Monday, January 14, 2013

Does the "Age of Accountability" Imply Infants are Sinless?

No, even if infants sin, that does not mean God would send then to hell if they die.  The "age of accountability" is more about the time when children can trust in Christ for salvation, rather then when they can first sin.  Most parents realize their young children do things they shouldn't long before they can understand the Gospel.  I tried explaining this to a Presbyterian once, but he insisted the age of accountability means young children are not moral agents - they cannot sin.  So here's a few quotes on the age of accountability (frankly the first three hits off a Google search, but they do the trick).

"It doesn't mean that they are not fallen; it doesn't mean that they are not sinful -- it does mean that God mercifully treats them as "innocent" in spite of that, and He has to exercise grace to do that, just as He exercises grace to save those who believe." (John MacArthur Grace to you)

"Frequently lost in the discussion regarding the age of accountability is the fact that children, no matter how young, are not “innocent” in the sense of being sinless... The age of accountability is a concept that teaches those who die before reaching the age of accountability are automatically saved, by God’s grace and mercy. The age of accountability is a belief that God saves all those who die before reaching the ability to make a decision for or against Christ. ...The fact that Christ's death was sufficient for all sin would allow the possibility of God’s applying that payment to those who were never capable of believing." (Got Questions)

"But second, since that response is based on one’s ability to comprehend and respond to the message, a person becomes personally accountable when he or she reaches a point where they have the spiritual and mental facility to grasp the issues. This does not mean they are not sinful, but only that they have not reached a place where they can understand." (Bible.org - What does the Bible say about the age of accountability? )

16 comments:

SLW said...

The problem I have with any of those quotations, or for that matter, with the concept of the age of accountability itself, is that there is no scriptural support for it. It's strictly a sentimental conjecture.

Mr. Mcgranor said...

Surely the infant is not saved by his sponsors?

Godismyjudge said...

Hey SLW,

I do think the bible teaches infants are saved. Now that teaching isn't as clear as say, Jesus is the Christ or that He died for our sins, but there is some biblical evidence. So the question is really moreso how God saves babies, not if He saves them. Now the bible says next to nothing on how He saves them. And if that's your point, granted. On the other hand, I would suggest comparing the age of accountability to other views on how God saves them (i.e. baptism, the faith of parents, faith of infants...) and I think it's relative strengths begin to appear.

God be with you,
Dan

Godismyjudge said...

Mr. Mcgranor,

I agree. That theory seems unlikely to me.

God be with you,
Dan

SLW said...

What specific verses could you cite to demonstrate a biblical proof that God saves infants. I have found none. I think the opposite of what you said is actually the case: if God saves infants, the Bible does tell us how he does so (i.e. through the sacrifice of Christ for the sins of the world).

If we compare theories, I would agree that infant baptism has no biblical demonstration of efficacy, but I think it quite clear that the faith of a parent puts the child of said parent in a "set apart for God" condition. As to the age of accountability, there is no biblical demonstration whatsoever of efficacy (let alone the existence of such a thing).

Truthfully, I don't have a big problem with believing that God might save infants, but I can find no proof that he actually does. It seems to me, we must leave it, Abraham-like, in trust that the Judge of all the earth will do right.

Godismyjudge said...

Hey SLW,

I will borrow MacArthur's argument from the link above, regarding David:

"What about the children before the age of accountability, when they die, do they go to heaven?" I think the answer is "yes," and I think it is a strong "YES," based upon the confidence of David who said, when his little baby died: "He cannot come to me, but I shall go to him." And David knew where he was going; David knew he was going to heaven -- he knew that. There wasn't any question in his mind about that.

So when he said, "I shall go to him," in those words was the anticipation and the joyful hope of reunion. Now, some people have said, "Well, all he meant was, 'I am going to be buried next to him.'" There wouldn't be any reason to say, "He can't come to me, but, oh I'm so glad I am going to be buried next to him!" There would be no joy in that; that wouldn't satisfy anything. So I think at that point, he was expressing the confidence that he was going to heaven; he knew that was where he would find his son, who had died before the age of accountability."


God be with you,
Dan

SLW said...

OK Dan, but I don't see that portion of scripture actually describing what Dr. MacArthur claims. There absolutely no intimation of joy in King David's response, no inkling of him anticipating heaven, none of what is claimed in that quote. On its face, the text merely reflects David fatefully acknowledging that the dead do not come back to life, but all the living die.

Supposition, not directly found in the text, is no basis for a doctrine concerning salvation, wouldn't you agree?

bethyada said...

On MacArthur's quote I would say (contra MacArthur) that the idea (which I affirm) rater was that the dead went to Sheol (Hades) pre-resurrection. This is similar to Samuel's comment that Saul would be with him (1Sa 28:19). I think Samuel will be in heaven, but I am uncertain about Saul. I would be cautious of using David's words to prove thus; though David's son may well be in heaven.

Godismyjudge said...

SLW,

Here's the passage in greater context:

2 Sam 12:

15After Nathan had gone home, the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill. 16David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and went into his house and spent the nights lying on the ground. 17The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them.

18On the seventh day the child died. David’s servants were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they thought, “While the child was still living, we spoke to David but he would not listen to us. How can we tell him the child is dead? He may do something desperate.”

19David noticed that his servants were whispering among themselves and he realized the child was dead. “Is the child dead?” he asked.

“Yes,” they replied, “he is dead.”

20Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate.

21His servants asked him, “Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!”

22He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ 23But 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.”

24Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba, and he went to her and lay with her. She gave birth to a son, and they named him Solomon. The Lord loved him; 25and because the Lord loved him, he sent word through Nathan the prophet to name him Jedidiah.

-------------------

Before his son died, David was so upset his servants were scared of him. After his son died, David calmed down and even comfortable his wife. Strange behavior if he feared his son was lost to him. Death is hard to deal with; even for believers. The death of a child is harder still. For me, it's very hard to think David would have been able to handle this so well, if he didn't think his child was in the arms of our Lord.

But if what I have said on David isn't convincing, I suppose I do look to another text:

Romans 5:18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.

This passage sets up a sort of summitry between Adam and Christ, original sin and justification. Now their impact on us is either conditional or it is not. If not, Christ's work is co-extensive with Adam's fall. Thus all babies would be covered by Christ's blood. If conditional, then babies are innocent until they personally fall. Either way, babies who die end up in heaven.

God be with you,
Dan

Godismyjudge said...

Bethyada,

That's a strong argument. But I would have to say that passage is less clear for two reasons. First, we can't be sure the spirit was Samuel. I would much rather hear from Christ "today you will be with me in paradise", then to here from *Samuel's* ghost, see you tomorrow. Second, some of Saul's son's outlived him.

God be with you,
Dan

SLW said...

Dan,
I do find the approach to David thoroughly unconvincing--it's takes too much reading into the passage to say it is so.

Passages like Romans 5:18, or John 1:29, or 1 John 2:2 do provide a better basis for the concept, one to which I really don't object, but it is still a derivative position not directly taught by the scriptures themselves. Because it requires a derivation (that is debatable), I think the best that can be said authoritatively is that we expect infants will be saved though we are not told that directly in scripture.

Godismyjudge said...

SLW,

Fair enough.

God be with you,
Dan

bethyada said...

Hi Dan

I think that it was Samuel he saw, though perhaps a debate for another day.

My thoughts on Hades more fully without using the Samuel example: http://bethyada.blogspot.com/2007/03/who-goes-where-part-1.html

Gary said...

The wages of sin is death ( Romans 6:23).

The fact that children die shows that they are subject to sin just like adults. The Bible never mentions an age of accountability. Instead, it teaches that "the whole world (is) held accountable to God" (Romans 3:19), Psalms 51:5, Eph. 2:3.

Gary
Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

Godismyjudge said...

Gary,

Do you believe the bible teaches unbaptized infants who die go to hell?

God be with you,
Dan

Anonymous said...

Deuteronomy 1:39

And as for your little ones, who you said would become a prey, and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil, they shall go in there. And to them I will give it, and they shall possess it.