Where does the idea of generational curses come from?

So, this is my first time posting on the new boards. I’ve been away for a bit. I hope this is the right board for this topic.

At our new church (been there 4 months or so, not ready to ruffle feathers or get kicked out just yet ;-) the topic of generational curses has come up. The usual verse related to the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:4-6) was quoted as evidence for their existence. However as far as I can tell the idea of needing to do some kind of ritual or say a particular prayer about your ancestors sins is a fairly recent idea. I am curious about where this idea came from.

Also if our lives can be so badly messed up, and we could have all kinds of demons bothering us because of an ancestor’s involvement in another religion, wouldn’t the early Gentile churches have been absolutely infested with this problem? If it is real why didn’t Paul talk about it explicitly in his letters? Why aren’t such rituals described in the book of Acts?

So two questions:
1. Is there more biblical basis for this then a few isolated verses in the OT?
2. If there isn’t (which would be my opinion) where do these ideas come from?

Comments

  • Here is one summary of such verses.

    In one sense, it's not difficult to see that the "sins of the fathers" are visited on subsequent generations in the sense that the latter often bear the consequences of poor decisions on the part of the former.

    In terms of actual 'liability', Ezekiel 18 provides a fairly solid indication of individual responsibility, at least in the foretold New Covenant.

    It sounds like your new church might be into stuff like "The Bondage Breaker" by Neil Anderson, which kind of exemplifies the type of Christianity that goes round looking for things to deliver (other) Christians from. I wrote a critique of Anderson's book a long time ago now, here. It's a recipe for spiritual abuse, unhealthy dependency on leadership, and a climate of guilt and fear.
  • FirenzeFirenze Shipmate, Host Emeritus
    It’s one of these things that strikes me as being like nothing so much as an unoriginal fantasy novel - find the curséd artefact of the dark lord, cast the mighty rune of power, deliver the land etc etc.

    Many (many) years ago I remember eager young Christians keen on this kind of spiritual adventuring. One had spotted a Masonic emblem in a church window and therefore Knew it would never prosper. Another had purged his home of an African idol (probably some bit of tourist tat rather than the blood-boltered demonic entity of his imagination).

    It is so much more exciting, discerning esoteric ancient mysteries and waring against unseen powers than, say, dealing with the grinding and unglamorous ills of the world as we find it.

    I am not saying the OPer’s church is lacking in practical charity. But if you ask where itcomes from, IMO all the Quest legends from Arthur to Tolkien.
  • From observation it also seems that these kinds of ‘ministries’ don’t really conclude at all.

    I knew someone who was convinced there was a generational curse on his family because his grandfather had been a Mason, and there was always one more event he had to go to in order to deal with something he’d heard in the last event he’d attended.

    From the literature put out by several of the organisations he was dealing with it seemed that this was very much their model, with the prospect of some dreadful relapse held over people.
  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    I wouldn't ruffle feathers or get kicked out. I'd find another church.

    It's a bit of a warning sign.
  • RicardusRicardus Shipmate
    I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

    I strongly suspect that this is a figure of speech anyway, i.e. 'to the third and fourth generation' means 'a lot' and 'to the thousandth generation' means 'a lot more', and is no more intended to be taken literally than (say) 'son of a bitch'.

    Otherwise, you get the mathematical conundrum of what happens if your father was a Bad Guy and your grandfather was a Good Guy ...

    You could try asking this. Although tbh I agree with Karl on this one.
  • Husband en rouge has an hereditary disability (congenital cataract). His mother has the same, and so do some of his children from his first marriage. (Captain Pyjamas doesn’t, FWIW, and neither do husband en rouge’s sisters).

    Cue nonsense about generational / hereditary curses which was mostly inflicted on him during his time in the charismatic movement in the early noughties (I thought it had rather gone out of fashion these days, TBH). Most of my feelings about this belong in hell, but suffice to say it’s often over-simplistic and cruel. Bizarrely, the person who gave him the most grief on this topic is someone who has herself suffered considerably, and not through her own fault – she lost her first baby, and was widowed young when her husband was killed in a road accident. Still, human beings are nothing if not talented for cognitive dissonance. I don’t think she was an inherently bad person, so much as a foolish and misguided one.

    I think part of the appeal of the idea, for those to whom it does indeed appeal, is that it makes the world seem a bit more controllable. This is what has been described in these parts as “over-realised eschatology”. All your problems can be solved in the here and now just by breaking that wicked curse! Still blind? Well, obviously you didn’t do it right. Because it can be scary living in a world where sh*t happens to good people for reasons that are very hard to explain.
  • EmmaJeanEmmaJean Shipmate
    edited April 16
    Ok. So to clarify. The topic came up. It was presented more as, sometimes unhealthy stuff (behaviours or psychological tendencies) runs in families, either genetic tendencies or learned. If you can do something about it do that because you can potentially make your own family healthier. There was no mention of physical disabilities but the kind of things that even in the secular world would be considered to run in families sometimes.

    Although the ideas of Neil Anderson have been presented the response has been hardly “Rah! Rah!” I expect that it will blow over now that the current sermon series is done.

    It did cause me to look into the whole idea a bit more though. I understand there are “ministries” devoted to “deliverance” and some of the verses they use to back up the idea but the verses suggest a simple idea of consequences affecting future generation rather than the highly detailed concepts or rituals they are suggesting.

    I think fantasy novels is one idea but I am curious if maybe there are cult or pagan religions that contain the idea of putting a curse or hex on a family and if the idea might come from a source like that? It just seems so detailed in the way some present it that I have trouble believing it all sprang up from those few verses or within a few decades without any preceding concept?
  • If this idea is a real Thing then our Lord Jesus himself is cursed, having a human-sacrificing son-murderer as a direct ancestor. See 2 Chronicles 33:6 and surrounding.
  • Penny SPenny S Shipmate
    edited April 16
    I came across a book in the book shop at York Minster on this subject, and for some reason picked it up. I think it started with blessings and segued on to curses, then getting on to the most diabolic ones. These are the ones where the author of the generational curse is god (lower case deliberate), where he will take deep offence against anyone who attempts to deliver the sufferer from it, such behaviour being unforgiveably sinful. I wrote to the then Bishop to ask what it was doing in the bookshop when the harm that coould be done by such ideas could be immense. Can't remember what the result was! It must have been about 40 years back.
  • EutychusEutychus Admin
    edited April 16
    EmmaJean wrote: »
    It just seems so detailed in the way some present it that I have trouble believing it all sprang up from those few verses or within a few decades without any preceding concept?
    I think the problem is that details in this realm just sort of grow like Topsy.

    One of the things that eventually put me off all this malarkey was the huge degree of sophistication in some of the demonologies/deliverance guidelines compared to what the Bible actually says - let alone the fact that it warns us not to spend too much time overthinking these things. Anderson attaches huge importance to the alleged insights provided by a former witch.

    @Penny S I suspect you saw a copy of Blessing or Curse, you can choose by Derek Prince.

  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    I'm with Eutychus's citation of Ezekiel on this. Jeremiah says something similar at Jer 31:29-30.

    There is, though, one point on which I would partially agree with the erroneous teaching of those who harp on about the transmission of intergenerational judgement. Experience does strongly indicate that as long as a person blames all their failings, misfortunes and personal limitations on their parents, he or she will remain stuck in those failings, misfortunes and limitations. It's only by stopping blaming someone else - even if that person does to some extent bear some guilt - and taking one's own responsibility for changing one's life and doing something about it, that a person can move on.

    But I don't think that's what they mean by their teaching.
  • The peoples who wrote up the various pieces of the bible had lots of time to think, and I suspect, at least at times, they were more observant than we are in our distracted age. I think when there is a discussion of intergenerational effects they were reflecting on the biological aspects, but also about learned social behaviours, and the effects of environmental experiences on behaviour, emotions, thoughts. We're hearing in neuroscience that trauma can affect genetics when it is experienced and this can then be passed along to subsequent generations.
  • Gramps49Gramps49 Shipmate
    edited April 16
    The United States is certainly continuing to struggle with the slavery issue even though it was officially banned 100 years ago.

    My psychology adviser at university used to say nature and the environment are building blocks for personality but what one does with them makes the personality.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Gramps49 wrote: »
    The United States is certainly continuing to struggle with the slavery issue even though it was officially banned 100 years ago.
    I think you mean 150 years ago.

  • Penny SPenny S Shipmate
    Eutychus, I don't think that would have been it, from the number of pages - it was quite a slender piece, possibly one of a set of small booklets covering a variety of topics, others of which I might have been interested in.
    My ex-brother-in-law was of a family supposedly under a curse, delivered by an abbot expelled during Henry VIII's dissolutions. They seem to be doing pretty well, though a tourist booklet has been seen which attributed the workings out to a fire in the 19th century, and a death from drowning in the same period. Seems a long time to wait for revenge, and my feeling was that if the abbot was a good guy, he wouldn't have done it, and if he was a bad guy, it would have had a faulty premise and wouldn't have worked.
  • Barnabas62Barnabas62 Purgatory Host, Epiphanies Host
    The reality of genetic inheritance seems to me to overshadow this discussion. Personally, I think the Ezekiel emphasis on personal choices and responsibilities provides a proper moral standard. But as more is discovered about the pervasiveness of inherited tendencies (not just to physical disease but also to psychological dysfunctions) it seems proper to say that some people get dealt a much more difficult hand to play than others.
  • EmmaJeanEmmaJean Shipmate
    Eutychus wrote: »

    Anderson attaches huge importance to the alleged insights provided by a former witch.

    This is very much what my OP was asking about. Any more information about this source and the concepts derived from it?
    We're hearing in neuroscience that trauma can affect genetics when it is experienced and this can then be passed along to subsequent generations.

    Yes and I am currently working (slowly) on a masters of marriage and family therapy. We talk a lot about “isomorphisms” which are patterns that reappear multiple times in a family. For example a pattern or a fused relationship between a mother and eldest daughter or a cut off between father and son. This along with inter-generational transmission or trauma and gives a level of credibility or “ring-true-ness” to the concept more generally.
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Gramps49 wrote: »
    The United States is certainly continuing to struggle with the slavery issue even though it was officially banned 100 years ago.
    I think you mean 150 years ago.

    Depends on what is meant by "slavery". The convict lease system, where many states would convict black men on trumped up charges and then auction off their labor to various private contractors, would seem to have most of the defining characteristics of slavery and persisted until the 1940s.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    Gramps49 wrote: »
    The United States is certainly continuing to struggle with the slavery issue even though it was officially banned 100 years ago.

    My psychology adviser at university used to say nature and the environment are building blocks for personality but what one does with them makes the personality.

    Over 150.
  • FirenzeFirenze Shipmate, Host Emeritus
    My mother was badly mothered and a good deal of that was projected on to me. By being (happily) childless I have put an end to the damage - because, though I recognise the dynamic now, I am sure it would still have warped any relationship with putative children.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Crœsos wrote: »
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Gramps49 wrote: »
    The United States is certainly continuing to struggle with the slavery issue even though it was officially banned 100 years ago.
    I think you mean 150 years ago.

    Depends on what is meant by "slavery". The convict lease system, where many states would convict black men on trumped up charges and then auction off their labor to various private contractors, would seem to have most of the defining characteristics of slavery and persisted until the 1940s.
    True, but by that standard, I think one could wonder whether slavery really stopped even then. When one speaks of the effects of slavery and speaks of it being “officially banned,” I think it’s fair to assume that the reference is to the Thirteenth Amendment.

  • RossweisseRossweisse Shipmate, Hell Host
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Gramps49 wrote: »
    The United States is certainly continuing to struggle with the slavery issue even though it was officially banned 100 years ago.
    I think you mean 150 years ago.
    The 13th amendment, abolishing slavery, passed in Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified by same on December 6 (St. Nicholas Day!), 1865.

    There is no question that African Americans have been greatly abused and treated, in many cases, almost as slaves, but huge progress was made 154 years ago.


  • GwaiGwai Epiphanies Host
    Crœsos wrote: »
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Gramps49 wrote: »
    The United States is certainly continuing to struggle with the slavery issue even though it was officially banned 100 years ago.
    I think you mean 150 years ago.

    Depends on what is meant by "slavery". The convict lease system, where many states would convict black men on trumped up charges and then auction off their labor to various private contractors, would seem to have most of the defining characteristics of slavery and persisted until the 1940s.
    The U.S. justice system still does this! Criminalize people of color for everything they do and sell their labor.
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    The peoples who wrote up the various pieces of the bible had lots of time to think, and I suspect, at least at times, they were more observant than we are in our distracted age. I think when there is a discussion of intergenerational effects they were reflecting on the biological aspects, but also about learned social behaviours, and the effects of environmental experiences on behaviour, emotions, thoughts. We're hearing in neuroscience that trauma can affect genetics when it is experienced and this can then be passed along to subsequent generations.
    @NOprophet_NØprofit I'm not at all sure I can understand what you've written. I'm fairly sure, though, that it doesn't have much bearing on how the people who wrote the relevant parts of the Old Testament thought or what they thought they were saying.

    Familiarity with the contexts, both the Exodus one and the two extracts from the prophets that have been referred to, it's difficult to conclude otherwise than that they were talking about the simple question of where guilt for wrongdoing fell, whether it was familial or individual and whether it transmitted down the generations or not.
  • EmmaJean wrote: »
    Eutychus wrote: »

    Anderson attaches huge importance to the alleged insights provided by a former witch.

    This is very much what my OP was asking about. Any more information about this source and the concepts derived from it?
    We're hearing in neuroscience that trauma can affect genetics when it is experienced and this can then be passed along to subsequent generations.

    Yes and I am currently working (slowly) on a masters of marriage and family therapy. We talk a lot about “isomorphisms” which are patterns that reappear multiple times in a family. For example a pattern or a fused relationship between a mother and eldest daughter or a cut off between father and son. This along with inter-generational transmission or trauma and gives a level of credibility or “ring-true-ness” to the concept more generally.

    The term I'm familiar with is "eigenetics". Genes may be activated and inactivated by life experiences. Genes do not always "just work". Something triggers them on.
  • EmmaJeanEmmaJean Shipmate

    The term I'm familiar with is "eigenetics". Genes may be activated and inactivated by life experiences. Genes do not always "just work". Something triggers them on.


    Yes I think you mean epigenetics? And in this case there may be differences in what is passed down from Mom vs. Dad since most if not all (I saw a recent study that showed some might be produced later) eggs are produced prenatally. The experiences of your maternal grandmother during her pregnancy with your mother could impact both your mother and your genetic functioning.

    However they often study things like famine during wartime conditions. An experience that isn’t particularly sinful on the part of the person experiencing it. And the epigenetic changes would normally be protective if the child lived in the same conditions as the mother had (for example: food shortage). For most of human history one can imagine this would be more of a blessing than a curse.

    I do still want to know more about Anderson’s ex-witch though?
  • I left out a "g". If your mother had a 'flu virus and ran a fever during pregnancy, you may end up with hypertension in your early adulthood. That kind of thing.

    Or in the case of the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES), birth defects and susceptibility to certain cancers and other things in children and grandchildren.
  • Penny SPenny S Shipmate
    Come to think of it, whatever led to a friend's mother being toxic, she's certainly delivered something malign down a generation, and out sideways as well. Thoroughly explicable by psychology, spending a life being made to feel guilty not being a blessed state. Could it be her father becoming an atheist after being gassed on the Somme? What sort of god would do that? But she is desperately unhappy, infectively. It's not going to be passed on any further though. I suspect the Biblical references are observations, not theological interpretations of the nature of God'a actions.
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