A troubled mother approached me recently asking what the Bible says about the final destination of babies and unborn children after they die. For many years, she has been seeking sensible answers from the Scripture about this topic. I believed it is not only her but many parents who experienced this tragic moment where the life of their unborn son or daughter below the age of reason (1) was cut short for no seeming justifiable reason at all.
There are millions of innocent children around the world who die due to war, domestic violence, catastrophe, accident, abortion, and sickness without having the chance to believed in Jesus Christ. And Scriptures tell us that a person who does not repent of their sin by believing in Jesus Christ is already condemned. (2) Does that include every unborn baby and innocent children? (3) Many people in the western world regard an unborn baby as less of a person with self-identity unless born into this world. They are continually debating as to when a fetus can sufficiently be human to earn the right to life. They falsely think that a fetus cannot be distinct from a mother since it is still under the developmental stage a good excuse for abortion, in reality, murder. Christians are united against abortion but they are divided over the final destination of a baby’s soul and spirit due to unclear church teachings regarding this subject. Although, many believers believed they can derive overall teaching from the Scriptures regarding the subject. (4) For instance, despite his ambivalence over this subject, Mark Driscoll wrote, “The fact that John the Baptizer was known and named by God in the womb and filled with the Holy Spirit before his birth gives me much comfort.” (5)
All people including an unborn baby (a fetus) is indeed a sinner from the time of conception. (6) However, despite their sinful nature, the unmerited grace of God is evident in their life even before the age of reason or accountability. (7) When Elizabeth met her cousin Mary, the baby in her womb leaped for extreme joy. (8) This is because the baby was already filled with the Holy Spirit. (9) In the same way, believers were sinners by nature but due to the grace of God, they were imputed with Christ’s righteousness after placing their faith on Him. Before their redemption, they are considered lost, according to the parables in the gospel. (10)
The term “lost” came from a compound Greek word ἀπόλλυμι which means “away from” and “ruined or perish.” When Adam and Eve sinned against the Lord in the Garden of Eden by eating the forbidden fruit, they were spiritually ruined, destroyed, perished, and were driven away from the presence of God. (11) Adam and Eve were in the presence of God before they were lost. The same condition applies to the unborn before the age of reason. Since they cannot rebel they are considered to be in the presence of God. Slowly as they mature rebellion took place in the heart of these young children that caused separation from the Holy One. This estrangement happened when they choose to follow their sinful human desires as they grow and mature. Our children need not be taught rebellion and disobedience for they will by nature do it. A rebellious spirit will surely manifest as children yield to their sinful nature. It is interesting to know that before children reach the stage of spiritual mutiny, they are in God’s kingdom. It is like saying they were in “Paradise” or enjoying the “Garden of Eden” like Adam and Eve. Several passages were carefully considered below.
From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. – Psalm 8:2 (12)
But Jesus called the 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.” – Luke 18:16 12
And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 18:3 (13)
But 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. – 2 Samuel 12:23 (14)
for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. – Luke 1:15
The passages above show the condition of an unborn fetus or a child below the age of accountability. It is, therefore, safe to assume that before children enter the age of reasoning, they are in the kingdom of God. (15) If this is the case then there are no Hindu babies, Buddhist babies, Mormon babies, Roman Catholic babies, nor atheist or agnostic babies. These young babes were just molded by their own culture and circumstance leading them to embrace a particular world religion or atheistic belief. But before becoming conscious of sin they are citizens in God’s kingdom.
What remains to be a question is the reason why God had to cut their life short at an early age. However, it gives us comfort and peace to know that millions of them who die are in the presence of God for all eternity. Will not the Judge of the earth do what is right? (16) As long as the children are under the authority of their parents, it is their duty and responsibility to protect, provide, educate, and disciple their children. (17) Most importantly, they must learn to be observant of their children’s capacity to understand the gospel so they could lead them personally into the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. This is to fulfill the plan and purpose of God in their lives as leaders and influencers of their generation. (18) The age of the children will surely vary. Let the parents especially the fathers teach their children to continually honor God in their lives and to make disciples of lost people.
Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate. – Psalm 127:3-5
(1) Some Calvinist will argue that the phrase “age of reason” or “age of accountability” cannot be found in the Scripture. This is true but just like the Trinity word that cannot also be found in the pages of the Bible, it’s truth is reflected from it. This phrase simply means, the baby cannot use his mental faculty to change his mind because of immaturity. Reformed Calvinist Dr. Ligon Duncan defends their position by saying, “The age of accountability is conception. There is no time in a human being’s life when he or she is not accountable to God. Really, the idea of an age of accountability arose in the 19th century and the 20th century amongst non-Calvinistic Protestants who were attempting to address the issue of infant mortality and explain on the basis of Arminianism and freewill why all children who had been unable to exercise their own unaided faith by freewill didn’t go to hell. That’s really where the idea of an age of accountability came from. And of course, Reformed theology has never had to have recourse to that in order to answer the question. The age of accountability is conception. We’re all accountable.” However, the reason why they had to explain it in this way is due to their belief that a number of babies who are not elected are going to hell. This is called double predestination, or specifically supralapsarian, the belief that even before man fell, He already chose some to be in heaven while the rest goes to hell. It is truly interesting to know how the Reformed Calvinist people can explain how a 2-year-old baby can truly be held accountable.
(2) See John 3:18.
(3) In his book, Dr. MacArthur wrote, “The Bible is very clear on this point: Life begins at conception. Any death that occurs at the moment of conception is the death of a person. And person have eternal souls. Anything else we say must be based on this foundational truth.” MacArthur, John, “Safe in the Arms of God: Truth from Heaven About the Death of a Child,” (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2003), p. 14.
(4) We can also argue that no direct statement could be made about the Holy Spirit being God except for some indirect passages like Acts 5:3-4. Yet by understanding the overall teaching of the Scripture regarding the Holy Spirit we still believed that He is truly a distinct divine Person from the Persons of the Father and the Son who is Jesus Christ.
(5) Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, “Doctrines: What Christians Should Believe,” (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), p. 435.
(6) See Psalm 58:3; Psalms 51:5; 139:15; Romans 5:12.
(7) The age of accountability (or the age of responsibility) can vary among children depending on their capacity to understand what is right and wrong. We have to know the difference between immaturity and rebellion. A child who spilled a glass of water can be a result of childish immaturity due to his undeveloped motor skills. But a child who goes against his parents’ direct orders could be a sign of rebellion depending on his capacity to apprehend moral instructions.
(8) See Luke 1:41-44.
(9) See Luke 1:15.
(10) Read the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:1-7); Parable of the Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-10); and Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-31).
(11) See Gen. 3:23.9 Read the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:1-7); Parable of the Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-10); and Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-31).10 See Gen. 3:23.
(12) In some versions, the Hebrew word עֹ֥ז is rendered as “strength” instead of “praise.” Interestingly, when Jesus quoted this same passage He uses the Greek word αἶνον which is “praise” instead of “strength.” (cf. Matt. 21:16) Even the Septuagint writers use the same Greek word αἶνον for “praise” which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scripture during Jesus‘ time.
(13) In the King James Version, the word rendered “belong” in other versions is translated as “such” which suggests the idea of “this kind or sort.” (See Thayers Greek Lexicon) In other words, Jesus is describing the kingdom of God to be of this sort or kind like that of the innocent children. Probably because of conscious simplicity, unworldliness, and guilelessness.
(14) Some Christians want to understand David’s desire to be with his dead child as visiting his gravesite. Although it may be customary for the Jews to visit their love one’s gravesite he should not do so on Sabbath and different Jewish holiday seasons. But there is a logical reason why this argument must be doubted. The context of the passage does not warrant David to think of a gravesite because of the statement “Can I bring him back again?” which refers to resurrection. In other words, it is like David saying “I will go to his presence, but he will not return to my presence.” Dr. Wayne Grudem commented, “David does not say, ‘I shall go to where he is,‘ but rather ‘I shall go to him.‘ This is the language of personal reunion and it indicates David’s expectation that he would one day see and be with his son.” See Grudem, Wayne, “Systematic Theology,” (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994) p. 501.
(15) As Dr. Grudem aptly states, “Here we must say that if such infants are saved, it cannot be on their own merit, or on the basis of their own righteousness or innocence, but it must be entirely on the basis of Christ’s redemptive work and regeneration by the work of the Holy Spirit within them…. Yet it certainly is possible for God to bring regeneration (that is, new spiritual life) to an infant even before he or she was born. This was true of John the Baptist, for the angel Gabriel, before John was born said, ‘He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb’ (Luke 1:15).” Systematic Theology, p. 500.
(16) See Gen. 18:25.
(17) See Deut. 6:4-7; Eph. 6:4.
(18) See 2 Tim. 3:14-15.