Question: The NIV Bible gives the alternate translation of "generation" in Matthew 24:34 as "race." How did they come up with this?
The verse in question reads:
Matt. 24:34 I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.
The English word “generation” translates the Greek word genea (geneya), which can mean a variety of things, depending on the context. Its typical meaning is “age”—as in a time period in which a person or group of people live. But genea is closely related to the word ginomai (ginomai), meaning “to become,” or “to be born,” or any number of related ideas stemming from the idea of something, someone or some people group (i.e. “race”) that has come into existence. (Vines Expository Dictionary Of The New Testament, Unabridged, Mac Donald Publishing Company, in loc.)
So why would the NIV bother to put “race” in a footnote as a possible alternate translation to “generation?”
One very real possibility is that genea (“age”), as found in Matthew 24:34, is not the typical Greek word for “generation.” So the translators may have speculated that the word was being used by Jesus as a synonym for ginomai in the sense of “a group of people”. It is at least conceivable that the “group of people” Jesus had in mind referred to the Jewish people. In that case, the verse would mean, “the Jewish people will certainly not pass away before all these things come to pass.” The NIV footnote would suggest that “race,” if accepted as an alternate translation, would refer to the Jews.
Both Luke and Mark include this quote from Jesus in their accounts, and both use the same Greek word translated “generation” that Matthew does (Luke 21:32; Mark 13:30). That means that the Gospel writers translated Jesus’ choice of terms from his native Aramaic into Greek very specifically to convey His meaning. Jesus wanted the time element that is inherent in the term genea (“age”) to stand out more than a specific race of people. But Jesus did have a specific group of people in mind—a group identified by when they live, not whose bloodline they share. “This generation” refers to the generation of people who will experience “all these things” Jesus described in Matthew 24. What “are all these things?”
The phrase “all these things” includes all the events described in Matthew 25:15-30. The events outlined in verses 5-13 describe the End Times in a very general way, starting with “the beginning of birth pains” (v. 8) and concluding with the gospel message reaching every people group on the planet before Jesus’ return (v.14). But in verses 15-30 Jesus summarizes the key events leading up to and including His Return in power and glory, beginning with the revealing of the identity of the Antichrist (v.15). It is within the lifespan of “the group of people” alive at this time (i.e., “this generation”) that all these things will take place.