Sharon Harris is wife, mother, English teacher, amateur photographer, and gardener.

Does God punish us for the sins of our parents?


Question:  Does the Bible say that God will punish children because of the sins of their fathers? This doesn’t seem fair.

Answer:  Many times, ungodly parents raise ungodly children.  As a result, the offspring suffer from making the same mistakes as their parents did.  Parents set an example, good or bad, for children to follow, and the descendants may continue in the evil behaviors that have been modeled to them.  We can be immensely thankful that God never gives up on anyone, regardless of his background, and He keeps after us.  God reaches out to each individual, throughout his lifetime, making plain everything that’s needed to understand and accept His eternal truths and the salvation Jesus offers as a free gift.

Be assured that Jesus only judges each person for his or her life.  Here are the scriptures you’re referring to in your question:

Keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving sin but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the sin of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generations.  Exodus 20:5, Exodus 34:7, Numbers 14:18

The Jews misunderstood these particular teachings, so God assigned Moses and His prophets to correct and reinforce this truth:  God holds each person accountable for his own life.

Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers.  Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.  Deuteronomy 24:16

In those days, they shall no longer say that the fathers ate sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.  But each man will die for his own sins…  Jeremiah 31:29-34

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, this 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.  The soul who sins shall die.  If a man is righteous and does what is just and right…” Ezekiel 18:1-32

Some people think that they will go to heaven when they die because they have attended church and have done good things.  These are the practices of true Christians, but they’re not the requirements for inheriting eternal life.  Each one must personally accept that Jesus died for his sins to pay the penalty due for these to God.  Jesus paid our penalty when He died on the cross to give His blood in place of ours.  So, when we accept that gift from Jesus, God cancels the debt we owed Him for our sin.  Jesus paid our account in full!

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