How Many Years Is a Generation? Biblical and Modern Meaning

What is a generation in the Bible? Is it the same as the generations of today? Learn about the biblical and modern meaning of generation.

Updated Jan 25, 2024
How Many Years Is a Generation? Biblical and Modern Meaning

What Is a Generation?

Commonly, a generation refers to all people born and living in the same time period, regarded collectively. It is also defined as "the average period, generally considered to be about 20–⁠30 years, during which children are born and grow up, become adults, and begin to have children."

In modern social science, Generation is also often used synonymously with cohort, meaning "people within a delineated population who experience the same significant events within a given period of time." Generations in this sense of a birth cohort, also known as "social generations," are widely used in popular culture and have been the basis for sociological research.

The word generate comes from the Latin generāre, meaning "to beget." The word generation as a group indicates the entire collection of individuals generated from the previous generation.

Generations in the Bible

In the Bible, a generation is typically 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.

Genesis 2:4 - These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.

In this Bible verse, “generations of the heavens and the earth” (ESV) appears to include all of human history—the era started by the creation of the universe.

Exodus 1:6 - Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation.

For this Exodus verse, the “generation” who dies means everyone who had been alive during the time that Joseph and his brothers lived.

Matthew 24:34 - Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.

This generation refers to all believers at all times, the generation of the Church, and not merely to those alive at the time of Christ.

Joel 1:3 - Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children to another generation.

Here generation is used synonymously with children, the next generation after their parents.

Psalm 145:4 - One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.

In this Psalm, generation refers to parents informing their children of the greatness of God, commending His works of glory.

How Long Is a Biblical Generation?

The original text of the Bible employed at least three different words that are translated into English as “generation.” The Hebrew dor can refer to a typical, physical generation, as in Exodus 1:6. Though it can also be used symbolically to recognize people of a particular type or character. 

For instance, Psalm 78:8 ESV says, “They should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.

Another Hebrew word now translated in English as “generation” is toledot. This doesn’t refer to the qualities of a group or an age but to how that age was developed or came into being. 

The “generations of the heavens and the earth” in Genesis 2:4 refers to the era that started with the creation of the earth and continued organically from that point. 

The “generations of Adam” in Genesis 5:1 means the civilization or group of people descended from Adam and Eve. 

The following “generation” is that of Noah, including the flood and the civilizations of his descendants.

Bible Meaning of Generation

In the Bible, the term "generation" is used in various contexts, and its meaning can depend on the specific passage. Here are a few key aspects of the biblical meaning of "generation":

Descendants or Offspring: In many biblical contexts, the word "generation" refers to a group of people descended from a common ancestor. For example, in the genealogies found throughout the Bible, generations are often listed to trace the lineage of a particular individual or group.

Time Period: The term "generation" can also refer to a specific period of time, often characterized by a particular set of events or circumstances. For instance, Jesus spoke of the generation that would witness certain events, and there are passages in the Old Testament that describe the length of a generation in terms of years.

Moral or Spiritual Condition: In some instances, the term "generation" is used to describe a group of people characterized by certain moral or spiritual qualities. For example, in Matthew 12:39, Jesus refers to the people of his time as an "evil and adulterous generation."

Continuity of People: The Bible sometimes uses "generation" to emphasize the continuity of a people or nation. This can be seen in phrases like "from generation to generation," highlighting the enduring nature of God's covenant with His people.

Future Generations: The Bible often speaks about the impact of the actions of one generation on future generations. Blessings and curses are sometimes said to extend to multiple generations, emphasizing the importance of righteous living and obedience to God's commandments.

What Generations Are Alive Now?

Presently, six generations constitute our society. More generations are present now as the average lifespan has relatively increased in the modern era. Here are the birth years for each generation:

  • Generation Alpha: Born 2012 – 2024
  • Gen Z, iGen, or Centennials: Born 1996 – 2011
  • Millennials or Gen Y: Born 1977 – 1995
  • Generation X: Born 1965 – 1976
  • Baby Boomers: Born 1946 – 1964
  • Silent Generation: Born 1928 – 1945

Generational Breakdown -

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