“This came up in the Bible Study last night and I offer it to you for your consideration. I am not laying this down as doctrine but it is certainly my personal opinion based upon my understanding of God’s word.
Teaching Letter – January 2008
The Age of Accountability
I am sure we have all wondered at sometime or other, whether or not children are automatically saved. To put it another way, if a child of ten should die, does that child go to heaven, even without actually coming to faith? It’s a big question!
First we need to establish what God feels about children. Are they important to Him or are they just a necessary stage leading to adulthood?
The very best way to understand the heart of God on a particular matter is to look at Jesus in the gospels, because Jesus said:
“If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also” John 14:7
“He that hath seen me hast seen the Father” John 14:9
So let’s not waste time, let’s discover what Jesus feels about little children.
“And Jesus called a little child unto Him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.” Matthew 18:1-5
“Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven” Matthew 18:10
I believe that these verses from Matthew 18 are sufficient to establish that God holds children in very high esteem. He values them greatly, and even says that adults must become like them.
So, knowing the great love and respect that God gives to little children, we must ask ourselves would God allow them to go into eternal damnation because they have not believed or have not understood the gospel.
But this alone is not sufficient to base doctrine on. The love of God for little children is beyond question, but we need clear biblical proof to back up what we feel and know in our hearts.
A strong, but not totally convincing, case can be made from the fact that in Jewish custom, a boy becomes a man at the age of 13 years (12 years for a girl). At that age they are deemed as being totally accountable and under Jewish law are able to enter into binding contracts and are expected to keep the law of God.
This custom is traced back to Genesis 34:25 when it is said of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi “took each man his sword”. Apparently, Levi was 13 years old at the time (I have not yet been able to establish this from scripture) and was the youngest male to be called ‘a man’ in the Torah. This information came from a Jewish Rabbi.
So, in orthodox Jewish tradition, the age of accountability is definitely considered to be 13 years old. Orthodox Jews are the custodians of the Torah. This, although quite weighty evidence, is not, in my opinion proof enough that God Himself recognises an age of accountability, especially where salvation is concerned. So let’s look further.
“Therefore to him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin” James 4:17
In this verse, sin is committed when a person knows the difference between good and evil and then chooses not to do good. Small children especially have no concept of good and evil to be able to make that choice. So I don’t believe it is reasonable for our God, who esteems children so highly, to damn them because they are unable to discern between good and evil. So this is the route I am taking to prove the age of accountability. Here is a similar verse from the Old Testament:
“For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings” Isaiah 7:16
The quote from Isaiah above shows us that there is a period of time when children do not have knowledge of good and evil. That being so, how can they be held responsible for sin?
After their miraculous exodus from slavery in Egypt, Israel still disbelieved God and rebelled against Him on many occasions. God did not forget this rebellion, for unbelief is sin. God decreed that the Jews would not enter the Promised Land, but would wander in the wilderness for 40 years, until that unbelieving generation died of old age.
“After the number of days, in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years and ye shall know my breach of promise. I the Lord have said, I will surely do it unto all this evil congregation, that are gathered together against me; in this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die” Numbers 14:34-35
But God made exceptions, not all would die in the wilderness, some would enter the Promised Land.
“Moreover, your little ones which ye said should be a prey (victims) and your children, which in that day had no knowledge between good and evil, they shall go in thither, and unto them will I give it, and they shall possess it”
This verse is most enlightening. It speaks of the ‘little ones’ and the ‘children’. I would guess that the ‘little ones’ were those infants who we would still consider to be babies. What about the children? When does a child stop being a child? When is a child considered by God to be an adult? We shall answer those questions shortly. But notice first that these ‘little ones and children’ had no knowledge of the difference between good and evil, and because of that fact, God would not judge them for being part of that rebellion, but would allow them to enter the land!
It is because of this that God set a precedent! Only those over the age of 20 would be held accountable for the sin of this rebellion! Shall I repeat that?
God would judge ONLY THOSE OVER THE AGE OF TWENTY for the sin of this rebellion. Look at it in the word of God:
“Your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from TWENTY YEARS OLD AND UPWARDS, which have murmured against me” Numbers 14:29
If you want more proof of this, turn to Exodus 30 and read about the command to pay the tabernacle tax in verses 11-16. Here, God only holds responsible for paying this tax, those who were 20 years old and above!
“Every one that passeth among them that are numbered, from twenty years old and above, shall give an offering unto the Lord” Exodus 30:14
God set a precedent. Only those 20 years old and above are accountable for their sin of unbelief and giving offerings unto the Lord.
So, how does God put this precedent into action?
“And He (Jesus) is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” 1 John 2:2
Now understand this, it’s so important. Propitiation means that God’s wrath against sin is satisfied. So God’s wrath against sin has been satisfied for all the sins of the elect. But it goes much further. Not just for the sins of the elect, but Calvary was sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world! His sacrifice on the cross was always sufficient for ALL people at ALL times! But only the elect according to God’s foreknowledge (1 Peter 1:2) have availed themselves of this atonement BY FAITH (believing – read John 3:14-17)
But God Himself extends this atonement to those below the age of accountability, which have no knowledge of good or evil, and are not accountable to God for their sins. God set that age of accountability at all those under 20 years old! Such is His grace towards children. Calvary always has been and always is SUFFICIENT!
Studying this has been such a blessing to me and I really pray that it will bless you also. God has opened my eyes to this tremendous truth; I just pray that my efforts here to present this to you have been enough to convince you too.
Brotherly love….Pastor Keith
(1st February 2008)”