Curse – definition

Correctly understanding these terms leads to a better
understanding of the character of God and the Gospel.

Traditional Legal Model – Curses are actively and directly caused by God as punishment for sins.

Biblical Healing Model – Curses are natural consequence of man’s choices to depart from God thus forfeiting His protection.


  • a formula or charm intended to cause such misfortune to another.
  • the expression of a wish that misfortune, evil, doom, etc., befall a person, group, etc.
  • the act of reciting such a formula.


Webster’s 1828 Dictionary definitions are similar.

“Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD.” (Jer 17:5)

Note that the first action in the verse above is man choosing to trust other men and to depart from God. The result (and perhaps it is only a natural result) is a curse – a bad result because the trust is in man whose knowledge is inferior to God’s. If you have poor advisors you will get poor advice. The question is whether the curse in this and other cases is imposed by God or a natural consequence. Read how God’s law protects us from the consequences of sin and how a breach in the law (us breaking it) gives Satan opportunity to afflict us.

That passage in Jeremiah sounds very much like the exact opposite of this:

“Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Pro 3:5-6)

Trust in God and He will guide you. Choose not to trust Him and He will honor your free-will choice to not have His direction.

Let’s look at the first occurrence of a curse upon mankind.

The Earth Cursed

Let’s look at the first occurrence of a curse upon mankind.

“And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;” (Gen 3:17)

Was that curse something God imposed on the Earth or was it a natural result of what Adam did? Many versions state it as a consequence of Adam actions:

  • “… the ground is cursed because of you …” (NASB, NIV, NLT, Christian Standard Bible, Holman Christian Standard Bible)
  • “… Earth is cursed because of you …” (Aramaic Bible in Plain English)
  • “… the ground will be under a curse because of what you did …” (Contemporary English Version)
  • “… Because of what you have done, the ground will be under a curse …” (Good News Translation)
  • “… cursed is the ground on your account …” (Literal Standard Version)
  • “… cursed is the ground thanks to you …” (NET Bible)

So the first curse on man or the earth appears to be a result of what man did; it was not imposed by God.

The Curse of God’s Absence

While not using the word “curse” this passage points to what amounts to a curse:

“And the LORD said unto Moses, Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers; and this people will rise up, and go a whoring after the gods of the strangers of the land, whither they go to be among them, and will forsake me, and break my covenant which I have made with them. 17  Then my anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide my face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall befall them; so that they will say in that day, Are not these evils come upon us, because our God is not among us? 18  And I will surely hide my face in that day for all the evils which they shall have wrought, in that they are turned unto other gods.” (Deut 31:16-18)

It was foretold that the people would even recognize that the evils and troubles (curses) were upon them due to God’s absence.

Can Curses be Inherited?

“And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, 7 Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.” (Exo 34:6-7)

A study of “visit” shows that to visit means to allow the natural consequences of actions, whether good or bad, to occur.  That is consistent with this verse:

“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” (Gal 6:7)

What is passed on? – the effects (both genetic and societal) of what we do. This possibility of passing on traits to our offspring can also be (and was meant to be) for a blessing but many have turned it into a curse, a negative effect due to their choices.

Deuteronomy’s Curses and Blessings

“And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the LORD thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: 2 And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God.” (Deut 28:1-2)

Verses 3-14 list a number of blessings and then verse 15 says:

“But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee:” (Deut 28:15)

Note that God says “these curses shall come upon thee” not “I will put these curses upon thee.”

The End-time Curse

“Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate: therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men left.” (Isa 24:6)

“Therefore” points to a reason for the curse which is given in the previous verse:

“The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant.” (Isa 24:5)

For every blessing (good result) or curse (bad result) there is a reason:

“As the bird by wandering, as the swallow by flying, so the curse causeless shall not come.” (Pro 26:2)

Even cases where it really sounds like God is sending a curse, we can understand it as Him taking responsibility for allowing or permitting the curse or the consequences and He does that because he honors our free will.

Here are some detailed studies of examples of curses in the Bible (watch for these pages to be uploaded soon):

  • The curse on Noah’s grandson Canaan
  • The curse on Achan
  • The curse on the fig tree

See a video of a group study on the Biblical meaning of a curse.

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