Saturday, April 26, 2008

Misuse of Ezekiel 18, especially Ezekiel 18:20


It seems that the most frequently cited passage against original sin is probably Ezekiel 18:20.

Ezekiel 18:20 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.

Taken out of context, this verse might seem quite helpful to the position against Original Sin. Once we read it in context, though, such a view of the verse collapses, for the verse is part of a larger rhetorical message, namely, if you repent, you will be saved - regardless of the sins of your parents or children. We'll see that now, as we turn to the text.


The chapter is a response to the Jewish (extra-Scriptural) proverb, "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge." The proverb is a challenge to God's fairness. In essence, the proverb is the complaining proverb a people suffering for their sins, but seeking to place the blame elsewhere. God responds to this proverb by telling the people that they should not make excuses: if they will repent, they will be saved.

Detailed Exegesis

By the "sour grapes" proverb, the people are, in essence, saying that they have done everything right, but God is still punishing them, because their fathers were wicked. We can see that this is not something unique to the Jews of Ezekiel's day:

Matthew 23:29-32
29Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, 30And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. 31Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. 32Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.

You see the Pharisees, like their physical and spiritual ancestors were outwardly religious. They condemned their fathers - but they were not really any better. They did not have the prophets, but they let the greatest prophet of all, John the Baptist, be beheaded. They did not have Isaiah, but they had him of whom Isaiah prophesied, and they slew him.

In fact, they were not right with God. They may have blamed their fathers for the Roman occupation, but they did not deserve better, and they and their children were punished for their sin by the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

The gist of the proverbs seems to be a comparison to a situation in which a child is born deformed, on account of the father eating bad grapes before conceiving the child. Thus, the child is punished with bad teeth because of the father's bad judgment, or perhaps even his simple mistake.

The underlying theme is that this is unfair. Why should a child be punished for something someone else did? The human mind, full of autonomy (in Ezekiel's day, in Jesus' day, and in our day), doesn't like the idea of responsibility that is outside an individual's control.

God answers to Israel saying that will "not have occasion any more to use this proverb."

He begins by relying on his sovereignty: "All souls are mine," God says, "equally the soul of the father and of the child." God does not stop there but continues, "the soul that sins shall die."

This is God's rhetorical comprise to the complainers. He tells them up front that he can do what he wants with the souls of men - with their lives. The are all his. He has decreed that those who sin will die. This is his right as Creator.

In verses 5-9, God describes a hypothetical righteous man. This righteous man obeys God's law down to even the ceremonial details of not sleeping with his wife during her period. He does everything right, and God says that such a man will live.

Then, in verses 10-13, God describes a hypothetical son of the righteous man. This son does not follow in his father's footsteps. Instead, this son is a robber, a murderer, and an adulterer. He does do everything right - in fact he does everything wrong, and God says that such a man will surely die.

Finally, in verses 14-17, God describes a hypothetical son of the wicked man. This son does not follow in his father's footsteps. Instead, he repents of his father's sins ("seeth all his father's sins which he hath done, and considereth, and doeth not such like") and lives righteously. God says that such a son will live, and that God will not punish such a son for the iniquity of the wicked father.

In verse 18, God clarifies that nevertheless the father who was wicked will nevertheless die for his iniquity. In other words, his righteous son will not redeem the father's wickedness.

But the people are very stubborn. They ask, "Why? doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father?" The think they are very clever, because they remember the law:

Exodus 34:7 Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.

But they do not understand God's point. So, God answers them: "When the son hath done that which is lawful and right, and hath kept all my statutes, and hath done them, he shall surely live." God's point is to convict the complaining people of their sin.

God even goes further. He offers the people a morality of pure individualism: "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. "

It is as though God says, "Oh, so you want to be considered on your own individual merits: fine, let it be so." It's to their condemnation, not their justification.

God explains further that He will even go further and permit repentance: "But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live."

Notice the parallel to the first situation. In the first situation, the person has a wicked father, but he lives righteously, and God lets him live. In the second situation, the person is himself wicked, but he repents, and God lets him live.

You see, if God will turn aside judgment from those who repent, then it does not matter that the father sinned. If a person will repent (see what his father did and do otherwise - or see what he himself has done and do otherwise) he will live.

God completes his thought regarding the acceptability of repentance for life with this comment (which has itself often been misunderstood): "Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?"

What God is saying is that he has not ruled out repentance - that the fact that the wages of sin are death, and that children bear the iniquities of their fathers, these facts do not make God out to be a God who simply wants men to sin and die. No, God has permitted life even for sinners, through repentance.

That this is what God means can be seen not only from the context above, but from God's own explanation by comparison: "But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die."

God provides a comparison: if a wicked man repents he will live, and if a righteous man apostatizes, he will die.

But the people still refuse to acknowledge God's justice. They say, "The way of the Lord is not equal." This is a serious and indeed blasphemous charge against God. Note that "not equal" is the etymological root of "iniquity." They are basically charging God with sin.

God responds with justified indignation: "O house of Israel; Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal?" God convicts the people of Israel of sin. He is righteous, they are sinners.

Again, the people say, "The way of the Lord is not equal."
And again, God replies: "Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal?"

God then repeats essentially the same thing he just said. First, if a righteous man apostacizes, he will die: "When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die." Second, if a wicked man repents, he will live: "Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive. Because he considereth, and turneth away from all his transgressions that he hath committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die."

Again, a third time the people say, "The way of the Lord is not equal."
And again, God replies: "Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal?"

So, God gives them one last chance to repent, and he makes clear that this what he is offering, regardless of their fathers' sins, regardless of their own sins, and yet - in doing so - he reveals the missing link in the chain:

"Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye."

Did you notice what is the missing link in their chain? "Make you a new heart and a new spirit." That's what they need - something they cannot provide for themselves.


We have seen that the passage is talking about repentance, and how inherited guilt is no bar to repentance. We may still repent and live - and that God has provided the opportunity for repentance. On the other hand, we have also learned that repentance requires a drastic change in a person. A change of heart. As we learn from other parts of Ezekiel (and other parts of the Bible), that's something God does:

Ezekiel 11:19 And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh:

Ezekiel 36:26 A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.

Thus, we pray with the Psalmist:

Psalm 51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

That is a prayer to be prayed by anyone who finds himself in sin - prayer for a repentant and contrite heart, so that we may turn from our sins and live.



NJH said...

Actually, within context it is still a definitive statement that the idea of "Original Sin" is irrelevant and not Biblical--nor is Original Sin in-line with Christ's teachings, especially the Sermon on the Mount. This passage does not have to do with repenting via but rather to do with changing one's actions from sinful ones to pious ones. It says those who act in righteousness will be granted life, and those who sin will die. It shows that surely God is just and fair and would not hold a man accountable for his forefather's (Adam's) transgressions. The doctrine of Original Sin does not hold true with messages such as these placed en masse throughout the Old and New Testaments.

turretinfan said...


What is the second commandment?

Why did David's son from Bathsheba die?


NJH said...

The generations bearing the sins of the previous in this is clearly to do with the fact that our sins negatively impact others as well as ourselves, which is why they are sins, they are harmful and unwholesome. People misinterpreting this is the entire reason for God being so displeased and addressing the idea of inherited sin in Ezekiel Ch. 18. Otherwise, how could Jesus tell us in the Sermon on the Mount that if we Forgive than we are forgiven? That if we follow God's law then we will see the kingdom of heaven, and how could Paul say such things as, "Make no mistake: God is not mocked, for a person will reap only what he sows,"

If you want to be like the Pharisee's and defend ideologies while ignoring the spirit of the law then Jesus was addressing you when he said, "why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?"

Christ declares,
“Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?' Then I will declare to them solemnly, 'I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.'”

And James addresses the idea that it is not in blind belief, but in works that we are redeemed,
"What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,' but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Indeed someone might say, 'You have faith and I have works.' Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works. You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble. Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless?"

Also, let it be known in 1 John who is truly righteous and begotten in the Lord,
“If you consider that he is righteous, you also know that everyone who acts in righteousness is begotten by him.”
“Children, let no one deceive you. The person who acts in righteousness is righteous, just as he is righteous.”

You will continue to divide men amongst themselves with your creeds and your worldly doctrines which Paul declares is one of the works of the flesh in Galatians--but God's law is universal and eternal, "Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets."

turretinfan said...

People misinterpreting what? and what was their misinterpretation? Try to answer my questions.

NJH said...

I am sorry, perhaps you do not understand--if you cannot see the truth, maybe all that I can do is pray that God will open your eyes to it. May you be happy and blessed. I pray that you, and all those your life impacts, are drawn to follow the will of God--Christ's message of selflessness and love. May those who seek refuge in God, find refuge in God and his eternal law. May those who seek refuge in the church of this world ,and its divisive doctrines, turn their face to the truth. One is a refuge of righteousness, eternal and unchanging--the other is of this world, full of condemnation and divisions, and will surely pass away. May the message of Christ reach the hearts of all beings.

turretinfan said...

The problem, NJH, is that you don't have a Biblical view of God. That's why you have trouble answering the simple questions I pose.

Seamus Nellum said...

The sour grapes begins with Genesis 3:12. The first dysfunctional family.

David said...

David's son was not guilty of David's sin.

Anonymous said...

James is not telling us that "in works we are redeemed" (as you put it). Rather, he is showing the character of true faith versus phony faith - repentance. I'm afraid that in James, 1 John, and all the other passages you quote to try and make your point, you have put the cart before the horse. We are not saved based on 'our own righteousness', but we are saved because of the righteousness of Christ (see Romans 5). You see, we do not choose to do good so that we may be righteous, God makes us righteous and gives us a new heart (see Ezekiel 11 passage Turretin sites in this article). In short, God makes Christians, we do not make ourselves.

Petre said...

"Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die.”

The child of David died as punishment for David's sins. But the child did not die because he was guilty of his father's sins, nor does this passage teach the child was in sin. In fact it says nothing about the child's eternal condition. Because the child died cannot be translated that the child was in sin, or bore the guilt of his father.

We have missed the point of Ezekiel 18.
1) the soul who sins shall die ...
babies dont sin
2) the son shall not suffer the iniquity of the father ...
well from one perspective, i can see the confusion, yes the child suffered the consequences of David... and a lot of people may say the child must have died because the child was in sin... but this is incorrect. There are two types of death, physical and spiritual. Ezekiel 18 is about the spiritual death, therefore the statement, "the son does not suffer the iniquity of the father", the child does not suffer eternal punishment because of David's sin evn though he suffered physical death