Sins of the Fathers
Updated: Oct 8
Scripture alludes to an astonishing concept that man's free will - our choices - impact our children even in a hereditary sense. In Romans, Paul makes it clear that sin is hereditary in its consequences when he said that through Adam, all men die (Rom 5:12-21). Genesis also alludes to the hereditary nature of sin and its consequences via the seed of males as the prophetic passage in Genesis 3:15 tells of the seed of the woman bruising the head of the serpent. So according to scripture, through Adam, not Eve, all of mankind has sinned. This would seem to imply that men pass something more than just genetics to their children- that is through the fathers that the moral consequences of free will are inherited. This is why Jesus had to be born of a virgin- He could not inherit the sin nature (or even consequences) of Adam, He had to start with a clean slate in order to be the spotless lamb who could choose to atone for our sin. Being born of a woman was not a problem, but being born of the lineage of Adam was. Exodus 20:5 also alludes to this concept when it states that the iniquity of the fathers effect the children even three and four generations down the family tree. Now this particular passage is often cited as a proof text for the concept of generational curses being passed down through the family tree spiritually and requires special breaking via prayer in order for the children or grandchildren to be set free. That concept doesn't appear to have much biblical support as even the Exodus 20:5 passage makes it clear that the consequences of generational sin pertains to those who hate God, not those who love Him. Believers have already been set free from the curse of sin dating clear back to Adam, so it doesn't make much sense that we would need to separately deal with shorter-running generational curses. But the Exodus passage does certainly pertain to those under the full consequences of sin- those who are spiritual descendants of the first Adam, rather than of the second Adam (1 Co 15:45-47).
Incredibly, recent scientific studies seem to support this biblical concept. In a recent article in the New York Times titled Parents May Pass Down More than Genes, Study Suggests, scientists have found that the sperm cells of males actually alter genetic expressions as a result of the father's choices. This is not neo-Lamarckism, a disproven evolutionary theory where acquired characteristics are passed down to the next generation. No matter how many generations you cut the tails off mice, the offspring will still have tails. But while a sperm cell houses a father's contribution of DNA to his children, it also regulates that DNA via a swarm of molecules called epigenetic factors. No new DNA information is created (Lamarckism), but current traits present in the genetic code can be regulated- ie: be turned on or off. In other words, according to the study, male test subjects who were given a high fat diet produced sperm cells with epigenetic factors which negatively influenced appetite control in their offspring. The study of DNA has been a well-spring of new information and revelations for science and it would be pretty safe to say that we've only started to scratch the surface of what these incredibly complex information systems have to reveal. As Greek-thinking Westerners, we have a tendency to separate the physical from the spiritual if not write off the spiritual altogether. But what exactly is sin? It's obviously the abuse of God-given free will according to the Bible, but is it a moral, philosophical concept, a spiritual element or a physical attribute? It would appear it is all of the above and it therefore has philosophical, theological and physical implications and consequences. Christians have long recognized physical death as a direct consequence of sin (Rom 6:23) but if sin brought about death through the lineage and seed of Adam, it would make sense to have done so by physically altering our epigenetic factors. If then, believers are redeemed from the curse of sin and become of the lineage of Jesus, are there physical ramifications as well as spiritual ones as far reaching as genetic factors? As science continues to explore and discover, the inner workings of God's creation and sin's effect on it might astonish us all.