There's an interesting topic regarding the salvation of unborn babies that inspired this question.

I believe that babies that die previous to birth go to heaven. I also believe that young children that die go to heaven as well.

But at what point are children responsible for their sins? My 2 year old may sin, not knowing it as a sin. Is she guilty of that sin and will she be held accountable by God? What about a 5 year old?

The Jewish belief is that they're not accountable until age 13 (thus part of the reason for the bar/bat mitzvah). Is that really the answer for Christians, though?

  • I am closing this question as Not Constructive based on the quality standards that we've established. Clearly, this question is argumentative and meant to play the denominations against each other (I know, I wrote it). This can also be seen in the low quality of the accepted answer. Therefore, I'm closing this as Not Constructive.
    – Richard
    Oct 20 '11 at 15:41
  • very Christ like of you ;) Jun 14 '12 at 22:58
  • Related: christianity.stackexchange.com/q/8557/1548
    – Jas 3.1
    Dec 17 '13 at 6:05

In order to give any meaningful answer, we must first assume the existence of free will. Otherwise, the question is moot; children are simply doing what has been predestined that they will do. But if we understand that free will is given to everyone, including children, then it's fairly easy to answer.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explained that sin begins in one's thoughts, and that it's important to keep from thoughts that can lead us to do evil. So therefore, children who don't understand the concept of sin and the difference between good and evil aren't capable of choosing to commit sin.

They can do exasperating things sometimes, usually because it's simple human nature to seek fulfillment of basic needs and they don't understand self-restraint yet, or because they crave attention and they've learned that doing certain things will bring immediate reactions from adults. But it's not until they're old enough to understand the abstract concepts of absolute good and evil existing independent of themselves and their desires that they're capable of knowingly choosing something that's wrong, and thereby committing sin.

I don't believe the Bible gives any doctrine as to exactly when that awareness comes to a child. I've seen some research in child psychology that suggests that it comes towards the end of the first decade of life, but that's hardly conclusive, and it's probably a bit different for every kid anyway.

  • 6
    Not all understandings of predestination exclude free will.
    – raphink
    Aug 24 '11 at 14:39

In Judaism religious maturity is celebrated when a young man reaches the age of 13 (bar mitzvah) or when a young woman reaches 12 (bat mitzvah). At that point they are said to become a son or daughter of the commandments; from then onward they are expected to follow the law and be responsible spiritually for their own actions.

'Age of accountability' is not a phrase found in the Bible, but the concept can be seen in the following scriptures.

DEUTERONOMY 1:39 (KJV) 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.

ISAIAH 7:16 (KJV) For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.

Realistically, some children mature quicker than others. The Jewish faith places the 'age of accountability' on a specific date (their 12th or 13th birthday), but God knows precisely when in a person's life they have reached the point when they can 'refuse the evil and choose the good'.

  • Excellent answer backed with relevant and authoritative scripture.
    – Austin
    Oct 22 at 18:47

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