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If we accept that unborn babies are human beings and not merely a non-human organism, and further we require baptism as a prerequisite for salvation (using it as justification for infant baptism)...

What happens to an unborn baby which never experiences live birth, and clearly can't have been baptized since it was not yet born?

Note: I'd be especially interested (but not exclusively so) in responses to this from Catholic theologians and/or apologists.

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interesting prerequisite to the question: "require baptism as a prerequisite for salvation" - what Biblical backing would that viewpoint have? –  warren Aug 24 '11 at 15:11
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@warren That doctrine is sourced from Acts 2:38. –  Richard Sep 16 '11 at 2:12
    
@Richard: It says you will receive the spirit, that doesn't necessarily mean saved. Romans 10:9 says "If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." That doesn't include baptism. –  Ian Nov 28 '11 at 12:42
    
@Richard: Among others, this is the Catholic position on baptism. –  Lawrence Dol Feb 21 at 18:40
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11 Answers 11

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I cannot provide a better answer then the answer provided by the LCMS (The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod). This is taken from the LCMS FAQ: http://www.lcms.org/Document.fdoc?src=lcm&id=537

On the role of infant baptism:

Q: How does faith play a role in infant Baptism? Is faith later taken care of when the child is confirmed?

A: Lutherans believe that the Bible teaches that a person is saved by God's grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ. Baptism, we believe, is one of the miraculous means of grace (together with God's written and spoken Word) through which God creates the gift of faith in a person's heart. Although we do not claim to understand how this happens or how it is possible, we believe (because of what the Bible says about Baptism) that when an infant is baptized God creates faith in the heart of that infant. This faith cannot yet, of course, be expressed or articulated, yet it is real and present all the same (see, e.g., 1 Pet 3:21; Acts 2:38-39; Titus 3:5-6; Matt. 18:6; Luke 1:15; 2 Tim.3:15; Gal. 3:26-27; Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:11-12; 1 Cor. 12:13).

Summary: Lutherans believe that through infant baptism God creates faith in the heart of the infant, this faith is present though it cannot be shown outwardly.

What about unbaptized babies?

"There is some basis for the hope that God has a method, not revealed to us, by which He works faith in the children of Christians dying without Baptism (Mark 10:13-16). For children of unbelievers we do not venture to hold out such hope. We are here entering the field of the unsearchable judgments of God" (Romans 11:33).

What is the basis of such hope? It is this, that God is not Himself bound by the means to the use of which He has bound us. That is to say that while Christ has commanded us to baptize all nations, God can save sinners without Baptism. He did so throughout the entire Old Testament. During the first 2,000 years we know of no special means of grace for little children. At the time of Abraham He instituted circumcision, but He did not thereby provide for little girls. It is for God to determine under what conditions He will receive children into His kingdom.

A most encouraging instance for the Holy Spirit's power to influence even unborn infants in a spiritual way is found in Luke 1:15, 41, 44, where it is stated that the unborn John the Baptist leaped for joy within his mother's womb when the unborn Jesus was brought into his presence by His mother Mary. Behind all this is the all-encompassing Gospel pronouncement that "God was in Christ, reconciling the world [including the little children] unto Himself" (2 Cor. 5:19).

As to the second point we might say: Whether individual Lutheran pastors have ever baptized stillborn children immediately upon their arrival, we do not know, and to our knowledge such practice has never been sanctioned by our church. Nor should it be sanctioned. The means of grace, including Baptism, are for the living only (Heb. 9:27).

Usage: We urge you to contact an LCMS pastor in your area for more in-depth discussion. Published by: LCMS Church Information Center

Summary: Lutherans believe that Baptism is for the living only, however, God may have created a means to save those who were not baptized or not able to be baptized (stillborn, or died quickly and unexpectedly shortly after childbirth). This hope is based on the fact that God has shown himself capable of saving without baptism and may still continue to do so.

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One of the supporting scripture for the salvation requires baptism doctrine is this verse:

Acts 2:38
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."

This verse is saying that forgiveness of sins requires repentance and baptism. However, the very foundation is that those are required for the forgiveness of sins.

The essence of this question is this: Are unborn children guilty of sin?

For that, you have to ask What is the essence of sin? To answer that question, sin is the turning away from God's will. It's knowing God's desires for you--his rules if you prefer--and intentionally doing otherwise.

My argument is that these children can not know sin because they cannot know right from wrong.

Summary

Children that cannot understand sin cannot commit sin. Therefore they do not need baptism and cannot repent of their sins. Therefore unborn children (along with other very young children) gain immediate acceptance into heaven.

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and so heaven is populated with a majority of unborn, since most fertilized eggs never implant or are miscarried... interesting. –  zipquincy Nov 9 '11 at 15:18
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I like this answer, but does the fact that we are descendants of Adam not mean that we are born as sinners? Ie, only when we become children of God (John 1:12-13, Rom 8:16-17) and are now no longer just "children" of Adam but also "children" of God are we justified under the blood of Jesus? –  Ries Feb 18 '13 at 10:02
    
How does Peter's command establish that baptism is a requirement for salvation. It is a ritual that is pleasing to God and man, as a means for showing one's faith in Christ. –  Ztucker Apr 26 at 6:14
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This is the official Catholic position:

On April 22, 2007, the advisory body known as the International Theological Commission released a document, originally commissioned by Pope John Paul II, entitled "The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die without Being Baptized."[8] After tracing the history of the various opinions that have been and are held on the eternal fate of unbaptized infants, including that connected with the theory of the Limbo of Infants, and after examining the theological arguments, the document stated its conclusion as follows:


Our conclusion is that the many factors that we have considered above give serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope that unbaptized infants who die will be saved and enjoy the beatific vision. We emphasize that these are reasons for prayerful hope, rather than grounds for sure knowledge. There is much that simply has not been revealed to us. We live by faith and hope in the God of mercy and love who has been revealed to us in Christ, and the Spirit moves us to pray in constant thankfulness and joy.

103 What has been revealed to us is that the ordinary way of salvation is by the sacrament of baptism. None of the above considerations should be taken as qualifying the necessity of baptism or justifying delay in administering the sacrament. Rather, as we want to reaffirm in conclusion, they provide strong grounds for hope that God will save infants when we have not been able to do for them what we would have wished to do, namely, to baptize them into the faith and life of the Church.


Pope Benedict XVI authorized publication of this document, indicating that he considers it consistent with the Church's teaching, though it is not an official expression of that teaching.[32] Media reports that by the document "the Pope closed Limbo"[33] are thus without foundation. In fact, the document explicitly states that "the theory of limbo, understood as a state which includes the souls of infants who die subject to original sin and without baptism, and who, therefore, neither merit the beatific vision, nor yet are subjected to any punishment, because they are not guilty of any personal sin.

More can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limbo#Modern_era

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Welcome to the site! And great answer, especially for a new user! This next has nothing to do with the quality of your answer, it's just standard to help new visitors avoid misunderstanding the site (as I did at first.) As a new visitor, I'd recommend checking out the following two posts, which are meant to help newcomers "learn the ropes": the help page and How we are different than other sites? –  David Stratton Feb 21 at 7:25
    
Thank you! I will check it out! =) –  MSKI Feb 23 at 3:07
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Babies and children do not know the difference between right and wrong, and the Bible calls them "those who cannot tell between their right hand and their left." (Jonah 4:11)

Because they do not understand what is right, what is wrong, as they are too young, they do not consciously sin. They are innocent. There will come a time when they understand what is right and what is wrong, but until then, they are counted as "saved". God has a provision for babies and very young children who die early.

Edit:

This site puts it better.

Besides, Jesus did state that unless we were like the little children, we wouldn't go to heaven.

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Can you cite scriptural support? Otherwise, is there some other source for this viewpoint? –  Lawrence Dol Aug 24 '11 at 8:10
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I can tell you my toddler knows very well when she is being rebellious! –  ℝaphink Aug 24 '11 at 14:14
    
Interesting that (from the article referenced), Deut 1:39 says the Israelite's children "have no knowledge of good or evil". The wording is very reminiscent of Genesis. –  Lawrence Dol Aug 26 '11 at 22:45
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I do not believe that this verse in Jonah is referring to infants. Reading it in context, it seems to support the idea that these adults are fools, not that these are actually children. Either way, this is a broad interpretation of that scripture. (Plus, this was a city that overwhelmed by sin even though it was filled with these people who couldn't tell their right hand from their left.) –  Richard Sep 15 '11 at 15:06
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So they are actually lucky if they die young, because there's no chance of going to hell. –  CiscoIPPhone Sep 16 '11 at 11:29
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One verse I have heard in support of salvation of infants is in 2 Samuel 12:22-23, after King David's young child (not sure how young) dies.

22 He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows, the LORD may be gracious to me, that the child may live.’ 23 But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”

The idea presented from this is that "I will go to him" indicates that David plans to see his child in heaven.

I realize this doesn't specifically address unborn babies, but I think the same logic would hold.

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This is a topic that is close to the heart of many, and as such, I hope not to offend anyone. I lost a child at 20 weeks, he was a misscarriage, and my wife was able to deliver him naturally. (I am not looking for sympathy). The doctrine of the LDS Church, of which I am part, had great healing and comfort for me. This come from The Book of Mormon, Moroni 8 with select verses below.

5 For, if I have learned the truth, there have been disputations among you concerning the baptism of your little children.

6 And now, my son, I desire that ye should labor diligently, that this gross error should be removed from among you; for, for this intent I have written this epistle.

7 For immediately after I had learned these things of you I inquired of the Lord concerning the matter. And the word of the Lord came to me by the power of the Holy Ghost, saying:

8 Listen to the words of Christ, your Redeemer, your Lord and your God. Behold, I came into the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; the whole need no physician, but they that are sick; wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it hath no power over them; and the law of circumcision is done away in me.

11 And their little children need no repentance, neither baptism. Behold, baptism is unto repentance to the fulfilling the commandments unto the remission of sins.

12 But little children are alive in Christ, even from the foundation of the world; if not so, God is a partial God, and also a changeable God, and a respecter to persons; for how many little children have died without baptism!

13 Wherefore, if little children could not be saved without baptism, these must have gone to an endless hell.

14 Behold I say unto you, that he that supposeth that little children need baptism is in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; for he hath neither faith, hope, nor charity; wherefore, should he be cut off while in the thought, he must go down to hell.

15 For awful is the wickedness to suppose that God saveth one child because of baptism, and the other must perish because he hath no baptism.

19 Little children cannot repent; wherefore, it is awful wickedness to deny the pure mercies of God unto them, for they are all alive in him because of his mercy.

20 And he that saith that little children need baptism denieth the mercies of Christ, and setteth at naught the atonement of him and the power of his redemption.

21 Wo unto such, for they are in danger of death, hell, and an endless torment. I speak it boldly; God hath commanded me. Listen unto them and give heed, or they stand against you at the judgment-seat of Christ.

22 For behold that all little children are alive in Christ, and also all they that are without the law. For the power of redemption cometh on all them that have no law; wherefore, he that is not condemned, or he that is under no condemnation, cannot repent; and unto such baptism availeth nothing—

23 But it is mockery before God, denying the mercies of Christ, and the power of his Holy Spirit, and putting trust in dead works.

To summarize, little children are alive in Christ and have no need for repentance, therefore baptism is not necessary for them until they reach the age of accountability. If you have lost a little child, he or she is alive with God and peace should be found. This is how my wife and I were able to find comfort in the loss of our son.

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Catholics used to believe that they went to the Limbo of the Children (a part of Hell where there is no fire)

Pope Eugene IV, Council of Florence, “Letentur coeli,” Sess. 6, July 6, 1439, ex cathedra:

We define also that… the souls of those who depart this life in actual mortal sin, or in original sin alone, go straightaway to hell, but to undergo punishments of different kinds.

However Benedict XVI abolished the concept of Limbo, claiming that it was never defined.

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This is very interesting! How do we know this was ex cathedra? Is there an official ruling? See my question: When does the Pope speak ex cathedra? –  dancek Sep 16 '11 at 9:28
    
Because it meets the requirements for infallibility defined in Vatican I. –  apocalypse_info_click_here Sep 16 '11 at 14:41
    
There is nothing more official than the Papal decree from the council of Florence. –  apocalypse_info_click_here Sep 16 '11 at 14:48
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"Children that cannot understand sin cannot commit sin. Therefore they do not need baptism and cannot repent of their sins. Therefore unborn children (along with other very young children) gain immediate acceptance into heaven."

I wholeheartedly agree with this viewpoint found above.
Mark 10:14 seems in line with this: "But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God."

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Welcome to the site! As a new visitor, I'd recommend checking out the following two posts, which are meant to help newcomers "learn the ropes": help page and How we are different than other sites? –  David Stratton Nov 20 '13 at 0:09
    
The first sentence appears to be a quote - if you could source it, it would really improve this answer. –  Affable Geek Nov 20 '13 at 14:55
    
@Affable: It appears to be taken from the answer by @Richard. –  Lawrence Dol Jan 22 at 17:55
    
I don't think Jesus' statement implies children are sinless, only that they have a heart-attitude that favors belief and faith; that is, an innocence not yet corrupted by cynicism. Children have something like a default-mode that inclines them to believe without demanding "proof" those things that adults whom they trust tell them. –  Lawrence Dol Jan 22 at 18:04
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The official Catholic position, from the CCC, Section 2, Article 1, would seem to be the following sections, in particular item 1261 (and quite similar to the Lutheran position).

The Baptism of infants:

1250 Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called. The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism. The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth.

1251 Christian parents will recognize that this practice also accords with their role as nurturers of the life that God has entrusted to them.

1252 The practice of infant Baptism is an immemorial tradition of the Church. There is explicit testimony to this practice from the second century on, and it is quite possible that, from the beginning of the apostolic preaching, when whole “households” received baptism, infants may also have been baptized.

The Necessity of Baptism:

1260 “Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery.” Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.

1261 As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,” allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.

Where the summary would be that the Church hopes (hopes as in the mystical sense, which is a firm hope based on the faithfulness of God) that God has made a way for those who are not baptized at death, but who would have otherwise "desired" baptism.

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Complementing Jesus Christ's many words, Exodus 30:14+ also provides a definite hint as to the beginning of the age of self-determination. So, age groups 20 and below are accounted for by God.

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Their is also the problem of conformity with Gods character. The passage early in Genesis gives us a good indication of God's character.

Abraham Pleads for Sodom

16When the men got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way. 17Then the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? 18Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. 19For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”

20Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”

22The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord.e 23Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not sparef the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? 25Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judgeg of all the earth do right?”

26The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

27Then Abraham spoke up again: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, 28what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city because of five people?”

“If I find forty-five there,” he said, “I will not destroy it.”

29Once again he spoke to him, “What if only forty are found there?”

He said, “For the sake of forty, I will not do it.”

30Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?”

He answered, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.”

31Abraham said, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?”

He said, “For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it.”

32Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?”

He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”

33When the Lord had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home.

Now that gives me clear indication of God being just. I find it with that passage in mind difficult to believe that the just God of the bible will send a infant to eternal damnation just because of a cruel twist of fate.

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This is quite a big leap - I would be cautious about applying human reasoning to the actions of God; after all, his way are higher than ours, and often inscrutable. –  Lawrence Dol Jan 22 at 18:06
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