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Encountering Generational Curses

By Opal S. Reddin

Generation-curse advocates arbitrarily treat the term iniquity as a synonym for generation curse, implying that iniquity is a unique sin.

An earnest young woman approached her pastor prior to the Sunday morning service: "Pastor, would you pray for me?" He asked if there was something of particular concern.

"Yes," she replied, "I need deliverance from an ancestral curse."

"No," the pastor assured her, "you do not have an ancestral curse."

"But, Pastor, you don’t understand," she continued, "my dad had a violent temper, and I am also bothered by a bad temper."

The pastor explained that although she was reacting as her father had, it was learned behavior. The teaching concerning ancestral curse is not scriptural. He reminded her that outbursts of wrath are one of the works of the flesh, and the Holy Spirit gives power to overcome it (Galatians 5:16,20). The young woman was relieved and happy as the truth set her free.

The Power of Parental Influence

When we ponder parental influence, we understand why some believe people can be victims of ancestral curses. It is difficult to overestimate the power of parental example. The primal chance to shape the character of a new human being is an inestimable privilege and an awesome responsibility. Parents can make a home a place of happiness and peace or a living hell.

God’s Word gives both instructions and examples. In the Old Testament, God commanded His people to teach His Word diligently to their children (Deuteronomy 6:7–9). Paul wrote, "Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4).

Fathers are given the main leadership and responsibility. God said of Abraham, "I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord" (Genesis 18:19). Conversely, David was "a man after God’s own heart," but too busy and too indulgent to discipline his sons (1 Kings 1:6). He lived to experience the bitter sorrow of a rebellious son’s untimely death. Only a loving parent can fully empathize with David’s lament in 2 Samuel 18:33.

Mothers also wield tremendous influence. Paul congratulated Timothy for "the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice" (2 Timothy 1:5). By contrast, there was a young woman who could be considered under a generation curse, if such were possible. Her dancing was so alluring that her stepfather, Herod the tetrarch, promised her anything she desired. We read the tragic results: "And she, being before instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John Baptist’s head in a charger…. And his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel: and she brought it to her mother" (Matthew 14:8,11).

The Difference Between Influence and Curse

Since the term generation curse is not in the Bible, we must ascertain its meaning by literary usage. According to Webster’s, a generation is "a single step in the line of descent from an ancestor; the average span of time between the birth of parents and the birth of their children." A curse is "a prayer or invocation for harm or injury to come upon one; the evil that comes as if in response to imprecation or retribution; to call on divine or supernatural power to send injury upon someone."

There are many reasons for the popularity of the generation-curse concept…one is the reluctance of most humans to take blame for their wrongdoing.

We readily see that a new factor has entered the equation when the term curse is understood. Either God or Satan has been invoked and is somehow involved in harm or injury upon the victim. Those under generation curses would be born already destined to commit certain sins, dominated by a force beyond human control. This is a different realm from mere parental influence, requiring some sort of intervention by a power greater than the force of the curse. From this proposed scenario has come the teaching concerning generation curses and the ministry of breaking curses.

The Popular Appeal of the Generation-Curse Theory

There are many reasons for the popularity of the generation-curse concept. An obvious one is the reluctance of most humans to take blame for their wrongdoing. Psychological theories have convinced many people they are not really sinners, but rather victims of society in general and parents in particular.

Most of those who teach the generation-curse concept also claim to be able to break curses for those who come forward in their meetings. In an age of instant everything, the promise of quick moral transformation is appealing.

If the generation-curse teaching is true, then every believer should be involved in getting curses broken. I intend to show it is not true and why it is not true. Every doctrine must stand the test of God’s plumbline: "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isaiah 8:20). The Word of God is Truth–inerrant, immutable, and absolute (2 Timothy 3:16,17). We will examine the generation curse theory by the Word.

IS THE GENERATION-CURSE THEORY SCRIPTURAL?

Most generation-curse teachers start their scriptural basis with Exodus 20:5,6. To prove their point, they make iniquity a specialized category of transgression. God said, "Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them (images), nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments" (emphasis mine).

Is iniquity a unique sin?

Generation-curse advocates arbitrarily treat the term iniquity as a synonym for generation curse, implying that iniquity is a unique sin. They believe persons can come under a curse for which they are not responsible; they inherited it. Generation-curse teachers base much of their argument on the use of the term iniquity, making it a special kind of sin. They also teach that if a person repeatedly commits a sin, it becomes an iniquity that can be passed down through his or her bloodline.

Is iniquity a special category of sin? No. The biblical languages have a number of terms to express wrongdoing, but all of them mean sin. Parallelism and repetition are common features in the Scriptures: "I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid" (Psalm 32:5, emphasis mine); "And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more" (Hebrews 10:17, emphasis mine). Luke 13:27 shows all sinners are "workers of iniquity." The plain fact is all iniquity is sin and all sin is iniquity.

What God said in Exodus 20:5,6

No one needs to be misled by generation-curse teaching if careful attention is given to what God said. (1) The term curse is not there. God was warning of His judgment on the sin of idolatry, which spawns many other sins. (2) God wanted His people to know an idolatrous culture would have disastrous impact on their progeny to the third and fourth generations. (3) The phrase third and fourth is not to be taken as an exact stopping point for the results of sin, because each succeeding generation starts the cycle over again. And—take note—the judgment would fall only on those who hate God.

Generation-curse teachers rarely point out that in the same verse, God promises mercy to a thousand generations of those who love God. As Paul wrote, "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound" (Romans 5:20).

Is the family bloodline cursed?

No one needs to be misled by generation-curse teaching if careful attention is given to what God said.

In addition to trying to make iniquity a special kind of sin, generation-curse teachers have attached family to it, resulting in one of their key phrases: "family iniquity." They then say iniquity is passed to persons through the family blood. Here are basic facts with Scriptures for you to pursue further study:

1. The only family totally affected by sin (iniquity) is the human family. By one man sin entered the world (Romans 5:12). As a result of our first parents’ sin, all humans have been born with a nature that is inclined to sin (Ephesians 2:3).

2. Every baby is conceived with this sinful nature inherent (Psalm 51:5), but children are not held accountable until they personally commit sin (Romans 5:13). Paul describes coming to the age of accountability (Romans 7:9).

3. The only bloodline that is involved with the sinful nature is that from Adam (Romans 5:17–19) and Eve (1 Timothy 2:14). "[God] hath made of one blood all nations" (Acts 17:26). Human blood may transmit physical diseases, but it cannot carry spirits or iniquities. A blood transfusion from the vilest sinner could not defile one; likewise, blood from the most Christlike saint cannot make another holy.

4. There is cleansing in the blood of the last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45). By His blood the Church is purchased (Acts 20:28), justified (Romans 5:9), and purified (Hebrews 9:22).

Do familiar spirits pass curses?

Many generation-curse teachers say evil spirits can be passed from parents to children. Like the bloodline theory, this is unscriptural and dangerous teaching. Though the terms family and familiar come from the same root and are related in meaning, the term familiar spirit is not associated in Scripture with a human family. The spirit is called familiar because a demonized person has been made familiar with evil spirits who give information that could not be known any other way. In the Old Testament, God commanded that anyone "that hath a familiar spirit…shall surely be put to death" (Leviticus 20:27). In the New Testament, believers are given power to cast familiar spirits out of demonized sinners who desire deliverance (Mark 16:17; Acts 16:18).

Should one disown ancestors’ sins?

Neil Anderson advises believers to say:

As a child of God, I here and now reject and disown all the sins of my ancestors…. I cancel all demonic working that has been passed on to me from my ancestors…. I now command every familiar spirit that is in or around me to go to the pit and to remain there until the Day of Judgment.1

There are three errors in this statement: (1) You do not own the sins of your ancestors, so you cannot disown them; you only own your sin (Jeremiah 31:30). (2) No demon is in a child of God (1 John 4:4). (3) God has not given us authority to send familiar spirits to the pit; Jesus himself sent some into pigs, but not to the pit (Mark 5:13).

Is a house a generation?

Since the word house (Greek, oikos) can in some instances be translated "household," those who teach about generation curses believe the term in Matthew 12:43–45 means "generation." According to them, the house cleaned up by Jesus can describe a person with a generation curse.

However, Greek lexicons allow for no such definition of oikos as used here. In context, oikos means the "heart of a person, a dwelling place for either Jesus or Satan." The phrase, "When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man" (12:43), shows Jesus was speaking not of a household and not of a generation—but of an individual. The only house in danger was one that was empty. The house that is occupied by Jesus is in no danger from demons.

The Sour Grapes and Teeth-on-Edge Theory

Israelites had a well-developed theology of generational curses: "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge" (Ezekiel 18:2; Jeremiah 31:29, emphasis mine). Some use this saying to explain the curse on children. God, however, told His prophets to tell Israel not to use it (Ezekiel 18:3,4,20). Jeremiah wrote, "Every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge" (31:30).

We have discussed the power of parental influence; of greater magnitude is the power of individual choice God has given to every person. The first two children had the same heredity and heritage. One became the first murderer and the other the first martyr of faith (Genesis 4:8–16; Hebrews 11:4). We see this same principle in Israel’s kings (2 Chronicles 28–35). Wicked Ahaz was the father of godly Hezekiah; his son and grandson, Manasseh and Amon, were idolaters, but Josiah, son of Amon, led a great revival in Israel.

In a message entitled, "Generation Curse: Is it True?" Eddie Gwin showed the fallacious thinking behind the theory. His words of wisdom bring both heartsearching and comfort: "Your entire lineage may be ungodly; why are you so different? Because you chose to serve the Lord. Some of you righteous parents have wayward kids. It is not your fault. They made the choice."2

Human free will is a mystery, but yet a reality. We respect God’s sovereign wisdom in bestowing this gift on every person. We must never stop praying for unsaved loved ones, and we must never excuse wrongdoing by calling it a generation curse.

WHO PLACES A CURSE?

One question I have repeatedly asked those who believe in generation-curse teaching is this: If there is a generation curse, who placed the curse? Most evade the question. Some say, "The parents did," but then they realize Scripture never says that. Furthermore, there is no scriptural basis for saying Satan places a curse (despite all the harm he does).

Finally, the answer is: God places the curse. Then I ask, "Do you think you can break a curse God placed?"

The usual reply is, "I had not thought of it that way before."

The solemnizing fact is God has indeed cursed sin and sinners (Matthew 25:41). The original curse of Genesis 3 affects every human being and all of creation (Romans 8:19–23). Some examples of specific curses placed by God are: Cain (Genesis 4:11); all who would curse Abraham or his seed (Genesis 12:3); all Israelites who were guilty of sins enumerated in Deuteronomy 27,28; God-robbers (Malachi 3:9). There are others, but none is generational. No one can break a curse placed by God—except God himself. He delights in breaking curses as soon as people turn to Him in repentance. A prime example is Nineveh (Jonah 3:10).

One of the most beautiful examples of God’s deliverance is that of Ruth the Moabitess. Because of the Moabites’ unusual sin, God had excluded them from tabernacle worship (Deuteronomy 23:3). This would include Ruth as well as her great-grandson, David. When Ruth said, "Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God," she was accepted as an Israelite (Ruth 1:16,17). She was singly blessed and placed in the lineage of Christ Jesus (Matthew 1:5).

God’s chosen people should have known better than to ever use a generation-curse excuse for sins. How could they forget their history recorded in Numbers 22–24? When Balaam tried to curse God’s people, he could not. He had to tell the frustrated and furious King Balak, "How shall I curse, whom God has not cursed?… God is not a man, that he should lie…. I have received commandment to bless; and he hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it" (23:8,19,20). To be a believer, even a newborn one, is to be blessed, and all curse is revoked. No one can bless whom God has cursed, and no one can curse whom God has blessed.

MERCY TO A THOUSAND GENERATIONS

Stanley Horton, highly respected scholar and theologian, was asked, "Does a Christian need to do something about breaking a generational curse?" He replied:

The so-called generation curse refers to the Second Commandment... (Exodus 20:4–6). The word hate in the Hebrew is a participle indicating characteristic or continuous action. Thus, the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who keep on hating God reap a cumulative effect of God’s judgment.

On the other hand, those who turn from hatred of God and choose to love Him reap something far greater. They become part of a line that reaps the benefits of God’s love on a thousand generations of godly people who preceded them. Thus, those loving God will not suffer any judgment or curse from what their parents or ancestors did3 (emphasis mine).

The Psalmist sang, "He hath remembered his covenant forever, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations" (Psalm 105:8). Every person on earth can claim this glorious promise of blessing simply by turning from hating God to loving Him. The moment you turn to Him, you become heir to the benefits of all your godly ancestors. Even if you have to go all the way back to Noah, you do have at least one godly ancestor (Genesis 6:9), and he lived less than a thousand generations ago.

The good news of the gospel is: "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ" (Galatians 3:13,14). We need not and cannot add to the finished work of Calvary. There is no curse on those who are in Christ. When you encounter people talking about generation curses, tell them how to receive generation blessings.

Opal S. Reddin, D.Min., is distinguished professor emeritus in Bible/theology, Central Bible College, Springfield, Missouri. This article is adapted from chapter 10 in her book, Power Encounter.

ENDNOTES

1. Neil Anderson, "Finding Freedom in Christ," in Dark Angels (Ventura: Regal Books, 1990), 158.

2. Eddie Gwin, "Generation Curse," (sermon preached at First Assembly of God in Mountain Home, Arkansas, on 7 March 1999).

3. Stanley M. Horton, "Inside the Bible," Pentecostal Evangel, 14 January 1996, 30.

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