Home Prophets Individual responsibility as revealed to prophet Ezekiel

Individual responsibility as revealed to prophet Ezekiel

INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY: Uganda police clash with opposition protesters. Photo/Al Jazeera

By Pr Isaiah White

It was revealed to Prophet Ezekiel that while a group can be condemned for their failure and irresponsibility; the real burden always lies with the individual since all acts begin with individuals, not groups.


In the Old Testament (OT), attention is not on the community before it concentrates on the individual units of that particular community. While all humanity is created at once in Genesis 1:26-31, the camera switches and in Genesis 2:7, 21-22 a male individual is presented and a female as an individual as well.

An individual tempted woman (Genesis 3:1-5) leads to the fall of the individual man and the fall of the individual man (Genesis 3:6) leads to the fall of the world (Genesis 3:17). The debate of the historical Adam (whether from whom all races came or not), is resolved by understanding OT individualism.

Individualism communicate two truths: 1 – Man has a single ultimate problem and, 2 – That problem has one single solution (1Corinthians 15:21-22; Romans 5:19). The impact of an individual on the whole community is demonstrated in the blessing of Abraham extended to his descendants (Genesis 17:4-8; 22:16-18).

God was bound to the Israelites because of His promise to individual patriarchs of Israel. Again, the individual righteous could save an entire wicked community from destruction (Genesis 18:32).

Ezekiel depends on this theological understanding and argues that even if Noah, Daniel and Job were in the land they would not be able, by their righteous living, to prevent the disasters which God would bring upon it (Ezekiel 14:14,20).

Individual sin responsibility

Another interesting theological aspect that Ezekiel addresses in contrast to existing theologies is the individual sin responsibility. Here is what he says: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father; neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” (18:20).

What Ezekiel introduces here is circumstantially hinted upon in Deuteronomy 24:16 but not practised. In both the OT and New Testament (NT), the practical belief is that people (family or community) are collectively responsible for the sin and guilt of one individual member. The OT taught consequence collective responsibility of individual sin and there is a number of examples where the innocence of many people is compromised by their relations to the culprit.

In Genesis 7-8, the floods drown innocent children who did not sin but were children of sinners, in chapter 19 the fires of Sodom and Gomorrah consume the children and likely the adult relatives of the guilty whom the fires targeted.

In Exodus and Deuteronomy, guilty parents lead to the death of their entire family and so, it is with a guilty child (Deuteronomy 5:9; Exodus 20:5; 34:7). In Joshua, the entire family of Achan is killed and the whole nation of Israel defeated because of Achan’s sin (Joshua 7:1-26) and so it is in some prophetic material (Isaiah 14:21; Jonah 1:8-12).

In the days of the monarchy, the entire nation suffered due to the apostasy of the king and his wife Jezebel (1Kings 16-17:1-2). The Judaism cult from the OT through the NT still held-fast to the teaching of the ‘collective responsibility of the individual’s sin consequence’.

Even the best teachers in the NT like Paul insisted that all humanity was condemned when Adam (as an individual) was condemned (Romans 5:18) and that all men were made sinners by what Adam did (Romans 5:12, 18, 19).

In the days of Jesus, the disciples believed the physical ailments of children (infants) was a result of the parent’s sin (John 9:1-2). Combating this belief, Jesus dismissed this theology (John 9:3) by agreeing with prophet Ezekiel 18: 20 and Jeremiah 31:28-34.

Ezekiel’s message to the exiles is that, while we can still hope to be restored as a nation, let us also understand that the exile is due to individual sins. Yahweh is not punishing us because of anyone’s sinning but he is dealing with us in exile individually. Look not, any further away from the individual-you as the cause of your pain and the fault in the environment.

While it is true that physiologically your children can inherit your faulty or perfect genes with their ailments and their abilities, it is not so with sin. While it is true that the choice of an individual like a suicide bomber, wrong leader/teacher can have both a physical and psychological impact on the environment, it is not so with eternal destinies.

For purposes of the gospel, the soul that believeth not, it shall eternally die and that which believeth shall live eternally. (Mark 16:16; John 3:18). Salvation is not a biology but a belief (John 3:16-20; Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:28).


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