We were discussing the doctrine of sin, and one of my students asked me: “What do you think of generational curses?”
This depends on what you mean by a generational curse. If a person means that a person can be socialized to learn sinful habits from parental influence, then the idea makes good sense (although such an idea doesn’t require the label of “generational curse”).
Generational Curses as Spiritual Bondage?
However, it seems when people use the phrase “generational curse,” they generally have in mind the idea that a person is experiencing “spiritual bondage” that involves demonic influence as a result of sin in previous generations.
Where does this idea come from? The main biblical text is:
Exodus 20:5 ~ “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (There are verses others like it that are very close in wording.)
1. Generational Love?
There are many problems with trying to get the “generational curse” theory out of this text. First, while it affirms punishment for numerous generations, it also affirms God’s love for those who obey him.
So what happens if the second generation obeys God? Are they still cursed? To follow the logic behind the “generational curse” theory, then the second generation, and thousands more, would be loved by God regardless of their response to him.
Rather than teaching a logic of generational cursing, this text seems to be contrasting the expansive love of God (to a thousand!) versus the punishment of God (to just a few). Consider also Exodus 34:6-7.
2. The One Thing Missing
The even bigger problem with concluding that this text teaches “generational curses” is that the word “curse” doesn’t occur in the text! Rather, it speaks of punishment, and the punishment doesn’t involve demonic influence (that could hypothetically be denounced, as the generational curse proponents teach); the punishment comes from God.
3. A Curse for No Generations
Of course, there are other biblical texts that might point to the idea of generational curses. Consider, for example,
Deuteronomy 11:26-28~ “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse; the blessing if you obey the commands of the LORD your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the LORD your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known.” (Again, there are other texts like this.)
However, unlike the text from Exodus above, there is here no sense of generational continuation from the curse.
Furthermore, numerous biblical texts (even in the Old Testament!) make it clear that “The child will not share the guilt of the parent” (Ezekiel 18:20).
Just to be clear, I am not denying that demons have real influences in this world. I am, however, denying that the Bible teaches that generational curses exist.
More importantly, (and here I agree with those who talk about generational curses), I would certainly affirm that God can (and does!) set people free from all kinds of nasty habits or oppressive thinking. One thing we can proclaim with certainty is that whatever curse there was for not obeying the law in the Old Testament (see above), “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law” (Galatians 3:13).