(All Bible quotations, except otherwise stated, are from the New International Version).
The Scriptures are very clear about the fate of adults after death. Their souls either go to paradise or to hell, depending on their relationship with God. Adults bear personal responsibility for their actions as free moral agents. A free moral agent has the mental capacity and freedom of will to make informed choices and decisions, and is held accountable for those decisions, by both God and man. However, the fate of children who have not come to the age of accountability is not so clear-cut, with reference to personal responsibility for their sins. What happens to the souls of children who die before reaching the age of accountability, and before having had the opportunity to repent of their sins and make things right with God? Will they go to hell when they die, or will they be allowed to go to paradise? We will try to answer these questions through a careful examination of the Scriptures.
Though no clear-cut Scriptures exist about the eternal destiny and fate of children who die before reaching the age of accountability (and therefore never had the opportunity of making peace with God), circumstantial evidence gleaned from the Scriptures suggest such children would go to paradise at death. From the Old Testament, infants/children were included in the redemptive covenant, and atoning sacrifices covered them too. A redemptive price was named for the children of God’s people (God described those children as belonging to him), and male infants were circumcised on the eighth day, as a seal of God’s everlasting covenant of redemption and ownership. Both male and female infants were dedicated to the Lord at set times after birth. The children thus became the Lord’s, and were under his protective care, until they could decide for themselves whether to remain the Lord’s or not, when they come to the age of accountability.
Genesis 17:9 Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come.
Genesis 17:10 This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised.
Genesis 17:11 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.
Genesis 17:12 For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner —those who are not your offspring.
Genesis 17:13 Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant.
Genesis 17:14 Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”
Leviticus 12:2 “Say to the Israelites: ’A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her monthly period.
Leviticus 12:3 On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised.
Leviticus 12:4 Then the woman must wait thirty-three days to be purified from her bleeding. She must not touch anything sacred or go to the sanctuary until the days of her purification are over.
Leviticus 12:5 If she gives birth to a daughter, for two weeks the woman will be unclean, as during her period. Then she must wait sixty-six days to be purified from her bleeding.
Leviticus 12:6 “’When the days of her purification for a son or daughter are over, she is to bring to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a dove for a sin offering.
Leviticus 12:7 He shall offer them before the LORD to make atonement for her, and then she will be ceremonially clean from her flow of blood. “’These are the regulations for the woman who gives birth to a boy or a girl.
Leviticus 12:8 But if she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. In this way the priest will make atonement for her, and she will be clean.’”
St. Luke 2:21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.
St. Luke 2:22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord
St. Luke 2:23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord” ),
St. Luke 2:24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
Numbers 3:40 The LORD said to Moses, “Count all the firstborn Israelite males who are a month old or more and make a list of their names.
Numbers 3:41 Take the Levites for me in place of all the firstborn of the Israelites, and the livestock of the Levites in place of all the firstborn of the livestock of the Israelites. I am the LORD.”
Numbers 3:42 So Moses counted all the firstborn of the Israelites, as the LORD commanded him.
Numbers 3:43 The total number of firstborn males a month old or more, listed by name, was 22,273.
Numbers 3:44 The LORD also said to Moses,
Numbers 3:45 “Take the Levites in place of all the firstborn of Israel, and the livestock of the Levites in place of their livestock. The Levites are to be mine. I am the LORD.
Numbers 3:46 To redeem the 273 firstborn Israelites who exceed the number of the Levites,
Numbers 3:47 collect five shekels for each one, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs.
Numbers 3:48 Give the money for the redemption of the additional Israelites to Aaron and his sons.”
Numbers 3:49 So Moses collected the redemption money from those who exceeded the number redeemed by the Levites.
Numbers 3:50 From the firstborn of the Israelites he collected silver weighing 1,365 shekels, according to the sanctuary shekel.
Numbers 3:51 Moses gave the redemption money to Aaron and his sons, as he was commanded by the word of the LORD.
The Bible teaches that children are innocent and are to be spared from judgements that rebellious adults are to face. God also described babies sacrificed to pagan idols as innocent. David, while lamenting the death of his baby, took consolation in the fact that he would meet the child in the afterlife. David believed in the resurrection of the just to life eternal, so he believed he would meet his dead child in paradise. It makes theological sense for God to admit those he considers innocent to paradise, should they die in their tender ages, before they come to the age of accountability. If God considers infants and little children innocent, why would he allow them to go a place of punishment meant for the guilty, if they die in their innocence?
Deuteronomy 1:34 When the LORD heard what you said, he was angry and solemnly swore:
Deuteronomy 1:35 “No one from this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your ancestors,
Deuteronomy 1:36 except Caleb son of Jephunneh. He will see it, and I will give him and his descendants the land he set his feet on, because he followed the LORD wholeheartedly.”
Deuteronomy 1:37 Because of you the LORD became angry with me also and said, “You shall not enter it, either.
Deuteronomy 1:38 But your assistant, Joshua son of Nun, will enter it. Encourage him, because he will lead Israel to inherit it.
Deuteronomy 1:39 And the little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad —they will enter the land. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it.
Psalms 106:37 They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to false gods.
Psalms 106:38 They shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was desecrated by their blood.
2 Samuel 12:15 After Nathan had gone home, the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill.
2 Samuel 12:16 David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and spent the nights lying in sackcloth on the ground.
2 Samuel 12:17 The 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.
2 Samuel 12:18 On the seventh day the child died. David’s attendants were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they thought, “While the child was still living, he wouldn’t listen to us when we spoke to him. How can we now tell him the child is dead? He may do something desperate.”
2 Samuel 12:19 David noticed that his attendants were whispering among themselves, and he realized the child was dead. “Is the child dead?” he asked. “Yes,” they replied, “he is dead.”
2 Samuel 12:20 Then 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.
2 Samuel 12:21 His attendants 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!”
2 Samuel 12:22 He 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.’
2 Samuel 12:23 But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”
In the New Testament, we read of children being made holy and sanctified by virtue of the covering of Christian parents. The grace of God upon their parents is said to extend to them also. If God would cover such children with his grace, surely, he would accept them into his presence were they to die before reaching the age of accountability? We also see God going to great lengths to care for certain children in the Bible, providing for their needs and defending them from harm. If he could display such care for their material needs, surely he would care for their souls too? Surely, he wouldn’t allow them to perish in hell were they to die before they get to the age of accountability when they’re reasonably expected to make informed choices about the salvation of their souls?
1 Corinthians 7:12 To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her.
1 Corinthians 7:13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.
1 Corinthians 7:14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
Genesis 21:14 Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.
Genesis 21:15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes.
Genesis 21:16 Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob.
Genesis 21:17 God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there.
Genesis 21:18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”
Genesis 21:19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.
Genesis 21:20 God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer.
God accepts and honours the praises and worship of babes and sucklings, and uses them to shame and humble proud and arrogant adults who would not praise God. When the Lord Jesus was triumphantly entering Jerusalem, children kept thundering his praises, to the irritation of the Scribes and Pharisees who wanted the children to shut up. The Lord accepted the praises of the children and rebuked the Pharisees for attempting to shut them up. God does not accept praise from anyone he is not at peace with, as even the sacrifice of the wicked (including the fruit of their lips) is an abomination to him. For the Lord to have accepted the praises of children, it means he also accepted their person. Would he accept the praise of such little ones and thereafter allow them to be damned if they were to die at that tender age?
Psalms 8:1 LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens.
Psalms 8:2 Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.
St. Matthew 21:15 But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.
St. Matthew 21:16 “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him. “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, “’From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’ ?”
Proverbs 21:27 The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination;
How much more when he brings it with wicked intent! (NKJV).
Furthermore, we’re told in the Scriptures that the kingdom of God belongs to children, and that no one should hinder them from coming to the Lord. We’re also told that except we change and be like little children, we won’t enter the kingdom of God. Those aspiring to be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven are enjoined to be like little children. The hearts of children are thus God’s standard of purity and innocence for entry into his kingdom. Also, children have their special guardian angels who behold God’s face daily. Thus, we can see that children occupy a special place in God’s heart and in God’s kingdom. Will God allow such people that matter so much to him to perish in hell if they were to die in their infancy or childhood, before they reach the age of maturity, when they can make informed decisions about following the Lord?
St. Mark 10:13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them.
St. Mark 10:14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
St. Mark 10:15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
St. Mark 10:16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
Matthew 18:1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
Matthew 18:2 Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them,
Matthew 18:3 and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 18:4 Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 18:5 Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.
Matthew 18:6 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
Matthew 18:10 “Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven (NKJV).
Finally, it will be contrary to the principles of natural justice to punish someone for offences they neither understand nor are aware of, and for which they can neither repent of nor make amends for, by virtue of their immaturity and natural lack of capacity. Human laws absolve minors of responsibility for offences committed, and do not punish them like adults who commit similar offences. Surely, humans cannot be expected to be more just than their Maker? God does overlook sins committed in the days of childhood ignorance, and holds people accountable for their sins only when they come to the age of accountability. Those who do not yet see sin for what it is, and can neither understand the meaning of sin nor its consequences, by virtue of natural immaturity of intellect and lack of capacity, will be forgiven by God during this natural period of ignorance. Children are blind spiritually, and though naked, are unaware of their state and therefore not ashamed of it (like Adam and Eve before the fall) and do not experience the guilt of sin, until they come to the age accountability.
The Acts 17:24 “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands.
The Acts 17:25 Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things.
The Acts 17:26 And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings,
The Acts 17:27 so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;
The Acts 17:28 for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’
The Acts 17:29 Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising.
The Acts 17:30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent,
The Acts 17:31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” (NKJV).
Job 4:17 Shall mortal man be more just than God? shall a man be more pure than his maker? (AKJV).
St. John 9:39 Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”
St. John 9:40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”
St. John 9:41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.
In conclusion, the Scriptures support the fact that children are included in God’s redemptive plan, and that they have a special place in God’s heart and in God’s kingdom, being God’s standard of purity and innocence. Until they come to the age of accountability when they become responsible for their actions and accountable for their sins, children’s sins are overlooked and covered by God. However, from the age of accountability, children become responsible for their sins and are treated as adults in terms of personal responsibility for their salvation. Thus, from birth till the age of accountability, any child who dies is presumed innocent and will go to paradise. However, because the age of accountability varies from person to person and only God knows when an individual attains that age, it’s important that parents introduce their children early to the Lord, as we do not know exactly when each child comes to his/her age of accountability and becomes responsible for his/her sins/actions before God. No wonder the Scriptures admonish us to bring up our children in the ways of the Lord, so that when they get to the age of accountability, they won’t depart from the Lord.
Proverbs 22:6 Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.
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