This is the first of three posts addressing the notion of “generational sin.” Part 2 will present some biblical and theological problems with generational sin for believers and Part 3 will suggest a solution.
Do the sins of parents get passed down to their believing children? Is there such a thing as “generational sin” in the life of the Christian? Should believers be concerned that sinful patterns identified in their own lives are a direct result of sins somehow transferred from previous generations? What are the similarities and dissimilarities of generational sin and originale peccatum (original sin)? Or, does generational sin somehow only apply to the unbeliever?
On a popular level, generational sin is typically treated in the context of spiritual warfare. In some theological circles, believers are encouraged to pray for freedom from the bonds of generational sin and gain the victory that is theirs in Christ. Neil Anderson’s Freedom In Christ Ministries has gained a huge following because of this teaching. Moreover, in an interview with Evander Holyfield, New Man magazine records the heavyweight champion’s victory over generational sin (from “The Power Inside,” New Man, March/April: 1998). Some offer biblical support for generational sin by pointing to Exodus 20:5 and 34:6,7 (cf., also Numbers 14:18; Deuteronomy 5:9). Exodus 34:6-7 reads:
And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”
In addition, we have Abraham’s deception of Abimelech about Sarah (Genesis 20:2-13), Isaac deceiving Abimelech about Rebekah (Genesis 26:7-11), and Jacob deceiving Isaac regarding Esau’s blessing (Genesis 25:27-34) all suggesting sins passed on through generations. Let’s not forget Simeon and Levi deceiving Hamor and his son Shechem regarding the promise of marriage to their sister Dinah (Gen. 34:7-26). Some may even go so far as to suggest that Stephen blamed resistance to the Holy Spirit on generational sin (Acts 7:51). It appears, therefore, that generational sin carries the weight of Scripture behind it.
But does this square with the whole biblical record? Find out in Part 2.