I've been watching testimonies of people who claim to have been involved in deliverances and spiritual warfare, and the concept of generational curse is brought up quite often. It's even taught as a doctrine in certain churches (e.g. see this Hungry Generation's sermon). In simple words, a generational curse basically means that some ancestor messed up (e.g. by dabbling into witchcraft, by practicing the occult, by doing some terrible sin, etc.) and, thus, gave to the dark side a legal right to influence them and their descendants in some manner, until the right gets eventually revoked (if ever) by someone down the lineage. What is the biblical basis for this belief?
I’m not prepared to defend the beliefs detailed in that link, nor do I think that the biblical statements of God in Exodus 20:4-6 apply to the idea you ask about. God depicts idol worshippers, and those who worship sun, moon, or stars, as having God’s curse brought down, up to the third and fourth generation “of them that hate me”. In contrast, God says he will show mercy to “thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.” The Old Testament testifies to the truth of God’s warning with regard to later generations of his own people who turned to idolatry.
However, the Church Jesus establishes, which “the gates of Hades will not overcome” (Matthew 16:18) are commanded, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:21) Further, all legal rights pertaining to the Church Jesus causes to grow belong to the risen Christ, who purchased her with his own blood (Acts 20:28). This means that where there are Spirit-born members of the congregation of Christ, keeping themselves free from idolatry (in all its forms), nobody and nothing can lay “a generational curse” upon them.
Yet there remains a real problem with many who associate with the Christian congregation who may have a family history of idolatry. This is where different biblical principles apply. For a start, there is the one of sowing and reaping. “Whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7). Many times, children suffer the bad results from what their parents have ‘sown’. But the matter you ask about goes deeper and can be illustrated by the experiences of two Christian friends of mine who spend several months each year in India, one of the most idolatrous nations on earth.
They maintain that the principles in Hebrews 12:14-15 & Ephesians 4:31, which warn Christians against allowing bitter roots to develop, is what can bring judgement (even to the third or fourth generation). Here is a true account from one of their letters to me (therefore, no link). They spoke with a young Hindu woman who was interested in learning about Christianity, and now I quote:
"Her father had died from drowning in an alcohol-related incident when he was only 28 and now her husband is drinking alcohol heavily (to the point of collapse) every day. We started talking about how sins sometimes ‘run’ in families and that in the exact way that someone dishonours their parent(s), things do not go well with them. We then asked her if she had ever judged her father in any way. It turned out that she had hated him in her heart, thought he was a bad person because of his drinking and beating of her mother, and she vowed that she would never marry anyone like that’.
"We explained to her the teaching we had received from Elijah House on 'bitter-root judgments'. She was willing to repent of dishonouring her father, for judging him and also for judging her husband in the same way; then she forgave them both.
"As she prayed she saw a picture of a wooden cross in front of her; she was filled with joy and knew in her heart that she was forgiven.
"We were able to pray with the woman's mother and found that she too had judged her father and subsequently her husband to be bad because of their alcoholism and violence. Her father had also taken a second 'wife'... Like her daughter, she had reaped what she had sown.
"The woman's aunt had also judged her father as a bad man, partly for his drinking and beatings but also for taking a second 'wife'. Her mother, aunts and uncles had suffered terribly because their father had two wives, two homes and two sets of children. And as we prayed the aunt also saw that she had reaped what she had sown. With eyes fully open and having experienced a difficult life from childhood, she then went on to become the second 'wife' of a man who became violent and alcoholic! She too repented and forgave. The marvellous good news is that Jesus specialises in transforming messed-up lives.
"The following day we were all amazed when the husband of the young woman asked us to pray with him! No-one was more surprised than he was! He prayed a prayer of repentance for his drinking and said he felt happy afterwards... since that day he has not taken alcohol (even over New Year). His wife's bitter-root judgements that were defiling him had been broken and he was no longer feeling the compulsion to drink.”
Now, that is the experience of my Christian friends. I know personally that when I once allowed bitterness and resentment against my good husband to develop over several years – despite the Lord warning me through scripture and the testimonies of other ladies – I ended up suffering the Lord’s chastisement. That brought me to repentance, and healing (spiritual, physical and marital) resulted. But I do believe that had I not eventually obeyed God and dug out that bitter root, our children would have gone on to suffer, perhaps their children too. It doesn’t bear thinking about. That is why I flag up this principle of “bitter roots judgment” as a main one that applies to Christians. But I stoutly deny that any “dark forces” can gain a legal foothold into the lives and families of the children of God, born again of the Spirit.
Last year I answered a similar question and have copied and pasted the relevant part as it pertains to your question: Looking for a passage on the effect of good/bad actions on your family through time
First, let’s look at what God says in the Bible about idolatry and its consequences:
Exodus 20:5-6: You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
Exodus 34:7: keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.
Implied in the warning of Exodus 20:5 and Exodus 34:7 is the likelihood that children will choose to repeat the sins of their fathers. A Jewish Targum specifies that this passage refers to “ungodly fathers” and “rebellious children.” Those generations that commit the same sins their ancestors will receive the same punishment.
Before I go any further, I must confess that not only have I not looked at that ‘Hungry Generation’ video clip, I have no intention of ever doing so. I don’t get my theology from videos. However, I did check out the beliefs of ‘Hungry Generation’ here: https://www.hungrygen.com/beliefs/ They appear to be part of or associated with the International Pentecostal Church of Christ and they believe in the divine gift of healing. Back to the Bible:
Under Old Testament law a generational curse was a consequence for a specific nation (Israel) for a specific sin (idolatry). The history books of the Old Testament (especially Judges) contain the record of this divine punishment meted out. However, when Israel turned from idols to serve the living God, the “curse” was broken and God saved them (Judges 3:9, 15; 1 Samuel 12:10-11). The cure for a “generational curse” is repentance of the sin in question, faith in Christ, and a life consecrated to the Lord (Romans 12:1-2).
Jeremiah 32:18 says that the consequences of sin from one generation are visited on the next generations. Sin’s destructive consequences hurt the person committing the sin as well as those around him. Each generation has the choice to let their natural inclination repeat the cycle or to find a better way. People often want to break negative cycles but do not know how because the way of thinking they were raised with has confused them. The cure for a “generational curse” is repentance of the sin in question, faith in Christ, and a life consecrated to the Lord (Romans 12:1-2).
I believe that demonic forces wreak havoc in the lives of people who are into idolatry, divination and the occult. However, as Anne pointed out, the powers of darkness and evil can never prevail upon those who have experienced the new birth, those who have been born again by the Holy Spirit, and who have been adopted into God’s family. It is the powerful name of Christ Jesus that overcomes any “generational curse” and transforms lives.
The cure for a “generational curse” is repentance of the sin in question, faith in Christ, and a life consecrated to the Lord (Romans 12:1-2).
P.S. I hope those links work - I'm not very good at knowing how to copy and paste them over into an answer.