And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.
We see a denial of the notion that guilt is inherited also in:
- Ezekiel 18.20: The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father.
- Jeremiah 31.29: In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children's teeth are set on edge.
But the very question of Jesus' disciples indicates that the concept of hereditary guilt was common. In Exodus 20.5 we read:
I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.
In the first book of Herodotus (tr. George Rawlinson) there is a punishment deferred unto the fifth generation:
- 1.13.1-2: Enraged at the murder of their king, the people flew to arms, but after a while the partisans of Gyges came to terms with them, and it was agreed that if the Delphic oracle declared him king of the Lydians, he should reign; if otherwise, he should yield the throne to the Heraclides. As the oracle was given in his favour he became king. The Pythoness, however, added that, in the fifth generation from Gyges, vengeance should come for the Heraclides; a prophecy of which neither the Lydians nor their princes took any account till it was fulfilled.
- 1.91.1: The Lydians went to Delphi and delivered their message, on which the Pythoness is said to have replied — "It is not possible even for a god to escape the decree of destiny. Croesus has been punished for the sin of his fifth ancestor, who, when he was one of the bodyguard of the Heraclides, joined in a woman's fraud, and, slaying his master, wrongfully seized the throne."
The same idea occurs elsewhere in Greek literature, e.g.
- Solon, fragment 13.29-32 West (tr. J.M. Edmonds): Aye, one payeth to-day, another to-morrow; and those who themselves flee and escape the pursuing destiny of Heaven, to them vengeance cometh alway again, for the price of their deeds is paid by their innocent children or else by their seed after them.
- Euripides, Hippolytus 830-833 (tr. E.P. Coleridge): Alas, and woe! this is a bitter, bitter sight! This must be a judgment sent by God for the sins of an ancestor, which from some far source I am bringing on myself.
- Euripides, fragment 980 Nauck: The gods turn the trespasses of the parents against the descendants.
- Lysias 6.20 (Against Andocides, tr. W.R.M. Lamb): The deity does not punish immediately, as I may conjecture by many indications, when I see others besides who have paid the penalty long after their impious acts, and their descendants punished for the ancestors' offences.
- Lycurgus, Against Leocrates 79 (tr. J.O. Burtt): If the perjured man does not suffer himself, at least his children and all his family are overtaken by dire misfortunes.