In recent years, the prosperity gospel, a prominent doctrine of the Word of Faith movement, has gained substantial influence within Charismatic Christian circles. According to the prosperity gospel, it’s God’s will that every believer should enjoy both material wealth and physical well-being.

Within this movement, the concept of generational curses often comes up as one of the explanations for why some believers may not be experiencing their anticipated breakthrough or healing despite fervent declarations, decrees, or seed offerings.

As a result, there is now a tendency to attribute every sin, illness, problem, or any other form of suffering to a generational curse of some kind. And given that African cultural and traditional practices are steeped in superstitious beliefs it’s not hard to see why the African church would embrace the idea that generational curses exist.

This leads us to a fundamental question. Does the Bible teach that repentant believers in Jesus Christ who are delivered from the penalty of sin still need to investigate what sins their grandfather, great-grandfather, or great-grandmother committed so that they can repent for them? 

That’s the million-dollar question I seek to answer in this blog post.

What is a Generational Curse?

A generational curse is a belief, that negative consequences can be passed down from one generation to the next within a family. Proponents of this teaching hold the view that the actions or sins of ancestors can have a lingering impact on the lives of their descendants. 

The idea is that certain behaviors or sins committed by previous generations may result in a kind of spiritual “curse” that affects the well-being, relationships, or success of future generations.

Derek Prince, a prominent teacher within the charismatic movement, played a pivotal role in popularizing the idea of generational curses as we know them today. According to his teaching, some of the challenges believers face today may be consequences of the sins committed by their forefathers. This teaching has found its way into many Christian churches, causing believers to live in fear of curses that they believe are beyond their control.

What does the Bible say about generational curses?

Generational curses in the Old Testament

Several verses are often invoked to support the notion of generational curses. However, it’s crucial to recognize that these verses were specifically directed to the nation of Israel within the context of the Mosaic Covenant. And they are particularly associated with the sin of idolatry. With this in mind here are the cited verses:

"You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me." Exodus 20:5 ESV
The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” Exodus 34:6-7 ESV
“Because of their iniquity, and also because of the iniquities of their fathers they shall rot away like them.” Leviticus 26:39 ESV
And now, please let the power of the Lord be great as you have promised, saying, ‘The LORD is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ Numbers 14:17-18 ESV
"You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me." Deuteronomy 5:9 ESV

Deuteronomy 28 is also included where God spells out in great detail the blessings and curses Israel would receive for obedience and disobedience of the law respectively.

If you find yourself leaning towards a belief in generational curses, you might be thinking, “There you have it, generational curses are indeed biblical. Case closed.” But not so fast dear reader, because that’s not all the Scriptures have to say about this topic.

In other Old Testament passages, the Bible emphasizes individual responsibility for sin, suggesting that children will not bear the guilt of their fathers. For instance, Deuteronomy 24:16 explicitly states that “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.” 

Ezekiel 18:20 also declares, “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son.” 

This principle is reinforced throughout the Old Testament, emphasizing individual responsibility for one’s actions. In fact, in 2 Kings 14:6, the Bible says, “But he (referring to King Amaziah, King of Judah), did not put to death the children of the murderers, according to what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, where the Lord commanded, ‘Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. But each one shall die for his own sin.’” 

Despite the apparent conflict, it’s essential to acknowledge that both sets of verses are true, as God cannot lie (Num 23:19). Neither is He the author of confusion (1 Cor 14:33). The question therefore arises: Could there be something we have missed in our interpretation? Let’s delve deeper to find out.

How do we reconcile these conflicting verses?

Let’s explore Exodus 20:5, a verse often cited in discussions about generational curses. Beginning with verse 4, it states:

"You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me."  Exodus 20:4-5 ESV

Many interpret the mention of the third and fourth generations as a transfer of punishment down the bloodline; from great-grandfather to grandfather, to father, and finally to the son. However, if we consider what the Bible has to say in Deuteronomy 24:16, for example, it’s clear that this interpretation doesn’t fit. 

Rather, the focus of the verse is on the continuation of the sin (idolatry, hating God) of the fathers in the sons. In other words, the sons are punished, not merely because they were descendants of those who practiced idolatry but because they continued the sinful practices of their fathers. This is what  “ visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children” means.

Therefore, the mention of the third and fourth generations is not about the transfer of punishment from one generation to another. Instead, it underscores, that idolatry can persist through multiple generations. In simpler terms, sin can stick around for generations.

In this regard, no blameless child bore the penalty for their father’s sins. Instead, the repercussions befell only those who had adopted the very sins committed by their fathers.

Here’s the thing, as human beings, we have the proclivity to repeat the same sins as our parents as in the case of Abraham and Isaac (Gen12:10-20; 20:1-18; 26:6-16). This isn’t necessarily because someone is under a generational curse, rather, it’s because the experiences we have in our upbringing shape the choices we make.

The Israelites made the same assumption

I don’t know about you but the concept of generational curses. Has often struck me as unfair. The idea that God would punish someone for sins they did not commit has never quite sat well with me. Rightfully so, because God’s justice is not characterized by unfairness as we shall see.

Historical accounts indicate that Israel also believed that God unfairly punished children for their fathers’ sins. In fact, they coined the proverbial expression “The fathers eat the sour grapes, but the children’s teeth are set on edge” to encapsulate this sentiment (Eze 18:1-4; 25-32; Jer 31:29-33).

However, God rejected this proverb in the book of Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 18, He begins by asserting that all souls belong to Him, emphasizing His role as the Creator. He goes ahead to provide a detailed explanation of His justice, illustrating that He holds each person accountable for their own choices,

God outlines scenarios where a righteous person and his wicked son, or a wicked father and his righteous son, will be judged independently at length. He makes it abundantly clear that the son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, and vice versa. The righteousness of the righteous and the wickedness of the wicked are upon themselves. Thus, dispelling the notion that He arbitrarily punishes generations for the sins of their ancestors.

This aligns with Jesus’ response when the disciples raised the issue of a generational curse. In the case of the man born blind, the disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:1-3). 

God relented when the Israelites Repented

The Bible provides numerous examples where the cycle of “ visiting the iniquities of the fathers on the sons” was broken when the Israelites cried out to the Lord, repented, and turned away from idolatry. For example: 

And they cried out to the LORD and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have forsaken the LORD and have served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. But now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies, that we may serve you.’ And the LORD sent Jerubbaal and Barak and Jephthah and Samuel and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side, and you lived in safety. 1 Samuel 12:10-11 ESV
But when the people of Israel cried out to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. Judges 3:9 ESV
Then the people of Israel cried out to the LORD, and the LORD raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud, the son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man. The people of Israel sent tribute by him to Eglon the king of Moab. Judges 3:15 ESV

These verses show that repentance has always been the remedy for what we term as “generational curses”. God affirms this when speaking to Solomon saying, “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chro 7:14).

This is the pattern we see throughout the Old Testament. When the nation of Israel fell into the sin of Idolatry, God would warn them to turn away from their sins.  If they didn’t, they would face punishment, but if they repented, God would relent and forgive them.

This also goes to show that the sins of the fathers wasn’t a bondage that the descendants needed to break free from. Rather. each generation could make the choice not to perpetuate the sins of their fathers and avoid the curses outlined in Deuteronomy 28. The key was and still is repentance.

The New Testament and Generational Curses

One would think, given the emphasis generational curses are given within the church, it’s mentioned in the New Testament. But guess what? It’s not. And it’s not hard to see why when we read Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning the New Covenant. Verses 29-30, in particular, say,

"In those days they shall no longer say: 'The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge.' But everyone shall die for his own iniquity. Each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge." Jeremiah 31:29-30 ESV

He continues further to say,

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Jeremiah 31:31-34 ESV

The fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy is found in Jesus Christ. And if you recall, the verses that are cited in support of generational curses were made within the context of the Old Covenant (the Mosaic Covenant). However, as Christians, we are now under the New Covenant.

In the New Covenant, Christ has fulfilled the requirements of the law on our behalf (Rom 8:4; Matt 5:17). More than that, He has redeemed us from the curse of the law (the Old Covenant) by becoming a curse for us so that we might be partakers of Abraham’s blessing as expressed in Galatians 3: 

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. Galatians 3:13-14 ESV

This means that repentant believers in Jesus Christ who are delivered from the penalty of sin cannot be under generational curses. They are not under the condemnation of the law (Rom 8:1).

Unfortunately, proponents of this teaching take this verse out of context and as a result, they interpret this Galatians 3:13 as something that needs to be used in a prayer, to break generational curses. However, reading it in context reveals that this is not the case which brings us to the next point.

The Bible does not teach how to break generational curses.

There is no end to books and sermons with titles such as, “The Secret to Breaking Generational Curses.” But you’ll be hard-pressed to find a single unified method of doing this. Simply because the Bible doesn’t teach it. 

While there are similarities, each proponent of this doctrine has their own unique spin on to how to break generational curses. Some advocate for deliverance, others call for offering a sacrifice, others will ask you to renounce the curse, the formulas go on and on.

Coming to think of it, if this teaching was sooo important as it’s made out to be, wouldn’t the Holy Spirit have included it in the Scriptures? 

If nothing else, the glaring absence of a standardized, scripturally grounded method for breaking generational curses ought to raise questions about the validity of this teaching.

White papers with the words "blessed or cursed" written on it and a pen on top of an orange surface and a cup of coffee it representing generational curses.

Related: A Close Look at Deliverance Ministry: Is it Biblical?

The Dangers of this Teaching

Teaching the concept of generational curses poses several dangers to the Christian faith. They include the following:

  1. It downplays the work of Christ

The teaching that believers can come under a generational curse renders Christ’s sacrifice on the cross insufficient. It suggests that additional prayers rituals or sacrifices are necessary for true freedom.

Yet, the sacrifice of Jesus was complete, effectively addressing every sin and leaving no wrath, condemnation, or curse undealt with. As Hebrews 7:25 states, “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him.” The Greek word translated as “to the uttermost” is the word panteles. Which means entire, perfect, through all time. or in full. 

Therefore, to assert that someone redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ can be under a generational curse is to diminish and disparage the work of the cross. It’s like saying “Thank you Jesus for your sacrifice, but I ‘m sorry it’s not enough.” And yet God himself never holds anyone accountable for sins they haven’t committed as we’ve seen.

  1. It places a burdensome load on believers

In most cases, the remedy prescribed for generational typically involves pinpointing the origin of the curse to neutralize its supposed power. Can you imagine trying to trace back the sins of your ancestors back to Adam? It’s impractical not to mention impossible. 

And yet, proponents of this teaching will tell you to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal their sins to you so that you can repent for each one. This process is not only unattainable but can also lead to frustration. Especially when believers find their efforts to break these supposed generational curses to be futile.

Moreover, there lies a potential for spiritual, emotional, and financial exploitation in the pursuit of breaking generational curses. In fact, I’ve seen it myself. When individuals are made to believe that their well-being is contingent on uncovering and repenting for ancestral sins, it can lead to a sense of vulnerability and dependency on certain spiritual leaders and practices, sometimes at a significant cost.

Note: any teaching that exploits the needs of believers by burdening them with practices that are not commanded in Scripture always dilutes the essence of the Gospel and diverts attention from the grace and freedom offered by Christ. 

  1. It gives believers a leeway to deny personal accountability

Many believers who adopt this worldview tend to absolve themselves from taking personal responsibility for their sins, ascribing their struggles solely to generational curses. This blinds them from recognizing that the struggle with sin is simply a work of the flesh, as described in the Bible (Gal 5:19-21; Col 3:5; 2 Tim 2:22).

This is why the biblical approach to overcoming sin involves personal responsibility, repentance, and reliance on the Holy Spirit for sanctification. As such, the Bible consistently urges believers to mortify the flesh, die to self, and flee from sin. Nowhere in Scripture is there a call to break generational curses as a solution to overcoming sin. There is no quick fix. Instead, The process of sanctification is portrayed as a progressive work of the Holy Spirit within believers, with repentance as a key component.

  1. It denies the reality of suffering

The teaching on generational curses becomes particularly problematic when it is used to explain away suffering. Contrary to the prosperity gospel that teaches that it’s God’s will for us to always be blessed, the reality is we live in a world tainted by sin. Therefore, suffering is to be expected and 1 Peter 4:12-19 warns us as much. Consequently, having a family history of arthritis, for instance, doesn’t necessitate breaking a curse

Medical science has since proven that certain illnesses can be inherited through genetics. It’s not a curse but a consequence of the fall. This is why at the end of the day everyone will taste the kiss of death; a curse we’ve all inherited from Adam. Even those who claim they can break generational curses are not free from it.

Thankfully, in His sovereignty, God has ordained suffering as a means by which believers are sanctified. He can work all things together for our good (Rom 8:28). Therefore, we’re wrong when we assume that affliction is a curse as if Christ’s atonement for our sins was not enough.

Understanding suffering in light of God’s sovereignty is crucial for maintaining a biblical perspective and avoiding the pitfalls associated with interpreting every challenge as a generational curse. Please check out our post on A Christian Perspective: What Does the Bible Say About Suffering? for a broader understanding of suffering within the framework of God’s sovereign plan.

Final Thoughts

The idea that Christians can have generational curses is not supported by Scripture. It’s a myth that’s leading many astray from the all-sufficient work of Christ on the cross. As such, it’s crucial for believers to critically examine such teachings, holding fast to only what the Bible clearly teaches (Jude 4).

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