What About Generational Curses?


There is a trend in some church circles today to try to blame every sin and problem on some sort of generational curse. This is not biblical. God’s warning to visit iniquity on future generations is part of the Old Testament Law. A generational curse was a consequence for a specific nation (Israel) for a specific sin (idolatry). The history books of the Old Testament (especially Judges) contain the record of this divine punishment meted out.

The Bible mentions “generational curses” in several places (Exodus 20:534:7Numbers 14:18Deuteronomy 5:9). God warns that He is “a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.”

It sounds unfair for God to punish children for the sins of their fathers. However, there is more to it than that. The effects of sin are naturally passed down from one generation to the next. When a father has a sinful lifestyle, his children are likely to practice the same sinful lifestyle. Implied in the warning of Exodus 20:5 is the fact that the children will choose to repeat the sins of their fathers. A Jewish Targum (an Aramaic paraphrase/explanation/interpretation of the Hebrew text of the Jewish Scriptures provided by the rabbis in the course of teaching) specifies that this passage refers to “ungodly fathers” and “rebellious children.” So, it is not unjust for God to punish sin to the third or fourth generation – those generations are committing the same sins their ancestors did.

The cure for a generational curse has always been repentance. When Israel turned from idols to serve the living God, the “curse” was broken and God saved them (Judges 3:9151 Samuel 12:10-11). Yes, God promised to visit Israel’s sin upon the third and fourth generations, but in the very next verse He promised that He would show “love to a thousand [generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:6). In other words, God’s grace lasts a thousand times longer than His wrath.

For someone worried about a generational curse, the answer is salvation through Jesus Christ. A Christian is a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). How can a child of God still be under God’s curse (Romans 8:1)? The cure for a “generational curse” is repentance of the sin in question, faith in Christ, and a life consecrated to the Lord (Romans 12:1-2).

Ezekiel 18 makes it clear that God holds each individual responsible for his or her own sin. Verses 1 through 4 say, “The word of the Lord came to me: ‘What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: “The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die.’” At the same time, Exodus 20:5–6 says, “For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” So, do children bear responsibility for their parents’ sin? Yes and no.

God judges the heart of each individual. In both the Old and New Testaments, we see God interact with people based on their own faith. In Genesis we see God treat Cain differently from Abel, based on their different actions. Ezekiel 18:30 says, “Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways.” John 3:16 says that “whoever believes in [Jesus] shall not perish but have eternal life”. Verse 18 says, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” Clearly, salvation is offered to all, regardless of the actions of one’s parents.

On the other hand, it is obvious that the sins of parents do affect their children. David and Bathsheba’s first son died soon after birth due to their sin. The Israelites, as a nation, were punished by God for their sin, and that punishment sometimes affected the children as well. Today, we see how parental sin affects children. Those who grow up watching sinful behaviour are often more likely to engage in it themselves. Certain sins take parents out of the home or inhibit their ability to be loving caregivers, setting the children up for possible problems in the future. Addiction often has genetic components. The relatively new field of epigenetics is suggesting that trauma can leave “molecular scars” on our DNA—and that those scars are passed down genetically to the third and fourth generation. Even more obviously, Adam and Eve’s sin has affected all of us. We are all born with sinful natures because Adam chose to disobey God. His sin was “passed down” to us.

Sin is never a private issue. It always affects those around us. This is especially true in families. The sins of the parents will affect their children. However, God is gracious and merciful. We are all marred by sin (Romans 3:23). We are all given the option to accept Jesus’ cleansing (Romans 6:23). We can be adopted into God’s family and inherit a new nature. The Bible even speaks of being born again in genetic terms: “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them” (1 John 3:9). God forgives sin when we accept the sacrifice of Jesus. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Partial Source: gotquestions.org


  1. Excellent post. I believe this too. In different families different sins are practiced. That creates a tendency or familiarity with that particular sin. We can definitely be prone to a certain sin depending on our family line and what is practiced in our families!

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