Is there an “Age of Accountability”?

Question: In one of my conversations with a mother of a retarded child, she told me that she was visiting a church in this area and was in a Sunday School class discussing the “age of accountability”. Someone in the class raised the question of where do babies go when they die? (pre-birth or infant death.) The teacher had scripture to back up that babies are in Heaven with the Father (I think Matthew 18:10 and the story of David’s child dying), but when asked about those who are incapacitated, the teacher had no answer and referred back to the age of 8 as the age of accountability. This mother’s son is over 8 years old and she is terrified that because he cannot make a decision for Christ that he is doomed. This is a wedge of anger between her and her relationship with Christ.
Where in the Bible is the “age of accountability” discussed, and if it’s there, what is it? (I don’t recall ever reading about it.)
If a person is incapable mentally of making a decision for or against salvation or a relationship with Christ (whether it is because of retardation or some other mental condition), isn’t that person under His grace?

Answer: In 2 Samuel 12:23 David, upon the death of his first son by Bathsheba almost immediately after birth, stopped his mourning and fasting and praying. He explained to his surprised servants, “Now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” Because the understanding of life after death was a cloudy one in the Old Testament, it is uncertain what David means. He will certainly go to his son in the sense that he will go to the grave, but David seems to suggest that he will go to him in some conscious way, and that helps him stop grieving as painfully.

In Matthew 18:10 Jesus remarks, “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” In 19:14 He says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Neither of these passages directly says that children are automatically saved, but that the Father has special concern for them, listening always to angelic servants concerned about them, and that their kind of humility is what is necessary for kingdom access.

There is no passage that speaks to the issue of an age of accountability. Individuals become “accountable” at different ages, and we recognize that some never become “accountable” for decisions like trusting in the God of Creation. What we do know, however, is that our God is absolutely fair, loving, and wise. We can trust Him to do what is right by infants who die before they can believe, and by the mentally challenged who may be unable to believe. Our God is a God of grace.

It is important that this mother be encouraged to understand the loving heart of God, who desires that all would know Him and who has mercy on whomever he wills to have mercy. He loves her son and He loves her. She need not fear that He would mistreat her son.

Randall Johnson

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2 thoughts on “Is there an “Age of Accountability”?

    • Thanks, Kashif for your wishes and for sharing the video link.

      I watched Muhammad Shaikh and would make the following observations:

      1. He is incorrect that the New Testament does not call Jesus/Isa the Word of God (see John 1:1,14; Revelation 19:13). He is correct in upholding Isa’s uniqueness as the only prophet so-called the Word of God. Muhammad was given God’s Words, but Jesus

        is

      God’s Word.

      2. Jesus is called the Son of Mary (no other prophet is so designated by his mother’s name, as Shaikh says), but why is he only called son of Mary? We are told in the Qur’an and the Bible that He did not have a human father, though most assumed or supposed He did, but that His birth was supernaturally caused by God. And yet we are told in the Bible that he is the son of David, so that he has a genuine human ancestory. What did God create when He said, “Be”? He must have created the sperm that fertilized Mary’s egg in order for Isa to be both only the son of Mary (whose genealogy we believe is given in Luke) and so descended through David by his mother genetically, and yet also the Son of God by virtue of God creating His human nature through the sperm cell that fertilized Mary’s egg. The genealogy in Matthew we believe to be that of Joseph, who was also descended from David and through whom Jesus had the legal descent from David. Hence, we do not believe there is a contradiction in the genealogies.

      3. The New Testament does not say that Jesus only preached the gospel. Matthew 5, the sermon on the mount, is Jesus authoritative interpretation of the Law of Moses, the Tawrat or Torah. Paul says that Jesus is the wisdom from God and our righteousness, holiness and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30). Jesus said he was proclaiming the good news or gospel of the kingdom (Matthew 3:2 and many others).

      4. Indeed, Jesus is the most unique prophet of all the prophets. And in Al Imran 3:50 he commands us to obey Him. How can you obey him if you don’t know what He commands you. You must begin reading the Injil to find out what Jesus commands you.

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