Are people today guilty for the sins of their fathers?

The Bible seems to indicate that descendants bear some weight of the sins of their ancestors. The Old Testament prophets confessed the past sins of Israel and included themselves as sharing in that guilt. However, the book of Ezekiel rejects the idea that a son is held guilty for his father’s actions. How are these things to be understood? Are Christian’s today guilty for sins committed by their fathers?

Consideration needs to be given to office of prophet. The prophets of Israel spoke to Israel on behalf of God. Moses, Daniel and Nehemiah show that prophets also spoke to God on behalf of Israel. As prophets they held a position and responsibility that is not held by any man in the church today. The prophet’s ability to speak to God for the nation does not exist in the New Testament church. Even if the prophets could be said to represent a principle that Christians today should follow, this kind of confession is very rare. Though Israel spent a thousand years in miscellaneous rebellions against God, the prophetic kind of confession only occurs a few times in the Old Testament.

When God decrees a fathers guilt is passed down to the children He does so primarily for the purpose of salvation. All are guilty in Adam that we all may be redeemed by Jesus. (Romans 5:19; 11:32) God does not hold children guilty as a way of penalizing them for sins they have not committed. God condemned all men in Adam that He might have mercy upon all.

In the books of Moses God warned that later generations would suffer as a result of the sins of their fathers. When one generation began to worship God they were taken into captivity. Of course, their children went with them. These children grew up in captivity, and at times had their own children in captivity. The sins of the fathers brought suffering to their descendants, but God did not hold the children guilty for that which their fathers did.

The book of Ezekiel is clear that all guilt for sin falls upon the people who commit it. While later generations may suffer because of the sins of their forefathers, God only holds them guilty for their own sin. The New Testament makes this even more clear. Romans 14 says, “So then everyone of us shall give account of himself to God.” The New Testament never calls converted slave-holders, government officials, tax collectors or false teachers to confess any sin but their own. Herod came in a long line of despicable Herods yet John the Baptist called him to repent of his own sin, not the sin of his father.

This does not mean Christians today should ignore the sin of previous generations. We ought to honestly acknowledge the errors of those who have gone before us, but we do not confess those sins as if we somehow bear responsibility for them. If a denomination, church or Christian engaged in racism or allowed racist practices, then they should repent of their own sin without making excuse for the sin of previous generations. The sinner ought to acknowledge that he has disobeyed God. However, the Bible does not place upon him any extra burden of guilt because of what his fathers did.

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Should Christians confess the sins of their ancestors?

From time to time, especially when racial tensions flare up in America, various Christian groups confess the sins of their ancestors. A group of Presbyterians who formed their own Presbyterain denomination in support of the South during the Civil War recently apologized for its racism and support of slavery. The Southern Baptist Convention has long faced pressure to apologize for its support of slavery during the Civil War. Some groups are quick to say Christians should apologize for the actions of their antecedents. Others deny Christians bear any responsibility for the actions of earlier generations.

Do Christians have a Biblical responsibility to repent of the sins of their ancestors? This is not a question about the evils of racism. Christians should oppose slavery, but that is not the issue. The question is whether Christians ought to repent of sins committed in previous generations by their spiritual or physical fathers. What does the Bible teach about an individual’s responsibility for the sins of his ancestors.

The Bible addresses this issue, but reaching a clear conclusion from its teachings is not easy. The answer is a bit more complicated than yes or no. The Old and New Testaments teach that later generations bear the consequences of the sins of their ancestors. In the books of Moses God warned that He would judge later generations for the sins of their fathers. “For I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;” (Exodus 20:5) The New Testament, especially the book of Romans, presents a powerful case that all generations of humanity are guilty and suffer under the curse of sin because of the sin of our common father, Adam. A Biblical case can be made that generations alive today bear some weight of the sins of their ancestors.

The Old Testament also shows certain prophets confessing the sins of Israel and previous generations of Israelites. In Daniel’s marvelous prayer he confessed the past sins of the nation. He includes himself in that confession when he says, “We have sinned, we have done wickedly.” (Daniel 9:15) Nehemiah said, “Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father’s house have sinned.” (Nehemiah 1:6)

However, in the book of Ezekiel God specifically rejects the idea that children bear the guilt of their fathers. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” (Ezekiel 18:20) How is one to understand this apparent contradiction? The next article will seek to provide some clear answers.

Is the world headed towards the extinction of man?

Apocalyptic scenarios usually describe the extinction, or near extinction, of all life on earth. In many fantasy movies and literature the apocalypse leaves only a handful people left scattered around the world. Some believe the Bible predicts a worldwide catastrophe that will essentially wipe out humanity. The Bible’s description of the last years of the earth are truly apocalyptic, including earthquakes, war, famine and plagues, but does the Bible teach that human life will be wiped out? 

The seven years before the return of Jesus is a time of intense judgment known as the Tribulation. Three of the judgments at the beginning of the Tribulation are death, famine and war. In later judgments the Bible begins to describe the death toll. In one judgment a third of all the ships on the seas are destroyed. This could result in the loss of as many as 1 million people. Then the waters of the earth are poisoned and “many men died of the waters.” (Revelation 8:11). Then a massive army of demons destroys one-third of the remaining world population. The death toll from this judgment alone could be as great as two billion people. Then there is a huge earthquake that shakes the whole earth and wipes out many cities of the world. When Jesus returns the armies of the world will unite in rebellion against him. These armies will be annihilated by the conquering Christ.

Though the Bibles does not give enough details to reach a definite number, the death toll during the tribulation could be as high as 3-5 billion people. The loss of human life during the tribulation will be horrific.  Despite the massive loss of life there could still be between 2-4 billion people left on earth when Jesus returns. To put that in a little bit of perspective, the population of the earth was less than 1 billion people until the early 1800’s. In the mid-1920’s earth’s population reached 2 billion people. During the apocalypse the loss of life will be massive, but mankind will be far from extinct, or even endangered. 

God’s plan for this time of terrible judgment is not the elimination of human life. God will work through the terrible events to establish righteousness on the earth. The events of Revelation are tragic on a level never seen since the flood of Noah’s day but there is a reason to hope. The events of the Tribulation are God’s judgment on sin and God’s final call to men to repent. During the tribulation God will send out 144,000 evangelists to preach the gospel to the whole world. He will also send two prophets from heaven to preach in the middle of Jerusalem. These two men gain the attention of the entire world. God will then send angels across the globe to call men to repentance. During the judgments God will also be actively working to bring men to repentance. The horrible cataclysms of the tribulation are a final wake-up call to rebellious humanity. 

The judgments of the tribulation remind humanity, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God.” However, God says, “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die?” (Ezekiel 33:11)

What is theological liberalism?

On the Everlasting Trusth website and radio broadcasts we have made periodic references to theological liberalism. The category theological liberal is important, but often neglected, distinction. Theological liberalism has nothing to do with American politics. Liberal politics are usually associated with the democratic party, but liberal theology is a category that refers to what someone believes about God and the Bible.

Liberal theology began to gain ground in America during the late 1800’s. Soon there was conflict in the major denominations between liberal and conservative groups. Those early battles were fought over the inspiration of the Bible, the inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth of Jesus and the genuineness of miracles in the Bible. The liberals denied all these. The theological conservatives strongly defended them.

A theological liberal elevates the authority of science and reason to be equal or greater than the authority of the Bible. In the 1800’s when reason declared miracles were not possible, the liberal agreed. When science concluded the world evolved over a long period of time, the liberal began to explain Genesis in ways that accommodated millions of years of evolution. The meaning of Scripture is shaped for the liberal by science, experience, modern philosophy, psychiatry and contemporary morals.

Sometimes the liberal theologian denies outright the truth of the Bible, but often he is more subtle. Many liberal theologians reinterpret a passage by manipulating the historical context. For example, since Paul was writing into a culture that did not value women’s rights, therefore his statements about a wife’s role in marriage have to be understood through the cultural grid of Paul’s day. The liberal theologian believes that if Paul were writing today he would agree with the progressive view of gender roles.

Liberal theology is frequently shaped by a single ethical ideal that is elevated over the rest of Scripture. This ethic becomes the interpretative grid through which everything else in the Bible is understood. For example, in liberal theology the truth that God is love reinterprets the Biblical commands regarding marriage and sexual purity. A loving God would never condemn loving relationships, no matter who were involved. Modern ethical concerns seem to dominate the focus of liberal churches. Usually the ethical standards of theological liberalism are closely aligned with the ideals of political liberalism. The liberal theologian is often concerned with promoting racial justice, economic equality, environmentalism, access to abortion and acceptance of homosexuality. These ethical concerns outweigh doctrinal concerns. Dealing with social injustice is far more important than preaching the Biblical truths of Jesus and salvation.

The great danger of liberalism is its denial of the authority of the Bible. By denying the truth of Scripture, the liberal effectively denies the gospel. Those who deny that Jesus is God, that Jesus was a perfect man and that Jesus rose from the dead deny key truths that must be believed to be saved. A message that ignores these core truths of the gospel is not a Christian message. Theological liberalism is not just a different viewpoint about certain difficult or minor doctrines. Theological liberalism rejects historic Christian doctrine and it rejects Biblical doctrine. Though it claims the name of Christian, theological liberalism is not Christian.

Why is Ecclesiastes in the Bible?

The book of Ecclesiastes is one of the most controversial and difficult books of the Old Testament. The author of the book, the time of its writing, the purpose of its writing and its message are all questioned by Bible scholars. While many books of the Old Testament are questioned by theologically liberal scholars even theological conservatives have raised serious questions about the book of Ecclesiastes.

Some Bible teaches have said Ecclesiastes give a cynical view of life that teaches everything is worthless. Some have said Ecclesiastes is a call to enjoy life to its fullest because everything comes from God. Some have said Ecclesiastes is an exploration of the failure of human wisdom. Some have said Ecclesiastes examines the folly of life without God. Some have said Ecclesiastes has no clear theme, and others have said Ecclesiastes is unified by a single clear theme that runs throughout the book. With all this difficulty in understanding Ecclesiastes many have wondered if it should even be in the Bible.

Ecclesiastes says it was written by the son of David, king in Jerusalem. The natural conclusion is that King Solomon wrote the book. Ecclesiastes was written at the end of Solomon’s life after a long season of great wickedness. Two major building projects define his life. During the first half of his reign Solomon led the construction of the temple of God in Jerusalem. Toward the end of his life he led the construction of many temples to false gods. At some time in his life Solomon began seek out the pleasures of work and leisure, wisdom and folly, wealth, possessions and women. After trying everything available, he declared, “vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”

In all his wisdom Solomon wrestled with the major questions of life: what good is work, what good is pleasure, what good are riches, what good is family, what good are all things? Again, he answered is “all is vanity.” Ecclesiastes examines all the ambitions of life: wealth, power, fame, wisdom, happiness, women, simplicity and concludes they are all meaningless. Ecclesiastes examines all the toils, successes and failures of life and declares that none of them last. Ecclesiastes examines life from every angle and finds life is without purpose.

The book of Ecclesiastes calls the reader to consider the futility and frustration of a life lived apart from God. Though much of Ecclesiastes expresses the hopelessness of living apart from God, the book does not leave the reader without a solution. When all is said and done, Solomon goes back to the principles he learned as a child and taught in Proverbs. When all other philosophies of life have been considered, the conclusion of the whole matter is, “Fear God, and keep His commandments.”

Ecclesiastes explains that life is unexplainable. No one will know all the reasons why. No one will see all their plans and dreams come to pass. Life will seem pointless and frustrating at times. Yet, God rules over all. Though man now suffers because of the curse of sin, life does not have to be pointless or hopeless. A life lived for God will be worthwhile. Ecclesiastes is a very profitable book of the Bible because it teaches all men the value of living according to God’s commands.

Do adult children have to honor their “bad” parents?

Child abuse and neglect are widespread problems in our nation. Many adults today grew up in households where one or both parents did not parent as they ought. The Bible commands children to honor their parents. In situations of abuse or neglect this becomes a very difficult command to obey.

The fifth of the ten commandments says, “Honor thy father and mother.” This command is repeated for modern day Christians in Ephesians 6. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for teaching a tradition that justified not honoring parents. The Bible clearly expects children to honor their parents.

To honor someone is to highly value them and to treat them in a way that shows they are valued. This is not the same as obedience. Obedience does what it is told. Honor treats the parent with respect appropriate to their position. Honor will not mock, will not call names, will not yell and will not hate. Proverbs 23:22 says, “Hearken unto thy father that begat thee, and despise not thy mother when she is old.”

Young children or those still be supported by their parents are not the only ones required to honor their parents. Honor is owed the parent even when the child supports them. A child never reaches an age when he does not owe honor to his parents. In New Testament times some Jews would dedicate all their possessions to God. The tradition of the Pharisees allowed the person to continue to use those things for himself. If a parent had a need the child could refuse to meet that need because his possessions had been dedicated to the Lord. This pious sounding selfishness overthrew the fifth commandment. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for this teaching, “Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.” (Matthew 15:6)

Jesus taught that adult children were under obligation to honor their parents. Even children with their own households and possessions are obligated to honor their parents. This implies, as well, that ensuring older parents are properly cared for is an essential part of honoring them. Giving to parents that have need is the obligation of any child. Refusing to care for parents is a refusal to honor them.

Is it appropriate to treat abusive, foolish or bad parents with respect, value and compassion? The Bible gives no exceptions to the command to honor father and mother. A similar instruction is given to Christians, commanding them to honor all governmental authorities. Most of the New Testament was written durign the reign of Nero who has gone down in history as one of Rome’s most infamous Caesars. Yet, the New Testament clearly teaches that Christian’s are to honor their rulers.

Despite the many corrupt rulers in the Roman Empire, no exceptions were given to this command. Honor is given to civil authorities because they are given their rule by God for the good of all men. In similar fashion, parents are entrusted by God with the care of their children. Honor is due them for their position and their responsibility. Parents will not always act respectably, but they must always be valued because they are your parents.

Will children be raptured?

The doctrine of the rapture is believed by many Christians, including many of the most popular preachers on television and radio. Despite false teachers who insist on predicting the date of something the Bible specifically says cannot be predicted (Matthew 25:13), the rapture is a Biblical idea. The rapture is a coming event where Jesus takes all believers off the earth. When the rapture happens, all the redeemed, living and dead, will be taken from the earth directly to heaven. One question raised about the rapture concerns the fate of infants and children. Will they be taken or left behind? This is a particularly important question for those who believe the rapture will take place before the Tribulation, a seven year period of great turmoil and suffering on the earth.

The Bible does not say anything about the age of those of who will be raptured. Scripture says those in Christ will be taken up to be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17) All children who believe and are saved will be raptured. What about those too young to believe the gospel? Because the Bible does not say anything about the fate of those too young to believe, great care must be taken in giving an answer. Dogmatic certainty must be avoided.

The argument for the rapture of young children is based upon the idea of childhood innocence. The teaching that babies who die go to heaven is based upon a concept of innocence. Innocence, in this context, does not mean young children do not sin. Innocence does not teach that young children were not born under the curse of Adam. Instead, because a child is unable to understand and respond to the gospel God views that child as innocent until she comes to a point of being able to reject the gospel. This is often called the age of accountability. This teaching is based upon passages like Deuteronomy 1:39 which says, “your children . . . had no knowledge between good and evil” and Jeremiah 19:4 which describes children as “innocent”. If these innocent ones go to heaven, why would they not be raptured when Jesus returns?

The rapture of the church and the death of a child are different in one significant area. Missing the rapture does not eliminate the opportunity to be saved. Those who live through the Tribulation will have opportunity to repent and believe Jesus. Those who die in infancy never have this chance. The only clear statement about the identity of those raptured is that those who are in Christ will be caught up to meet Him. Children, though protected by God, are not yet in Christ. This author’s opinion is that infants and unsaved children will not be taken in the rapture, but many of these children will have opportunity to believe Jesus before He establishes His kingdom.

Ultimately no definite answer can be given. Regardless of whether young children are raptured or left, we can be confident that God’s actions are always right. “All His ways are just.” (Deuteronomy 32:4)

Why did the Israelites offer sacrifices?

From the time the tabernacle was built until the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., the Israelites regularly offered animal sacrifices to God. The number of sacrifices made is staggering. Every day two lambs were offered, one in the morning and one in the evening. The Israelites were commanded to bring trespass offerings to the temple anytime someone sinned against God or his neighbor. If a Jew became unclean by touching an unclean thing, by having an unclean disease, by having an unclean sore or by doing one of the many things that made him unclean he was to bring a sacrifice to the Lord to be made clean. The Bible gives no record of how many sacrifices were offered each day, but if even a small fraction of a percentage of the millions of Israelites brought a sacrifice each day, then hundreds or thousands of sacrifices were made every day. On the day of passover, one lamb was sacrificed for every family in Israel. Tens of thousands of sacrifices were made on that one day alone.

To modern sensibilities this seems cruel, or worse. The temple was practically a slaughterhouse. The sacrifices were required by God for a specific and special purpose. The sacrificial system gave a constant reminder of the consequences of sin. Killing animals is disturbing. That is the point. Man was meant to be disturbed by his sin. God required the Jews to make sacrifice to Him because the killing of animals was a continual reminder of the wages of sin. “But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year.” (Hebrews 10:3)

From the very beginning (Genesis 3:21) the shedding of blood was required to cover sin. “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission.” (Hebrews 9:27) When God gave Adam and Eve the command to not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, He warned them that if they disobeyed they would die. God provided animal sacrifices as a covering for sin.

Though the sacrifices covered sin, they could never take it away. “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:4) The sacrifices of the Old Testament were a foreshadowing, a picture ahead of time, of the sacrifice that would come which would be able to take away sin. Animals sacrifices pointed ahead to the only One who could be a full substitute for sin. The sacrifices were a picture of a promised deliverer who would wash away sin. The sacrifices showed the wages of sin and pointed to the One who would take away sin forever. “But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God.” “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:12, 14)

What is the soul?

What makes a person a person? The Bible says a person is a being comprised of several distinct, yet related parts. The greatest command says, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” (Matthew 22:37) A person is to love God with all his soul.

Scripture speaks of the soul over 400 times. The first time is in Genesis 2:7. When God breathed the breath of life into ma, man became a living soul. He became a living being. The first mention of the soul reveals that it is the life principle of a person. The soul is that which makes the body alive. When the soul departs, the body dies.

The soul is more than life. Soul is used to describe the personality, desires, intelligence, feelings and natural talents of the person. The Bible does not draw neat distinctions between the various parts of a person. The organs of a man can be easily distinguished and divided from one another. The nature of man is not so easily divided. Man has a heart, a mind, a will, a soul, a spirit, and a body. All these, and others, are interwoven together in such a way that we cannot readily distinguish where the soul leaves off and another part begins. Essentially, the soul is the part of a person that makes him who he is. Charles Ryrie said, “Soul can mean the whole person alive or after death. It can designate the immaterial part of a person with its many feelings and emotions.”

The soul is not discoverable by medical tests. An MRI or CAT scan will not reveal the soul. Nonetheless, the soul is a real part of man. The working of the soul is seen in the self-realization of a person. The ability to identify one’s self as a living being, distinct from others and from God is a result of having a soul. The ability to identify one’s self as something other than the body is evidence that man possesses an immaterial part, a soul.

Though the soul is different from the body, it is not disconnected from the body. The body and soul are directly related to one another. What affects one affects the other. A tired person tends to get angry more easily. A depressed person tends to feel tired. Man is a creature both physical and spiritual. We must not disregard the interaction between the soul and the body.

At death the soul is separated from the body. The soul immediately enters heaven or hell. Consciousness remains(Luke 16:19-31), but the person is not a whole being. This is why the Christian looks forward to the resurrection when the soul and body are reunited.

Man is a living soul who will have an eternal existence somewhere. Those who do not believe Jesus will suffer eternal, conscious torment separated forever from God. Those who trust Christ for salvation will enjoy eternal delight with Him.