|“|| Isaiah 14:21 Prepare slaughter for his children for the iniquity of their fathers; that they do not rise, nor possess the land, nor fill the face of the world with cities.
Deuteronomy 24:16 The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.
Ezekiel 18:20 The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.
Exodus 20:5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, 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;
This is on the surface one of the more puzzling riddles in the Bible, but in substance is very similar to the riddle found in Galatians 6 where one verse refers to accountability in this life and the other to accountability in this one. Additional verses referencing people not being put to death for the sins of their forebears are as follows:
|“|| Jeremiah 31:29 In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children's teeth are set on edge.
30 But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge.
31 Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:
2 Kings 14:6 But the children of the murderers he slew not: according unto that which is written in the book of the law of Moses, wherein the LORD commanded, saying, The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, nor the children be put to death for the fathers; but every man shall be put to death for his own sin.
Ezekiel 18:19 Yet say ye, Why? doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father? When the son hath done that which is lawful and right, and hath kept all my statutes, and hath done them, he shall surely live.
Verses showing God punishes later generations:
|“|| Exodus 20:5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, 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;
Exodus 34:7 Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.
Leviticus 26:39 And they that are left of you shall pine away in their iniquity in your enemies' lands; and also in the iniquities of their fathers shall they pine away with them.
Therefore both principles are well-established by the Bible.
As pointed out by GotQuestions.org the original commandment of slaughter for the sins of the father referred to idolatry which tended to ingrain itself in the culture, thus the children would keep repeating their parent's sins. The Bible repeatedly spoke of kings walking in the ways of their fathers, showing this was commonplace, a natural re-enactment of their descendant's iniquities.
|“|| 1 Kings 15:1 Now in the eighteenth year of king Jeroboam the son of Nebat reigned Abijam over Judah.
2 Three years reigned he in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Maachah, the daughter of Abishalom.
3 And he walked in all the sins of his father, which he had done before him: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father.
4 Nevertheless for David's sake did the LORD his God give him a lamp in Jerusalem, to set up his son after him, and to establish Jerusalem:
5 Because David did that which was right in the eyes of the LORD, and turned not aside from any thing that he commanded him all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.
1 Kings 15:25 And Nadab the son of Jeroboam began to reign over Israel in the second year of Asa king of Judah, and reigned over Israel two years.
1 Kings 15:33 In the third year of Asa king of Judah began Baasha the son of Ahijah to reign over all Israel in Tirzah, twenty and four years.
1 Kings 16:1 Then the word of the LORD came to Jehu the son of Hanani against Baasha, saying,
1 Kings 16:12 Thus did Zimri destroy all the house of Baasha, according to the word of the LORD, which he spake against Baasha by Jehu the prophet,
1 Kings 16:18 And it came to pass, when Zimri saw that the city was taken, that he went into the palace of the king's house, and burnt the king's house over him with fire, and died,
1 Kings 16:25 But Omri wrought evil in the eyes of the LORD, and did worse than all that were before him.
1 Kings 16:30 And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD above all that were before him.
1 Kings 22:51 Ahaziah the son of Ahab began to reign over Israel in Samaria the seventeenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, and reigned two years over Israel.
2 Kings 8:16 And in the fifth year of Joram the son of Ahab king of Israel, Jehoshaphat being then king of Judah, Jehoram the son of Jehoshaphat king of Judah began to reign.
2 Kings 8:26 Two and twenty years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign; and he reigned one year in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Athaliah, the daughter of Omri king of Israel.
2 Kings 16:2 Twenty years old was Ahaz when he began to reign, and reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem, and did not that which was right in the sight of the LORD his God, like David his father.
2 Kings 21:19 Amon was twenty and two years old when he began to reign, and he reigned two years in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Meshullemeth, the daughter of Haruz of Jotbah.
2 Kings 22:1 Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned thirty and one years in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Jedidah, the daughter of Adaiah of Boscath.
The following can be observed from the above verses:
- A long succession of Israel's and Judah's kings repeatedly did evil, specifically idolatry (which included child sacrifice similar to abortion today - 2 Kings 16:2, 17:17; 2 Chronicles 28:3, 33:6; Psalms 106:37-38; Jeremiah 7:31, 19:5, 32:35; Ezekiel 20:31, 23:37) and were said to do the sins of their fathers.
- In some cases of particularly egregious evil in misleading the nations of Israel and Judah God appears to have had whole households destroyed of particularly wicked rulers. (1 Kings 15:25, 16:12,18)
- In one rare case a ruler, Josiah, was said to walk in the good deeds of his father David. ([[ABC:2 Kings 22|2 Kings 22:1-2) However, the many evil rulers also mentioned above were also David's descendants. So interestingly they were considered the lineage of a wicked descendant if doing evil but of a good descendant if doing good.
So what then is the answer? To me it appears that in cases of particularly evil idolatry, the evil households of very wicked rulers were destroyed entirely. Yes, they were destroyed for the "sins of their fathers" but only because they were engaging in them as well as illustrated by the numerous examples above!
Furthermore, passages like Jeremiah 31:29-31 and Ezekiel 18:19-24 are clearly referring to God's eternal judgment upon individuals of destruction in Hell or salvation in Heaven for eternity. With regards to this, every person bears their own burden (Galatians 6:5). God does not punish people for eternity because of the sins of their fathers. However, to try and keep the world from becoming horribly evil, God is sometimes forced to intervene and destroy whole nations at times that engage in horribly evil practices like child sacrifice.
The ancient world engaged in horrible evils and with the exception of Noah, the only man on the planet said to be doing good, appeared to have become so utterly despicable God removed Enoch from it rather than leave Enoch with the horrible human race. (Genesis 5:24, 6:5-8) God then destroyed the wicked world to recreate it anew.
In the same way the evil nations in Canaan were ordered to be utterly destroyed by God for their wicked practices that included child sacrifice. (Leviticus 18:21) God did so to try and destroy the practices from the world so that Israel and other nations would not adopt them. (Exodus 23:33, 34:12-15; Deuteronomy 7:16, 12:30, 29:18) The end result of Israel's disobedience was that they did adopt the evil of child sacrifice of the wicked nations. (Psalms 106:36-40)
Thus, while God does visit punishment upon wicked peoples during this life for the "sins of the fathers" to slow the spread of evil in this world run by Satan, God determines eternal life by individual actions. God is merciful to those who repent and turn from the ways of their fathers:
|“|| 2 Chronicles 12:12 And when he humbled himself, the wrath of the LORD turned from him, that he would not destroy him altogether: and also in Judah things went well.
2 Chronicles 32:25 But Hezekiah rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him; for his heart was lifted up: therefore there was wrath upon him, and upon Judah and Jerusalem.
2 Chronicles 33:11 Wherefore the LORD brought upon them the captains of the host of the king of Assyria, which took Manasseh among the thorns, and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon.
Ezra 8:22 For I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way: because we had spoken unto the king, saying, The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him; but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him.
2 Chronicles 7:14 If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
Jeremiah 18:7 At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it;
Jonah 3:5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.
Furthermore, for purposes of human law, the Mosaic Law, it was commanded that nobody be punished for a relative's actions. (Deuteronomy 24:16) Only God is considered wise enough to judge a family's guilt according to the "third and fourth generations" (Exodus 20:5) and even then God quickly pardons individuals who turn to Him, do what is right, and repent.
In the case of Nineveh seen in Jonah 3, God pronounced a judgment on the city for the sins of their fathers, essentially, continual wicked practice generation after generation. However, the city repented and turned to God, and a merciful God pardoned the city - more interested in having people do right than keeping His word - though His word was ultimately fulfilled as Nineveh was destroyed years later apparently as revealed by excavations of the long-lost city which scholars had previously thought didn't exist.
Jesus interestingly provided another facet to this riddle by using the passage to illustrate the difference between God as one's Father and Satan as the father of the wicked - in such a case who one's 'father' is will very much determine their eternal destiny and deeds, for if God is their Father they will do what is right, and if Satan is one's father they will do evil deeds.
|“|| John 8:38 I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father.
39 They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham.
40 But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham.
41 Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.
42 Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me.
43 Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word.
44 Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.
45 And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not.
Malachi 1:6 A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is mine honour? and if I be a master, where is my fear? saith the LORD of hosts unto you, O priests, that despise my name. And ye say, Wherein have we despised thy name?
This principle was mentioned likewise in the Old Testament:
|“||Isaiah 63:16 Doubtless thou art our father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: thou, O LORD, art our father, our redeemer; thy name is from everlasting.||”|
Paul explained it as lineage according to promises God gave Abraham being through faith, not genetics or physical parentage. Thus the lineage is through faith, not 'seed' or physical lineage, and one is Abraham's descendant or child through faith and blessed accordingly, regardless of race. Paul explains it is not by circumcision (i.e. Jewish heritage) that the promise to Abraham is decided but by faith.
|“|| Romans 4:9 Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.
10 How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.
11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also:
12 And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.
13 For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.
14 For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect:
15 Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.
16 Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all,
17 ¶ (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.
This was originally a puzzle to the early church at first as well, who thought only Jews could become Christians. Not until God showed Peter otherwise through a vision that this could change did the church marvel at the fact that Gentiles (non-Jews) could also be saved and follow Christ as well.
|“|| Acts 10:13 And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.
14 But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.
15 And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.
16 This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven.
17 Now while Peter doubted in himself what this vision which he had seen should mean, behold, the men which were sent from Cornelius had made enquiry for Simon's house, and stood before the gate,
Acts 10:34 Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:
Acts 10:44 While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.
Acts 11:1 And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God.
Acts 11:17 Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?
At any rate, this riddle of whether Abraham's seed could include non-Jews, and whether non-Jews could be saved and become disciples of Jesus, was one of the major controversies in the early church as seen in the book of Acts.
- Meritt, Jim (1992). A list of Biblical contradictions. Retrieved from http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/jim_meritt/bible-contradictions.html.
- Bible Contradictions. TheThinkingAtheist.
- GotQuestions.org. Are children punished for the sins of their fathers? Retrieved from http://www.gotquestions.org/parents-sin.html.