The death of a child is heartbreaking. It fills friends and family with sorrow and despair. Is there any hope in midst of such a tragedy? Is there a light somewhere in the darkness? For some people, heaven seems too good to be true. Yet, according to the Bible, heaven is real.
Children go to heaven when they die, according to the vast majority of Bible scholars and theologians. Some believe that all children, prior to reaching the age of moral accountability, go to heaven when they die. Others don’t see that distinction in Scripture, but also believe that children go to heaven.
What is the Age of Accountability and how does it relate to children going to heaven? What exactly is the age — 12, 13, 14? How do Bible readers that don’t believe in the Age of Accountability explain that children go to heaven? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Also see Do You Have To Be Baptized To Go To Heaven? to learn more.
What is the Age of Accountability?
Children aren’t born knowing right from wrong. They have to be taught the difference. This kind of teaching and discipline depends on the age of the child. For example, if a toddler takes a toy from a playmate, their mom or dad may gently redirect their child and explain that sharing and taking turns with friends is a good choice.
Most parents wouldn’t, however, ground the toddler for a weekend, like some would if a teenager made a bad choice. The reason is that children are held accountable in different ways depending on their age and understanding.
What does the Age of Accountability mean? The Age of Accountability, also called the Age of Innocence, refers to the belief that children aren’t responsible for their actions prior to a certain age. With repetition, a toddler can learn to share their toys, but they won’t fully understand the concept of envy until they are older, so God doesn’t hold that wrongdoing against them.
Do all Christians believe in the Age of Accountability? Not all scholars, theologians, pastors, and Bible readers believe that Scripture teaches the concept. Others believe it does. It’s important to note that just because a person doesn’t believe in the Age of Accountability doesn’t mean that they don’t believe that children go to heaven when they die.
Where do proponents find the Age of Accountability in the Bible? Defenders of the doctrine, in part, point to God’s merciful and gracious nature as well as Jesus’ clear affinity for children, which he demonstrated multiple times in the Gospels. They also find support in Deuteronomy 1:39 and Isaiah 7:15-16.
What does Deuteronomy 1:39 say? “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.” (ESV)
|Key phrase in v. 39|
|NIV||your children who do not yet know good from bad|
|NLT||your innocent children|
|KJV||your children, which in that day had no knowledge between good and evil|
|NASB||your sons, who this day have no knowledge of good or evil|
What does Isaiah 7:15-16 say? “By the time He knows enough to reject evil and choose good, He will be eating curds and honey. For before the boy knows enough to reject evil and choose good, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.” (ESV)
|Key phrase in v. 15|
|NIV||when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right|
|NLT||By the time this child is old enough to choose what is right and reject what is wrong|
|KJV||that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good|
|NASB||at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good|
|Key phrase in v. 16|
|NIV||for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right|
|NLT||For before the child is that old|
|KJV||For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good|
|NASB||For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good|
Are these verses about children going to heaven? No. While the verses reference the development of children as moral agents, they don’t specifically address their death and eternal destination. Some readers infer from these verses that God doesn’t hold children accountable because they lack understanding about right and wrong.
What exactly is the exact age of accountability? Most proponents of the doctrine don’t put an exact number on the age. For example, advocates don’t say “when a child turns 12 years old, they are morally accountable.” While some speculate the age of accountability is around 12 to 14, it may depend on each child’s intellectual and moral development.
Also see Do Aborted Babies Go To Heaven? to learn more.
If children a born sinners, how can they go to heaven?
Another common view believes that children go to heaven when they die, but not because of the Age of Accountability. The reason some people aren’t persuaded that the Bible teaches the Age of Accountability concept is because they allege that the biblical support for it is weak. Instead, they build their case another way.
- They cite Jesus’ special affinity for children
- They cite God called deceased children “my children” in Ezekiel
- They cite David’s statement about being reunited with his deceased child after death
- They argue that it’s not the Age of Accountability that saves children, but the cross of Christ, which God merifully and gracioulsy applies to children too young to comprehend the gospel message
How did Jesus feel about children? Jesus had a special heart for children. In the 21st century, most cultures around the world value born children. Yet, many people in the first century didn’t. Jesus challenged those social norms, loved and cared for children, and taught they are a perfect fit in his kingdom.
“Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.’ And he laid his hands on them and went away.” (Matthew 19:13-14, ESV)
By welcoming, and loving children, Jesus wasn’t denying their sinful nature. According to the Bible, all people, even though they possess a sinful nature, are created in God’s image and have value and worth (Gen. 1:26-27). All people, including babies and children, are simultaneously sinful by birth and loved by God.
Is there an example in the Bible of God caring for babies that have died? Yes. In one of the darkest periods in Old Testament history, people sacrificed their children, stirring anger in God’s heart. His response to the guilty reads, in part, “you slaughtered my children and delivered them up as an offering” (Ezek. 16:21, emphasis added). Even though they were born with a sinful nature, God called the children his.
Did David believe that he would be reunited with his deceased child in heaven? In 2 Samuel 12:23, David reflects, “But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” Regarding the last sentence, some believe David means death; meaning, one day David will join his child in death. Others believe that when David says “I shall go to him” he is referring to reuniting with his son in heaven.
So how exactly are babies able to go to heaven when they die? According to the Bible, there is only one way that people born in sin can go to heaven when they and it is through Christ: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 2:5)
God, in grace, applies the cross of Christ, and its victory over sin, to those who don’t have the mental capacity to comprehend and respond to the gospel on their own. All people are born sinful (Rom. 3:23) and God loves them all anyway (John 3:16). The Bible gives readers reason to believe that God loves, cares for, embraces, and welcomes into heaven, aborted babies.
Also see Will We Eat Food In Heaven? to learn more.
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