What is a Generational Curse?
In some Christian traditions, you may hear of ‘generational curses’ within a person’s family. Sometimes, a generational curse might also be called a ‘family curse.’
Generational curses typically manifest as lifestyle sins (addiction, lust), relationship difficulties (divorce, anger), or adverse conditions (poverty, disease). They are called generational curses because they are behaviors, sins, and conditions that are passed on from one generation to the next until the ‘curse’ is broken.
What does the Bible Say about Generational Curses?
The concept of generational curses is rooted in the warnings that were attached to the second commandment when the Ten Commandments were given to Moses:
This caution is repeated again in Numbers, and even presented as a contrasting ideal against God’s patience and forgiveness:
A plain reading of these passages suggests that a parent’s sin can saddle future generations—at least three or four—with their sin baggage.
But is this the correct way to interpret these passages?
Are Generational Curses Biblical?
If we take a closer look at these two passages, we find that the Lord is warning that the effects of sin continue for multiple generations, not necessarily the sin itself.
This becomes easier to understand when we remember that in both passages, the Lord is cautioning against the sin of idolatry—of turning away from God altogether.
Because idolatry represents a lifestyle choice, it is a choice that is passed down, experientially, to subsequent generations as they are taught to live apart from God.
Other sins—such as addition and divorce—that are blamed on curses are often, like idolatry, passed on through example and environment. Likewise, bad habits that facilitate poverty and disease are often passed (unintentionally) from parents to children.
The Bible reveals that it is precisely through observation and imitation that we pass on lifestyle and habitual sins:
“Yet you ask, ‘Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?’ Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live. The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them. ” Ezekiel 18:14, 19-20
This passage is clear that the guilt of sin is not passed on, because the observer (the son) simply chose not to participate in the sin.
Examples of Generational Curses in the Bible?
But are there passages that describe the lasting, generational effects of sins? Let’s consider some passages from Judges:
- The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord; they forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs. The anger of the Lord burned against Israel so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram Naharaim, to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years. Judges 3:7-9
- Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and because they did this evil the Lord gave Eglon king of Moab power over Israel… The Israelites were subject to Eglon king of Moab for eighteen years. – Judges 3:12-14
In both of these instances, Israel—as a nation—turned to idolatry, and God subjected them to foreign rule into the next generation. This was a corrective action to show Israel their need for redemption, which they received each time when they repented and asked for a redeemer.
Let’s look at a different kind of example:
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
In this exchange, the disciples appear to assume the presence of a generational curse that affected the blind man. Yet Jesus unambiguously refutes this notion that his blindness was a hereditary curse. Instead, Jesus credit’s the man’s blindness to God’s glory (which was revealed when Jesus gave the man his sight).
What Does the Bible Say about Breaking Generational Curses?
Since the idea of generational curses is not supported by the Bible, there is no need to break them. However, there are two important Biblical takeaways from our discussion.
One Curse for All
First, the law reveals that we are all under the curse of sin, which leads to death (Romans 6:23). But Jesus bore the curse of sin for us (Galatians 3:13), replacing our sin with his righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21), and freeing us from condemnation (Romans 8:1).
So we break the curse of sin—including sins that we learned from our parents—by repenting and trusting in Jesus.
It was repentance that turned the boy in Ezekiel’s example away from the sins of his father, and it was repentance that prompted the Israelites to call out to God for deliverance in the time of the Judges. Likewise, when we are faced with sin and temptation now, scripture instructs us to submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)
Our Parental Responsibility
The second takeaway is that, as parents, we may break patterns of sin that we learned by passing on different instructions to our children.
pay attention and gain understanding.
I give you sound learning,
so do not forsake my teaching.
For I too was a son to my father,
still tender, and cherished by my mother.
Then he taught me, and he said to me,
“Take hold of my words with all your heart;
keep my commands, and you will live. ” Proverbs 4:1-4
This proverb reveals a father’s desire to teach his children well. But more importantly, it reveals the writer’s own experience with having received good instruction.
When we teach our children well, and model devotion to God, we make it easier for them to know Jesus and experience their own walk with him when they become adults. The same choice that was set before the people of Israel as they entered the Promised Land is now before each of us as well: