My question is posed to the Protestant churches that teach that man is saved by faith alone.

If a person is saved by faith alone, what happens to children who die before they are able to conceive of the meaning of Christ's death and their own need for him and therefore cannot have a saving faith in his work?

I heard the John Calvin taught that unbaptized infants were saved by their parents' faith. I've also heard that some Calvinist pastors will say that there is no way of knowing, because God has chosen which will go to heaven and hell apart from human action. Some Roman Catholic teachers taught that there was a place in Hell (or between Heaven and Hell) called limbo for unbaptized infants, but I see that Pope Francis has stated that unbaptized infants do have hope of salvation (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/1549439/The-Pope-ends-state-of-limbo-after-800-years.html). But I'm looking for an overview of the positions that are taught as doctrine in the Protestant churches, or are at least in writing from their leaders.

  • Sola Fide, Protestant churches teach different, conflicting things about this. Can you narrow the question to a specific denomination perhaps?
    – Flimzy
    Commented Jun 5, 2016 at 16:56
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    The Catholic church does not teach that unbaptized children go to Limbo. Limbo is a popular theory about what happens to unbaptized infants, but it is not official Catholic teaching. Commented Jun 5, 2016 at 19:23
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    Aquinas proposed the theory of limbo and for many years it had Church approval., but was never official doctrine. However, I know personally that it was once taught as fact by the brothers (not just lay teachers). Nevertheless the Catholic Church is moving away from 'limbo' . Commented Jun 5, 2016 at 22:00
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    There are various views and I may try to trace the most common however they tend to be less doctrinaly worked and usually part of these three groups: beleive that infant baptism can infuse faith, beleive there is an initial age where one is not accountable in a strict sense, beleieve it is settled by predestination so age does not really become relevant. This answer weaves through a few of these concepts as being similar to your question. christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/8557/…
    – Mike
    Commented Jun 5, 2016 at 23:47
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    I'm thinking this would be better as an overview question. A good answer should then describe the three or four common views within the protestant church. Mike's comment could be expanded to that answer. Then you could ask for more detail about one or more of the views that interest you most. PS. I'm not too sure if I understand how overview questions work, though.
    – Bit Chaser
    Commented Jun 6, 2016 at 0:02

5 Answers 5


The salvation of infants within Protestant denominations cover a wide range of alternate views. The subject is closely related to different view of infant baptism but not identical. To avoid the subject of how baptism has its role in the subject, I would like to limit the scenario to a child that dies before having a chance of being baptized.

To keep things simple I would like to first list the main concepts involved that divide the views depending on the persons emphasis or belief in the principle ideas.

  1. Virtually all protestants believe in original sin, therefore infants do need salvation.
  2. Some believe that God can and does infuse a germ of faith into the soul of an infant at any age, regardless of the child's disposition or own will through irresistible grace. (This would be more common with Luther and Calvin and is similar to regenerating baptism)
  3. Some believe in point (2) above but only for the elect. (This would be more common among Calvinistic Reformed Churches who put an emphasis on election. Some Baptists might lean in this direction also.)
  4. Some believe faith is not even required for those assumed too young to sin of their own conscious choice and that faith is only required in those who are old enough to sin on their own accord. In other words everyone receives Christ until they reject Him. (This can be popular among almost any evangelical churches including Baptist, possibly less frequent in the traditional Lutheran)
  5. Some believe (3) but that faith is not infused in the infant but counted for what God could foresee if the child were to have lived. In this sense there is allowance of what would have been under different conditions which might possibly be part of God's hidden reasons for the election in the first place. However, strictly speaking most classical Calvinists would oppose that idea for anything remotely implying that God's election has anything to do with man must be excluded. Therefore they revert back to simple infused irresistible grace. Yet, nevertheless even hyper Calvinists might hold this belief that God's foreknowledge of different circumstances 'may' be involved as they can't see how God's knowledge can be excluded from any of his decisions. Pushing the idea of foreknowledge towards an actual full reason for election is where Armenians and Methodists are usually found.
  6. Some believe in point (2) but not just for the elect but practically speaking for those children of parents who are believers that baptize their children as infants. (I know I said I would exclude baptism but just as a branch of common ground I raise this one concept as virtually ceremonializing who is elect with respect to children.) This would be common in traditional and somewhat ceremonial churches like some Lutheran, some Anglican, I think some Presbyterian but am not sure. Some traditional reformed churches also I think might lean in this direction. The other varient of this of course is a mixture with (4). Under the mixed view, once an infant is too old, the security of baptism might 'wear off' so to speak and confirmation is needed. The reason is that an age of innocence has passed, whereby their were protected from their parents faith and baptism and now must believe or reject the gospel for themselves.

Why so many views? Because the Bible does not directly deal with the question or the answer. It is to be expected that where the Bible does not directly lay out a specific view directed to the subject of infant deaths, or at least not do so in an obvious way, naturally various different views will develop. The bible puts its focus on those who are able to choose and believe, or reject the offer of eternal life. If this makes someone feel frustrated it might be worth noticing that we really can't know for sure who are genuine Christians or not anyway. We can only obtain assurance for our own soul for our own condition. So if a child dies at 1 month or 40 years, we can only hope for their soul anyway. Our faith and hope must be placed in God, both for ourselves and for others.

References I have managed to find a good reference that seems to more or less categorize the different Protestant beliefs as I have done. All quotes from Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Norman L. Geisler, P360-365)

Baptized Infants Only

This view is held by sacramentalists, who believe that baptism is necessary for salvation. Some Roman Catholics, some Lutherans, and Anglicans espouse the position.

Elect Infants

The elect infant view has not found a home outside of very strong Calvinistic circles.

Those God “Foreknows.”

According to this position, God, as an omniscient Being, foreknew which infants would have believed if they had lived long enough.

All Infants

Since the seventeenth century the view that all infants are saved has become the most popular in varying theological traditions. Some believe that all infants will eventually believe. Others believe that God will save infants apart from the condition that they would believe.

  • A good overview, but you don't seem to have covered those who think we have nothing to go on scriptually to think God will save them?
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jun 6, 2016 at 14:50
  • @curiousdannii - To be clear (3) and (5) are for only the 'elect'. So some infants may die and go to hell (as an option) under those headings. I've never encoubtered a Protestant that thinks all the elect will life beyond infancy.
    – Mike
    Commented Jun 6, 2016 at 15:13
  • @Mike - I agree with the statement "We can only obtain assurance for our own soul", and how that view makes this question less urgent (although still interesting); however many Evangelical pastors will state that those who haven't "given their life to Christ" as narrowly defined by their own practice (saying the sinner's prayer ... etc) will certainly go to Hell. In essence they make a specific formula for salvation and then assert its negative. That should makes this question very important I would think.
    – Ian
    Commented Jun 6, 2016 at 15:59
  • @Mike No I meant that there are some who would say that based on what the Bible explicitly tells us, all infants who die will not be saved. 2-6 all have some being saved. But I'm pretty sure I've heard or read some protestants who think that while we can hope, we should have no expectations.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jun 7, 2016 at 0:14

What do Protestant churches teach about the fate of deceased infants?

Although this subject can be woven into the various doctrines of infant baptism, most Protestants would look to a biblical basis for their doctrine. The only verse that comes close to describing a specific teaching on this describes David’s reaction to the loss of his son;

2 Samuel 12:23 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.

Here there is a degree of uncertainty if David is describing death and the grave or the resurrected state.

Without a specific verse describing a clear and specific doctrine, we enter the arena of derived doctrine. This is always a little tricky and one should tred carefully.

We know that because of sin everything that lives must die.

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

We know that after death comes judgment;

Hebrews 9:27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:

The question becomes what judgment is made of those who were too young to understand what they did (what has been called the age of accountability). We do get an idea that there are circumstances where God withholds judgment;

Acts 17:29-30 Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:

We do know that God judges those who reject the revelation of him in nature;

Romans 1:20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

Here we get an idea that if the eternal power and Godhead were not discernible (which would be the case for infants) that there might be an “excuse”.

Some advance the idea that there are those “elect” from the womb who are saved by virtue of their election. These often cite David as an example of this condition.

Psalm 22:9-10 But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother's breasts. I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother's belly.

These would view that some are saved by virtue of their election. However this view implies the condemnation of those who are not elect. This view gains support also from David;

Psalm 58:3 The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies.

There are basically three views;

  1. All go to hell. In this view because of the pervasive nature of original sin all infants are guilty and worthy of condemnation. Some might be saved by baptism or become old enough to understand their need of a Savior and trust in Jesus but otherwise they have no hope. This view is somewhat modified if one considers that hell might not be as eternal as one thinks (the definition of the Greek “aion” can be quite variable) and that judgment is proportional to works;

Revelation 20:13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.

  1. Some are saved. In this view there is a reason for some infants to be saved (such as election). However, others are still destined for hell.

  2. All are saved. In this view judgment is not made for those who were unable to be responsible. This view gains support from Jesus;

John 9:41 Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth.

Most churches would teach that infants who die before an age of accountability would be saved. This view would be derived from verses that testify to the mercy and goodness of God. Even without verses that spell out the specifics and mechanism by which and why this happens, most would trust in the mercy and goodness of God.


As others have mentioned, there are many Protestant denominations and a wide spectrum of diversity within those deominations. The real issue boils down to Calvinist denominations and Arminian or Non-Calvinist denominations.

The following quote is from Timf, who summarized it very accurately in his answer:

"Most churches would teach that infants who die before an age of accountability would be saved. This view would be derived from verses that testify to the mercy and goodness of God. Even without verses that spell out the specifics and mechanism by which and why this happens, most would trust in the mercy and goodness of God."

I can say with certainty that this is the position of Southern Baptists and most Freewill Baptists, Nazarenes, Bible Methodist, Church of God, Assembly of God, Holiness churches and most Pentecostal churches as well as most Evangelical Free Church of America - particularly the ones where the leaders are not Calvinist.

This issue here is really the same exact issue that relates to people born with severe mental disabilities and is another problem for the Calvinists. In one PCA church it was the teaching that all aborted babies go to hell, but some PCA churches teach that babies who are born to Christian parents must be elect, so these babies that die in infancy go to heaven- a huge stretch and not supported by scripture.

Most Protestant churches teach the principle of Age of Accountability, and this is based on at least 5 scriptures.

  • Matthew 19:14 English Standard Version 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

  • 2 Samuel 12:23 "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." When David's child died and he was comforted knowing that he would see him again in heaven.

  • Romans 5:13 "for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law."

  • Romans 4:15 "For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression."

In addition to these, Protestants also use the passages in the Old Testament about children who are not old enough to go to war and the concept of Bar Mitzvah - that a boy or girl comes of age at age 13.

It should be noted that this same Biblical principle of age of accountability also applies to the millions born with cerebral palsy, severe autism, and other mental illness, who are not capable of understanding the law or the 10 commandments, and sin/ atonement or repentance.


The scripture references about the fate of unbaptized children of a Christian follow.

For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. 1 Cor 7:14

"Holy" means "Holiness, Holy, Holily:

akin to A, Nos. 1 and 2, which are from the same root as hagnos (found in hazo, "to venerate"), fundamentally signifies "separated" (among the Greeks, dedicated to the gods), and hence, in Scripture in its moral and spiritual significance, separated from sin and therefore consecrated to God, sacred."

Moreover, Paul isn't making something up, but using this principle.

For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches. Romans 11:16

So, if a parent is holy (saved, born-again), the lump or branches (children) are too.

The fate of children of the unsaved is a different topic.


An important and probably decisive principle of the Bible is not only found in the fact that 1. the age of 20 is overproportionally often mentioned in the Bible (32 times), that 2. most of the kings started their office at or shortly after the Age of Accountability of 20 years, but 3. especially in Num 14:29-33, where God excluded children up to the age of 19 years from the condemnation of their respective tribes:

... in this desert your corpses will fall, and all your counted ones, according to all your number, from twenty years old and above who grumbled against me. [...] But your little children, whom you said would be plunder, I will bring them, and they will know the land that you rejected.

God punished here the people of the lying spies, but intentionally excluded their children.

The parallel passage is found in Deu 1:39 - with the very important addition that those children do not know good or bad:

And your little children, who you thought shall become plunder, and your sons, who do not today know good or bad, shall themselves go there [the Promised Land which can be paralleled to our future Promised Land], and I will give it to them, and they shall take possession of it.

If God excluded in 1446 BC children under the age of 20 from condemnation, then He will do so especially after the First Coming of Jesus Christ. It would be abstruse to assume the contrary.

Furthermore, children are described as 'innocent' in Jer 19:4-5:

... they have filled up this place with the blood of the innocent, and they have built the high places of Baal, to burn their children in the fire ...

1Cor 7:14 saying 'they are holy' and Mat 19:14 stating 'to such belongs the Kingdom of Heaven' make it clear that all children of true believers who will have died until the age of 19, will be part of the New Jerusalem. Meanwhile, children of unbelieving parents who will have died until the age of 19 will form those nations that serve the New Jerusalem.

Isa 60:14-20 ... And the children of those who oppressed you shall come to you bending low ... [...] And you shall call your walls Salvation [...] The sun shall no longer be your light by day ...

(See also Rev 21:24-27, Rev 22:1-2, Hos 2:18, Mic 4:1-5 and Luk 19:17-19 for more details about the surrounding nations, a topic commonly overlooked in eschatology. All unbelievers not found in the Book of Life will be in hell, but their children who will have died until the age of 19 will form the nations outside the New Jerusalem).

Hope that clarifies the question which is still very relevant.

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