In Numbers 14:18 God punishes the children of futures generations for the sins of their fathers


What should a Catholic make of this?


Sin has consequences that don’t automatically evaporate?


This is not a unique passage. This is also in the 10 Commandments (what I would think of as the Second Commandment).

Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down to them, nor worship them. For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, and visit the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me, and shew mercy unto thousands in them that love me and keep my commandments.


This is natural for the people who don’t know Christ.


I think this may have something to do with the fact that, before Christ, the ways to make reparation for sins were pretty limited. The consequences of someone’s sin in those days might extend beyond what they were able to make reparation for in their life, so continuing the penance for it until the scales are balanced may have fallen upon the sinner’s descendants.


I have a family member who claims that God commits these evils against people–he curses them. I disagree with this because God is all-good and all-loving. I see this passage as describing the natural consequences of sin. So if a father is an alcoholic, his children are going to suffer from this. It’s possible that if they become fathers–given the poor role model of their father–they too will be poor fathers to their children.


It’s not punishment. It is a curse.

Isreal was in a covenant relationship with God. Every covenant comes with blessing for faithfulness and a curse for unfaithfulness.

Moses is reminding God of the covenant He made with Israel, reminding God that he promised mercy and forgiveness.

God forgives them in the next two verses.



Hi, Yosef!

…what I find interesting is that people always leave out the other part:

(…# 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. #Exodus 20:5-6#

So while God allows the sin of the fathers to fall upon the third and forth generation, He is willing to receive anyone who turns back to Him and promises to show them love to the thousandth generation.

Still God holds each of us accountable for our sins and does not punish, unduly, our children:

26 For when the just turneth himself away from his justice, and committeth iniquity, he shall die therein: in the injustice that he hath wrought he shall die. 27 And when the wicked turneth himself away from his wickedness, which he hath wrought, and doeth judgment, and justice: he shall save his soul alive. 28 Because he considereth and turneth away himself from all his iniquities which he hath wrought, he shall surely live, and not die. 29 And the children of Israel say: The way of the Lord is not right. Are not my ways right, O house of Israel, and are not rather your ways perverse? 30 Therefore will I judge every man according to his ways, O house of Israel, saith the Lord God. Be converted, and do penance for all your iniquities: and iniquity shall not be your ruin. 31 Cast away from you all your transgressions, by which you have transgressed, and make to yourselves a new heart, and a new spirit: and why will you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I desire not the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God, return ye and live. #Ezekiel 18:26-32)

We are to answer for our personal behavior. However, if we lead a life of sin, regretfully, that is what we will pass to others and, hence, our sins will have far reaching consequences well beyond our personal salvation.

Maran atha!



What should a Catholic make of this?

One other perspective: The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Some sins are passed down from generation to generation via cultural tradition, family norms, and the like. If your father was an idolater and a drunk, you would have grown up accustomed to these matters and perhaps even accepted them as normal. These sins you might even go so far as to imitate when you became an adult. The punishment for these sins would likewise carry on from generation to generation.


So, StGerardMajella, you are suggesting that God punishes the child for sins that she or he might commit?

What if the child grew up with an idolatrous and drunken father, but with a righteous and sober mother? The child, horrified by the behaviour of their father, follows the example of their mother in all things. But God punishes the child for the sins of the father anyway? How is this just or a demonstration of an all-loving God?




This isn’t so much that God is actively doing it, but that the consequences extend naturally to the next generation.

What if the child grew up with an idolatrous and drunken father, but with a righteous and sober mother? The child, horrified by the behaviour of their father, follows the example of their mother in all things. But God punishes the child for the sins of the father anyway?

No. This is not what the Scripture passage is asserting.

How is this just or a demonstration of an all-loving God?

It is a reflection of the evil of sin. The sins of an individual harm all of us; and, in certain ways, they can harm our children as well.


[quote=Gorgias]This isn’t so much that God is actively doing it, but that the consequences extend naturally to the next generation.

That interpretation would be far more reasonable. But it’s not what this verse says. Numbers 14:18 states: “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.” It could have said that the ‘the children will be punished’, but instead the inerrant Word of God is phrased in the active form. It says that ‘He punishes the children’, so I don’t see how your interpretation can be valid.


Keep in mind that Catholics do not read the Scriptures as literalist fundamentalists, as you are doing. If we are going to have a productive conversation about scripture, it is good for us to understand how we read them.
A good thing. :thumbsup:

The conversation you are having here is just like the conversations Catholics have with literalist fundamentalist Christians. Two different types of understanding.


In those days, they had a peculiar perspective: they believed that each and every little thing that happened on earth was the direct result of God willing (and causing) that thing. So, if there was an earthquake: God directly caused it. If there was a much-needed rainstorm: God directly caused it. If a person caught a cold: God directly caused it. If a leaf fell from the apple tree in your yard: God directly caused it.

The reason they thought this was pretty simple (and simply wrong): they believed that, if God didn’t control each and every little thing, then that meant that something else did. And if that ‘something else’ – if it were doing things outside the will of God – managed to do things on its own, then it implied that God wasn’t sovereign or all-powerful, and that some other force (or god) was more powerful than God. Of course, they just couldn’t have that. So, their solution was to propose that God did all things, down to the last little whisper of a breeze on a hot day.

You’ll see this exact notion in some of the medieval Islamic philosophers in the first millennium A.D., too. Today, of course, we’d talk about ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ causes, thanks to the Scholastic philosophers, but back then, they simply didn’t possess that idea.

This is what gives rise to people’s misunderstandings about God – often, folks will ask “why was God so mean and smitey in the O.T., and so loving in the N.T.?” It’s not because God’s nature changed… it’s because our understanding of God’s nature and of His sovereignty changed.

Therefore, my analysis of the verse does hold up to scrutiny… as long as you understand the philosophical viewpoints of the peoples of the O.T. :thumbsup:


It is not punishment.

God is simply stating the consequences of breaking the covenant, that’s all.

He is telling them what will happen if they are unfaithful to the promises they had already made when they entered the covenant with God. God is reminding them of what they had already agreed to.



Not everyone will accept it but this is how the Catholic Church proposes scripture for us.


Clem456, Gorgias, the explanation you give seems eminently reasonable. My only concern is that it suggests that scripture is subject to the vagaries of Bronze Age superstition and consequently flawed in its wording just as the understanding of the authors of the world around them was flawed. How then can it be argued that scripture reliably reveals message from/inspire by God?


This is such a huge topic. It can’t be done justice in a day.

Scripture is God’s revelation to us in human words. It is simply conditioned by language, culture, degree of understanding, modes of expression.

By the way, it’s raining cats and dogs here.
We have the mother of all rainstorms.
It’s been raining 100 years if it’s been raining a day. (hyperbole)

My good friend is in the hospital with a tumor, Why does God punish her this way? (lament)

Prodigal son:
There was a man who had two sons. One of them said to his father “give me my inheritance”…(parable)

“I am the vine you are the branches” (analogy)

None of these modes of expression are true in a fundamentalist literalist fashion. They are not factual.
Yet you might see they can convey great truths and are reliable in revealing God’s inspiration.

The whole point of Christianity is that God comes into flesh, so that our lives are not dead in the letter.
God reveals himself as a person rather than a book. Persons are not confined to facts and history. They transcend these things. Persons are mysterious.
So the Church does not confine the truth of Scripture to the literalist words in our current way understanding them, but looks for the relationship offered to us through them.

Huge topic.


So, by this reasoning, if the Bible says that God has a particular nature or characteristic, we cannot know if this is a factual statement that reveals something about God, or the author attributing to God something about the nature of the world or the human condition.

How then can we be sure that the Bible tells us anything about God? It reminds me of a quotation attributed to G. K. Chesterton: “A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.” It seems that the Bible may tell us more about the authors than about God.

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