Prepared for the Evangelical Pastor’s Fellowship of Austin, Texas
by Thomas Ice
February 16, 1993
20:4 "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.
20:5 "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, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me,
20:6 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
20:7 "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.
34:6 Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, "The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth;
34:7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations. "
14:17 "But now, I pray, let the power of the Lord be great, just as Thou hast declared,
14:18 'The Lord is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.'
14:19 "Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Thy lovingkindness, just as Thou also hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now."
5:7 'You shall have no other gods before Me.
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.
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,
5:10 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
Issue—Principle of Ancestral Transferal of Occult Bondage to Children
C. Fred Dickason, a proponent of the ancestral inheritance principle, states the view as follows:
By ancestral involvement we refer to occult or demonic practices of the client’s ancestors. This has been found to be one of the most common reasons for demonic affliction or demonization. This follows the principle enunciated in the second commandment forbidding idolatry:
You shall not make for yourself an idol. . . . You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord you God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me. (Ex. 20:4-5)
It is quite clear that the worship of idols is fostered and compelled by demons (Ps. 106:36-38; 1 Cor. 10:20). It actually involves the worship of demons. Demons, therefore, assume the rule of a god over their devotees and may invade them. This is in keeping with the principle presented in Romans 1:21-28 that God recompenses sin with the evil it involves; that is, God gave idolaters over to their sin. Their sin was the worship of and submission to demons. They reaped what they sowed; they became dominated by demons. This domination may involve demonization, as attested in the past and current times. The second commandment shows that God considers idolatry to be hatred of the true and living God. He judges it in a fashion commensurate with its abominable character. Both the idolaters and their descendants to the third and fourth generations are judged for this heinous crime, and this judgment may include actual demonization. [Demon Possession and the Christian: A New Perspective (Moody Press, 1987):162-3]
I might add that this “principle” is also popular within the so-called “Christian Psychology” movement, usually put forth from within a Freudian framework of the past impacting behavior in the present. I first recall hearing this “principle” by Bill Gothard in 1972 when I first attended his Basic Institute Training.
Ancestral involvement may be a principle, but it is not one that can be applied to the New Testament Believers. Instead it should be seen as a principle of blessing and cursing which was related to the Mosaic economy which has now passed away (Rom. 7:1-6; 10:4; Gal. 3:19; 3:24-4:7; Heb. 7:11-12, 18; 2 Cor. 3:2-11; Eph. 2:11-16, etc.). New “principles,” or better a new theology that is consistent with New Testament Christianity explains a Believer’s behavior.
Dickason’s suggestion that Romans 1:21-28 is parallel to the ancestral principle of Exodus does not fit for the following reasons. Those being described in Romans are unbelievers, while in Exodus the believing community is in mind. Also, Paul is arguing in Romans 1 that God is justified in condemning those who have not heard the gospel because of their personal sins, not because of ancestral sins. Also, Romans indicates that once one becomes a Believer, then they are in a position to escape the wrath of God (Rom. 5:8), both present wrath (Rom. 1) and future or eschatological wrath.
Jack Deere says of Deuteronomy 5:9 that children enter into the sins their parents and thus evoke God’s punishment.
At first glance 5:9b may seem to contradict Ezekiel 18:20. However, the phrase those who hate Me must certainly refer to the children, not to the fathers. Children who hate the Lord will be punished. Rebellious God-hating parents often produce children to the third and fourth generation who also hate God (cf. Ex 20:5; 34:6-7). [The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Old Testament (1985):272]
Deere’s interpretation denies that “principle” that someone is punished because of the sin of someone else (the fathers), without their participation in that sin (the children).
Walter Kaiser concurs with Deere’s interpretation:
Children who repeat the sins of their fathers evidence it in personally hating God; hence they too are punished like their fathers. Moses made it plain in Deuteronomy 24:16: “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin.” The effects of disobedience last for some time, but the effects of loving God are far more extensive: “to a thousand [generations]” (v.6). [The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 2 (1990):423]
Earl Kalland, in a similar but fuller vein, echoes the comments of those above in commenting on Deuteronomy 5:9.
The people either hate the Lord or love and obey him, and they receive form him punishment or love commensurate with their hate or love and obedience. Those who adhere to the covenant-treaty stipulations get its promised benefits; those who do not adhere to them get its punishments. The effect of one generation on succeeding generations is noted often in the OT. Here, however, the children are not punished for the sins that their father committed; the children who sin as their fathers sinned are punished for their own sins (cf. 24:16). The punishment goes on “to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,” just as his love continues toward “a thousand [generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments.” The distinction between punishment unto the third and fourth generation of those who hate the Lord and love extended to thousands who love him and keep his commandments suggests that God’s love far surpasses his retribution. [The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 3 (1992):54]
Jewish expositor, Umberto Cassuto, speaks strongly against the possibility of the “ancestral principle” interpretation.
In regard to the fearful threat of punishment that will be inflicted upon the children and children’s children, various apologetic interpretations have been advanced, which it is not possible to accept. It has been suggested, for example, that we should see here an allusion to the transmission of parental qualities to the character of the children and children’s children, but this is merely a modernization of the verse; . . . The difficulty exists, however, only for those who overlook the fact that the verse, in its simple signification, is directed to the entire nation as a single entity in time throughout its generations. Since a man, and particularly an Israelite, grieves over the tribulation of his children and grandchildren not less–nay, even more–than over his own affliction, the Bible issues a warning, so as to keep man far from sin, that in the course of the nation’s life it is possible that the children and grandchildren will suffer the consequences of the iniquities of their father and grandfather. (emphasis added) [A Commentary on the Book of Exodus (1967):243]
The Keil-Delitzsch Commentary joins the chorus in showing that sin is the responsibility of each individual who commits it.
In this instance l] signifies “at” or “in relation to;” from its very position, cannot refer to the fathers alone, but to the fathers and children to the third and fourth generation. If it referred to the fathers alone, it would necessarily stand after the children is to be taken in the same way. God punishes the sin of the fathers in the children to the third and fourth generation in relation to those who hate Him, and shows mercy to the thousandth generation in relation to those who love Him. . . . The words neither affirm that sinning fathers remain unpunished, nor that the sins of fathers are punished in the children and grandchildren without any fault of their own. [Vol. II (1875):116-7]
I could go on and on quoting the leading commentaries and how they deny the “ancestral principle” interpretation. But let me conclude with John J. Davis, who says,
This verse does not teach that sinning fathers are not punished, nor does it state that the sins of the father are punished in the children and grandchildren without any fault of their own. It is hardly possible that the children of wicked men could become innocent, therefore, “the children fill up the sins of their fathers” so that the sinner then suffers punishment for both his own and the sins of his forefathers (cf. Lev. 26:39; Amos 7:17; Jer. 16:11ff.; Dan. 9:16). [Moses and the Gods of Egypt: Studies in Exodus (1986):213]
George Bush, in his commentary, says that the “sense of the passage is distinctly recognized in the Chal. version.” That version says,
I the Lord thy God am a jealous God visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the transgressing children, unto the third and fourth generation, of those who hate me, when the children follow the iniquities of the fathers. [Notes on Exodus (1852):264-5]
The statement of Exodus 20:5-6 (see also Deut. 5:9-10) is within the context of the Lord’s treaty-covenant with Israel which promised specific blessings and curses for obedience and disobedience. Therefore, the scope of this passage is limited to Israel and cannot be applied in a universal sense to humanity in general as a timeless principle. Were it to be a universal principle, then it would have been stated in Genesis and given to mankind in general. Also, if this were universal, then it would probably be repeated throughout Scripture. Since, it is restricted to Israel, it only occurs in relation to them.
The specific blessings and curses to which this passage speaks are found in Deuteronomy 28. In this chapter, Israel is promised specific blessings if they obey the commandments of their covenant with the Lord. Israel is promised specific curses if they disobey. That these specific blessings and curses were for Israel is further seen by tracing the development of this theme throughout Deuteronomy.
Deuteronomy 7:9-11 notes that those Israelites who “keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness” (7:9) the Lord will bless them, but those who disobey God will repay them “to their faces, to destroy them” (7:10). Thus, the Israelites were admonished to “keep the commandment and the statutes and the judgments which I am commanding you today, to do them” (7:11).
Deuteronomy 29:22-28 explains to those Gentiles who would ask why the Lord has cursed Israel and cast her out of her land, that it is because of disobedience to the commandments given by Him earlier in the treaty. So we see that Exodus 20:5-6 and Deuteronomy 5:9-10 tell the Israelites that God would hold them responsible to obey His law and that there would be consequences to their actions.
A further evidence that passages like Exodus 20:5-6 are simply stating the sanctions accompanying the responsibilities of service to the Lord for the people of Israel can be seen in the similar pattern found in Exodus 20:7. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.” As in 20:5-6, when compared with 20:7, we observe the commandment as follows:
20:4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness . . .
20:5 You shall not worship them or serve them . . .
20:7 You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain . . .
Then each commandment is followed by the stipulations or what God will do, by way of blessing and cursing, if they obey/disobey.
20:5-6 . . . visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
20:7 . . . for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.
Thus it is clear that the phrase “. . . visiting the iniquity of the fathers . . .” is a specific example of one of the many ways within the Covenant/Treaty language of the Mosaic Law that God expresses the consequences of obeying or disobeying His Law.
Those who teach the ancestral inheritance principle quite naturally and logically also teach that a post-salvation deliverance is necessary in order for the Believer to really be free from the impact of one’s ancestral past. Fred Dickason declares in his exorcism approach that “[a]ny possible ancestral involvement must be renounced” (336). However, the idea that a Christian might have to be delivered specifically from a curse or occult power which salvation in Christ would not have taken care of is not found or implied in Scripture. This is even more far-fetched when one considers the fact that the individual did not even commit the sin. In fact, there is not one example in the entire Bible of a saved person being under a satanic curse, which had to be “broken” by Christian exorcism or distinct confession. On the other hand, one example of demonic deliverance by Christ in the New Testament seems to imply that the ancestral inheritance principle is totally off base.
John 9 records the incident of Jesus healing a man born blind from birth. Apparently Christ’s disciples believed falsely that this was a result of the sin of his parents, just as many falsely do today. Perhaps these Jews 2,000 years ago misinterpreted the same passages being cited in our own day to come to their false conclusion. Notice the dialogue in John 9:2-3:
And His disciples asked Him, saying, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him.
I hope that this paper has stimulated your study to search the Scriptures creating a greater realization of the greatness of the work of Christ on behalf of His children and the sufficiency of His Holy Scriptures. It is so easy to adopt various superstitions that circulate within the evangelical community without first checking them out through the light of Scripture. Inherited curses is an example of just such an evangelical superstition that does not hold up under the light of Scripture.
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