GENERATIONAL CURSES: ARE THEY TRUE?October 8, 2013
In recent times the term "Generational or Ancestral Curses" has received prominence in preaching, teaching, and Christian literature, especially those that deal with Spiritual Warfare. Some of my students have written to ask of my input in this controversial subject. Time is ripe for me to weigh in and clarify this confusing belief and put the matter to rest.
PROOF TEXT: EXODUS 20:5
“You shall not worship or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me.”
Exegetical Study: Jealous God, what does it mean?
The Hebrew word for jealous is qanah or qinah ; and the Greek term is zelo?. The word jealous is the synonym of zealous. However, we tend to use the word jealous in a negative way. The Bible also uses the word jealous or jealousy in a negative sense most of the time (Deut. 29:20; Prov. 6:34; Song of Solomon 8:6; etc). Like love and hate in the OT (Mal. 1:2-3), jealousy does not refer to an emotion so much as to an activity, in this case an activity of violence and vehemence. This is not therefore to be seen as intolerance but exclusiveness, and it springs both from the uniqueness of God (who is not one among many) and the uniqueness of His relationship to Israel. No husband who truly loves his wife could endure to share her with another man: no more will God share Israel with a rival. Therefore, God’s jealousy is always positive and redemptive.
The Third and Fourth Generations:
This is a typical Semitic phrase denoting continuity, not to be understood in arithmetical sense. Further, it is applied to those who hate God, who refuse to live their lives in accordance with His will. Since this is God’s world, and since we are all involved with one another, breaches of God’s law by one generation do indeed affect those of future generations to come. Slavery, exploitation, imperialism, pollution, immorality are all examples of this principle. What we call natural results is just an expression of God’s law in operation, punishing breaches of His will.
Here is the difference that is embedded in this principle: God is not talking about the penalties that would come to the third and fourth generations. Rather, He is speaking of consequences.
Therefore, children, and even remote descendants are liable to inherit, not so much the penalties of their forebears’ sins, but rather their consequences—in terms of disease (HIV Aids, cancer), poverty, education and lifestyle (Lev. 26:39) (Bewes, The Top 100 Questions, 238).
However, we are not at the mercy of impersonal deterministic forces. It does not follow that if your parents or grandparents lived in an unprincipled way, you are inevitably doomed to an unstable or purposeless life (Deut. 24:16; Ezekiel 18:1-4). God does not punish you because of the sin of your parents. The society is not to punish a person for the crimes committed by his/her parents. Everybody is responsible for his own actions or sins. Furthermore, ["no one] will ever be denied eternal life because of what his or her forebears did or not do" (Walter C. Kaiser, et al., Hard Sayings of the Bible, 178).
The Doctrine of the Original Sin (St. Augustine)
This doctrine teaches that the sin of Adam and Eve affected the human race. This is what is called human depravity. However, during the Middle Ages (Medieval times) some concluded that since the sin of Adam and Eve affects every person both children and adults, it is imperative to baptize infants (baptismal regeneration). However, if this were the only human predicament then God would be unfair and capricious. On the contrary, since it is true that the sin of Adam and Eve affected the human race in deadly situation, God provided the solution by sending Jesus Christ to die on the cross to pay the penalty of sin (Rom. 5:8). Therefore, it is not the sin of Adam and Eve that plunges a person to hell, but a person’s conscious decision to reject Jesus Christ (John 3:16-19, 36).
In a true biblical sense “sin” is a human “state” of life, rather than an act. Therefore, when you receive Christ as Lord and personal Savior, God removes you from that state of sin and places you in a position of justification and righteousness. When a child does not reach the age of accountability and die, God does not punish the child with the sin of Adam and Eve. God in His divine grace and mercy makes provision for the child to be with Him in heaven. This does not mean that parents are not to share the gospel with their children. The parent knows when the child is ready to make a commitment to Christ.
What Role should Christians play regarding generational curses?
The moment you were saved, God justified, sanctified, and declared you righteous. You are therefore under no condemnation (Rom. 8:1). God has removed every curse from you because you have become His child. The blood of Jesus Christ has washed away your sins. What we can do to cancel the generational curses in which our unregenerate family members and friends find themselves are these: Our preaching, witness, and intercessory prayer can turn the tables for anyone. When this happens, the lone believer in the ancestral line becomes the key figure for the whole family. Such is the power of God’s Word and Spirit. When God chose Abraham, God said, “I will bless you so that you become a blessing” (Gen. 12). Therefore, as Christians we are not to be passive but become actively involved with Christ in the redemption of our family members, friends, and those who have not yet come to Christ (2 Corinthians 5:15-21).
If you paid attention to the proof text that the advocates and proponents of this flawed doctrine of "Generational Curses" use, the word curse is not there. Therefore, it is fair to conclude that based on textual, biblical, exegetical, contextual, and theological analyses, this doctrine is false, speculative, inaccurate, and should be rejected. Contextually, Exodus 20:6 reads, "But showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments." The visiting of the iniquities of the fathers is not upon those who love God and keep His commandments (covenant people) but those who hate Him. Therefore, Christians are not under any generational curse as some advocates of this erroneous teaching would have us to believe.
- Kennedy A. Adarkwa, Ph.D.
Instructor of Practical Studies