I ran across a video today posted by a friend on Facebook about how science is “proving the Bible” – in this case, “proving the Bible” was synonymous with affirming the charismatic belief in “generational curses.”
Now I know many of my readers are not part of the charismatic movement and as far as I know, most versions of Christianity outside of the charismatic church do not teach such a concept even exists, but to give a quick primer version of what this belief is about, I’ll just simply say that some Charismatic churches teach that if one’s great-grandparents, grandparents, or parents indulged in any of a variety of sins in their lives that one can inherit a curse in their family line for these actions. This belief is based on verses such as this one:
The LORD is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, 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 generation.
(Numbers 14:18 ESV, see also Exodus 20:5, 34:7, and Deut. 5:9-10)
Now, I must disclose that I personally am somewhat undecided about what I think about this (even though I am a card-carrying charismatic myself) as I also consider the contrasting view presented in Ezekiel 18 on this very topic. That said, I have also prayed according to recommended charismatic wisdom about the sins of my family, known and unknown, and asked the Lord to break off any curses from me, should they exist. But as the goal of this post is not to debate the validity of “generational curses” in and of themselves, none of that is really what I wish to discuss here – so for the sake of this post, I’ll proceed from this point forward with the hypothetical position that generational curses really are, well, real – and that they are the Biblically accurate concept about how this sort of thing works. The question then I am exploring here is the validity of the scientific assertions that this video presents, and whether epigenetics is in fact, as the video says, synonymous with the charismatic belief about “generational curses.”
And, so, here’s a preview – my position on this video is that while epigenetics is an exciting science that is SOMEWHAT explained in this video, overall this is an intensely misleading, twisted example of Christians doing bad PR for the faith…and the only thing I think can be rightly done for this video is to “burn it with fire.” So in hopes that more misleading PR won’t be perpetuated, here comes the fire.
Oh yeah, I guess you’d like to see the video first. It is only right to give some free promotion for those I am about to take to task. Ok, so here it is, and then I’ll proceed with the fire:
Now, I must say that first of all I can’t fault the creators of this video for exhorting people to live a holy life – and to care about the effect that their decisions might have on others. That in and of itself is a noble exhortation, even though I may disagree with the details. And yes, as you are well aware at this point, I do emphatically disagree with the details. So on with my disagreements, below:
1) The concept of a Biblical “generational curse,” as I understand it, does not require the person receiving the curse to be as-yet unborn in order to receive the curse. For instance, if a 50-year old grandmother commits adultery, and she has a grown daughter who has a 2-year-old son, from what I understand about generational curses, her daughter and grandson (and grandson’s future children) could receive that curse, even though her daughter and grandson are already born at the time the adultery is committed and any great-grandchildren would not be able to receive epigenetic results from her life decisions at that point in time. If instead, epigenetic changes are presumed to be the normal way that these curses are transmitted through the family line, then the family line is not able to be cursed in this situation – because the daughter and grandson (and, by extension, grandson’s future children) can’t inherit genes from the grandmother when they’ve already been born.
2) If epigenetics is believed to be the way that Biblical generational curses are transmitted through a family line, then all prayer counseling and repentance to “break off” generational curses is relatively pointless. If you alter your chromosomes through epigenetics, then getting saved, confessing sins, breaking off generational curses, etc., has no effect on those changes. In the charismatic movement, we know this is not the case regarding generational curses – a generational curse, if it actually exists, is reversible – it is breakable through repentance and confession in prayer. But if we blame “generational curses” on epigenetics, we are saying there is no hope, at least not by merely praying about the issue – once you’ve sinned, your genetics are altered and there is no way to break the curse off yourself or your children short of a really huge inventive miracle or a dose of methylizing chemicals either injected or ingested into your system in the right way to alter the epigenetic changes….
3) Epigenetic modifications are not all bad. For instance, if your parents are addicted to watching porn before you were born (an example from the video) despite what the video forewarns with carefully edited ominous music, the actual epigenetic effect on your genes is not necessarily going to make you addicted to porn. (And to my knowledge, there is no scientific study on the books that actually says anything to this effect.) The epigenetic changes to one’s genome are not the way the video is describing them – it’s not like, “Your parents did this so now it’s written in your genes that you will be even more predisposed to do the same thing.”
In fact, in regards to cocaine addiction, there is substantial evidence at least through a mouse model that if a mouse develops a cocaine addiction, its offspring are substantially LESS likely to ever become addicted cocaine than a normal mouse would be – in this case, epigenetics has a protective effect. See article here.
4) Epigenetic changes are not necessarily due to “sin.” If one of your parents goes through a car accident, a traumatic experience, the trauma is possibly going to cause epigenetic changes that you will inherit. Your parents didn’t sin by experiencing a traumatic event – so why would we consider the resulting epigenetic changes to be a “curse?” Experiencing trauma does not curse your family line, but it can cause epigenetic changes… Again, epigenetics is not necessarily “good” nor “bad” – but to sum up the way epigenetics works in really loose laymen terms, whether an epigenetic change is “good” or “bad” for an organism is not really related to the morality of what prompted the change. Many times what we consider “bad” habits do tend to create some negative epigenetic changes; but bad things do not always result in bad epigenetic changes. For instance, a study done in Sweden showed an epigenetic disadvantage towards diabetes and heart disease for the offspring of people whose fathers had ample food between the ages of 9 and 12, whereas people whose fathers faced famine during those ages inherited better health. But this result also only held true if the father experienced famine in that age range – experiencing famine at a different age had no effect.
5) I’m not sure why anyone would say this is a proof against evolution. That doesn’t follow from the science of epigenetics at all. And there’s the rub: the guy in the video seems to go out of his way to give a blatant, but subtle misrepresentation of the science.
A recent, actual study done on Darwin’s finches relative to epigenetics states, “As environmental factors are known to result in heritable changes in the epigenome, it is POSSIBLE that epigenetic changes CONTRIBUTE to the molecular basis of the evolution of Darwin’s finches.” But, somehow video guy leapt from the words “possible” and “contribute” and he instead paints a much different picture using the words “science has now PROVED it is epigenetic modification” making it sound like it is much, much more than a “possible contribution.” Realistically, whether or not epigenetics is involved (and it is likely that it is) doesn’t change whether or not the finches on Galápagos island, or any other species, evolved for millions of years or not. The theory of evolution has always recognized that small changes -whether those changes be mutations, or now, epigenetic changes – occur and in one way or another, lead to evolution – whether this be by punctuated evolution (spurts of time in which many changes occur relatively rapidly) or otherwise.
6) The video names a number of sexual things that are implied to cause epigenetic changes in humans, without any concern for God’s approval of sexual acts done within marriage. For instance, “cyber sex” and “masturbation” are displayed as examples of things that will change your genes (and thus far in my searching, it seems that this is completely imaginary with not a single study to support it.) But, if we allow such a thing as a hypothetical, then assuming typical evangelical/charismatic Christian morals regarding what is sexually appropriate behavior, the question becomes: are your genes going to be epigenetically marked differently if you have “cyber sex” with some stranger, in contrast to what will occur if you are away from home on a business trip and have “cyber sex” with your spouse long distance? How? Or again, will masturbation alone contrasted with masturbation with your spouse as part of foreplay markedly affect your genes in profoundly differing ways? And if so, how?
If so, the assertion the video is making that the pleasure center of someone’s brain is somehow distinguishing between holy acts of sexuality and yet cursing someone with epigenetic changes if they do unholy acts with similar amounts of pleasure, but if someone who was raised to not feel guilty about these acts performed outside of marriage, are we really to believe that they are experiencing destruction of their genome in the one situation and health of their genome in the other? If so, again the question would be: how? What is the mechanism of action?
One side note: it should be mentioned that sex addiction is not universally regarded by the health field as even existing – while the video is maintaining that science has demonstrated sex addiction causes epigenetic damage. Again, the question must be asked: if a married couple has an extremely high libido and together they enjoy unusually frequent sex by mutual consent, is this damaging to their genes – and can we prove it? And would charismatic Christians really want to start teaching that the marriage bed is made impure somehow in this way?
7) Finally, the singularly most detestable thing in my mind about this video is the absolute attempt to deceive people using the visual graphics of the presentation. For instance, starting at about 2 minutes into the video, various sexual activities are written on the screen and underneath are written such things as “Genome: Up to 97%”. For each sexual activity, the percentage listed is different, but they are all extremely high percentages, and it appears that the suggestion being made to the viewer is that these activities alter an incredibly high percentage of someone’s genome. In reality, any epigenetic change that we have ever studied involves only a ridiculously miniscule amount of one’s genome. Small genetic markers can have large effects, but to suggest that sexual conduct is changing vast amounts of one’s genome – when there’s not even a single study to substantiate that sexual behavior is changing ANYTHING in one’s genome, is deception of a pretty high degree – maybe even something like, 97%, give or take.
But that’s not all. Reading the fine print on these graphics reveals…complete gibberish. Not a single line of any of these graphics says anything scientifically real at all. It’s all nonsense, designed to make the viewer think that there are actual scientifically precise encodings of genes taking place, that are known and measurable – using words and numbers that don’t even describe the process as it would be described if it WERE known to be taking place. And that is incredibly yucky, at least to me.
In the final analysis, the field of epigenetics DOES demonstrate that what parents do affects their unborn children and grandchildren. It DOES give us an extra reason to take care of our bodies and make good choices. But the science is extremely complex, and it is nowhere near as cut and dry – nor “moral” as this video wants us to believe. And it definitely does not “prove” the Bible, nor the concept of “Generational Curses” in any way that the video is suggesting – or demanding – that we believe.
For more reading on this topic, check out:
January 2, 2015 at 1:09 pm
I’m not going to watch the video because it would probably upset me, based on what you’ve said. To deliberately deceive people is not Christ-like. Ever. Christ said that liars would be thrown into a pit of fire and that people who deceive those weaker than themselves would be better off having a millstone round their neck and being thrown to the bottom of the sea. Jesus didn’t mince His words in this respect! Glad that you’ve tackled this, though, as I’m sure there will be people who so desperately want to please God that they will take videos such as these as ‘proof’ of whatever it is the particular video says it proves.
May 1, 2015 at 4:52 am
ooh, man, my parents taught me that I was cursed. So much pain in this.
September 25, 2016 at 10:01 pm
The interesting thing here is that when it comes to the subject of epigenetics, there is no mention of: the blood of Christ by which we overcome, no mention of the weapons of our warfare which, by the way are not fleshly (could we say earthly?) No mention of the spiritual battle using our spiritual weapons. No mention of the fallen one who is waging a spiritual war against us; the spiritual church. No mention of the power of Christ…think of the Gadarene! One command in authority dealt with legion and left the man sitting, clothed and in his right mind! As I said somewhere else…it sounds similar to those who sought to build a tower in the heavens. When God saw it, He confused their languages, because, He said, “if they do this nothing will be impossible to them.” The good news is that we are not genetically superior beings, but “new creations.” In the early church, Paul prayed that “the eyes of our understanding would be enlightened.” regarding this mystery…CHRIST IN US THE HOPE OF GLORY. So many trails down to Egypt….away from the centrality of the cross, the power of the blood and the word of our testimony. I could go on and on. To close…and because they do not receive a love for the truth, God will send upon them a strong delusion that they should believe the lie, that they all might be condemned because they do not receive the love of the truth. Father, in the name of Jesus, forgive us and rekindle in us a love for the truth. Keep us from everything that would lead us away from it.
October 1, 2016 at 2:58 pm
I’m not sure I understand what you are saying – that people who blame generational curses on epigenetics are ignoring the gospel, or that scientists who discovered epigenetics are ignoring the gospel?
When people discovered how radio waves worked and built the first radio, I would love if they had done so with praises to God in their heart for revealing the mysteries of the universe to them, but at the same time, radio waves can be understood even by people who don’t understand the gospel. It’s the same thing with any science or math or whatever – the way God made the universe is still true, and can be discovered, even if people unfortunately haven’t discovered the God who made it all.
November 30, 2016 at 5:49 pm
Having actually seen the entire series in question I can tell you that the snippet the author mentioned is a small 5 minute part of a 90 minute video in a 5 part series on conquering the problem of lust. Although it’s targeted specifically at lust issues the points made can really apply to any sin issue.
Literally, the entire rest of this video (part 4) is about putting on the Armor of God. It goes through in great detail on how you need to purposefully devote yourself to striving after each of the attributes Paul mentions in this passage if you want your life truly transformed. They also emphasize that it is through the focusing your life on Jesus that your mind will be renewed, not due to any magic formula of the right combination of devotions or . The snippet in question is (in my opinion anyways) just a reminder that the consequences of not dealing with these issues now also has physical evidence pointing to Numbers 14:18 being correct.
Although they do talk a lot about brain science throughout the series it’s always in the context of showing that as scientists learn more about the brain what they find is corroborating what the bible has said all along. It also heavily emphasizes the need to work towards God (and freedom in this issue) with other trusted Christians through full confession and accountability.
Overall the series is excellently well written, entertaining, and very well grounded in it’s theology… even if they did take creative license with the science fiction looking genome special effects. 😉
I have to assume the author hasn’t watched the series and only saw this 5-minute snippet and decided to tee off on it.
Fair enough, as far as I can tell epigenetics only points to the possibility of increasing(emphasis) the chance of sexual addiction in your offspring. That is the message I got out of that part of the video as well.
November 30, 2016 at 6:33 pm
But Calvin – that’s just it. There is not a single shred of scientific research that says that there is an increased chance of epigenetic changes from a promiscuous lifestyle resulting in sex addiction in one’s offspring. None.
While I can applaud a video that exhorts people to sexual purity and wholeness, it’s just not OK to make up scientific assertions out of thin air to scare people. Christians become the laughingstock of the world when we go around saying things that really are no more than “urban legends” passed around in the church. Is the Bible sufficient enough exhortation for why we should live a holy life, or do we really need to make up bogus crap to add to it?
April 8, 2020 at 10:40 pm
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”
Verse 13 is written in the past tense, whereas Galatians 3:10 is written in the present tense:
For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written:
“Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”
If Jesus broke the curses, how is it those of whom Paul was referencing in the present tense could be under a curse? Verse 13 does say Jesus became the curse, but it doesn’t say He broke any curses. Moreover, I cannot find a single example of Jesus or the apostles breaking any curses, yet we read that Jesus issued many curses?
If Jesus did not break any curses why would anyone else?
April 15, 2020 at 1:07 pm
You know I think you should stop writing. Nothing that you “suggested” as truth is accurate and I’m not surprised to hear you write an article that scratches the ears of your listeners. Epigenetics is the science behind generational curses. It doesn’t replace the blood or negate the power of repentance. It puts the meat on the bones of what God has shown us, our sins affect ourselves and our children. Trauma, if not addressed and accepted as truth will mold our lives to live a lie and instruct is how to raise the next generation. Trauma as well as sin alters us at the cellular level and is passed to the next generation. It proves that when God tells us to repent, turn; when He tells us that our sins will pass on to our children and more importantly our children’s children …that it is happening at the cellular level. It’s disappointing that you’ve completely missed a nugget of truth that God has revealed to us and wanted us to share and teach people. You’ve twisted and misrepresented what God wanted you to see.
July 21, 2021 at 2:14 am
What is your authority or proof of any of what you just said? It’s not in the Bible, and it’s not in Science. So where did you get it?
July 21, 2021 at 6:29 am
Forgive me for what might appear to be commercialism raising its ugly head, but I have written a book about curse deliverance. Obviously, it is not possible to deal with that subject without addressing the confusing issue of generational curses. And before I move on, for anyone unable to afford my book and who would like to read it, contact me and I will gift you a copy; just to prove I’m not attempting to use this site inappropriately. I am happy to do this providing no one takes undue advantage of my offer.
I consulted a bible scholar several times while writing my book. One of those times, I was seeking clarification of some aspect of curses, and he answered me with, “It’s a little bit like trying to slice up a bucket of water.” There can be so many different uses of the word, “curse”, that parsing distinct definitions can be challenging.
While there are examples of generational curses in Scripture (all from God by the way) Exodus 20:5 does not explicitly address them.
“You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,”
At first blush, this verse seems to support the idea of a curse being passed on to the children, and that was my interpretation of it before I wrote my book. However, the more I studied this and the five other occurrences in Scripture, the more I doubted the common interpretations.
While it is true that the verse is a curse in the most basic sense, it is not suggesting that a supernatural effect will cling to the children. In other words, it is a conditional curse in that it is an imprecation. If the condition is met, judgment will follow. However, there is nothing in the language that suggests a lingering supernatural effect that is visited on the children. Rather, it suggests the punishment of the parents will be felt by the children. How could it not? How could God punish the parents and the children not feel it?
The Exodus 20:5 motif occurs six times in the Bible. Three of the occurrences are situational. That is to say, it is invoked in Exodus 34:7 as a warning after Israel rebelled by making the Golden Calf and worshiping it. Next, in Numbers 14 Moses invokes it situationally during the rebellion after the spies returned from Canaan. The third situational use is in Jeremiah 32:18 in a prayer by Jeremiah prior to the exile.
The most explicit situational example is Numbers 14:18,
“‘The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’”
How did he punish the children? Let’s look at verse 33:
“Your children will be shepherds here for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the wilderness.“
How could the Lord not allow the parents to enter the promise land without the children feeling it? Those children still needed their parents, therefore could not help but feel and experience God’s judgment. There is no discussion of sins being passed down to the children. Anyone suggesting that is reading something into the text that is not there.
Additionally, consider Moses’ commentary on Exodus 20:5. He repeats and expounds on it in Deuteronomy 7:9-10,
“Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. But those who hate him he will repay to their face by destruction; he will not be slow to repay to their face those who hate him.”
This is a departure from the idea that God is seeking to punish the children later. Clearly, it states that He will punish in the here and now therefore the children will feel it.
Now, there are clear examples of generational curses from God. The sons of Eli are an example. However, these are rare in Scripture and Exodus 20:5 limits the punishment to three and four generations whereas true generational curses extend down, apparently, without limit.
The name of my book is, The Deliverance Delusion, Exposing The Curse Deliverance Myth. It goes into much greater detail than what I have discussed here.