Is Sin Inherited?

You shall not make for yourself a carved image – any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments (Exodus 20:4-6, NKJV, emphasis added).

At first glance, it would seem that sin – the transgression of God’s holy laws “(1 John 3:4), such as that quoted above – is transmitted from one generation to another, apparently by heredity. But this poses a number of questions, not the least of which is finding the genes, if any, that would be responsible for such generational transmission.

A timely and ongoing question is: Is homosexuality [same-sex orientation and behavior] hereditary? Is there a “gay gene?” You can search Google for scientific (or pseudo-scientific?) studies on this subject, and come away with a conclusion ranging from highly tentative to absolutely negative!

Without directly saying so, the Roman Catholic Church has a dogmatic or doctrinal statement of the supposed hereditary nature of sin. This is famously found in the Roman Catholic teaching on the supposed “immaculate conception” of the Jewish virgin Mary, the human mother of Jesus Christ. The RC Church has had to come up with this tenet to try to prove that Jesus was not sinless if He had been borne by a sinful woman – if indeed Mary was not “immaculate” or freed from the stain that all of mankind has inherited from our fallen first parents Adam and Eve, who supposedly committed the “original sin.”[On the matter of “original sin,” see: “Your Eyes Will Be Opened!” and Two Goats Together, especially the section captioned “Satan the father – or author — of sin?” See also: Click ENTER HERE, select “Books & Booklets,” and scroll down to the booklet titled “HUMAN NATURE– Did God Create It?”]

If indeed Mary was immaculately conceived and therefore sinless, would this make her an exception to the apostle Paul’s famous inspired statement “For ALL have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) – all, that is, except Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:21-22; 2 Corinthians 5:21)? Jesus was the “lamb of God” without blemish that was sacrificed for the sin of the whole world (John 1:39) – for our forgiveness or redemption from sin’s penalty, death (Romans 6:23) [see: The Redeemed of the LORD]. As someone pointed out, Jesus’ being without sin was not the product of Mary’s supposed “immaculate conception” but by the fact that He was the very Son of the holy and perfect God the Father. [See: The True Christ.]

How does sin come to human beings?

As explained in the above-cited booklet on human nature, every human sin has someone in the equation who entices and seduces people to sin – Satan the devil, the great tempter (|Matthew 4:3; 1 Timothy 3:5|).  Our first parents sinned because Satan had convinced them [Eve first, then she, Adam] to disobey God’s one prohibition in the Garden of Eden. Paul calls Satan “the prince of the power of the air” who works in “the sons of disobedience, among whom we all conducted ourselves in the lusts of the flesh” (Ephesians 2:2-3).  [See:  Where Did the Devil Come From?]

James 1:12, 14-15 says: “Blessed is the man who endures temptation…. each one is tempted when he is drawn away [from God’s way] by his own desires [KJV, “lusts”] and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”

Part of the equation of sin is the influence of a sinful society [the “world”] on our sinful flesh — our tendency to sin [see: Is There Ever Any Good in Man?]. Every human baby is like how David said of himself: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5).  This is not to say that sin is inherited.  Rather,  it shows that since all parents are sinful |(Romans 3:23), every child, from the womb, absorbs the sounds and impressions of a sinful environment. A human fetus is not totally insensate nor is it unable to perceive! Knowing this, some parents talk to their unborn babies in loving tones and terms. Some even play classical music around the unborn baby so it will later grow up appreciating and desiring this type of music.

While growing up a child learns by imitating the voices and actions of those around him. As a saying goes, “Children are great imitators.” That is why proper parental example, as well as parental teaching,  is vitally important. The environment a child grows up in plays an important role in shaping his attitudes and behavior. [See:]

Aside from attitudes and behavior being thus “caught,” they can – and must – be taught. God’s word definitely commands parents: “Teach them [God’s statutes and judgments] to your children and your grand-children. . . that they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on earth” (Deuteronomy 4:8-10). “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). [Go back to the above-cited armstrong link,  and scroll down to the booklet titled “The Plain Truth About Child Rearing.”]

Some parents are guilty of saying to their children, “Do as I say, not as I do!” Children are more likely to follow or imitate what their parents do than what parents simply say. If children lack such righteous parental examples, they can look to the righteous examples of others in their community or society. “Remember those who rule over you [pastors and ministers of Christ] who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct (Hebrews 13:7).

Since the advent of the internet and social media providers, parents have faced a challenge to their teaching and instructing children in the right values. Parents must be pro-active in filtering out what moral garbage their children might be viewing or listening to in the social media. [See:]

Because all have sinned and have earned sin’s penalty [death in the “lake of fire” (Romans 6:23; Revelation 20:8)], God calls on us all to repent (Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 3:19-21) – to turn from following Satan’s way of sin, to following God’s perfect way of righteousness, as embodied in God’s law and commandments (Psalm 119:172), and to accept with faith Christ’s sacrifice on the cross to pay for the penalty our sins. That is how we are forgiven of our sins and are saved from eternal damnation. Through such mercy of God, He will no longer “visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the third and fourth generation,” who will thus learn to love God and keep His commandments.

Jesus Christ had a number of sinful ancestors [Rahab the harlot or prostitute, King David the adulterer and murderer, David’s descendants, who had their own share of sin (Matthew 1:1-14)]. Their sin, however, did not affect Christ’s moral purity, any more than His mother Mary’s sin did! God’s teaching on this is very clear: “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself” (Ezekiel 18:20).

This month of December, as the world celebrates what is historically and Biblically the wrong date of Christ’s birth [again revisit the Armstrong link, and scroll down to the booklet titled “The Plain Truth About Christmas”], people should appreciate the stirring message of their favorite carol “Joy to the World.” The rarely-sung third stanza goes: “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow, far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found, far as, far as the curse is found.”

The curse of sin and death is gone because “God so loved the world that He gave us His only begotten Son [Jesus], that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).  Thus God will no longer visit our parents’ iniquity and curse, on the third and fourth generation, but will show mercy to all who love Him and keep His commandments.  All glory be to God!


Pedro R. Meléndez, Jr.