” spends time quoting verses from the Olivet Discourse in the Synoptic Gospels (Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 21). There’s no need for me to respond to each of the verses since I have done so extensively in my books Last Days Madness, Wars and Rumors of Wars, and Is Jesus Coming Soon? The author is correct that Jesus was predicting prophetic events that would take place before that first-century generation passed away and many modern-day prophecy writers refuse to take Jesus at His word.

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Many prophecy writers try to get around the biblical meaning of genea by translating it as “race” when it should be translated as “generation” since this is what the word means in Matthew 1:17 where’s it’s used four times and cannot mean “race.” There weren’t 42 races, but there were 42 generations.

Translating “this generation” as “this race of people” gained popularity through the notes of the Scofield Reference Bible, first published in 1909. The New Scofield Reference Bible (1967) retains a modified version of the note of the first edition. Since millions of Bible students have used the Scofield notes in their study of the Bible, it is necessary that we make a thorough study of the position. Following Scofield’s lead, the text would read, “nation or family of Israel will be preserved ‘till all these things be fulfilled.’”

For Scofield, the Greek word genea has the “primary definition” of “race, kind, family, stock, breed.” If this is the proper translation and interpretation, Matthew 24:34 would be the only place in the Bible where genea has this meaning. To support his position, Scofield claimed that all Greek lexicons agree that genea means “race.” Scofield writes in another place: “The Greek word genea, translated ‘generation,’ means primarily (as does indeed the English word), ‘race, kind, family, stock, breed’ (Webster); ‘An age, race or generation of men’ (Greenfield); ‘Men of the same stock, a family” (Thayer). To so interpret, therefore, the passage in question is but to give it its natural unforced meaning.’”1

Not all lexicons agree. Scofield lists Thayer’s Greek‑English Lexicon of the New Testament as an authority in support of his contention that genea in Matthew 24:34 should be translated “race.” Thayer puts forth the following definition for genea: “the whole multitude of men living at the same time: Mt. xxiv. 34; Mk. xiii. 30; Luke i. 48.”2 Notice that Thayer cites Matthew 24:34 and the parallel passage in Mark 13:30 as references in support of translating genea as “generation.” Contrary to Scofield, Thayer does not apply the “race” translation to Matthew 24:34. A check of other lexicons and theological dictionaries will show that genea is best translated as “generation” — “those living at the same time.”

  • “This generation is to be understood temporally.”3
  • “In Matt. it has the sense of this generation, and according to the first evangelist, Jesus expected the end of this age . . . to occur in connection with the judgment on Jerusalem at the end of that first generation (see Mk. 9:1 and Matt. 16:18).”4
  • “‘Generation’ is the most probable translation of genea.”5
  • “The meaning nation is advocated by some in Mt 24:34; Mk 13:30; Lk 21:23; but s[ee] also 2. 2. basically, the sum total of those born at the same time, expanded to include all those living at a given time generation, contemporaries.”6 In this lexicon, the most widely used today, Matthew 24:34 is employed as a reference in support of translating genea as “generation,” not “race.”
  • The Greek word genos rather than genea is best translated “race” (see Acts 7:19; 17:28; Galatians 1:14; Philippians 3:5; 1 Peter 2:9). Even after considering all of this contrary evidence, some still claim that genea can be translated “race.”

Nearly all Bible translations render genea as “generation,” even the premillennial‑biased New American Standard Bible,7 American Standard Version, New English Bible, Revised Standard, New King James, New Berkeley Version, Amplified Bible, Jerusalem Bible. If genea should be translated “race” or “nation,” then why don’t translators translate it in these ways?

For more lexical information on the meaning of genea, see my book Wars and Rumors of Wars (chap. 10).

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WHO WERE THE MOCKERS AND WHAT WERE THEY MOCKING?

The author of “Jesus’ Failed Prophecy About His Return” then mentions 2 Peter 3:3-4 and the mention of “mockers”:

Believers of the time had begun to waver in their faith because Jesus had not come back as promised. The writer tells them not to listen to people who say, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:4) By “fathers”, he evidently means the founding fathers of the faith who had all died by that time. This is evidence that almost from the start of Christianity, believers have been wrestling with the apparent failure of their savior’s end times prophecy.

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The mockers weren’t believers who were questioning what Jesus had said about returning within a generation. They were “mockers … following after their own lusts” (2 Pet. 3:3). They were John’s antichrists.

Nearly 40 years – a biblical generation – had nearly passed away and what Jesus said about the temple being torn down stone-by-stone was still standing. In fact, the temple was magnificent, but within a few years it would be destroyed along with Jerusalem and the people who did not heed Jesus’ warning about heading for the hills outside of Judea (Matt. 24:16-20; 21:20-24).

The author of “Jesus’ Failed Prophecy About His Return” claims that Peter did not write 2 Peter. He bases his opinion on the words of the mockers who said, “‘Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.’” This is obviously the response of fools. Who could ever say that “all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation” when so much has changed since the beginning of creation? There is some debate about who the “fathers” are. “Four answers have been given to this question: (1) The ancestors of the human race; (2) the patriarchs and prophets; (3) the first generation of Christians; (4) each generation of men in relation to those following.” Abraham is described by Jesus to the mockers of His say as “your father Abraham” (John 8:56; also verses 37 and 39). It’s hard to know for sure since Peter is quoting the words of “mockers” who are ridiculing the prophetic words of Jesus.

CONCLUSION

More could be said, but you get the drift. The criticisms of modern-day prophecy writers are generally accurate. I and others have made similar arguments. The problem with the author of “Jesus’ Failed Prophecy About His Return” is that he or she fails to consider arguments that have been made by preterists for nearly 2000 years. The article shows the danger of those who do not take Jesus at His word when they claim to interpret the Bible “literally.”

  1. C.I. Scofield’s Question Box (Chicago, IL: The Bible Institute Colportage Association, n.d.), 72. []
  2. Joseph Henry Thayer, A Greek‑English Lexicon of the New Testament Being Grimm’s Wilke’s Clovis Novi Testamenti, rev. ed. (New York: American Book Co., 1889), 112. []
  3. Friedrich Buchsel, “Genea,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964), 1:665. []
  4. R. Morgenthaler, “Genea,” New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. Colin Brown, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976), 2:37–38. []
  5. Genea,” Colin Brown, New International Dictionary, 1:38. []
  6. William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek‑English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 153. []
  7. Jack P. Lewis, The English Bible from KJV to NIV, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1991), 180–181. The NASB does offer “race” as an alternative translation in Mark 13:30 but has no such notation in Matthew 23:36 and 24:34. This is significant. If “race” is the preferred translation, then why didn’t the translators make “generation” the alternative translation? The answer is simple: There is no lexicon that supports translating genea as “race.” The King James, New International, The New International Version, like the New American Standard, has “race” as an alternative translation with “generation” as the preferred translation. []
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