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Joe Johnson

I know many – if not most – of us Baptists believe in an “age of accountability.” It’s just another thing that will help in the future merger of “deeds not creeds” Evangelicalism and progressive Mormonism (for the LDS the typical age is 8). For a while, I figured it was just a popular side-assumption and not near official doctrine, much like the fringe Catholic support for a co-redemptix Mary. It’s nowhere in our official confessions. That’s what I thought, until after hearing the Baptist Faith and Message read again, something stuck out. Here’s an excerpt from Article 3 (“Man”):

... By his free choice man sinned against God and brought sin into the human race. Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation....

It’s in there in that last statement: “As soon as they are capable of moral action they become transgressors….” Hmm. Is it possible to have a true doctrine of Original Sin and one that ascribes condemnation to later, individual moral action? I don’t see it. In other words, to avoid the doctrines of infant baptismal regeneration, we’ve applied the Catholic Immaculate Conception doctrine to every birth.

Imagine my terror in having three children 5 and under and not believing that the Scriptures teach either Infant baptismal regeneration or the “age of accountability.” “Faith comes by hearing” – though arguing for an external source of faith – does not bring one to the conclusion that faith comes by external application of the sacraments (or faith and regeneration come by an external decision of someone else presenting a child for a sacrament). Of course that drives me to a hope in a non-normative grace of God applied to those unable to comprehend faith. But I have no Scripture to demand that conclusion, only the knowledge of God’s character and purpose. (Of course that isn't a hope that my kids reach "the age" so they can make a decision - assuming they would, but that God has granted faith even if we cannont recognize it objectively.)

I’ve often thought the unspoken terror that most conservatives have never addressed is the problem of believing in both the beginning of life at conception and condemnation in Original Sin. The question of miscarriage and abortion then leaves us with a very difficult conclusion.

Ps. Not to keep jumping on this issue, but I totally agree with your rejection of an appeal to Jewish Customs. That’s a big reason I can’t subscribe to infant baptism as a new form of circumcision. It’s reading and ascribing Jewish Custom into a Christian practice. It’s very difficult to find support for the “sign of the covenant” and those benefits in baptism unless one interprets the benefits, efficacy and scope of circumcision as necessarily being included into baptism. In my mind it’s one of the areas Covenant theologians read the New Testament in light of the Old. (Ironically, it’s one of those places most Dispensationalists almost read the OT in light of the New.) End soapbox.

Shaun Giese

So, you believe that infants that die go to Hell? Which of the Commandments did they break? The logical conclusion is that all aborted babies are doomed to eternal fire.

Steve Ross

The point about babies (indeed about the 'age of accountability') brings up some interesting scripture.
Romans explains all about this topic in Rom 1:18-19. Notice how v18 says that God only shows his anger against those who reject Him. A child, though born in sin, has no idea of the Law that condemns him/her, so cannot reject Him (Rom 7:7).
Therefore God had written in the hearts of all that He exists, so that all instictively know His power(Rom 1:20). This means there are no atheists, so if a child dies without knowing of God or the Law, then Christ's rightousness is imputed to that child as a default position. This also holds true for those people who have not heard of Christ, including those who died before Christ (his death and resurrection covered all sin in all time).
However, in the case of an adult, only those who have followed their conscience and lived a life under the knowledge of an 'unknown' God could be reconciled to God. While this would seem to be most unlikely, only God can see the heart, so it's Gods' call at the end.
As the Bible states that baptism works the forgiveness of sins it is an objective truth, therefore babies can be baptized (have their original sin forgiven and be reconciled to God through Christ) and be assured of eternal life without needing to 'make a decision' (Titus 3: 5-7).

Thanks for the blog, Chris. Keeps me on my toes!


When Paul wrote Rom. 3:23, he didn't qualify what people have sinned and how has not yet sinned. To say that sin is an action is a misunderstanding of our sinful nature. Like David, we can all claim that we are sinful from conception (Ps. 51:5).

Do we sin because we are sinners or are we sinners because we sin?

Joe Johnson

Shaun: I noted the difficulty of an absolute exclusivist position in speaking of Original Sin as applied to the unborn (and pre-rational). It's a painful possibility of the doctrine. I couldn't tell you what I believe, only that I'd love to believe in an "age of accountability" doctrine. In honesty, I can't defend that position biblically. My summation is that we can point out what is known: the normative situation provoked by the doctrine of Original Sin is that those who do not respond to the Gospel are condemned (John 3:18). However, we must also state that these are ultimately issues in the hand of God. He has earned the right to judge such things. I can hope for “age of accountability” but I cannot argue from it in precise Scripture, only in the application of the principles of God’s goodness, mercy and desire to save the lost. In other words, I can say what is normative and follows the extent of the doctrine of Original Sin. I cannot say that the normative is absolute. I honestly hope it is not.


I'm a bit perplexed by Steve's comments. I assume he doesn't believe that Original Sin is much more than a disposition towards sin - that it sets us up to be sinners, but we are not actually sinners until we knowingly transgress the Law.

That brings up a few issues: Genesis 20 speaks to the possibility of being culpable of sin without knowing the definition of sin. But the big, big issue is that this turns the Gospel into the message purely of condemnation where there was no condemnation.

Believing that until Christ came all were justified in their ignorance transforms Christ into the Law; His appearance affects condemnation where there was none. If the goal of God was to save the lost, it sure would have made a lot more sense to wait until the last day and send Christ then - before the word could get out.

Missionary work is not the addition of the lost, but rather the removal of the saved. If a person is justified in their ignorance, they can only lose their justification by hearing the Gospel (there's nothing more to gain, except perhaps some ethics).

As for God seeing the heart – that’s what I most fear (Gen 6:5, 34:3, 42:28; Ex 7:13; Lev 19:17; Num 15:39; Deut 1:28, 4:9, 5:29, 8:14, 17:17, 28:65…etc.) Of course the classics: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it” (Jer 17:9) and Jesus’ summary of the integrity of all people: “But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.” (John 2:25). I hope we’re judged on something more trustworthy than our own integrity and hearts.



My point is that sin is more than just want we do, it is part of who we are.

Being a sinner is part of being human. It is both our actions and our condition.

If a Chrisitan parent tells their child (say 3 years old) that the child's action was sinful (lying) and that the child should repent to God and the parent, did the parent end the child's age of accountability since the child now knows their action is sinful? At 18 months old, my first child told a lie to his grandmother and blamed the dog. Since we had not taught him to lie, than what is the cause of this sinful action by my son?

Joe Johnson

Oops Steve - a point of clarification. I meant to address my comments to Steve [Ross]. Sorry for the ambiguity. That will probably make a bit more sense. I do stupid things sometimes because I'm stupid... ha!

Your post made perfect sense and I completely come down on the side that we sin because we're sinners: our nature mamifests itself in our actions.... Fortunately, not only am I a sinner, I'm simultaneously justified.

Steve Ross

I'm well aware that we are born sinners and are dead in our transgretions. However, we only know that we're dead because the Law was brought to our attention to point out our guilt.(Romans 7:7)
I'm not saying we don't sin by our very nature, we just don't know that we sin without having the Law point it out. (Romans 7:9)
And we don't stop sinning even after Christ (through the Holy Spirit) comes to justify us. Our sanctification is an ongoing process until we die, and while we may get 'better'(due soley to the Spirit)we will never be perfect and will always need Christs' imputed rightousness to allow us to be judged not guilty.


Steve Ross

For those who would like more info on infant faith, try this link:


Steve Ross

Frank Marron

Steves's comment that Christian may bet "better" reminded me of a paper I wrote regarding the myth of progressive sanctification. Believers actually never improve,even though externally they may appeaar to. Their Old Adam hearts are as eveil as always and their motivations hidden from sight. Only the New Creation within each believer is perfect in thought, word, and deed, as commanded by God.

Frank Marron

Samuel Crees

In the article; Age of Accountability; Chris Rosebrough, is right.
There is no such age in the Bible implied or otherwise. We have two very strong places in scripture from Christ himself that tells all, if people will but read them as they are. First; and far most, Jesus said , "Mar 10:13-16 And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. (14) But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. (15) Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. (16) And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.
Luk 9:47-48 And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a child, and set him by him, (48) And said unto them, Whosoever shall receive this child in my name receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me receiveth him that sent me: for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great.
1Co 13:10-13 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. (11) When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. (12) For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. (13) And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
There are more but to set one point above all else; WE all have the orginal sin of Adam, true or false? If true, and the verse that says we come forth speaking lies, rings true to babys. So as a human grows so does it mind, its abilities and its comensurate for sin. So Christ sees each mind and heart and knows what it is able to comprehend. For Christ loves the 'simple'; Why? For they have no mind of their own, for it never developed as ours did, and so he "Loves/Understands" their heart to be more pure than our own. The most evil thing anyone can do is believe in the age of accountability since it totally sends all of those with little or no mental capacity to hell, while Christ gives them head position in heaven above all others.

David H. Grisham

Jesus said that He did not come to destroy the law but to FULFILL it. Jesus fulfilled all the laws of the sacrifice. No more sacrifices need be made. His blood covers all the blood sacrifices for the remission of sin. An argument could be made that Jesus fulfilled the law of sacrifice for newborns (an example of this is found in Luke Chapter 2) and thus all babies are covered under HIS sacrifice since under the law they could not make sacrifice for themselves. Furthermore, there is no provision in the laws of sacrifice for making atonements for the unborn so we might assume none was needed thus indicating that aborted babies are also covered by Christ and His mercy. Just a thought.


Possibly an age of accountability or an age God considers an age of some amount of understanding. Whole verse not typed, just a clip of the verse.

2 Chr 25:5 registered them from 20 and above
Le 27:3-4 evaluation of male or female from 20 to 60
Le 27:5 evaluation of male or female from 5 to 20
Nu 1:3 20 and above, number by divisions
Nu 1:18 declared ancestry from 20 and above
Nu 1:20 children of Reuben from 20 and above
Nu 1:22 " Shimon "
Nu 1:24 " Gad "
Nu 1:26 " Yehudah "
Nu 1:28 " Yissaskar "
Nu 1:30 " Zebulun "
Nu 1:32 " Yoseph "
Nu 1:34 " Menashsheh "
Nu 1:36 " Binyamin "
Nu 1:38 " Dan "
Nu 1:40 " Asher "
Nu 1:42 " Naphtali "
Nu 1:45 all those registered 20 and above
De 1:39 your children no knowledge of good and evil, they are going in there, (the ones that got to go into the land were the ones who were 20 and under at the time God declared that they could not go into the land. They wandered for 40 years, all those 20 and above died, all those that were 20 and under lived and went into the land forty years later.)
Nu 14:29 fall in wilderness 20 years and above
Nu 14:31 your little ones, I shall bring in
The whole chapter of Numbers 14, talks about the "why's"
2 Chr 34:3 (Josiah) 12th year of reign (20 years old) began cleansing high places and idols (started seeking at 16)

This is what the Scriptures say. This is the only clue we have as to when God may consider someone to be at an "age of accountability" or have an ability to properly reason and make a better choice.

Scientifically speaking, the mind does not stop developing until sometime between 21 and 25. Anyone who is older than 30 knows that the way we thought before we were 21 or so is quite a bit different than the way we are thinking now. Experience and a certain amount of hormone leveling and maturing has taught our minds, so that we, more of the time can make better decisions and choices.

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