How can these two passages be reconciled?:

[Eze 18:2-4, 19-22 NLT] (2) "Why do you quote this proverb concerning the land of Israel: 'The parents have eaten sour grapes, but their children's mouths pucker at the taste'? (3) As surely as I live, says the Sovereign LORD, you will not quote this proverb anymore in Israel. (4) For all people are mine to judge--both parents and children alike. And this is my rule: The person who sins is the one who will die. ... (19) "'What?' you ask. 'Doesn't the child pay for the parent's sins?' No! For if the child does what is just and right and keeps my decrees, that child will surely live. (20) The person who sins is the one who will die. The child will not be punished for the parent's sins, and the parent will not be punished for the child's sins. Righteous people will be rewarded for their own righteous behavior, and wicked people will be punished for their own wickedness. (21) But if wicked people turn away from all their sins and begin to obey my decrees and do what is just and right, they will surely live and not die. (22) All their past sins will be forgotten, and they will live because of the righteous things they have done.

[Mat 23:34-36 NASB] (34) "Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, (35) so that upon you may fall [the guilt of] all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. (36) "Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

  • Does verse 34 not already answer this question ?
    – Lucian
    Sep 9, 2020 at 13:46
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    Not in a way I can make sense of.
    – Ruminator
    Sep 9, 2020 at 13:47
  • And why is that ?
    – Lucian
    Sep 9, 2020 at 13:48
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    What does the past guilt of Cain have to do with the present culpability of the then current generation? I mean, I know it was predicted, but isn't contrary to: [Eze 18:20 NLT] (20) The person who sins is the one who will die. The child will not be punished for the parent's sins, and the parent will not be punished for the child's sins. Righteous people will be rewarded for their own righteous behavior, and wicked people will be punished for their own wickedness. ?
    – Ruminator
    Sep 9, 2020 at 13:52
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    Ezekiel has to do with individual judgement. Matthew is an indictment of the nation. Sep 10, 2020 at 21:37

3 Answers 3


I'm going to suggest that Matthew 23 - and in particular (23:35) - are a combination of hyperbole and Lamentations 4:13 that is pointing to the coming destruction of the temple as judgment for the killing of the righteous. This should not be compared to Ezekiel 18 as a literal payment for past sins.

αἷμα δίκαιον - "the righteous blood"- is the same phrase that is found in LXX of Lamentations 4:13. This verse in Lamentations is pointing to the reason the wrath of God was poured out on Jerusalem and the Temple when it was destroyed in 586 by Nebuchadnezzar.

This was for the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests, who shed in the midst of her the blood of the righteous.

The destruction of Jerusalem and the temple are the judgment of the generation.

Interestingly, just as Jesus does, - the Jewish writing Lamentations Rabbah - also connect the killing of Zechariah to Lamentations 4:13:

> "It was for the sins of her prophets (Lamentations 4:13)": Rabbi Yudan asked Rabbi Acha: "Where did they kill Zechariah in the Court of Israel or the Court of the Women"?

Although Lamentation Rabbah is a later writing, it is not likely that they borrowed this theme from Matthew. Rather, it would make sense that this was a common Jewish interpretation. Targum Lamentations 2:20 also associate the death of Zechariah to God's judgment. Targum Lamentations is more contemporary to the New Testament and Matthew and even mentions Titus and Vespasian as a comparison to Nebuchadnezzar:

“These are the Romans who came up with Titus and Vespasian, and built siege-works against Jerusalem” (Targum Lamentations 1:19)

Jesus, of course, if the epitome of the righteous. Matthew 27 is loaded of references to the "blood of the innocent" (Matt. 27:4) (Matt. 27:19) or Pilate washing his hands of innocent blood (Matt. 27:24).

  • This would be more compelling if the Lamentation Rabbah were older but still strong evidence of a similar line of thought. +1 and thank you very much, S. It would be unthinkable that the survivors of the Shoah of 70 AD would not search for a "why" for such a disaster. Apparently prominent voices were saying, "Because of the sins of the prophets, for shedding innocent blood". Any chance they were thinking, "For sins against the prophets" rather than "by"?
    – Ruminator
    Sep 11, 2020 at 2:15
  • true about Lam. Rabbah. It doesn't prove anything but it is always interesting to find a later Jewish writing that so closely reflects a New Testament writing. Also, I'm sure Lamentations became a very important book after 70 AD as events of 586 BC were playing out again.
    – S. Broberg
    Sep 11, 2020 at 2:33
  • Do you have access to Lam. Rabbah in the original language to be able to answer my last question: Any chance they were thinking, "For sins against the prophets" rather than "by"?
    – Ruminator
    Sep 11, 2020 at 2:57
  • the link above will take you to the Hebrew. It is sins of...Here also - sefaria.org/Eichah_Rabbah.4.16?lang=bi
    – S. Broberg
    Sep 12, 2020 at 3:28
  • Doesn't it strike you odd that it is the prophets being accused of shedding innocent blood?
    – Ruminator
    Sep 12, 2020 at 11:06

We should be careful not to confuse two different things.

Eze 18 does define an excellent "jurisprudence" that has been taken up by many western law systems. It defines guilt in standard forensic sense. That is, it defines guilt by what someone has done.

Matt 23 contains Jesus' seven woes against the Jewish leadership. They were already guilty because of many things they had done, even according to the criteria in Eze 18. But then Jesus goes further. He utters a prophecy (note the future tense of the verbs) in Matt 23:34-36 about what would happen, and what they would do to incriminate themselves still further. This was fulfilled in Jesus' crucifixion and the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7), among others.

The passage is interesting because it links what they had already done (the seven woes) with the evil habits they had inherited from the practices of their forebears. Thus, they had not inherited the guilt of their ancestors who murdered prophets, in the forensic sense, but had inherited their practices, disposition and opposition to God's messengers. Jesus' accurate prophecy of their future behavior, reflecting their previous behavior makes them guilty as would be demonstrated when His prophecy was fulfilled.

Jesus' almost palpable anger and sadness is apparently deepened by the their supreme hypocrisy - they condemn those who killed Zechariah but then have committed, and will commit even greater crimes. Hence Jesus' prophecy they they will have all this come upon them because they are worse than their ancestors and will commit greater crimes.

  • When Cain killed Abel, rather than killing Cain per Lex Talis, he put a mark on him to prevent Abel from being avenged. God says "vengeance is mine [to execute], I will repay". Is it possible that he literally took it out on the final generation of the Jerusalem temple based theocracy? It sounds like par for the course of Jewish experience to be everybody's scapegoats! It isn't funny, of course, but it certainly sounds like that's what he is saying, not just some influence and bad examples. But I don't really know. I don't easily accept non-literal interpretations. Will sleep on it. Thanks, D.
    – Ruminator
    Sep 10, 2020 at 12:16
  • @Ruminator - I agree - I do not like spiritualised interpretations either. Essentially, what Jesus is saying here is that the current (1st cent) generation of Jewish leaders were just as bad if not worse that those of many generations earlier. They would have to bear the consequences of their own sin, just as the ancients did, but the current generation would be worse because they have not learned from them.
    – Dottard
    Sep 11, 2020 at 12:08
  • Could be. Right now I'm resonating with S Broberg's view combined with your comment that this is something specific to the Messianic age (the first century). Please see a similar question here: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/33164/… and the accepted answer: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/34598/20832 Someone also mentioned that this was a national judgment. It is something to consider; I haven't settled that question yet. It seems to be the exception that proves the rule kind of thing.
    – Ruminator
    Sep 11, 2020 at 12:14
  • If a man commits a crime, and the police start arresting all his friends and family for no discernible reason, other than being his acquaintances, then, needless to say, unless they know something we don't, this looks like a gross miscarriage of justice.

  • But if a man commits a crime, and various individuals from among his friends or family either assist or support him, then, at the very least, they are tried as accomplices; let alone if, guided or inspired by his actions, they were to start actively committing serious offenses of their own: then their punishment would be even greater. It's only reasonable that, if they act like a pack, they should be tried accordingly, as a unified whole, rather than as unrelated acts of otherwise disparate individuals, with no meaningful connection to each other whatsoever.

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    Scripture exhibits both aforementioned patterns, depending on circumstance; thus, for instance, Sodom and Gomorrah partake of communal punishment for communal sins, whereas Ruth, the Moabite, receives individual blessings for individual merits, setting her apart from the rest of her tribe.
    – Lucian
    Sep 9, 2020 at 15:07
  • I think I follow the logic (kind of reminds me of the scene with the priest in Three Billboards Outside Ebbs Montana) but I don't think I see it being presented that way in the text. But thanks for the input, Lucian.
    – Ruminator
    Sep 10, 2020 at 0:23
  • @Ruminator: Which one of the two, and why not ? See also Acts 8:1-3, 22:4, 22:20, wherein, instead of distancing himself from the sinful behavior of others, Saul at first merely affirms and supports it morally, without physically participating in it, but then, later on, goes on to do just that.
    – Lucian
    Sep 10, 2020 at 0:36
  • I'll put it in the stew for now. Thanks Lucian.
    – Ruminator
    Sep 10, 2020 at 0:38

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