Corporate Sin

During the reign of David, there was a famine for three successive years; so David sought the face of the Lord. The Lord said, “It is on account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death.”
— 2 Samuel 21:1

Lets just get right to the main issue here (since we see above that all Israel was suffering a famine because of the previous government's sin, that is Saul's attempted genocide of the Gibeonites): can you suffer consequences, be held responsible on some level, or even be punished for someone else’s sin?  

We have to wrestle with Deuteronomy 24:16 which states that "Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin."

But also: (if we break the second commandment...idols) "for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me." (Ex 20:5, Deut 5:9) This is seen in the life of king David where his sin with Bathsheba was felt in the lives of his children.

Also: Ezekiel 18:1 “The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel:“ ‘The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? 3“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. 4For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die.”

Have we complicated the issue enough for you?  Now for an answer.

Generally speaking...we definitely can receive consequences from others’ sins, that is a given...but as a rule no one dies for someone else’s sins. However, there seems to be an exception to this rule in Scripture: when your “Federal Head” (A “Federal Head” can be a parent, government, ancestor, or some other leader or organization to whom you have submitted) has acted on your behalf and you do nothing to reverse it or deal with it, then culpability (and consequences!) can come upon you. The prime example in scripture are Adam and original sin.

The Japanese understand this concept of group identification very much, if you ask a Japanese person “What do you do?” They will say something like, “I work for the Toyota Automotive Company” , “yes but what do you do?” Then they will stare at you at like “what kind of question is that?” An American will say something like "I am a software engineer" and what company you work for is almost irrelevant unless it is a very well known company.

Leviticus 4:13-21 also speaks of the corporate sins of the people and how they were to make an offering for those sins.  “Now if the whole congregation of Israel commits error, and the matter escapes the notice of the assembly, and they commit any of the things which the Lord has commanded not to be done, and they become guilty, when the sin which they have committed becomes known, then the assembly shall offer a bull of the herd for a sin offering, and bring it before the tent of meeting.”

This furthermore aligns with the Mosaic codes assigning different levels of guilt and responsibility. If an ox gores someone and it is the first time and the owner was not there and did not know about, they are free from direct guilt, but the ox had to be stoned. But if it had a history of goring and the owner does not properly secure it, then the owner is directly guilty if the ox gores someone else.  There are different levels of guilt based on knowledge and responsibility.

Contemporary examples are group discipline in parenting, a child hitting a car with a rock and the parent having to pay to have it fixed, or if your father stole a ring from the next door neighbor and then gave it to you, you should give it back, even though it is going to cost you. You see, it is more subtle, but it is there in Western Modern Culture as well. Eastern culture (and ancient culture) accepts this idea more readily. So we have to realize that sometimes our current environment and context shape our thinking and so we have to let the Bible shape us, not the other way around.  Being Cleansed From the Sins of Corporate Responsibility happens as we confess, repent and turn to Christ!

In Prayer Today:

Ask God to cleanse you from any corporate sin you may realize you are involved with, and seek to keep yourself clear of such entanglements in the future.