Having attended Baptist Churches for years, I've often heard the term "age of accountability" bandied about.

The idea is that if a child dies at a young age - before reaching the "age of accountability", that child will go to Heaven, because he or she is not yet responsible for his or her sins. He or she is "too young to understand the Gospel".

This age is not a specific age, but is understood to be different for everyone. I'm not asking what this age is.

What I am asking, is where is the Scriptural evidence to support such a doctrine?

Quite frankly, one of the reasons I stick to Baptist Churches is not because I consider myself a Baptist, but because it's the one denomination where in my (admittedly limited) experience, Pastors consistently say "If I ever preach anything that's not in the Word, or contrary to the Word, don't believe me."

Yet, I can find no Scriptural evidence for such a doctrine. Am I missing it? If so, where is it in Scripture? If it exists, please point me to the verses.

Or is it a doctrine based on supposition, attempting to reconcile the idea that a loving God, and the horrific idea that child could go to Hell simply for not being old enough to understand their lost state, repent, and put their faith in Christ?


4 Answers 4


There are two aspects to the Biblical basis for this doctrine.

1) Rationale

There is a rationale, theological argument that God is just, and would not impute sin where there was no knowledge of sin or no opportunity to choose Him. This is based on Old Testament passages like Proverbs 24:12, as well as New Testament passages such as:

sin is not imputed when there is no law -Romans 5:13

2) Precedence

But the main argument comes from a story in 2 Samuel 12:14-31 in which God takes the life of David's newborn son as punishment for his sin. After his son is dead, David makes the following statement:

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.” -v.23

This is generally taken to mean that David expected to see his son again in Heaven some day, even though he died as an infant, and never had the chance to accept or reject God.

The obvious question though, is why did David expect to see his son again? The popular answer, of course, is that all such children go to Heaven. After all, the alternative is unthinkable - surely God would not judge an infant with eternity in Hell if they never had a chance to hear the gospel.


For what it's worth, I think the doctrine of an "age of accountability" is based on a lot of misunderstandings and bad hermeneutics. However, we can rest assured that God is perfect in His love, justice, and wisdom. For an alternative view to the "age of accountability" see my post here.

  • 2
    What do you do with Psalm 51:5? "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." Also Ephesians 2:3 which says that we are all "by nature children of wrath?"
    – Dan
    Commented Jul 18, 2012 at 14:25
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    @DanO'Day Psalm 51:5 and Ephesians 2:3 are true. What do I do with them? I accept them as truth; we are all born in sin and in need of a Savior. I also accept the truth of 1 John 4:16, Psalm 89:14, 1 Timothy 2:3-4, Romans 3:20 and 5:13, Titus 2:11, etc. Is there a contradiction? I don't think so. God is wise, loving, powerful, just... and He desires all men to be with Him in eternity. He would not allow the untimely death of a child to be the cause of that person spending eternity in Hell instead of Heaven. How does that work? See the link in my answer for my take on things.
    – Jas 3.1
    Commented Jul 18, 2012 at 21:17
  • I'm still sorting out my stance on Augustinian concupiscence. Eastern and Western theologians go in two opposite directions on that issue. I was just curious how you explain those passages. I know there are other passages that seem to indicate otherwise (I'm surprised no one has cited Ezekiel 18 yet).
    – Dan
    Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 1:17

I think it is difficult to discuss the concept of accountability without putting it into the context of other views of similar sorts, from which this concept seems to be derived from their rejection.

Basically the Baptist tradition comes from the earlier Anabaptists of history who in many ways were largely defined because they could not accept views of infant Baptism that implied the child baptized received the full measure of Christian grace as did an adult who was converted to Christ and then Baptized.

In rejecting infant baptism a security blanket was thrown aside in terms of parents and their practical concerns over their children.

Let's back up a bit. Let me explain things in terms most acceptable to a Baptist for ease of communication. First, what might be considered the extreme end of support for infant Baptism, parents think that their child was elect and that their decision to baptize the child is only a symbolic right confirming that God chose this child to be born under the covenant of their parents, before the foundation of the world. In this sense God may also see fit to actually regenerate the infant with new birth during the actual Baptism and dedication of the child to God. This belief necessitates a wide view of the possible sins a Christian can commit because often these children go through a deep wilderness before finding God in outward profession.

A more moderate stance on infant Baptism can be seen here presented by John Owen On Infant Baptism (keep in mind that Owen was a kind of Job; he had 17 kids, 16 of whom died as infants with the 17th daughter also dying shortly after being married). On this stance there does not seem to be an absolute belief that every child is actually reborn in infant baptism, but there is a strong assumption of the “Age of accountability” implicit in the protected state of a child who has been baptized as an infant but this 'security' blanket is not there for the child who has not. Some difficulty is presented here because even when past writers are very clear about various aspects, the exact meaning of infant baptism seems to be partially avoided. In any case, Owen seems also to have some degree of faith in God's election as protecting children before a kind of "age of accountability" under the faith of their parents and he imagines the same kind of thing to occur under the Old Testament with circumcision. Owen would be the last reformer to say that circumcision still protected children once they had rejected the faith of Abraham, but there is definitely an age of protection by grace upon infants until they are old enough to be properly accountable.

The other reformed extreme can be presented by a person like Jonathan Edwards who in some ways was more cynical about infant Baptism then Baptists are. Edwards supported infant baptism but often indicated a belief that infants were often escorted into hell under judgments such as the fire that rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah, almost taking the reverse view of an elect protection, which he also seemed to hold, but rather an election to damnation represented by lively figures of flames engulfing children in their cribs. What can we say about that except even average Baptist would back away bit from the red-hot sermons of an Edwards. This could partly indicate why some of his congregations complained about having suicidal thoughts. But this is not about Edwards, so I digress. For an excellent survey and analysis on Edwards thoughts and how they fit into historical views, read this Jonathan Edwards, Infant Baptism.

So why have I put all this history forward? Well it answers you question in a round about way. Baptists simply reject the sacrament as a means of rebirth but prefer to wait and baptize those who actually have faith. However as the security blanket that comforted parents in the old regime (the baby) was thrown out with the bathwater (pun intended) Baptists need to recreate an “Age of accountability” to infer the mystery of protection by grace according to election. I do not think there is a doctrinal basis for the belief, nor is this ‘temporary protection’ believed by all Baptists, as many are more similar to Jonathan Edwards. The problem with the idea of ‘temporary protection’, regardless of its origin, is that it is like the argument of the beard. How many whiskers make a beard? Each person has a different answer. So how old is accountable? Two months, two years, twenty years? It all depends on who you ask.

I think the whole matter is better resolved by looking at Abraham being willing to sacrifice Isaac. He had faith and did not need to make complicated conjectures. Have faith and dedicate your children to God. I partly feel that if the sacrament was not abused by those who claim absolute regeneration through baptism, then the Anabaptists would never have existed. Also because there are those that take false security in their child’s baptism, and so do not make every effort to ensure that their children come into the faith of the gospel. Even if God did intend that parents baptize their children as infants, God also accepts the Anabaptist practice on account of its rejection of a twisted corruption of the original.

In the end a parent who loses a child must put their faith in God. Even parents who lose their children as adults, who seem to have forsaken the way, must have 'hope against hope' or believe even when we have little supporting evidence. (Romans 4:18) The idea that our children could be in hell is too terrible to bear, regardless of whether we believe in an age of accountability, or infant Baptism, or not. Every parent shares the same concern and the same doubts that God alone to comfort us by faith. Faith does not always need logical explanation when it pertains to eternity, election, time and children.

This is one of the few subjects where I accept pretty much everyone’s views on the subject, aside from the extreme end where baptism is enough to save a child, even if he turns out reject the faith or even to become Hitler.

  • 1
    The "baby being thrown out with the bathwater" pun made me chuckle. +1 for "have faith". I think that's the real key to the whole debate.
    – Jas 3.1
    Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 17:00

When the Scripture is seemingly silent on any particular topic that is of concern to the Christian church generally, there is a temptation to wonder why God was not "clearer" concerning this or that issue or question. When this occurs, a better course of action is to remember that while the Scripture is very specific on some things, a great deal of its content comes to us in the form of general principles which God expects us to apply to existential situations, questions, and decisions.

For example, nowhere in Scripture can we find a prohibition against abortion. We are not therefore free to conclude that abortion is perfectly acceptable to God. On the contrary, we take the clearly understood principles in the Scripture, such as the infinite worth of every human life, whether in the womb or out of the womb, and we apply those principles to the issue at hand. Christians can and should be guided in their thinking by those passages which underscore the sanctity of life, as they press their case in the dialog with people who are pro-choice.

Another example would be the tobacco habit. Scripture does not specifically forbid smoking. It does, however, teach us that our bodies are given to us by God and that we are to be good stewards of them. Moreover, the body of each believer in Christ is a temple of the Holy Spirit who indwells him or her. Just as sexual immorality is associated with a host of sexually transmitted diseases, some of which are incurable and even fatal (e.g., AIDS), and all of which, by the way, are prohibited in Scripture, so too the tobacco habit is associated with a host of avoidable diseases, all of which can shorten our lives unnecessarily. Again, smoking is a stewardship issue and a sanctity of life issue. The same principle could apply to gluttony, illegal drugs and alcohol abuse, texting while driving, and on and on and on.

In His teaching, Jesus never spoke of an "age of accountability" (AOA) per se. While I cannot speak to the traditions of various denominations in regard to the AOA, I can, however, suggest we use a well respected method of interpretation, by which we take the principles which are clearly taught in the Scripture and apply them to what is not so clear. This approach is a common interpretive method applicable to virtually any writing, from the Bible to a modern-day parking ticket, and it is particularly invaluable when the Bible is seemingly silent on an important issue.

In short, Jesus was silent on AOA. He did, however, have a great deal to say about children, infants, and "little ones" (who generally were not children at all, but a term for His followers). As we take these teachings, glean important principles from them, and then apply these principles to the issue of AOA, we begin to realize the Scripture is not as silent as we first thought it to be.

Over and over again Jesus stressed the necessity of coming to God as a little child, and to do so in simple, childlike faith. "Jesus loves the little children," we used to sing in Sunday school. "Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world."

When His disciples sought to keep the little babies and ankle-biters away from our Lord, He rebuked His disciples, saying,

"Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 19:14).

In order to capture the context and flow of the passages from which this famous verse comes, I'll reproduce here Orville E. Daniel's A Harmony of the Four Gospels (p.182) so that by conflating the accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, each unique detail of the narrative from each of the Synoptics is included:

The little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He called the little children to him and said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them (Ma 19:13-15; Mk 10:13-16; Lk 18:15-17).

Jesus was indignant that His disciples wanted to shoo away the children and the parents who had brought their babies to Him. To be indignant is to have a feeling that something is not right, that an attitude or a behavior is not worthy of a laudable value or a preferable standard for attitudes and behaviors (indignity coming from the Latin stem stem dignus, worthy + in, not) . To Jesus, the attitude that children are somehow unworthy of His ministrations was antithetical to, and unworthy of, the principles by which He lived. Hence, Jesus felt indignant.

Why were children so important to Jesus that He would encourage them to come to Him, that He would take them in His arms and bless them, that He would pray for them, and that He would use them as illustrations of important biblical principles? I suggest it was not because children are pure, innocent, and without sin; rather, it was because children almost instinctively trust their elders through a three-step process which Spurgeon used to define faith: faith begins with knowing, it proceeds to believing, and it culminates in trusting. In the same manner adults must exercise faith in a knowing, believing, and trusting process. Otherwise, we will never experience God's forgiveness, cleansing, and God's acceptance of us into His forever-family.

Trusting does not require a great deal of smarts, which is why Jesus thanked His Father that His teachings were revealed not to the wise and the intelligent, but to "infants" (see Matthew 10:25; Luke 10:21). In the context of these two verses, Jesus was thanking His Father primarily for His "infant" disciples. At the same time, however, Jesus was also underscoring the importance of exercising simple, childlike trust in God, as opposed to the relative unimportance of using worldly intelligence and wisdom to come to God (see 1 Corinthians 1:18-25).

So, then, Jesus did not speak of an "age of accountability," but He clearly valued children and used them as an example when He taught His followers on the importance of trust and humility in being converted. Children, according to Jesus, already have the requisite and sufficient trust and humility to be considered part of the kingdom of heaven. If we as adults do not become like them, we'll never be converted, and thus we will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

"'Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven'" (Matthew 18:3,4).

In conclusion, had Jesus expected children to repent and be converted, He would have addressed them as He did His adult audience. Clearly, however, He did not do that, not even on one occasion. Since Jesus clearly loved the children and used them as an example of the values of humility and trust, we can safely conclude that children are part of God's forever family.

Sometimes when the Scripture is seemingly silent on an issue, that silence, if it is truly there, is there because God did not deem it necessary to provide more guidance than what is already in His Word in the form of guiding principles. As for the specifics of what age is the age of accountability, we need to apply those principles on a case-by-case basis, just as God will in the day of judgment.


I do not believe that the Bible lists any age in particular.

The Bible is clear, however, that babies/young children who die enter Heaven. In Romans 9:11, the Apostle Paul is clear that unborn babies HAVE NOT committed any personal sins, and are thus NOT guilty.

Romans 9:11

(For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;)

Job 3:11-19

Why died I not from the womb? why did I not give up the ghost when I came out of the belly? Why did the knees prevent me? or why the breasts that I should suck? For now should I have lain still and been quiet, I should have slept: then had I been at rest, With kings and counsellors of the earth, which build desolate places for themselves; Or with princes that had gold, who filled their houses with silver: Or as an hidden untimely birth I had not been; as infants which never saw light. There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest. There the prisoners rest together; they hear not the voice of the oppressor. The small and great are there; and the servant is free from his master.

This passage is clear that babies/young children who die enter straight into Heaven.

While there is no particular age of accountability mentioned, we can be assured that 12-19 year olds are certainly accountable for their sins, as seen throughout numerous passages in the Old and New Testament.

Luke 2:41-49

Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day's journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?

We see that the Lord Jesus Christ, at the age of 12 years, impressed the elders of the Temple with His wisdom. Clearly, we can see that 12-year-olds are definitely held accountable for their actions/sins.

There are several other examples of young people (under age 20 years) who did great things for God and who were given great responsibilities. This included Joseph, Samuel, David, and Jeremiah, who were all under the age of 20 years.

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