How Long Is a Generation In the Bible?

In the Bible, people measure it in various ways. There are references to minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years. While Bible readers can relate to many of the descriptions, some terms, like “generation,” are unspecific. Since some important passages in the Bible use the term, many people want to know how long a generation is.

In the Bible, there are two Hebrew words translated as “generation” and four Greek ones. In addition, writers sometimes use the term uniquely so that it can refer to different amounts of time. For example, in one passage, generation refers to 400 years. Yet, in another, it refers to 40.

How long is a generation in the book of Genesis? How long is a generation in the books of Numbers and Job? What are four Greek words in the New Testament translated as “generation” in the Bible? What does Jesu mean in Matthew 24 when he says “this generation”? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.

Also, see Who Is the Oldest Person in the Bible? to learn more.

Generation in Scripture
How long is a generation in Genesis? See below

Generation In the Old Testament

The are two Hebrew words translated as “generation” in the Bible: toledot (תּוֹלְדָה) and dor (דּוֹר). The words have overlapping meanings. One Bible dictionary defines the concept without using a specific number of years. A generation refers to a “period of time and its significant events comprising the life span of a person but also used to talk of a more indefinite time span.” [1]

Toledot is one Hebrew word for generation

From the Hebrew word “to bear children,” toledot, often translated as “generation,” appears several times in the Old Testament. It’s especially prominent in Genesis. The term frames the book’s content and the world’s early history.

Genesis 2:4The toledot of the heavens and the earth
Genesis 5:1The toledot of Adam
Genesis 6:9The toledot of Noah
Genesis 10:1The toledot of Noah’s sons
Genesis 10:32The toledot of Shem
Genesis 11:10The toledot of Terah
Genesis 11:27The toledot of Ishmael
Genesis 25:12-13The toledot of the sons of Ishmael
Genesis 25:19The toledot of Isaac
Genesis 36:1, 9The toledot of Esau
Genesis 37:2The toledot of Jacob

One scholar explains, “Each human generation lasts from the death of the father through the death of the son.” [1] Because fathers died at different ages and sons did, too, toledot doesn’t imply a specific number.

Though the Bible refers to most people’s lifespans as 70 or 80 years (Psa. 90:10), several toledots in Genesis saw people live hundreds of years. For example, Adam lived 930 years (Gen. 9:5), Seth lived 912 (Gen. 5:8), Methuselah lived 969 (Gen. 5:27), and Noah lived 950 (Gen. 9:28).

Dor is another Hebrew word for generation

The Hebrew word dor is also translated as “generation” in the Bible. “A generation was a general term for those persons living at a particular time. A generation did not necessarily have a specific number of years.” [1] Because the term is unspecific, it refers to different amounts of time in the Old Testament. Below are three examples.

(1) 400 years equals four generations

Genesis 15:13-16 equates 400 years with four generations.

Verse 13 reads, “Then the Lord said to Abram, ‘Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years.'” (ESV)

Verse 16 reads, “And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” (ESV)

The implication is that one generation equals 100 years in this passage.

(2) 60 or 40 years equals a generation

Most of the Israelites that came out of Egypt died before reaching the Promised Land because they showed a lack of faith when it came time to take possession of it (Num. 13-14).

God said that no man above 20 years old would enter the land except Caleb and Joshua (Num. 32:11-12). Also, Israel wandered in the desert for 40 years due to their collective disobedience (Num. 32:13).

Numbers 32:13 reads, “And the Lord’s anger was kindled against Israel, and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of the Lord was gone” (ESV).

Therefore, if some of the Israelites above 20 years old lived 40 more years, then “generation” would refer to 60 years or more. On the other hand, if the term only refers to their remaining living years, then it describes a 40-year period for those who lived the longest but a shorter amount of time for those that died in the wilderness.

(3) 35 years equals a generation

After Job’s tribulations, he lived 140 more years, which the book describes as four generations. “And after this Job lived 140 years, and saw his sons, and his sons’ sons, four generations” (Job 42:16). 140 years divided by four is 35 years.

Also, see How Many Times is Love Mentioned in the Bible? to learn more.

Holy Bible
What Greek words are translated as “generation” in the New Testament? See below

Generation In the New Testament

Four Greek words are translated as “generation” in the New Testament. The terms have overlapping meanings that generally refer to the descendants of a person or their immediate children. However, it can also refer to a group of people of a similar age (see Matt. 3:7 and 1 Pet. 2:9 below).

Greek WordExample Verse
genesis (γενεά)Matthew 1:17, “So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.” (ESV)
genea (γένεσις)Matthew 1:1, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” (ESV)
gennema (γέννημα)Matthew 3:7, “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?'” (ESV)*
genos (γένος)1 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (ESV)**

*In the KJV, Matthew 3:7 reads, “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”

**In the KJV, 1 Peter 2:9 reads, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”

Also, see How Many Times is Fear Not Mentioned in the Bible? to learn more.

Generation Bible study
What did Jesus mean when he said “this generation”? See below

What Did Jesus Mean In Matthew 24:34?

In Matthew 24:34, Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (ESV). Since the chapter deals with topics like the signs of the end times (v. 3-14) and the coming of the Son of Man (v. 29-31), many readers want to know what Jesus meant by “this generation.”

Some scholars interpret “generation” as a reference to Israel, though many others disagree. Another interpretation is that the term refers to the people that will experience the Second Coming of Jesus.

Yet the most common view today is that Jesus referred to his hearers’ generation. His speech (v. 4-51) follows his teaching on the temple’s destruction (v. 1-2). This prophecy leads to the disciples asking, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (v. 3).

Roman soldiers destroyed the temple in 70 A.D., about 40 years after Jesus spoke these words.

Matthew commentator R.T. France writes, “Now that we have seen that the reference is to the destruction of the temple, which did as a matter of fact take place some forty years later while many of Jesus’ contemporaries must have been still alive, all such contrived renderings may be laid to rest.” [3]

Matthew scholar D.A. Carson adds, “‘This generation can only with greatest difficulty be made to mean anything other than the generation living when Jesus spoke.” [4]

Also, see Who Wrote Ecclesiastes in the Bible? to learn more.

[1] Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. p. 626.
[2] New Bible Dictionary. p. 403.
[3] The Gospel According to Matthew by R.T. France. NICNT. p. 930.
[4] Matthew by D.A. Carson. EBCR. p. 569.

Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see his About page for details.

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