In Colonial days students learned to read from The New England Primer, which featured a number of Christian maxims such as, “In Adam’s Fall, we sinned all.”
This statement, like others in the Primer, incorporated biblical truths into basic education. From childhood, students came to understand that all human beings are sinful and fallen creatures.
While many schools today abandon these truths in favor of relativism, syncretism, and multiculturalism, many Christian parents instill in their children the reality that sin has marred the Imago Dei – or image of God – in their lives.
We use Scripture to explain our depraved state: “We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way” (Isa. 53:6); “The heart is more deceitful than anything else and desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9); and, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).
These truths go against the grain of our feel-good culture but are intended to drive us to the foot of the cross, where the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. And for that, we owe an eternal debt of gratitude to our great God.
At the same time, both Scripture and experience remind us that while we await glorification, we must engage in a daily battle between the flesh and the indwelling Spirit (Gal. 5:17).
Many Christians struggling with addictive behaviors, bad relationships, or dire circumstances wonder if they are victims of generational curses. In other words, they worry that God is punishing them for the sins of their ancestors.
Prosperity preachers like Joel Osteen lend credence to this notion. “The things you struggle with – they didn’t just happen to show up,” he says in a video message. “Somebody in your family line opened the door…. It will continue until somebody rises up and puts a stop to it. Somebody has to deactivate that gene.”
Osteen blends a portion of Deut. 30:19 with commentary, “‘I set before you life and death, blessing and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants will live.’ Notice your decisions don’t just affect you, they affect future generations.”
Proponents of generational curses cite additional Bible passages such as:
Ex. 20:5 – “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the fathers’ sin, to the third and fourth generations …”
Ex. 34:7 – “But He will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ wrongdoing on the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation.”
Similar warnings are repeated in Num. 14:18 and Deut. 5:9.
So, does the Bible really teach generational curses?