The goal of this post is to critically examine a doctrine that has crept into the Church in the past few hundred years. If you are an American Evangelical, or used to be one, there is a good chance that you have come across the teaching before.
|The Age of Accountability Defined|
I am going to define the age of accountability by quoting a source that argues in favor of the doctrine.
“The concept of the “age of accountability” is that children are not held accountable by God for their sins until they reach a certain age, and that if a child dies before reaching the “age of accountability,” that child will, by the grace and mercy of God, be granted entrance into heaven.” GotQuestions – Age of Accountability
In the entire Bible there is no clear teaching on this doctrine whatsoever. That in and of itself should debunk it right there. I would insist on a verse that plainly states what I quoted above from the Got Questions article.
Some might say that this is unfair of me, but I think its perfectly fair as I hold myself to the same standard. We are on the topic of salvation, and in this topic above all others we must rely on clear scripture with defined terms. So for me to accept the age of accountability I would want at least half a chapter in the new testament actually teaching it with no ambiguity.
There are however two verses that proponents of the doctrine will often turn to so lets examine those now. The first and most common verse is found in 2 Samuel.
“But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” 2 Sam 12:23 KJV
To explain the context of the above verse as it applies to the Old Covenant I am going to quote Water with the Word: a Baptism Q&A by Kelly Klages
“David’s first son by Bathsheba is struck with illness because of David’s sin. At seven days old, before the child is circumcised and brought into Abraham’s covenant, he dies. In verse 23, David says, “But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” Some Christians who hold to “believer’s Baptism” suggest that David is professing faith that he will join his child in heaven. By extension, it is thought that infants never needed to be brought into God’s family, whether by circumcision under the Old Covenant or Baptism under the New Covenant, in order to have a claim on heaven.
The fact that this is a very weak proof text is evidenced by the reality that even those who oppose infant Baptism often don’t buy this line of reasoning. The passage isn’t talking about heaven at all. When David says that he will go to his son, he’s simply saying that he, too, will one day go down to the grave in death. But his son will not return to him– that is, will not suddenly return from the grave and join his father again in life on earth. It is a sad statement, not a hopeful one. David is coming to the same painful realization that all of us who have lost loved ones have faced: the difficult physical separation that death brings into our lives here on earth. Jacob makes a similar statement when believes his son Joseph to have been killed: “All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. ‘No,’ he said, ‘in mourning will I go down to the grave to my son’” (Genesis 37:35).
As for those who grieve the untimely death of an infant, there are certainly much better means of Scriptural comfort to offer than the vague and uncertain interpretation of this passage. These verses have no relation to the subject of Baptism, an “age of accountability,” or heaven, nor are we given any hard facts about the spiritual fate of David’s child. It’s simply not a text that applies one way or the other to the issue.”
The last statement that she made there is the most important, especially since this is the strongest verse available to defend the phantom doctrine. The other verse that will get quoted from time to time is in Deuteronomy.
“Moreover your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, and your children, which in that day had no knowledge between good and evil, they shall go in thither, and unto them will I give it, and they shall possess it.” Deu 1:39 KJV
In the above passage we see that the Children of the Israelite’s will be allowed to possess the promised land but their parents will not. Not all of those who favor the doctrine will use this verse simply because it’s historic narrative. If I were to attempt to use this verse to advocate for the Age of Accountability I would try and argue that it is a type and shadow of the New Testament. The problem is there is no clear language regarding the Age of Accountability for this to typo-logically be referring to. Instead what we have is a one time judgement being placed on a specific generation, and that is it.
|The Age of Accountability Refuted|
Beyond the fact that there is no clear textual support for the age of accountability, there are many clear passages one must disregard to hold to that view.
For starters the Bible teaches that we are Born sinners, it is not something we become later.
“Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Psa 51:5 KJV
“And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” Eph 2:1-3 KJV
“The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies.” Psa 58:3 KJV
“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” Rom 3:23 KJV
Above we see that all, even babies, are sinners. We are born with it, no changing that outside the blood of Christ. To hold to any other view would be semi-pelagian at best.
To confess the age of accountability one would have to argue that on some level God is okay with sin. He is able to overlook it if he really wants to for some just not for everyone else. For a debunking of that concept please click here to understand the Wrath of God.
“For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee. The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity. Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing: the Lord will abhor the bloody and deceitful man.”Psalms 5:4-6 KJV
The only other alternative would be for one to confess that sin doesn’t count until one reaches the age of accountability. The problem with that is the Bible ascribes sin to all (Rom 3:23).
Roman Catholics believe that Mary is the only sinless person besides Christ. And they are absolutely wrong, but many protestants are worse because they believe there have been billions of sinless people that have simply died before the age of accountability.
It is a false doctrine simply by the fact that there is no clear textual support and is even made more apparent when one applies any Biblical scrutiny.
The obvious question one is left with after devoting thought to the topic is “can babies have faith?”. If there is no automatic ticket to heaven just because one is a baby, how can they obtain faith unto salvation? The answer is that faith is a Gift of God given by means, one of which is Baptism. This is a topic I have covered in the past, for a full break down click HERE and HERE.
I would like to take a moment though to prove that babies can possess faith. The Bible does actually contain several examples that clearly present babies and small children as having faith. I will post them below for your review.
“And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; they were sore displeased, And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?” Matt 21:15-16 KJV
“And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them: but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.” Luke 18:15-17 KJV
“But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts.” Psa 22:9 KJV
The ESV renders the above “made me trust you” which I think brings out the meaning a little better.
“And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” 2 Tim 3:15 KJV
So based on the above I would assert Biblically that babies can have faith. It is true that they are too young to understand the word, but they can receive faith as a gift in baptism. That is a promise that is sure and grounded in the Word of God.
Good article. One comment on Deut. 1:39: Both the children under the age of majority (20 years) and the older generation received the SAME JUDGMENT from God. Both groups had to wander for forty years. This shows the universality of God’s judgment regardless of age because all age groups are sinners.
From this also, the Justice of God come into place. For if these “little ones” were without personal sin and guilt, then they should not have merited the suffering they are made to endure for forty years. This would be non other than unjust suffering. God would be punishing the innocent.
However, the justice of God is protected because the “little ones” were born into the sinful condition of Adam’s sin. Even if the “little ones” were not guilty of the rebellion in Numbers 13-14, they are guilty because of their relationship to Adam. Due to their imputed guilt, the judgment of wandering for forty years is not seen as unjust.
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