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Generational curses: are children punished for the sins of their parents?

Generational Curses: Are Children Punished for Their Parents’ Sins?

If you’ve been in the church for any length of time, you’ve probably heard generational curses discussed. There are two conflicting opinions:

  • God punishes children for the sins of their parents.
  • God doesn’t punish children for the sins of their parents.

Why the confusion?

Verses Seem to Support and Argue Against Generational Curses

Some verses indicate God punishes children for the sins of their parents:

You shall not bow down to [idols] nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me.

Exodus 20:5, 34:7, Numbers 14:18, and Deuteronomy 5:9

Other such as indicate God doesn’t punish children for the sins of their parents:

The LORD says, “What do you mean by this proverb, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? This proverb shall no more be used. Behold, the soul who sins shall die…The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father…the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

Ezekiel 18:2-4, 20; see also Deuteronomy 24:16

The people said they were punished (their teeth were bad: “set on edge”), because of their parents’ sins (the “sour grapes” they ate). God said, “Don’t say this anymore. You’ll be punished for your own sins!”

So which is it?

The Solution with Generational Curses…

God doesn’t punish children for the sins of their parents, but often the sins of parents are passed down to children. When children commit those sins they are punished. So the following is true:

  • Children are punished “for the sins of their parents”
  • Children are punished for their own sins

The second half of Exodus 20:5 says, “…visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me.” By engaging in idolatry these children are showing they “hate” God.

Idolatry is often passed down from parents to children. Children practice the idolatry they learned from their parents and are punished for it. But it’s not as though the children are punished without sinning.

Katie and I discuss generational curses in a Facebook Live video.

Generational curses: an example with King David

Frederick Meyer said, “A man never sees the worst of himself until it reappears in his child.”

One of the painful realities for David is that his children embraced his sins. David saw a beautiful woman, took her, and slept with her (2 Samuel 11:1-5). To prevent the discovery of his sin, David got Uriah drunk, then had his servant (Joab ) murder him (2 Samuel 11:6-17). David said, “I don’t care if the woman is married, if I want her, I’ll take her.” Consider:

  • David’s son Amnon saw a beautiful woman (Tamar), took her, and slept with her (2 Samuel 13:1-14). Amnon said, “I don’t care if the woman is my half-sister, if I want her, I’ll take her.”
  • David’s son Absalom became angry with Amnon, so he got him drunk and had his servants murder him (2 Samuel 13:23-33).

David looked very cunning when he plotted sexual sins and murder. Amnon and Absalom looked equally cunning when they plotted sexual sins and murder.

The Lesson for Parents

I’ve seen two situations with parents:

  1. Great parents whose children rebel. The children rebelled despite the way the parents raised them.
  2. Parents whose children rebel and they feel at fault. They saw their sins in their child.

The strongest reason we should live holy, godly lives is we love God and want to serve Him. Another reason is so we don’t see our sins passed along to our children. We want our children to see Jesus Christ through us so they come to know Him at an early age.

Discuss Questions to Answer in Comments Section Below:

  • What are your thoughts on generational curses?
  • Do you think Scripture supports them, argues against them…or both?
  • Can you offer some parenting advice that relates to this topic?

21 Responses

  1. With all respect, the author’s answer seems to ride the fence by concluding that both contradictory scriptures are true at the same time. Am i missing something?

    The very point of both the Jeremiah and Ezekiel passages is to show that the curses no longer apply to future generations…PERIOD. To attempt to qualify these into something more “understandable”, while avoiding the clear contradiction, is not good exegesis.

    Another point of view would note:
    a) the multi – generational curse falls on those who “hate God” for the 3-4 generations in question. And yes, the focus is on families/ fathers who are worshipping false gods. No OTHER generations are mentioned, plus, the context makes it clear that the multi – generational curse applies to sins other than worship of false gods.

    Regarding Ex. 34:7 similar “contradiction,” Craig Brian Larson aptly explains that the group to whom curses will be applied through multiple generations comprises families and individuals who are “guilty” because they NEVER confess their sins/ offensive behavior to God.
    The”forgiven” group, on the other hand, are those who still have committed sin… but who then confess and repent of that offense.
    https://craigbrianlarson.com/exodus-347/
    b) I would like to say a whole lot more, but suffice it to say that even the “guilty” or “idol worshippers according to the Jeremiah and Ezekiel passages will be forgiven in the”coming days” when God would make a new covenant, and write his commands in the people’s hearts. All would know him.

    1. Hi Kenneth,
      My answer “seems to ride the fence,” because there seems to be verses on both sides of the fence. I don’t want to repeat the post, but Exodus 20:5, 34:7, Numbers 14:18, and Deuteronomy 5:9 state that God punishes children for the sins of their parents, while Ezekiel 18:2-4, 20 and Deuteronomy 24:16 state that God doesn’t punish children for the sins of their parents.

      Can you tell me what verses you’re referring to in Jeremiah and Ezekiel?

      That’s a good point that it could fall on those who “hate God.”

      Craig Brian Larson’s position sounds good, but I’m not sure that I see the biblical support for it.

  2. Hello. There are no direct scriptures on whether cures can be passed on to innocent children. Because of this people are taking the opportunity to go either way (subjectively) on this discussion. In the end, truth becomes a discussion memory.

    1. Hi William,
      I can’t tell if you agree or disagree with the post…or are simply adding your thoughts :).

      You said, “on to innocent children.” Nobody is innocent, but I take it you mean innocent of the sins their parents committed? Did you think the verses in the post discuss God punishing children for their parents’ sins?

    2. I am not sure why William says there are “no direct scriptures” pertaining to the passing of curses to “innocent children. ” All of the verses mentioned speak of children suffering the effects of these curses… unless the children come from parents who do not “hate God” or worship idols.

  3. why we see the effect of the parents sin in their children can be attributed to ignorance. it is the truth you know that will set you free. the devil takes advantage of a believers ignorance and afflicts him. if children will come to the knowledge of Christ and the truth of what He has done and said such a child will not suffer for his parents sin

    1. Hello Rimamnunra,
      Thank you for reading and commenting.

      Yes, I agree that if children can come to the knowledge of Christ, and embrace the Gospel, they can be delivered from any sins they might have learned from their parents.

  4. Dear Steve,

    Thank you for your thoughts. I notice that all the comments agree with your viewpoint, so if you will permit me, I would like to question some bits, and perhaps encourage some more meaningful discussion.

    To explain, in a way it is my hope that in fact God does punish children for the sins of the fathers, because the revelation of such a dynamic would make the world we are living in, a place which could be understood and explained more easily in our rapid demise and limited effect of our prayers; while also realising an exciting way to fix this world of godlessness and sin in a potentially rapid timeline.
    Okay, maybe I’ve gone too far too quickly, I shall elaborate:

    Robert Henderson in his book ‘Operating in the Courts of Heaven’ shares his testimony of praying for his adult son, who was depressed and despairing after a divorce for two whole years, to no avail. See him speak of his story here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElKrj2pXl4Y
    He had bound and loosed all that he could think of praying, and desperately prayed every blessing that he could over his son – no success. Then he had a dialogue with God, who told him to bring his son to the Courtroom of Heaven in prayer. In that place, he made prayers that were more of a courtroom exchange (different from battlefield prayers) – specifically he confesses both his own and his sons sins, and applies the blood of Jesus over them. His son is instantly healed of his depression and despair – instantly! Hallelujah!
    Considering such a Courtroom of Heaven scenario, for Satan (the accuser of the brethren) it is our sins that are his main arms against us – accusing and demanding legal rights from God, before the cloud of witnesses of God’s Justice, to afflict individuals and nations, all according to God’s own solemn decrees (blessing and curses) against sin.

    It is my present understanding and even hope, that there are in fact evil principalities and powers over our nations, institutions and families, afflicting us as an outworking of the curses of Deuteronomy and Leviticus, both for our own sins yes, and also those of our ancestors – who we are encouraged to confess for some reason – what reason might that be?? (Lev 26:40-42 “But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their ancestors… then will I remember my covenant…”)

    I say that it is my hope, because if this dynamic you are discussing is the case there is still great hope for many in the world, since we -the remnant are empowered to bring these evil powers down. All that is required is for us to realise that like Robert Henderson, we can save two years of ineffective prayer for our family and institutions, even our nations, by approaching the Courtroom of Heaven for 15 minutes, confessing our sin and any historical sin of our ancestors, then both asking forgiveness of those sins, and (crucially) applying the Precious Blood of Jesus as atonement for the effects of those sins. In fact, even if we were not sure about the theology of such a position, to make such a simple prayer can only be beneficial.

    Such a sudden and present move of God would be Scriptural, since Revelation 12 says ‘Then I heard a shout from Heaven…’; ‘They defeated [Satan] by the Blood of the Lamb…’ and also in Malachi 3 – It is prophesied that in the last days, the prophetic spirit of Elijah will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the children to the fathers, lest God strike the land with a curse.
    Could the latter prophecy from Malachi perhaps, refer to a God-revealed awareness of the reality of generational effects of sin, and the release of exactly those effects, by applying the Blood of the Lamb, from the bowl to the door lintel over your house and that of your loved ones.

    So not only is God making us realise the generational effects of sin, to act as a unique deterrent for the parents and grandparents not to sin, and be saved; also by their repentance the habits of the household will be better as you have stated – but in the same breath as God highlighting this way of His Justice operating, He is also giving us the major solution to bring relief, so that Satan’s escalating dominion over the world to date, may be undone – ‘I saw Satan fall like lightening!’ Praise God.

    Fr John Hampsch spent 27 years studying and offering Holy Mass (containing special prayers honouring and applying the Precious Blood) for the intentions of people ‘Healing Your Family Tree’ all over the world (he wrote a best-selling book by the same name). During that time, he saw many miracles of healing and release, and anecdotally estimates that 80-85% of sickness is related to the effects of ancestral sin.
    There may well be Scriptural arguments from either side of this debate, but praying in this way feels extremely powerful and anointed – do please try it.
    God did elaborate at some length, about this generational sin effect at the top of His list of Commands – His Law, didn’t He? And Jesus emphasised that he didn’t come to change even one dot or tittle of the Law. Also why would Peter wonder about who sinned in the case of the blind man, if it was out of the question for him to wonder it centuries after Ezekiel and Jeremiah wrote to a particular people being chastised right left and centre? Just a thought.

    I offer this long considered observations to you respectfully, for your consideration and discernment.

    Tony

    1. Hi Tony,
      Thank you for reading and especially for your lengthy and thoughtful response! I hope Steve Will respond. I’m looking forward to reading his thoughts.

      Just as a quick note, yes, Peter did wonder about the parents’ sin in the case of the son’s blindness, but then Jesus rebuked that thinking. He made it clear the blindness had nothing to do with the parents’ sins and everything to do with God being glorified.

      Anyway, thank you again and I hope further dialogue takes place!

      In Christ,
      Scott

    2. These are some good ideas. The foci of Jeremiah and Ezekiel are, as I read it, is that, whereas the curses originally applied to generations of only those people who”hated” God; under the New Covenant, they are NO LONGER applied to ANYONE. That’s why the prophets rebuke the people who are saying this.

  5. Generational curses are something I studied a while back because the verses really intrigued me. One of the conclusions I came to was that the children do not get punished spiritually for the sins but like you said may very well follow the example of their parents. I also think that because of the bad choices consequences may affect not only the parent but the child in different instances.

  6. Your answer make sense, both biblically and intellectually. We can all name examples of people who repeat the same sins as their parents.

    And you’re right- seeing my son serve God is a great motivation for me to serve God well too.

    1. Hi Tami,
      I’m sorry, but I’m a little confused by what you wrote. Before I guess and try to respond, can you elaborate a little?

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!

  7. This is definitely an interesting topic. The way you explain that the sin patterns can be passed on if no “renewing of the mind” is happening. Being a parent, this definitely becomes evident. They are always watching and learning from us. They look up to us and we ought to be giving them something to look up to. Thanks for your wisdom on this subject.

    The only other place in scripture that it was briefly brought up would be in John 9 when Jesus gives sight to the blind man. However, Jesus said that he was born that way because of the miracle that He performed, not because of sin. I don’t know it qualifies at that point?

    1. Thank you Steven.

      Yes, that’s a good way to say it: “renewing of the mind.” For both the parents and the children.

      Good observation with the blind man. I think that situation is different. That account rebuffs the idea that, “Bad things happen to bad people.” It’s accurate to say, “Bad things happen to ALL people.”

      During Jesus’ ministry two events took place that led to the deaths of a number of people:
      1. Pilate murdered some Galileans.
      2. A tower collapsed killing 18 people.

      In both situations, the disciples thought these people died because they were worse sinners than anyone else, but in Luke 13:2-5 Jesus said:

      “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, NO; Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, No.”

      In Jesus’ day many people – including the disciples – thought if something bad (a trial) happened to someone, it must be because there had been some sin. That’s not the case.

      But trials are different than discipline. When we sin and “something bad happens” we’re being chastised by God. Then it is a result of sin.

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