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Topic: Christian Counseling

Generational Sin (Part 2)

by Darrel Cline

In Part 1 (307) of this study we made the claim that Daniel 1:1-6 only establishes that the sins of forefathers have a clear impact upon our external circumstances. We concluded from that text that there was no necessary linkage between the sins of our forefathers and the condition of our own hearts/minds and souls/spirits.

However, let me admit right now that the texts that we really ought to consider are not those that are illustrational rather than didactic. Illustrational texts are simply texts that we use to attempt to illustrate some dogmatic premise that we wish to establish. However, the only legitimate method of establishing any dogmatic truth is to dig that truth out of the texts which actually teach it. That brings us to texts such as Exodus 20:5; 34:7; Numbers 14:18; Deuteronomy 5:9; Jeremiah 31:29-30; Ezekiel 18:2; John 9:1-3 (which are some of the texts of the Bible which relate to the claim that God "visits" the sins of the fathers upon the third and fourth generations).

It is clear from John 9:2 that the disciples of Jesus had bought into the rather typical Jewish notion of that day that bad circumstances were always the result of either personal sin(s) or generational sin. It is also just as clear that Jesus did not believe that. That Jesus did not ought to give us pause as we seek to draw dogmatic conclusions. But this text does not establish/disestablish the claim that generational sins necessarily bind us for two reasons:

  1. it does not address anything beyond the external circumstance of physical blindness, (physical circumstances never necessarily bind us); and
  2. it clearly establishes the fact that Jesus rejected the automatic linkage between the sins of parents and negative physical circumstances (He did not reject all such links, just the automatic assumption of linkage).

That brings us to the primary Old Testament texts. It probably ought to be noted at this point that the texts of Jeremiah 31:29-30 and Ezekiel 18:2 are references to a "proverb" ("The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge") that had developed out of both an historically developed reality and a theologically developed reality. The theologically developed reality was that of Exodus 20:5; 34:7; Numbers 14:18; and Deuteronomy 5:9: the jealousy of God causes Him to visit the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generations of those that hate Him. The historical reality was seen in the history of the nation as the theological reality played out in the circumstances of that history.

At this point it behooves me to point out this fact: the two texts which are most fundamental to this issue are Exodus 20:5 and Deuteronomy 5:9 because they are texts of the original covenant of Sinai. Exodus 34:7 and Numbers 14:18 are follow-up texts.

The significance of these observations is this: in the primary texts, the visitation of the sins of the fathers upon their third and fourth generations is upon "those that hate Me". In the follow-up texts, there are two significant differences:

  1. there is a clear presentation of the merciful willingness of God to forgive those who sin but do not "hate" God; and
  2. there is an omission of the "those that hate Me" phrase.

This indicates that God wanted His people to know that He was not going to impose the same consequence upon those that loved Him (but did not live perfectly) that He imposed upon those who indulged in hard-hearted, impenitent, "hatred" of Him. This would signify that the imposition of "generational sins' consequences" is only validly applied to those who hate God.

This is not the end of the matter, but it does give us some food for thought for the present.

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This is article #308.
If you wish, you may contact Darrel as darrelcline at this site.