Original Research

Exodus 20:5 in light of the teaching on retribution in the neo-Pentecostal churches in Nigeria

Solomon O. Ademiluka
In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi | Vol 57, No 1 | a2958 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ids.v57i1.2958 | © 2023 Solomon O. Ademiluka | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 29 March 2023 | Published: 18 December 2023

About the author(s)

Solomon O. Ademiluka, Department of Biblical and Ancient Studies, College of Human Sciences, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa; and Department of Religious Studies, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Kogi State University, Anyigba, Nigeria


The idea of God punishing children for the sins of their parents in Exodus 20:5 sounds contrary to divine justice as represented in the Old Testament (OT). However, despite the apparent contradiction, strands of Christianity have continued to hold the view of retribution in Exodus. In Nigeria, it is reflected in the teaching on breaking generational curses in the neo-Pentecostal churches. This article has critically examined Exodus 20:5 as a basis for this doctrine, employing the historical-critical and descriptive methods. Contrary to the claim by some scholars that the doctrine of collective responsibility in Exodus 20:5 contradicts individual retribution that is found in Ezekiel and Jeremiah, this article found that these prophets express collective responsibility when they attribute the exile to the sins of the ancestors. Moreover, the belief in corporate responsibility continued to be held among the Jews after the exile. The teaching on generational curses in Nigeria is partly a reflection of the continuing influence of Exodus 20:5. This article concluded, however, that deducing the doctrine of generational curses from the Exodus text fails to take cognisance of the folkloristic character of Exodus. Given this character, the words visiting the iniquity of parents upon the children are those of the narrator, and not of God.

Contribution: Contributing to the scholarly discourse on the notion of inherited punishment in Exodus 20:5, this article postulates that it is hermeneutically incorrect to base the belief in generational curses on this text.


retributive theology; the sin of the fathers; individual and collective responsibility; the biblical narrator, generational curses

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions


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