Search This Blog

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"Original Sin" and Infant Salvation

One of the difficulties within evangelical theology relates to what happens to infants when they die. Because evangelicals believe in original sin, they believe that infants are born corrupt and sinful. Listen to John MacArthur, the wildly popular Christian author and preacher, in a sermon on Infant Salvation:
the Bible is absolutely crystal-clear that all children are sinners from conception–all children. The principle of iniquity is embedded in the human race. Children are born morally corrupt. They are born with an irresistible bent towards evil. And any notion that children are born morally neutral and free from a predisposition to sin is absolutely contrary to Scripture.... All humans are born in sin. If infants were not sinful, if they were not morally corrupt, then they wouldn’t die. If they were born innocent or pure or morally neutral, there would be no basis for their death! The very fact that they die indicates that the disease of sin is there in them, because sin is the killer. It is in their inherited sin nature that the seeds of death are planted.
Since infants are sinners and since faith is the means through which one receives forgiveness and salvation, and since infants obviously are not capable of faith, how then can infants be saved? The simple fact is that the Bible does not address this issue. However, since it seems terribly unfair and even hideous to think that infants would be condemned to an eternal hell, evangelicals have sought ways to explain how these infants can be saved.

MacArthur opens his sermon on infant salvation by saying:
Some of you who tuned into the Larry King Show, a week ago Saturday, will remember that Larry fired a question to me on the air–it came out of nowhere–a question that reveals a nagging, troubling issue in the human heart. He asked me, “What about a two-year-old baby crushed at the bottom of the World Trade Center?” I answered, “Instant heaven.” He replied with another question: “Wasn’t a sinner?” I again answered, “Instant heaven.” All kinds of strange answers have been offered in the past. We don’t need to deal with those; we need to know the right answer.
MacArthur is right. Not all Christians throughout church history have held that infants automatically go to heaven. Gregory, Bishop of Nazianzus (329-374 CE), held that only baptized infants go to heaven and that unbaptized infants do not. He said unbaptized infants will neither be admitted by the just judge to the glory of Heaven nor condemned to suffer punishment, since, though unsealed [by baptism], they are not wicked (Oration on Baptism, par. 23). Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE) was the first to deal with the issue in any detail. In a chapter entitled: Unbaptized Infants Damned, But Most Lightly, he said: It may therefore be correctly affirmed, that such infants as quit the body without being baptized will be involved in the mildest condemnation of all. That person, therefore, greatly deceives both himself and others, who teaches that they will not be involved in condemnation....

Augustine's reasoning was that baptism removes original sin and therefore baptized infants can go into the presence of God but unbaptized infants cannot. Thus, he came up with the idea of a place which was not quite heaven and not quite hell. Medieval theologians called it Limbo of infants (Latin, limbus infantium). In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI released a report which said: "The conclusion of this study is that there are theological and liturgical reasons to hope that infants who die without baptism may be saved and brought into eternal happiness even if there is not an explicit teaching on this question found in revelation. There are reasons to hope that God will save these infants precisely because it was not possible (to baptise them)." (Some people saw this as a public relations move because Islam teaches that babies go to heaven and the RCC and Islam are in stiff competition in many 3rd world countries where the infant mortality rate is extremely high.)

Most Protestant theologians have held that all infants go to heaven, although the Westminster Confession leaves the possibility open that some infants might not. It says in chapter X, paragraph III: Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth. So also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.(10.3)Some hard-core Calvinists (e.g., Jonathan Edwards ) have implied at least that there may be some infants who are not elect. This is very much a minority view in today's world where most everyone sees it as completely unjust for God to damn infants. In previous times, it might have been acceptable for some religions to teach that not all infants go to heaven but it is a public relations nightmare in today's world.

The simple fact, however, is that the Bible does not really answer this question definitively. Thus, theologians are left with a dilemma. How does one hold that babies are born sinners and condemned before God (i.e., original sin) and yet also hold that if they die before reaching maturity, they go to heaven? I will explore how evangelicals attempt to handle this thorny issue in the next post.


  1. I was born into fundamentalist Baptist, but attended a Calvinist church in my 30's. Quite a shock to my system, ofcourse. One big thing was that instead of viewing your children sitting around your table as sinners that needed to get saved asap, the Calvinists saw their children as already part of God's family-they were already in. That seemed like at least a nicer, kinder way of viewing your children.
    And I think the Calvinists are more in line with the Bible. Like that verse about somebody being saved-"you and your household." I guess that means that it's really all about the man-and the wife and children are part of that package. Like the stuff in the Bible is not even directed at women and children except for a very few verses, if I remember right.

    1. If I really believed the Westminster confession concerning infants then I would believe the most loving thing you could do is kill as many infants as you can since there either elect and going to heaven and therefore an immediate death would be an immense blessing or that they are destined for hell and might as well be taken out of this world before that can do any more harm.

  2. Lynn,

    Thanks for the comments. You are right. In Reformed theology, children, once baptized, are part of the covenant along with their parents. This is so convenient, isn't it? "God bless my four and no more." I was discussing this point on another website yesterday and here is what one Reformed person told me: In mine, children are not seen by God as different people than their parents until they reach adulthood and become individuals in His eyes. Hence, the faith of the parent extends to all of the individual, including his or her children. That’s one of the reasons we, in certain sections of the Reformed camp, baptize our children. (comment #107)

    Your point about "household" salvation is an interesting one that I need to address at some point. The verse you are thinking of is Acts 16:31. The idea among many in the ancient world was that the father makes the decision for the household and they are all included in the result of his decision. I think that's why Achan's family was killed in Joshua 7:24-25.

  3. Again you make us think about how different denominations of christian faith do not agree. I am sure there are those who would say that those people who interpret the bible certain ways are just not real christians or do not compare scripture with scripture. Some of the comments made yesterday about Ken Daniels not being a christian makes me want to ask who are you to judge another person's belief. If you believe in the bible you are taught not to judge others that that is god's job only.

  4. Ken, your post provokes two thoughts.

    First, evangelicals are often in the business of reminding one another to beware of pleasing doctrines that suit the current cultural mindset. Truth does not change, so the line goes, while prevailing attitudes do, and so one must hold fast to whatever the Bible allegedly teaches, however unpopular that may be. On the other hand, evangelicals are also often in the business of explaining how it is that whichever Bible verses that seem alien to modern sensibilities are mere vestiges of an obsolete era. We need not obey or emulate such teachings or behaviors, so the line goes, for those are nonessential to Christian living, mere curios relics. Now, the case you write about comes up, and the historical weight of Christian teaching lends itself to the notion that dead infants may burn, while the Bible makes no explicit provisions for such terrible circumstances. Will the evangelical stand her ground against the widespread accusation of injustice in such a doctrine? No, as a product of contemporary morality, she will conjure some doctrine to sooth the hideous sore – perfectly consistent with her general inconsistency.

    Second, there seems to be nothing odd about God condemning infants to hell given Calvinism. What difference is there between cases in which God predestines a person to live fifty years and then die without ever being unilaterally regenerated and others in which the reprobate individual is instead predetermined to die at five years of age? In neither case does human reasoning, understanding, or willing have any positive effect, for the exercise of such faculties are incapable of bringing the spiritually dead to life. If God kills the sinner before she knows right from wrong, that is a non-issue, for she would only have hated God anyway without divine intervention.

    I look forward to your future posts on this topic.

  5. really,

    I think Christianity is all about judging others. The Bible says not to judge, yet also tells you what you are to do and not do, so you not only have to worry about judging yourself against all that, but, being human, are also looking at your neighbor's sins. It's a set-up to make you go nuts if you try to figure it all out.
    That's why I think the happiest Christians don't "think" too much about it.

  6. Reuben,

    Those are some excellent observations. Thank you.

  7. Lynn,

    You are correct. The "happiest" Christians just don't think about such things.

  8. Ken,

    You make some very good points. However, the focus is on disproving something or someone else's position rather than proving anything. I'm left at a loss.

  9. Ken wrote:

    "The simple fact, however, is that the Bible does not really answer this question definitively. Thus, theologians are left with a dilemma. How does one hold that babies are born sinners and condemned before God (i.e., original sin) and yet also hold that if they die before reaching maturity, they go to heaven?"

    * * *

    The bible does answer: it’s pretty clear if anyone cared to read it:

    Joh 3:13
    (13) And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.

    Old Testament contexts:
    a. the "King of Glory" ascends to heaven because he is the "LORD of Hosts" (see Psalm 24)
    b. he who "ascends and descends" is the same who "established the ends of the earth" (see Proverbs 30)

    Even if one reasons that infants are not “men” simple deduction shows that neither do infants ascend to heaven. Consider David’s unnamed child:

    2Sa 12:22-23
    (22) And he said, While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether GOD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?
    (23) But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.

    We should expect to find David and his child together. Yet David, being a man, had not ascended to heaven in Christ's day, and he was *still dead* and *not ascended to heaven* when Peter spoke to the Jews in Acts.

    Act 2:29
    (29) Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day.

    Act 2:34
    (34) For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand,

    That seems to be pretty plainly spoken. If David has gone to his child, and David is not in heaven, then his child is not in heaven.

    The Bible does answer this question definitively: infants do not go to heaven. Jesus said that no [other] man ascends to heaven, and we are not told this in a sense that would discriminate between age or gender.

    Take care,

  10. Dear Ken,

    I disagree with one of your comments where you wrote:

    "the "happiest" Christians just don't think about such things."

    I think that the happiest Christians *do* think about such things. Does Paul count as a happy Christian?

    1Th 4:13
    (13) But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.

    The happiest Christians are the ones who read and believe their scriptures as written, without paying heed to so-called "evangelical theologians."

    The dead are dead, including infants, and called "sleeping" and the Bible promises a resurrection of the dead. There will be a resurrection for all men no matter how they died.

    Isa 65:20
    (20) There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed.

    Does that really sound like God forgot about children? Read the context of that verse: it's speaking of the Jerusalem that shall be when God creates a "new heavens and a new earth." In Revelation this is called "new Jerusalem" and this follows the resurrection of the dead.

    This "going to heaven" doctrine is totally contradicted by scripture and replaces the biblical doctrine of the resurrection of the dead.

    Does William Tyndale count as a "happy Christian?" He willingly laid down his life to translate the scriptures into English.

    William Tyndale wrote: "The true faith putteth the resurrection, which we be warned to look for every hour. The heathen philosophers, denying that, did put that the souls did ever live. And the pope joineth the spiritual doctrine of Christ and the fleshly doctrine of philosophers together; things so contrary that they cannot agree, no more than the Spirit and the flesh do in a Christian man. And because the fleshly-minded pope consenteth unto heathen doctrine, therefore he corrupteth the Scripture to stablish it."

    Here's another quote for thought:

    Justin Martyr wrote: “If you have fallen in with some who are called Christians, but who do not admit this, and venture to blaspheme the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven; do not imagine that they are Christians”

    "Going to heaven when you die" is not a Christian doctrine. Considering Justin's quote, this was a "new doctrine" that was starting to be seen when he wrote this in 158 A.D.

    Christians do not need to "go to heaven when they die" because they have the promise of a resurrection. The happiest Christians do think about such things.

    1Th 4:18
    (18) Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

    Yes, I agree that "infant salvation" is a stupid non-biblical doctrine, but I disagree when you say that "the Bible does not really answer this definitively."

    1) Jesus ascended to heaven because he was the LORD of Hosts (see Psalm 24 and Acts 2)
    2) Everyone else who has died is dead, asleep in the dust of the earth, and awaits the resurrection (see Daniel 12:2)

    That's pretty simple, isn't it? The Bible is not silent about this.

    Take care,

  11. Actually, you are right, Ken:

    Infants who die before the age of accountability CAN'T go to heaven, as they did not express faith (something of which a baby is incapable), but they do NOT necessarily go to hell either (consistent with God's nature).

    There is a compelling argument that they go to heaven FOR THE TIME BEING and reunite with their parents (if said parents are saved) in the 1,000-year Millennium Reign of CHRIST / KING Jesus.

    I will email some of my notes on this -- I have also written a book on this, but as I am still making editorial changes to it, I shall not hawk it just as yet. I'm sure you can find it on Amazon, under a search of my name, if you like.

    PS: Some would say that it's appointed once for man to die, and thereafter the judgment (Heb 9:27), but who's to say the judgment isn't for the kids to reappear in the millennium. (Also, where WILL all the children described in the millennium come from? "Things that make you go 'hmm...'.")

    As there will be a rebellion at the end, as well as people in physical bodies, we can suppose Free Will.

    Also, some would suggest that the kids are getting a 2nd chance ... NOT: They never got a 1st chance, and the Millennium *would* be such a chance.

    So, my supposition stands: The Millennium it is. (See, there WAS an answer AFTER all!)


    Are infants proper candidates for baptism? Do babies meet the requirements to be baptized? The short answer is no.

    Acts 8:26-40 ....36 As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, "Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized? 37 [And Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God."]

    Unlike the Ethiopian eunuch; babies cannot believe with all their heart. Infants cannot make the confession, that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God. Babies do meet the requirements for water baptism.


    Acts 2:22-37 Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?"

    There were no infants baptized on the Day of Pentecost. Why not?

    1. They could not believe in Jesus the Nazarene.
    2. Infants could not believe in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
    3. Babies could not realize that God made Jesus both Lord and Christ.
    4. Infants could not be pierced to the heart, nor could they ask, " Brethren, what shall we do?"

    Acts 2:38 Peter said to them,"Repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    Infants do not need to repent; because they have no sin to repent from. Repentance means to turn from sin and turn toward God. Infants are not candidates for water baptism.

    Acts 2:41 So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.

    There were no infants added to the church that day. Why not? Because babies could not receive Peter's word. Infants are not capable of understanding the gospel. Infants are not qualified to be baptized in water.


    Acts 16:31-34 They said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.....33.....and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. 34 ....having believed in God with his whole household.

    The jailer and his whole household believed before they were baptized. There were no babies baptized. Infants are not capable of believing. Infants are not qualified to be baptized.




    1. good points, Steve: You CAN'T get saved without believing! :) In a more recent reply in another thread, I have this to say:

      "You [Former Fundy] and Sproul are both correct: Salvation apart from faith (which babies CAN'T have) is unBiblical. But, God, who is fair and impartial, would not short-change infants: If he gave adults a chance to exercise free will, why not children? Also, even angels, who WERE in heaven (as are the babies who died in infancey, as we speak), had did NOT free will stripped from them, so babies WILL get a chance. This begs the question: WHEN/WHERE? Probably in the millennium, which IS Scripturally possible. "Probably," I say, tho i admit I don't know for sure: This begs another question: Why does the Bible NOT say WHEN/WHERE? I'm guessing God did not tell exactly because He wanted to humble the proud know-it-alls, and probably also to push us to get curious and study The Word. For more on this, please see "When Babies Die: Where do they go?," by Gordon Wayne Watts, ... me. It's on amazon, and if u don't wanna buy the book, please at least see the HUGE, LENGTHY, and *FREE* Product description, complete with links and study helps."


      See also:


  13. I think this is part of the reason Pelagius and Finney and many others regard Augustine's concept of Original Sin fallacious and a twisting of scripture rather than a truly Biblical concept.

    Since some lacked the knowledge or the competence to argue their case against Pelagius' real objections, it is believed by many that Augustine and others created straw men that could be beaten more instantly and lied about what Pelagius taught claiming such ludicrous things as that Pelagius claimed the blood of Jesus was not necessary or the grace of God was not necessary and that man could save himself from sin without the grace of God--beliefs Pelagius argued strongly against.

    When sin is seen for what it is, a willful, chosen, betrayal of all that is right and honest and good, against God, and against the universe to indulge a lesser selfish good, then it seems ludicrous to think of sin as something that could be inherited or ascribed to a person without them choosing it for themselves. Furthermore, it seems obvious that one has to be free to choose sin, and therefore one must also be free to choose not to sin. But if all have sinned, that does not mean we all had to sin. The fact Jesus didn't sin should be proof of that. Now some may say Jesus cheated and gave himself a special ability not to sin, that He was able to avoid sin simply because He was God, but if God could stop Him from sinning, He could stop us, and if God could give Jesus the ability to choose not to sin, then He could also give us that ability. Truth is, God is faithful and holy and we have a history of sin--a record of sin. If you and I live out our lives never sinning again, we would still be unable to change history and remove sin from our history.

    So, it is impossible for a baby to die in his sins since he has never had any capacity or ability to sin. He may be an inconvenience. He may be noisy. He may poop his diapers. But there is no choice whether to sin or not to sin involved in that. He cannot contemplate what is right or wrong and choose to betray or sin.

    So, a baby does not need to be baptized. It is meaningless to baptize a baby. If two babies die, one baptized and one unbaptized, they will both go to the same place and I believe that is heaven.

  14. I would say that when Jesus Christ died on the cross, the shedding of His blood had caused the forgiveness of ALL SINS; that is past, present and future sins; including the original sin inherited by babies and us. And salvation is re-affirmed and made complete ones sinners are BORN AGAIN.I would say, babies are only faulted with the original sin BUT since Jesus Christ already paid, redeemed, purchased us back from ALL SINS -including our inherited original sin, that would mean the ALL babies when they die will go directly to heaven.