Dr. Gary S. Greig
Associate Professor of Old Testament
Prayer involving identificational repentance and/or confession of corporate sin, is being questioned by certain evangelicals. They consider it at best to be controversial and at worst to be unsupported in the New Testament. I would like to address the principle objections to identificational repentance.
As a seminary professor who teaches Old Testament, I would like to offer the core of biblical evidence I believe supports and instructs the Church to pray this way as we attempt to complete the Great Commission and draw nearer to the end of the ages which Jesus foretold in Mat. 24:14.
OBJECTIONS AND ANSWERS FROM THE BIBLE
Objection 1. Isn't it a heavy burden for someone to have to be responsible to confess not only their own sins but also to wade through and confess the sins of their parents and grandparents or their church or their nation?
First, Scripture indicates that when we confess sins, we are not on our own supposed to wade through any list of sins, whether our own personal sins or corporate and generational sins. Philippians 3:12-15, in which Paul says that God will reveal to the Philippians any incorrect thinking or attitudes in their lives, suggests it is God who enables the process of sanctification in our lives. Psalm 139:23-24 "Search me, O God. . . " suggests that we, like David, need to ask God's Spirit to search us and show us our sins (Ps. 19:12-13). I John 1:7-9 shows us that it is as we walk in the light of God's presence, exposing everything to Him, that His light will expose our sins so that we can be cleansed (Jn. 3:20-21). Because I John 1:7-9's picture of walking in the light and confessing our sins to the Lord on an ongoing basis is written to believers, this shows us that God may not deal with all of our sins at once. Instead the passage suggests that God will continually reveal to us sins in our lives, whether past or present, which we need to confess and be cleansed of.
The Lord is the one who we should depend on to search us and test our hearts. We need to ask Him to show us those sins He wants us to confess and repent of at any given time. God only dealt with Peter's fear of man at the time of Christ's death and resurrection (Mk. 14:66-72; Jn. 21:15ff.). Only later did He deal with Peter's prejudice against Gentiles (Acts 10; Gal. 2:11-14).
Secondly, confessing the sins of one's parents and grandparents under the guidance of God's Spirit is not an additional burden. In my own life and in my experience of praying with and for others such prayer often is an additional way from God to unburden oneself or one's church or ministry from personal and corporate guilt, oppression, and stubbornly entrenched sin patterns.
Objection 2. Isn't identificational repentance for past sins the same as praying for the dead? Doesn't identificational repentance attempt to absolve someone else of their personal responsibility to repent and confess their personal guilt and sin?
No, identificational repentance is not praying for the dead to undergo some purgatory-like cleansing from past sin. Nor does identificational repentance absolve others in the past or present of their personal responsibility to confess their own individual sin. Identificational repentance is a means of receiving God's grace toward the one who is praying to be freed from any consequences of the sin by others, whether past or present, to which the person praying is linked in some way. Jeremiah, who declared his own commitment to the Lord and confessed his people's sins in Jer. 3:25; 14:7, 20, was spared along with his servant, Baruch, from the captivity which resulted from his people's sin (Jer. 40:1-6; 45:2-5). In Deuteronomy 21:7-9 the Israelite elders of surrounding towns would be freed from the guilt of shedding blood in the case of an unsolved murder by renouncing before the Lord any complicity in the murder and asking the Lord to forgive by means of a sacrifice the guilt of the bloodshed in their territory. They did not commit the crime but were held responsible by the Lord to confess and remit the guilt.
Identificational repentance is also a means of releasing God's grace on a corporate level to others which may move them to repent more freely of their personal sins and turn to Christ. Scripture shows us examples of this in the accounts of Jesus' prayer for his persecutors on the cross, and the prayers of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Moses for God's people and for pagans (see below discussion on remitting the corporate sins of others).
Objection 3. Is identificational repentance really biblical? Does the New Testament teach us to follow the Old Testament model of confessing corporate sin, generational sin, and national sin in addition to personal sin?
The question is really the following: Is the confession of corporate sin-which includes generational sin and national sin-still a legitimate category of confession in New Testament faith, as it was in the Old Testament? First, it should be clear from the start that we are saved not by keeping Old Testament covenantal law but by faith in Christ and the atonement of His blood for our sins (Rom. 6:14; Gal. 2:16; 5:6). But this does not mean that the deeper principles of God's character mentioned in Exo. 34:5-7 or the deeper principles of the Ten Commandments mentioned in Exo. 20:3-17 and Deut. 5:7-2 are nullified by faith in Christ. Paul emphatically teaches this: Rom. 3:31--"Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law." New Testament faith fulfills or establishes the deeper principles of Old Testament law according to Romans 8:4; 13:8.
Secondly, The Old Testament was the only Bible-the only Canon of authoritative Scripture-the New Testament Church had before the New Testament documents began to be collected in the late first century A.D. When Paul wrote in II Timothy 3:16 "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching . . . and training in righteousness" he meant "All the Old Testament is God-breathed and is useful for teaching . . . and training in righteousness." Since the Old Testament was the Bible of the early church pictured in Acts, this means that the Old Testament's view of sin and the Old Testament's model of confession was the only scriptural view of sin and model of confession the New Testament church had. New Testament passages which explicitly teach about confessing sin, James 5:16 and I John 1:9, are written against the background of the Old Testament's concept of sin and confession.
Exodus 34:5-7 and Exodus 20:5-6 and their parallel Old Testament passages (Lev. 18:25; Num. 14:18, 33; Deut. 5:9; 7:10; Isa. 65:6-7; Jer. 32:18; cf. Job 21:19; Ps. 79:8; 109:14-16) show that the heart of the Lord's character is that He shows compassion and love toward thousands of generations of those who love Him, but His holiness causes Him to visit the iniquity of parents upon their descendants to the third and fourth generation of those who hate him. Some translations are inaccurately periphrastic in rendering Exo. 20:5 and 34:7 "punishing the children for the sin of the fathers," since the Hebrew simply says "visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children"-parental sin patterns and sin guilt (Hebrew 'awon primarily denotes "iniquity, [state of] guilt," and the meaning "punishment" is a less certain secondary sense of the word) will be visited upon, repaid to (Heb., Isa. 65:6; Jer. 32:18), or measured out upon (Heb. Isa. 65:7) the children. The children will not be punished for their parents' sins but challenged and influenced by the sin-weaknesses and sin-tendencies of their parents along with any accompanying spiritual bondage. (Spiritual bondage is explicitly referred to in Hos. 4:12-13: see below.) The implicit challenge to the children in these passages (made explicit in Ezek. 18:20 and Jer. 31:29-30 which will be discussed later) is to repent and make a break with parental and generational sin rather than continue in it.
Some Old Testament scholars suggest that such transference of iniquity and guilt and the deferring of full judgment from one generation to the next is actually an expression of God's mercy. Since one generation did not overcome iniquity, full judgment would be deferred and the next generation would have a chance to repent and escape God's full judgment for the same sin. But the account of I-II Kings shows that the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were spared only so many generations before God fully judged and destroyed them. Passages like Lamentations 5:7, 16 show us that generational sin becomes entrenched at the individual level and corporate level as the younger generation enter into and commit the same sins as their parents or past leaders (see Ps. 79:8; II Kings 17:14, 22-23; 23:36-37; 24:1-4). Spiritual oppression may result from generational sin, as is taught explicitly in such passages as Hosea 4:12-13 and implicitly in the context of Exodus 20:5 and Deuteronomy 5:9. Both the latter passages comprise the second of the Ten Commandments and set the generational sin cycling principle of God's character in the framework of the sin of idolatry. Psalm 106:36-37, Hosea 4:12-13, and Deuteronomy 32:16-17 all make it clear that the Israelites understood that idolatry brought one under demonic influence. Hosea 4:12-13 actually mentions a demonic "spirit of prostitution," associated with the Baal-worship of the northern kingdom of Israel, which "answers" questions posed by worshipers (Hos. 4:12; see also II Kgs. 1:2; Isa. 19:3; I Sam. 28:8) and moves the second generation into the same or related sins (Hos. 4:13). The goal of such demonic spiritual oppression through generational sin is clear. Satan wants to neutralize believers by devouring us (I Pet. 5:8-9), taking advantage of us through his various schemes (II Cor. 2:10-11), and deceiving us so that through falling into sin we are held captive by Satan to do his will (II Tim. 2:26; II Cor. 2:10-11) rather than God's will.
The implications are, then, that we as children must resolve to resist the temptations to walk in sins of our parents, our people, and our nation. As Scripture teaches about all sin, we must submit to God and resist the devil (Jas. 4:7-8), ask God to fill us with His Spirit (Eph. 5:18), and turn away from all sin, so that we are not neutralized by Satan's influence or oppression in our lives (Eph. 4:26-27 and context; 6:10-18).
The Old Testament model of receiving forgiveness of sins is by confessing and repenting of our sins according to Prov. 28:13 ("whoever confesses and forsakes [sins] finds mercy"). In the Old Testament's view one should not confess only personal sin but also parental and national sin according to Lev. 26:38-40. Nehemiah's prayer in Neh. 1:6-9 shows that he understood that both confession and repentance are taught in the Covenantal Law codes of the Pentateuch and that both are necessarily inseparable aspects of turning away from sin and returning to the Lord.
We see the kind of confession of personal and corporate, generational sin which is prescribed in Lev. 26:40 practiced throughout Israel's history by Jeremiah (Jer. 3:25; 14:7, 20), the author who composed Ps. 106:6, and the congregation for whom it was written, by Daniel (Dan. 9:8, 20), by Ezra (Ezra 9:6-15), Nehemiah (Neh. 1:6-7), and by the restoration Jewish community of fifth century Jerusalem in Neh. 9:2. This form of prayer is part of the covenantal background of the oft-quoted promise of II Chron. 7:14: "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."
Again, as Christians we are justified before God by Christ's blood and not by observing Old Testament law according to Rom. 6:14; Gal. 2:16; 5:6. But, as Paul says in Rom. 3:31, the deeper principles of Old Testament law and the Ten Commandments are not nullified but are established by faith in Christ. We also need to understand that the New Testament offers no new framework of sin and confession apart from that found in the Old Testament. The only fundamental modification in the New Testament is that Christ is now the eternal sacrifice for all sin in place of all Old Testament sacrifices for sin (Mat. 26:28; Mk. 14:24; Lk. 22:20; Jn. 1:9; Heb. 9-10; I Jn. 2:2). Many Old Testament and New Testament scholars have pointed out that the New Testament concept of sin and the New Testament framework of public confession of personal and corporate sin pictured in such passages as I Jn. 1:9 and Jas. 5:16 is entirely shaped by the Old Testament concept of sin and confession.
This should not be surprising, since the Old Testament was the Bible of the New Testament Church and offered the only scriptural model of sin and confession available to the Early Church. Not surprisingly, references from intertestamental Jewish religious literature (Baruch 1:15-3:8; Tobit 3:1-17; I Esdras 8:74-90; Qumran Manual of Discipline 1.23-26; etc.) indicate that the Jewish community of Jesus' day, out of which the Early Church was born, continued to follow the Old Testament model of confessing personal as well as generational and national sins, as the fifth century B.C. Jewish community of Jerusalem had done before them in Neh. 9:2.
Furthermore, Jesus, Peter, and Paul all assumed and made passing mention of the Old Testament concept of generational sin as an ongoing reality in Mat. 23:32-35 ("Fill up then the measure [of the sin] of your forefathers," alluding to Gen. 15:16 and Lev. 18:25; "upon you will come all the righteous blood," alluding to the theme of blood-guilt in such passages as Isa. 59:3; Ezek. 9:9; and Lev. 20:9), in I Thes. 2:16 ("so as always to fill up [the measure of] their sin," alluding to Gen. 15:16 and Lev. 18:25), and I Pet. 1:18-19 ("the empty way of life handed down to us from our forefathers" which many scholars believe is a reference to pagan idolatry as in Exo. 20:5; Deut. 5:9).
Jesus states in John 9:3 that the blindness of the man who was born blind was not caused by the man's sin or by his parent's sin. Many claim that this pronouncement of Jesus signals an end to the Old Testament principle of generational sin being visited upon later generations. But this is simply not true. Jesus simply asserts that in this case generational sin and personal sin are not the cause of the blindness. Jesus could hardly be denying the general principle of generational sin in John 9:2-3, since he clearly assumes it in Mat. 23:32-35 and two of his most devoted followers, Paul and Peter are likewise seen to be assuming it in I Thes. 2:16 and I Pet. 1:18.
I Peter 1:18-19 states that the precious blood of Christ saves us from the empty pattern of ancestral sin handed down to us by our forefathers. It is important to remember in connection with I Pet. 1:18-19 that the blood of Christ redeeming us at conversion does not dispense with our need to continue to confess sin and be cleansed by Christ's blood after putting our faith in Christ. I John 1:7-9 was written to believers: "If we walk in the light . . . the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies (Greek katharÝzei present indicative denoting imperfective aspect or ongoing action "keeps on purifying") us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves. . . . If we confess our sins, he . . . will forgive us our sins." The fact that the Old Testament concept of generational sin is assumed in the New Testament suggests that the Old Testament corollary concept of confessing corporate, generational, and national sin is still a legitimate category of confession in New Testament faith. And this conclusion is borne out by examples of corporate confession in later Christian confessional traditions, such as the Anglican corporate confessional prayer tradition and the post-World War II example in the German Lutheran Stuttgart Confession of Guilt.
Objection 4.Don't Ezekiel 18:20 and Jeremiah 31:29-30 teach that we no longer share the iniquity of our parents and that generational sin no longer affects children?
Ezekiel 18:19-21 states, "Yet you ask, 'Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?' Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live. The soul that sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. . . . But if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed and keeps all my decrees . . . , he will surely live; he will not die." And Jeremiah 31:29-30 states, "In those days people will no longer say, 'The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge.' Instead, everyone will die for his own sin; whoever eats sour grapes-his own teeth will be set on edge." Suggesting that both of these passages teach that the iniquity of the fathers is no longer visited upon the children implies that these passages contradict Exo. 34:5-7 which relates the generational cycling of iniquity to God's very character. How often does God's fundamental character change? James 1:17, Heb. 13:8, Mal. 3:6, and Ps. 102:27 say never. Such a suggestion also implies that Jer. 31:29-30 and Ezek. 18:19-21 contradict the same principle restated in the Ten Commandments as a fundamental principle of Covenant Law (Exo. 20:5 and Deut. 5:9; also Lev. 18:25; Num. 14:18, 33; Deut. 7:10; Isa. 65:6-7; Jer. 32:18; cf. Job 21:19; Ps. 79:8; 109:14-16). The glaring problem with this assumption is that Jer. 31:29-30's statement "everyone will die for his own sin," which thematically and chronologically parallels the statement of Ezek. 18:20 "the soul that sins is the one who will die," is followed one chapter later by an affirmation that the iniquity or sin-guilt of parents is visited upon children-Jer. 32:18 "repaying the iniquity of the fathers to the bosom of the sons." In the same way the prophecies of Ezekiel assume the ongoing reality of generational sin. Ezekiel 20:18-36 charges the Israelites with walking in the same sins as their fathers "to this day" (Ezek. 20:31) and says they will therefore be judged for it (Ezek. 20:23-26). Ezekiel 4:4ff explicitly points to Israel's generational iniquity extending over 390 years. These passages in Ezekiel and Jeremiah, which affirm the ongoing reality of generational sin, make it clear that Jeremiah 31:29-30 and Ezekiel 18:20 do not contradict or update the Covenant Law principle of Exo. 34:5-7 or Exo. 20:5, Deut. 5:9 and their parallels that the iniquity of the fathers will be visited upon the sons. Jeremiah 31:29-30 and Ezekiel 18:20 complement the covenant principle of generational sin and corporate confession of generational sin. Children will still be affected by but not punished for their parents' sins. Even common sense suggests that just as we may inherit physical weaknesses from our parents-such as tendencies toward alcoholism, cancer, high cholesterol, etc.-so we may also inherit spiritual weaknesses and tendencies toward certain sins such as anger, lust, criticism, greed, idolatry, or occultism. Ezek. 18:20 and Jer. 31:29 teach that generational sin will not bring judgment on those who "turn away from" (Ezek. 18:21) and repent of personal sin and parental or ancestral sins. Children will not be punished for the sins of the parents unless they choose to walk in the sins of their parents. Ezekiel and Jeremiah both point to the individual's responsibility to repent and turn away from the sins of the parents. The view that Ezekiel marks a new stage of individual responsibility which replaced older ideas of corporate responsibility simply misrepresents the evidence in Ezekiel and the Hebrew Bible as a whole, as several Old Testament scholars like Dr. Paul Joyce and Dr. Joel Kaminsky have pointed out recently. The notion of individual responsibility coexisted with the notion of corporate responsibility as early as the Deuteronomic Law code (e.g. Deut. 24:16 [indiv. responsibility]; 29:18-21, 25-28 [indiv. responsibility alongside corporate responsibility]; etc.).
The specific abuse Ezekiel and Jeremiah address is the false assumption of the Judean exiles in Babylonia that they were exiled from the land of Israel because of their parents' sins and not because of their own sins (Ezek. 18:2 "What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: 'The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge'?"; the same proverb quoted also in Jer. 31:29). But as mentioned above, Ezekiel made it clear throughout his prophecies, in passages like Ezekiel 20:18-36, that the exiles had been walking in the same sins as their fathers which brought on the judgment of exile from the land (Compare Ezek. 16:3, 44-52 and 20:18-36 with Ezek. 7:3-9; 8:1, 12-13; 14:1ff., 6; 16:3, 44-52). Ezekiel 18:2-31 does not deny, then, that children will be visited and challenged by the sins of their parents, but it clearly teaches that only children who turn away from or repent of their sins and the sins of their parents will escape judgment for their sins and the sins of their parents.
Furthermore, Ezekiel does not reject the Lev. 26:40 instruction to confess generational sin as well as personal sin. The language of Ezekiel shows that he assumes Lev. 26:40's confession instruction as part of the basis of his prophecies. Ezekiel was a priest (Ezek 1:3) who was so familiar with Leviticus that he used the language and imagery of Lev. 26 and often quoted verbatim words and phrases from Leviticus 17-26. Old Testament scholars have known for almost a century that the Hebrew of Ezekiel's prophecies in Ezek. 4-6, 14 and 34-37 closely parallels and draws on the language and idioms found especially in Leviticus 26.
Ezekiel's intimate familiarity with the language of Leviticus 26 shows that he was thoroughly familiar with the instruction to confess parental and national sin prescribed in Lev. 26:40. A colleague and friend of mine, Dr. Mark Rooker, showed in his doctoral dissertation study of Ezekiel's language (Brandeis University, 1988) that Ezekiel quotes a verse before and a verse after Lev. 26:40-42--Ezekiel quotes a Hebrew phrase from Lev. 26:39 in Ezek. 4:17b and quotes almost word-for-word from Lev. 26:43b in Ezek. 5:6b. This of course shows that Ezekiel knew well the text in between, Lev. 26:40-42, with its teaching on confessing generational sin.
The fact that Ezekiel frequently makes allusion to and quotes the language and imagery of Leviticus 26 in Ezek. 4-6, 14 and 34-37 shows that he considered Leviticus 26 to be the thematic foundation of many of his prophecies. Ezekiel, a priest, could hardly have been quoting the priestly material in Leviticus 26 as the foundational framework of many of his prophecies and then turn around and contradict the principle of confessing generational sin taught by Lev. 26:40. And this in turn suggests that he assumed Lev. 26:40, with its teaching on confessing parental or generational sin, to be a foundational Covenant principle by which God's people are to "turn away from" (Ezek. 18:21) personal and parental sin, as Ezekiel describes it in Ezek. 18:19-32.
Jeremiah 31:29-30 "everyone will die for his own sin", like its parallel statement in Ezek. 18:20, hardly teaches that generational sin no longer affects children, since Jeremiah affirms that it does in Jer. 32:18 ("repaying the iniquity of the fathers to the bosom of the their sons"). And in keeping with this truth, Jeremiah confesses the generational sin of his people in Jer. 3:25; 14:7, 20 (Jer. 14:20 "we acknowledge our wickedness and the iniquity of our fathers; we have . . . sinned against you"). In the latter passage Jeremiah shows that he, as an individual, is responsible to confess parental and national sin, since he is a member of his people for whom he is praying. No, he didn't commit the sins his people did. He didn't rebel against the Lord, worship false gods, and oppress the poor. But he did take part in confessing those sins on behalf of Jerusalem and Judah. Do we have to be racists to confess America's sin of racism? Jeremiah would say "no."
Ezekiel 18:20 and Jeremiah 31:29-30 are not prophesying a new era when it would no longer be necessary, as some suggest, for children to confess and repent of generational iniquity. Otherwise, one cannot explain why 150 years later, after Ezekiel's and Jeremiah's prophecies, the post-exilic Jewish community of Jerusalem in the mid-fifth century continued to confess their sins and the generational sins of their ancestors in Ezra 9:6-15; Neh. 1:6-7; and 9:2. Nor can one explain why Jesus, Paul, and Peter all assume the continuing potential of generational sin to be passed down and continued from one generation to the next in Mat. 23:32-35; I Thes. 2:16; and I Pet. 1:18 (see discussion of these passages above under Objection #3), nor why the Jewish community of their day continued to follow the Old Testament model of confessing not only personal sin but also parental and national sin, as is shown by intertestamental Jewish religious literature. Thus, Ezekiel 18:20 and Jeremiah 31:29-30 both teach that the individual will not share the iniquity of their parents if the individual "turns away from" (Ezek. 18:21) and repents of personal and generational sins. And one of the ways of turning from generational sin prescribed by Lev. 26:40, practiced by Jeremiah in Jer. 3:25; 14:7, 20, and assumed by Ezekiel in his extensive allusions and quotations of Leviticus 26, is by confessing not only personal sin but generational sin as well. This is corroborated by the fact that Nehemiah, who in the fifth century B.C. was well aware of the teaching of Ezek. 18:19-21, connected confession of personal sin and corporate, generational and national sin with repentance in his prayer in Neh. 1:6-9 (confessing personal and corporate sin: Neh. 1:6 "I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father's house, have committed against you"; repentance: Neh. 1:8--9 "Remember the instruction you gave . . . Moses, . . . 'If you return to me and obey my commands. . . .'").
Objection 5. Why should we take responsibility for past sins in our family lines or the sins of our nation which we have not committed?
First, I Peter 2:9 says that we are a "royal priesthood," and there is a priestly aspect to biblical examples of identificational repentance prayer. Even in cases where we have not personally committed the corporate sins we are confessing before God, John Dawson points out that "we can all identify with the roots of any given sin." We may not have had an abortion, but we can identify with the lust, the love of comfort, the love of money, the rejection, and the unbelief which are the sinful root attitudes leading to abortion. Jeremiah did not commit the sins he confessed in Jer. 3:25; 14:7, 20. Rather, he prophesied against the sins of Judah and Jerusalem and was persecuted for it (Jer. 2:1-5:31; 11:18-23; 12:6; 18:18-20; 20:2; 37:15-16; 38:6). But Jeremiah confessed Judah and Jerusalem's sins nonetheless according to the instruction of Lev. 26:40 (Jer. 14:20 "we acknowledge our wickedness and the iniquity of our fathers; we have . . . sinned against you"). When Ezra (Ezra 9:6-15), Nehemiah (Neh. 1:6f.), and Daniel (Dan. 9:8, 20) confessed the sin of their people, no evidence in any of the texts suggests they had committed all those sins. But in obedience to Lev. 26:40 they confessed their people's sin anyway, as Jeremiah before them had done. There is a second benefit to prayer involving identificational repentance for our families, churches, and nation. Daniel's example of identificational repentance in Daniel 9 and 10 shows that identificational repentance breaks through the spiritual opposition of satanic principalities and powers. Repentance from sin smashes the work of the devil, because the devil and his forces work through sin in the world and in our lives (I Jn. 3:7-9; Eph. 4:26-27 and context).
Daniel's identificational repentance led to spiritual breakthrough in Dan. 9:20-22 when the angel Gabriel appeared to him. Dan. 9:3 mentions that Daniel was praying and fasting when he confessed his people's sins on that occasion. Dan 10:2-3, 12 show that Daniel was praying and fasting on a second occasion. Prayer and fasting were often associated with confessing sin in the Old Testament (I Sam. 7:2-6; II Sam. 12:13, 16; Neh. 1:4-7; 9:1-2; Ps. 51:1ff.). This fact and the thematic similarity of Dan 9 and 10 suggest that in Dan. 10 Daniel would have been praying a prayer similar to the one he prayed in Dan. 9 including confessing his sins and the sins of his nation.
The result of Daniel's prayer, fasting, and identificational repentance was that the angel sent to him on the second occasion broke through the opposition of the demonic principalities of Persia and Greece (Dan. 10:13, 20). Because there was spiritual breakthrough, God's desire was fulfilled to reveal to Daniel by the angel of God what God's redemptive plan was for Israel in world history-that the anointed Messiah of Israel would establish God's Kingdom over Israel and all nations (Dan. 7:13-14, 26-27; 9:2ff., 25ff.; 12:1-3).
Objection 6. Doesn't the Bible show that we can only seek and receive forgiveness for our own individual sin and that we cannot remit the sins of others-we cannot receive God's forgiveness or apply God's forgiveness to the sins of others, whether families, corporate bodies, or nations from which we come or to which we belong?
If it were true that the Bible teaches one cannot seek or receive God's forgiveness on a corporate level for the sins of others, one would have a hard time explaining why Moses did just that for Israel after their sin with the golden calf (Exo. 32:9-14; 34:8-9; Deut. 9:18-29; 10:10-11; Ps. 106:23). In Exo. 34:8-9 he identifies himself with sins he did not commit, "Forgive our wickedness and our sin." In Num. 14:13-20, he asked for the Lord's mercy and forgiveness for Israel's rebellious refusal to enter Canaan after the spies' bad report. And Moses received forgiveness for Israel-Num. 14:20 "The Lord replied, 'I have forgiven them as you asked." The Lord's intention to destroy Israel was abated because of Moses' intercession. Moses did remit the sins of Israel: he sought and received God's forgiveness for them. This kind of prophetic intercession was so basic to prophetic ministry from Moses onward, that Samuel the prophet said it would be a sin for him not to pray for Israel regularly (I Sam. 12:23). And this is precisely the kind of intercession the Lord looked for to avert His wrath and to extend forgiveness to His people according to Ezek 22:29-30 ("I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the breach before me on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it.")
Scriptural examples show us that prayer for God's mercy on a nation is not to be limited to God's people, as some suggest. After all, God has a concern for nations as nations to turn to Him through faith in Christ (compare Gen. 12:3 and Exo. 19:6 with Isa. 19:21, 25; 56:7-8; Jonah 4:11; Rom. 15:9 [Greek, "that the nations may glorify God for his mercy"]; cf. Ps. 22:27; 47:8-9; 86:9; 87:4-6; Isa. 19:18-25; 49:20-22; 56:7; Jer. 3:17; Zeph. 3:9ff.; Zech. 14:16-18; Rev. 22:2). The book of Jonah shows us that God has a desire to show mercy to pagan cities and nations (Nineveh was the chief capital city of Assyria and also represents the nation in the book of Jonah), so they might turn to Him in faith (Jon. 3:10; 4:11). And in Exodus 8-10 Moses prayed and asked God to have mercy on Pharaoh and Egypt, who were thoroughly pagan, and to cut short several of the plagues that came on Egypt (Exo. 8:28-30; 9:27-33; 10:16-18). As a result of such prayer and the signs and wonders worked by God through Moses, many Egyptians came to fear the Lord and eventually left Egypt with the Israelites (Exo. 9:20; 12:38). In John 20:23 Jesus gives the disciples the authority to forgive the sins of others-to apply God's forgiveness to others. And Paul seems to expect the Corinthians to exercise such forgiveness toward a repentant member of the church in II Cor. 2:7-10. Again, this seems to suggest a priestly function which reflects the fact that we are "royal priesthood" (I Pet. 2:9) who can receive and apply and proclaim God's forgiveness to others we pray for and pray with.
In Luke 23:34 Jesus, suffering on the cross, asks God the Father to forgive those who are crucifying him. The result of this prayer was that the centurion guarding him came to some level of faith according to Lk. 23:47 ("The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God. . . , 'Surely this was a righteous man") and Mk. 15:39 ("Surely this man was the Son of God"). Certainly more than just the earthquake and the way Jesus died stirred the centurion to acknowledge Jesus' true identity. After all, the Jewish religious leaders and others who witnessed the same events apparently did not make the same confession the centurion did. God seems to have answered Jesus' prayer that God forgive the soldiers who crucified Jesus in Lk. 23:34. And this seems to have extended God's mercy to the centurion so the latter could more freely see the true identity of Jesus and move toward personal repentance and faith.
Similarly, Ezra's identificational repentance in Ezra 9:6-15 on behalf of the fifth century B.C. Jewish community of Jerusalem led, in Ezra 10:1-4, to the people, for whom he was praying, being moved more freely to repent of their sins. Nehemiah's confessing his people's sins before God and asking God to forgive them on a corporate level in Neh. 1:6 along with Ezra's identificational repentance in Ezra 9:6-15 also seems to have released God's grace on a corporate level to move the community to weep openly and repent of their sins in Neh. 8:9-11 and 9:1-2, when Ezra read the Law. In the same way Moses' pleading with God to forgive the Israelites' refusal to enter Canaan in Num. 14:17ff. was followed by an expression of repentance on the part of the people in Num. 14:39-40 ("They mourned bitterly . . . 'We have sinned'"). There appears to have been true remorse for their sin, even though their subsequent intention to enter Canaan was misplaced. Thus, the cases of Moses, Ezra and Nehemiah, and Jesus on the cross show that on a corporate level, God's mercy and forgiveness can be sought and received for those one identifies with in prayer. Individuals are still responsible to repent personally of their individual sin (cf. Exo. 32:33-34; Num. 14:21-35, 37), but identificational repentance releases a measure of God's grace and forgiveness on the corporate level that helps move individuals to repentance and faith.
Objection 7. Isn't the Old Testament idea of generational sin and confessing generational and national sin foreign to the New Testament?
Matthew 23:32-35, I Thes. 2:16, and I Pet. 1:18 all show that the New Testament assumes the ongoing reality of the Old Testament view of generational sin. (See discussion above under Objection #3.) Corporate confession is still a legitimate category of confession in New Testament faith and practice. No New Testament passage contradicts the Old Testament pattern of confessing personal and corporate sin. The plural pronouns of I Jn. 1:9 ("If we confess our sins") and Jas. 5:16 ("Confess [your] sins to one another"), New Testament passages which explicitly teach about confession of sin, clearly include the notion of corporate confession. The language in both passages is shown by no internal evidence to be limited in reference only to, or primarily to individual, personal sins. Both passages use language that is non-specific and non-exclusive enough to include confessing corporate, generational, and national sins as well as confessing individual, personal sins.
As noted above, it is also clear from intertestamental Jewish sources that the first century A.D. Jewish community, out of which the early New Testament church arose, continued to follow the Old Testament model of confessing personal and generational sin just as the earlier Jewish community of Nehemiah's day had in the mid-fifth B.C. (Ezra 9:6-15; Neh. 1:6ff; 9:2).
There is simply no New Testament evidence that suggests that either the Old Testament concept of generational sin or its corollary concept of confessing corporate, generational and national sin was negated or changed in New Testament faith. On the contrary, the fact that the Old Testament concept of generational sin continued to be assumed in the New Testament, as demonstrated above (see Objection #3), suggests that its corollary, confessing corporate and generational sin, was still a legitimate category of confession in the New Testament. And this conclusion is borne out, as noted above, by examples of corporate confession in later Christian confessional traditions, such as the Anglican tradition of corporate confessional prayer and the post-World War II example of corporate confession in the German Lutheran Stuttgart Confession of Guilt. Objection 8. Once we put our faith in Christ aren't we forgiven and our past sins automatically covered by the blood of Christ? Doesn't this mean we don't have to confess or repent of any specific former sins?
Above we noted that Prov. 28:13 shows that the Old Testament pattern of receiving forgiveness of sin involves confessing one's sin and repenting of it. The parallel passages Lev. 26:39-42 and Deut. 30:1-3 which speak of Israel receiving the Lord's forgiveness for breaking covenant with the Lord respectively reflect the dual aspects of returning to the Lord-confessing personal and corporate sin (Lev. 26:39-42) and repenting of such sin (Deut. 30:1-3). In the New Testament one finds the same correlation of receiving forgiveness through confessing sin and resolving to repent of it. Both Lk. 19:8-9--the account of Zacchaeus's conversion-and Acts 19:18-19--the account of the conversion and public repentance of the Ephesians-show that the normal New Testament model of conversion included expressing faith in Christ accompanied by confessing specific sins and expressing the resolve to bear the fruit of repentance. Acts 8:22-23 shows that if we fail specifically to apply the blood of Christ to pre-Christian sins by confessing them and resolving to repent of them, we may remain captive to sin as Simon the converted magician was. Simon was a baptized believer who had put his faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 8:13 "Simon himself believed and was baptized").
I John 1:7, 9 shows that the way we receive redemption through the blood of Christ and the way our sins are forgiven by the blood of Christ is by our confessing our sins at conversion and after conversion. Without the shedding of Christ's blood there is no forgiveness (Heb. 9:22), and confessing sins with the intention to repent is the New Testament way of being forgiven and cleansed of sin. It is because Simon the magician apparently did not confess or decide to repent of his former pre-Christian sins of greed and lust for power that he remained "captive to sin" (Acts 8:23) after making a commitment of faith in Christ.
Objection 8. Isn't the effect of generational sin part of the Old Testament curse of the law from which Christ redeemed us according to Galatians 3:13?
As noted twice before, we are clearly justified before God by Christ's blood and not by observing Old Testament Law according to Rom. 6:14; Gal. 2:16; 5:6. But the deeper principles of God's character mentioned in Exo. 34:7 and the deeper principles of the Ten Commandments mentioned in Exo. 20:3-17 and Deut. 5:7-21 are not nullified by faith in Christ. They are established by faith in Christ (Rom. 3:31; 8:4; 13:8). No passage in the New Testament states that the Old Testament cycling of generational sin and bondage is nullified automatically-without specific confession and intention to repent of such sins-by faith in Christ. Nor does any New Testament passage state that the Old Testament model of confessing not only personal but also parental and national sin is nullified by faith in Christ. Instead the Ten Commandments, in which the principle of generational sin is found (and by implication the corollary concept of corporate confession), are upheld by Paul in the New Testament as the deeper principles of the law still in effect in New Testament faith. Paul considers clean and unclean categories of the Law to be "disputable" (Rom. 14:1ff) but reaffirms the Ten Commandments as commandments whose principles are still in force in New Testament faith (Rom. 13:8-10; Eph. 6:1-3; cf. Jas. 2:11; I Pet. 1:16) and whose principles are fulfilled by "faith [in Christ] expressing itself in love" (Gal. 5:6; cf. 2:16; 5:14; Rom. 6:14). The "curse of the law" from which we are released according to Gal. 3:13 is, as Old Testament and New Testament scholars point out about this passage, the Covenant curse of drought, famine, pestilence, barrenness, defeat, and exile from the Promised Land (see Lev. 26; Deut. 28)--the Covenant curse which would come upon Israel for failing to keep all the Law in order to maintain covenant relationship with the Lord. Clearly Gal. 3:13 does not refer to the deeper principles of God's character and the Ten Commandments, including the principle of generational sin and confession of corporate sin, being nullified by New Testament faith in Christ.
BY THEM IS YOUR SERVANT WARNED; IN KEEPING THEM THERE IS GREAT REWARD (PS. 19:11) The Lord did not preserve the deeper truths of the Old Testament for ancient Israel alone, but for New Testament believers also. Rather, He intends that the Body of Christ use the Old Testament to equip believers "for every good work" (II Tim. 3:16-17) to advance His Kingdom throughout the world: Deut. 29:29--"The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever."
Dr. Gary S. Greig
Associate Professor of Old Testament
School of Divinity
1000 Regent University Dr.
Virginia Beach, VA 23464