In the April 15, 2010 Watchtower, there is an article titled, “Holy Spirit’s Role in the Outworking of Jehovah’s Purpose.” In this article, a change was made in a teaching of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. To illustrate the significance of this doctrine, open up your Watchtower library and type in “this generation.” Then, come to your own conclusion as to how important this teaching has been over the Watchtower’s history. And not only that, but consider how important the meaning of this phrase is to Jesus’ discourse in Matthew 24 and the parallel accounts. Certainly, it would be no stretch to say that the meaning of Jesus’ words is crucial to how you understand that passage.
But how does the Watchtower understand it? The history of interpretation will illustrate:
In 1927, the view was that “this generation” was in reference to the anointed, or the “new creation.”
In 1951, “This generation” meant those who were born before or during 1914.
In 1995, “this generation” was in reference to those who failed to repent, which would include all non-Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Then, in 2008, the teaching was changed back to the view held in 1927 which referred to “this generation” as the “anointed.”
And last, just two years later, the Watchtower changed their view yet again to mean something else:
“To what generation did Jesus refer? Jesus was referring, not to the wicked, but to the disciples, who were soon to be anointed with holy spirit. Jesus’ anointed followers, both in the first century and in our day, would be the ones who would not only see the sign but also discern its meaning—that Jesus ‘is near at the doors.’ What does this explanation mean to us? Although we cannot measure the exact length of ‘this generation,’ we do well to keep in mind several things about the word ‘generation’: it usually refers to people of varying ages whose lives overlap during a particular time period; it is not excessively long; and it has an end. (Ex. 1:6) How, then, are we to understand Jesus’ words about ‘this generation?’ He evidently meant that the lives of the anointed who were on hand when the sign began to become evident in 1914 would overlap with the lives of other anointed ones who would see the start of the great tribulation.” –The Watchtower April 15, 2010
When you read the word “generation” in places like Matthew 24, it doesn’t mean just one particular generation, but an overlap of generations. To many Jehovah’s Witnesses, this is not a big deal. It will be looked at as “new light” and will be accepted without question. After all, no one is perfect, and the society will refine their views as they come to better understand the Scriptures. And often times, Jehovah’s Witnesses will ask me why I am not criticizing bible scholars for changing their views? After all, I will readily admit this happens all the time.
But I don’t believe this is a valid comparison. And the reason being, most Bible scholars are not claiming the type of authority that the Watchtower claims. That is, there aren’t many Bible scholars out there who insist that their personal interpretations should be accepted without question. And furthermore, there are not many Bible scholars who claim that they are God’s sole channel of communication on earth today. And therefore, to disobey or disagree with them, would be to disagree with God. This makes these changes in Watchtower doctrine to be far more significant.
The following are some questions for Jehovah’s Witnesses to consider in light of this changed teaching:
First, do you agree with this change in the meaning of “this generation?” And are you accepting this change without question? That is, when you are studying this publication along with your congregation, are you really searching the Scriptures and seeing if this explanation is the best that could be offered? Or are you just accepting it as long as the Watchtower can cite a Bible verse to try to support it?
Second, how sure are you that this understanding is the correct one? With this many changes, do you still feel that the Watchtower is a trustworthy guide for Bible knowledge? And how many changes would have to be made before you’d consider them unreliable? 5? 10? 20? Or is there nothing that would cause you to think that?
And third, what if you don’t agree with the Watchtower on this point? Is there any Scriptural basis by which you wouldn’t be allowed to stand by your view, as long as you believed it was in line with what the Bible teaches? Or would you be asked to stay silent on this issue, so as to not be looked at as divisive?
And last, do you find Jesus’ words to be unclear in Matthew 24? To an outsider, with such a variety of interpretations offered by the Watchtower over the years, would this not make Jesus out to be unreliable? After all, the Watchtower, though not necessarily claiming inspiration, has stated that their interpretations are not based on man’s opinion. So who is the one being unclear here, Jesus or the Watchtower?