Bible Answer

What does the Bible say about generational curses?

In Ezekiel 17&18, Pastor Armstrong talked about generational curses. Could you expand on that beyond the third and fourth generation? I have a relative that is under the impression generation curses can cause us harm today, whereas I understood that it's regarding only Israel and the law in itself.

Though we cannot provide you with a scripture reference denying generational curses, because it is impossible to prove a negative (i.e., to prove that something doesn’t exist), nevertheless we can show in the Bible where the Lord directly contradicts such a suggestion in Ezekiel:

Ezek. 18:25 “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not right.’ Hear now, O house of Israel! Is My way not right? Is it not your ways that are not right?
Ezek. 18:26 “When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity and dies because of it, for his iniquity which he has committed he will die.
Ezek. 18:27 “Again, when a wicked man turns away from his wickedness which he has committed and practices justice and righteousness, he will save his life.
Ezek. 18:28 “Because he considered and turned away from all his transgressions which he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die.
Ezek. 18:29 “But the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not right.’ Are My ways not right, O house of Israel? Is it not your ways that are not right?
Ezek. 18:30  “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, each according to his conduct,” declares the Lord GOD. “Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you.

As Pastor Armstrong explains in his Ezekiel teaching, the Lord took offense at Israel’s suggestion that He held children accountable for the sins of the father and denies doing so. Those who claim God condemns the children for the father’s sin as a “generational curse” are repeating the same error and show themselves to be ignorant of the Bible, since Ezekiel 18 clearly refutes such a claim. 

Those teaching that a generation curse can be found in the Bible, typically go to Deuteronomy 5 to support their belief – yet they misinterpret the passage in defense of their false teaching:

Deut. 5:7  ‘You shall have no other gods before Me.
Deut. 5:8  ‘You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.
Deut. 5:9 ‘You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me,
Deut. 5:10 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

The Lord declared in the Law that His punishment to Israel for idolatry would be so severe that it would impact the people for multiple generations. Is this a contradiction of Ezekiel 18? No, because the Lord wasn’t saying that He was holding the children responsible for the parents’ sin. Rather, the Lord was saying that the punishment on the parents would be so severe that it would last for several generations, but only the parents were to blame. 

What was this severe punishment? Exile into Babylon. Because of idolatry, the nation of Israel was sent into exile, and that exile lasted 70 years…which is 3-4 generations in length (a generation is ~20 years) just as God promised. So Deuteronomy is not a general promise for all people or all situations. Rather, it is a very specific promise of God only to Israel and only regarding exile for idolatry. 

Therefore, Deuteronomy 5 is not a “generational curse,” and in fact there is no such thing as a generational curse in the Bible at all – not for Israel nor for Christians. Such a thing is pure fiction built on a misinterpretation of the Scripture.