Who Sinned Is the Wrong Question


Lamentations 5:7 says, “Our fathers sinned, and are no more; and we bear their iniquities.”

This verse says that the fathers sinned. But, the fathers are no more, they have died. However, without saying anything about the children sinning, the children bear the iniquities of the fathers’ sins.

The question of sin, parents, and children and who bears guilt and who suffers consequences is a significant question for many people. For some, this question has kept them from coming to God altogether.

Why is this question so difficult?

Because the Bible, even within the same book, seemingly gives different answers. For example, Deuteronomy seems to say two different things.

Deuteronomy 5:9-10 says, “For I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

Deuteronomy 24:16 says, “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.”

Or, take a look at Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 32:18 says, “But you repay the guilt of fathers to their children after them, O great and mighty God, whose name is the Lord of hosts.”

Jeremiah 31:29-30 says, “In those days they shall no longer say: ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ But everyone shall die for his own iniquity. Each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge.”

So, out of curiosity, I did a google search to see what others say about these contradictions. I read through all the articles on the first page of the search results.

Most of the articles said there is no contradiction in the Bible about the question of sin, parents, children. These articles cited the verses in Deuteronomy and pointed to the fact that in one case God was talking about the children suffering as a result of the parents’ iniquity or sin (Deuteronomy 5:9-10) while in the other case God was talking about each individual bearing the guilt, being put to death, for their own sin (Deuteronomy 24:16).

That is what these verses are saying. So, there is some truth in this. Children do suffer from the bad decisions of their parents. But, not just children. All sorts of people suffer from the bad decisions we make. And, it is true that we each bear the guilt or responsibility of our own decisions.

However, this does not address the two passages in Jeremiah. Both of these passages are addressing the bearing the guilt, the consequence of death, of sin. One says God will repay the guilt of parents on children and the other says each person bears their own guilt. This is clearly a contradiction.

Further, these articles failed to adequately address the idea that God will visit the iniquity of parents on children or repay the guilt of parents on children. All of these articles took for granted that God causes the consequences of sin – illness, famine, war, destruction, and, most significantly, death – or makes children bear the guilt of sin.

Basically, these are articles are attempting to answer the wrong question. And, if you try to answer the wrong question, then you will get the wrong answer.

Why are these articles attempting to answer the wrong question?

They are trying to use the Old Testament to interpret the Old Testament. Jesus specifically says we should do not this. In John 5:39-40, Jesus says, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they they bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” Search the scriptures. Interpret the Old Testament by the Old Testament all you want. But, Jesus says it won’t give you life. You have to go to him for that.

Interpreting the Old Testament with the Old Testament is like me trying to use a dirty mirror to tell if my face is dirty. Pretty tough to do.

Also, in 2 Corinthians 3 and 4, Paul says that there is a veil over the Old Testament. That veil is only removed through Jesus Christ crucified. So, if you don’t read the Old Testament through the lens of Jesus Christ crucified, then you are still reading the Old Testament with the veil over top of it.

Therefore, in 2 Corinthians 4:4, Paul said, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” In other words, if you do not read the Old Testament through the lens of Jesus Christ crucified, then you cannot see the light of the gospel in it and it will not lead you to life. You will remain blinded by the veil over the Old Testament.

Hence, Jesus said in Matthew 15:14, “Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

So, in some of the most popular articles that attempt to answer the significant question of sin, parents, and children, they hardly every turn to the New Testament for light. And, even more significantly, only one of the articles brought up Jesus in any significant way.

There are two things that sadden me about this.

First, Jesus is the perfect revelation of God and the only one we should turn to for answers to our questions about what God is like.

John 1:18 says, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”

“He is the image of the invisible God,” says Colossians 1:15.

And, Hebrews 1:1-3 says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.”

Second, Jesus directly addressed the question of sin, parents, and children. The Jews knew these contradictions existed for hundreds of years before Jesus appeared on the scene. So, they asked Jesus about the very question that we are still asking today – “Who sinned, the parents or the children?”

If only we would just listen to what Jesus said. In effect, he said, “You are asking the wrong question.”

“As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” – John 9:1-3

The disciples asked Jesus the question “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” because they were still struggling with the contradictions of the Old Testament. They wanted and need to know the cause of this man’s blindness. Whose sin brought it about?

Jesus answered by saying that was not the question they should be asking. Instead of asking whose sin brought about the man’s blindness (and it could have been any other illness or tragedy), the disciples should have been looking for the works, the glory of God, to be revealed.

Further, Jesus is not saying that God struck this only blind only for Jesus to heal him decades later. That would be a sick and perverse God to serve. We saw above in 2 Corinthians 4 that it is Satan brings blindness, whether physical or spiritual. And, it is God that heals blindness. Jesus never once caused someone to be blind, but he opened the eyes of many everywhere he went.

My friend Richard Murray has written an excellent interpretation of this passage in John 9 here. See the answer to question 42.

So, when we ask the wrong question, we are going to get the wrong answer. We typically ask the wrong questions and get the wrong questions because we focus on the Old Testament, which is a muddied and incomplete revelation of God. But, when we look through the lens of Christ crucified, then we being to ask the right questions. And, Jesus then gives us the right answers. And, those right answers are always the glory of God being revealed.

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