Some argue that the Bible is contradictory concerning whether God punishes children for the sins of their fathers. The argument is that Exodus 20:5, 34:6-7, Deuteronomy 5:9, and 1 Corinthians 15:22 say God does punish children for the sins of their fathers, while Deuteronomy 24:16 and Ezekiel 28:20 say that God does not. However, there is a reasonable explanation that solves this alleged Bible contradiction.
You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,Exodus 20:5
6 The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”Exodus 34:6-7
You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,Deuteronomy 5:9
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.1 Corinthians 15:22
“Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.Deuteronomy 24:16
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.Ezekiel 18:20
God sometimes uses the father as a representative for his offspring also, so that if the father sins, his children also suffer the consequences of the father’s sin. For example, this is why 1 Corinthians 15:22 says that “in Adam all die.” When Adam sinned, all of his offspring sinned, and therefore died, with him.
In general, we can perhaps say that when fathers sin, the children suffer the consequences of the sin in the sense that they are not being raised properly, in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, and will therefore suffer because of this.
Although children may suffer consequences because of their father’s sin, whether or not this consequence is inheriting Adam’s sin or suffering earthly consequences due to having a father who is a bad example, all people who are punished for their sin are punished because they themselves are guilty of sin.
So, although the children in Deuteronomy 24:16 and Ezekiel 18:20 do suffer something as a result of their father’s sin, they are ultimately being punished because they themselves have sinned, and they themselves deserve this punishment.
Thus, there is no contradiction between these passages.
There are some foundational principles that apply to all alleged and apparent contradictions in the Bible. To read more, see Bible Difficulties: Foundational Principles.
To read more answers to alleged and apparent contradictions in the Bible, see “Contradictions” in the Bible Answered.
These books are also excellent resources: