By Charles H. Welch
Generations. In Matthew 1:1, "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ", the Greek word used is genesis, so that just as the creation of heaven and earth in the beginning is the "Genesis" of the O.T., the birth of the Saviour at Bethlehem is the "Genesis" of the N.T. In Matthew 3:7, 12:34 and 23:33, where we meet the dreadful title "generation of vipers", the word gennema means progeny, produce or offspring. In 1 Peter 2:9 the "chosen generation" , we have the word genos in the original, a word meaning a race or descent. The one other word, and the one mostly used, is genea, and "denotes an age or generation from the point of view of race (as aion does from that of duration)" (Dr. E. W. Bullinger). Metaphorically, genea indicates "a race of men very like each other in endowments, pursuits, character; and especially in a bad sense, a perverse race (Matt. 17:17, Acts 2:40)" (Grimm-Thayer). The note of time is sounded in such passages as Acts 15:21, "For Moses of old time", and in Ephesians 3:5,21, "other ages", "all ages". Our special interest in this analysis is with a passage in Matthew, and one or two in Ephesians and Colossians. First, the passage in Matthew.
The difficulty that such a statement creates in view of the contextual reference to the second coming is removed by drawing attention to the untranslated particle an, and to the employment of the subjunctive mood, which indicates uncertainty, an uncertainty that arose by reason of the fact that all was conditional upon the repentance of the nation (see The Companion Bible).
Thayer's note on an says: "It is a particle indicating that something can or could occur on certain conditions . . . sometimes the condition is not expressly stated, but is easily gathered from what is said: Luke 19:23 and Matthew 25:27 (I should have received it back with interest, if thou hadst given it to the bankers)". This is but one of many examples that illustrate the "gap" theory, a principle acknowledged by the Lord in Luke 4:16-20, and more fully considered under the headings Lo-AMMI, DIVISION and RIGHT DIVISION.
Three occurrences of genea found in Ephesians and Colossians are important, especially as the connexion between Ephesians 3:5 and Colossians 1:26 is veiled in the A.V.
Where it is "the mystery of Christ", the Apostle is content to show that this particular aspect of Divine truth is more fully revealed today, than it had been in other generations, using the lesser of the two words employed in Colossians 1:26. Where, however, as in Colossians 1:25,26, Paul is speaking of "The Mystery" and not "the mystery of Christ", he uses two words, "ages and generations", and while we today may not limit the term "generations" to Israel, a survey of the occurrences of genea in the N.T. will show that, with one exception, that is the case. The "ages" are vaster in their sweep, going back to the beginning of the world, and as Paul, in Colossians 1:25,26, is dealing with the great secret of the present dispensation, both terms are used. The exception mentioned a few lines above is Ephesians 3:21, where the A.V. reads:
This is corrected in the R.V. margin, which reads "Gr. all the generations of the age of the ages", which instead of looking back, as does Ephesians 3:5 and Colossians 1:26, looks down the vista of time to the consummation when God shall be all in all. See THIS GENERATION in the volume devoted to Prophecy for another approach to this problem.