ESV Ezekiel 18:20

The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

2 Answers 2


The theme of the soul destruction occurs several times in Eze 18 -

  • Eze 18:4 - The soul who sins is the one who will die.
  • Eze 18:20 - The soul who sins is the one who will die. A son will not bear the iniquity of his father, and a father will not bear the iniquity of his son. The righteousness of the righteous man will fall upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked man will fall upon him.
  • Eze 18:24 - But if a righteous man turns from his righteousness and practices iniquity, committing the same abominations as the wicked, will he live? None of the righteous acts he did will be remembered. Because of the unfaithfulness and sin he has committed, he will die.

Jesus takes this up in the NT as well -

  • Matt 10:28 - Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Instead, fear the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

This theme appears often in the OT -

  • Ps 37:20 - But the wicked and enemies of the LORD will perish like the glory of the fields. They will vanish; like smoke they will fade away.
  • Ps 92:6, 7 - A senseless man does not know, and a fool does not understand, that though the wicked sprout like grass, and all evildoers flourish, they will be forever destroyed.
  • Mal 4:1, 3 - “For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace, when all the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble; the day is coming when I will set them ablaze,” says the LORD of Hosts. “Not a root or branch will be left to them.” ... Then you will trample the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day I am preparing,” says the LORD of Hosts.

The NT has the same theme:

  • Phil 3:18, 19 - For as I have often told you before, and now say again even with tears: Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and their glory is in their shame. Their minds are set on earthly things.
  • 2 Thess 1:8, 9 - inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the penalty of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His might
  • Heb 10:39 - But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.
  • James 4:12 - There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and destroy.
  • 2 Peter 2:6 - if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction,b reducing them to ashes as an example of what is coming on the ungodly
  • 2 Peter 3:7 - And by that same word, the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

Thus, the complete and final destruction of people is what these references consistently teach.

See also https://apnews.com/article/611c8aa8904dde105806f6c05485f995


Ezekiel provides valuable context a few verses later. The latter part of the chapter emphasizes the desire to enable the sinner to repent and, in verses 25-27 indicates that the death being spoken of is of a spiritual nature:

25 Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal?

26 When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die.

27 Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.

The back and forth discussion in verse 25 recognizes the tension and asks if what has been stated earlier in the chapter is fair. The Lord points out the eternal nature of the kind of blessings/punishments He has in mind. If the punishment of death indicated by the Lord is physical death, then verse 26 would mean that a dead person would be punished by...dying? How is death a punishment for somebody who is already dead?

The passage makes more sense in light of vs 27, which speaks of saving one's soul. Thus, the punishments noted by the Lord in Ezekiel 18 speak of life or death for the soul--these are predicated upon one's own sins, not the sins of the parents.

  • 1
    I concede that Ezekiel is probably talking about the spiritual death of the soul, rather than the literal. Good job on this answer. +1
    – Rajesh
    Jan 22, 2022 at 20:34

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