On Generational Curses

I was introduced to the subject of “generational curses” some years ago in a strange way. I was sitting in the pulpit of the church I served, listening to an encouraging sermon by an out-of-town friend. He ended the message with a personal testimony of divine healing. He had been very sick. And the only explanation for his recovery was that God had healed him, for which I rejoiced.

I had no problem with his testimony of healing. I did have a problem with his explanation of how he received the life-threatening disease. He claimed that it was a generational curse that the devil had passed down from his grandfather to his father to him. What I would have called a hereditary disease, he called a generational curse. And what began as a testimony of providential healing ended with a lesson on spiritual warfare, as he claimed that the devil was not going to take his life. When he finished, I stood and made it clear that our church did not embrace what had just been taught. It is one of the few times in my pastoral ministry that I have found it necessary to publicly comment on a message this way. But I could not pray in good conscience for those who had come forward without clarifying what we were praying for.

When the service was over, my friend and I had a long talk about what had just happened. I am not sure if we finally agreed with one another. But it was an important conversation. I believe that it is a conversation that needs to continue. Consider what follows a conversation starter.

The term “generational curses” has become a common part of the church’s vernacular. It’s not rare to hear high-profile preachers warn against them with passion and promise deliverance from them with confidence. But there is very little biblical exposition given on this intriguing subject. All too often, the facts about these so-called curses are assumed, rather than explained. I have even heard gross sin explained (or explained away) with this theory of generational curses. I really don’t know how this can help those who are struggling with sin. Of course, I am not suggesting that the sinful ways these preachers are addressing are not serious. I just believe that the diagnosis of the problem and the prescriptions for deliverance are wrong, unhelpful, and dangerous.

Got Scripture? The Bible does not mention generational curses, as such, one time. Not only is the term not there, the concept is not there, either. Obviously, passages like Exodus 20:5 and 34:7 speak of God as “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” (ESV. Also see Num. 14:18; Deut. 5:9). But we must be careful not to build a doctrine on Old Testament texts that we have taken out of context. These passages are calls to trust and obey God, which include both promises to those who respond and warnings for those who rebel. Likewise, they are statements made by God to Israel, specifically. They are stipulations of the unique covenant relationship God had with Israel as a nation. Such statements are not made in the New Testament. The New Testament teaches that believers have been save from the penalty of sin, are being saved from the power of sin, and will ultimately be saved from the presence of sin. Any rigorous and study of what the Bible teaches about what it means to be in Christ will not leave any room for generational curses.

God curses people. Over the years, I have looked up this subject of generational curses in various Bible dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other reference works. And generational curses are not mentioned. Isn’t it a bit odd that most biblical scholars ignore such a serious subject? Anyway, I eventually searched for the subject on the Internet. Most of the results sent me to sites or articles about Satan, demons, or spiritual warfare. But the biblical passages used as proof-texts actually have nothing to do with the devil. They are about God and Israel. Apparently, the proponents of this teaching have failed to see that scripture teaches that God curses people, not Satan. The sinful patterns they are so concerned about are not matters of bondage by Satan. They’re matters of guilt before God. Satan doesn’t need to be bound for people to be set free from sin. God’s righteous demands need to be satisfied. And they have been satisfied in Christ (1 John 2:1-2).

Guilt is personal. The Bible affirms the universal guilt of mankind because of original sin. But the emphasis of divine punishment is always on the individual. This is not just a New Testament perspective. Ezekiel 18:1-4 says: The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge?’ As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine; the soul who sins shall die.”

Did you get that? The soul who sins shall die. This means that guilt is personal. Now, let me be clear. I do not believe in generational curses. But I do believe in generational consequences. Certainly, our sins, choices, and behavior can affect the generations to come. But while the consequences of sin may be far reaching, the object of punishment is always the sinner who sins. Galatians 6:8 says, “For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” The New Testament makes it clear that when God places the guilt of one on another, it is when he places the believer’s guilt on Christ in salvation (2 Corinthians 5:21).

We are made new in Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:17 declares, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” One of the greatest terms used in the Scriptures to describe the believer’s position in Christ is the word “new.” When a person receives Jesus Christ, a total transformation takes place. It is a change in one’s standing before God. It is also a real change of the heart, the inner man, the spiritual nature. Vance Havner used to say, “Christianity is not an Old-Adam Improvement Society.” He was right. The good news is that you are automatically delivered from any curse that may be on your life when you are saved by grace through faith in Christ.

Galatians 3:13 says, “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.’” If you are saved, you have already been set free from all curses. Thank God for that great act of deliverance (Col. 1:12-14). And walk in it with confidence. If you are not saved, I plead with you to come to Jesus. Run to the cross. Receive the Lord Jesus as the Forgiver of your sins and the Leader of your life. And you will live the blessed life declared in Ephesians 1:3: “Blessed be the God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” No curses! Just blessings!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • C.W. Pruitt

    Thank you for writing this. I’ve been guilty for using this phrase, “generational curse” myself. What I have realized is what people are calling “generational curses” are really learned/taught dysfunctional behaviors.

  • Patrick J. Walker

    Great post H.B., I agree with you as one exposed to the vanciular – because of my own testimony third generation child born out of wedlock – each of us the result of marriage infidelity. I wanted to desparetately break that “curse”. However, I do see now we need to cover the role of partenting and what we expose our children to as Christian parents. We we blame or credit these curses, often time negating personal responsibility and accountability. Additionally, it is often poor parenting and failure to teach our children Biblical principles (including healthy eating habits, financial literacy, and cultural awareness). Perhaps our failures have generational impact (not curses). I am thankful that my children are not doomed to make the mistakes of my past, as I wasn’t of my parents. I have this assurance because of the empowering presence of God in me, which enables me to do all all God has called me to do and become all He has called me to become – the same grace is available to my children and thier children. See you in June!