Dr. Willis Newman, Esmeralda Newman, bible-teaching-about.com
I know what Genesis 3 and Psalm 51:5 say, but is there really such a thing as Original Sin? One Scripture says God will not hold the sins of the fathers against their children. This must mean that babies and children, and aborted and miscarried, all go to Hell. If they are all born in sin and do not accept Jesus. There is no mention in the Bible of an age of accountability.
David, you ask very hard, but thoughtful questions regarding original sin. Let me see if I can answer them. The answer makes me squirm, sad, and humbled. I don’t like the answer, but it is what it is. Yes, there is original sin. You are correct in observing Genesis 3, and indeed, Psalm 51:5 does say, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.”
Let me first define what is sin. The theologian, Augustus Strong, defines it, “Sin is lack of conformity to the moral law of God, either in act, disposition, or state” (Augustus Strong, Systematic Theology, Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1907, p. 549).
There are at least four major issues involving sin, or original sin.
1. Sin, in the human race, originated with Adam, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). That is why it is called, “original sin.” However, sin entered the universe by Satan. He was the one who tempted Eve to sin.
2. The sins of our first parents made all their descendants sinners, “through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners…For if by the transgression of the one the many died…the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation…For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one…So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men…For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners…For the wages of sin is death…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 5:19, 15, 16, 17, 18; 6:23; 3:23).
3. Sin has a penal aspect. All people are guilty, and are subjected to punishment, or as the verses above puts it, condemnation. That punishment is death, which is eternal separation from God, and to be cursed and placed in a permanent destination of torment. Jesus said, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels…And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 26:41, 46).
4. Sin has a personal corruption aspect. That is, our original nature was good at creation, but Adam’s sin brought a corruption, pollution or disease to our nature. It is an invading sickness, like the AIDS virus, or a cancer that corrupts our body. The verses quoted above indicate we were made sinners, and as Paul later states, “Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh…and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (Ephesians 2:3).
Just to explain that Jesus and Paul were on the same page, Jesus said, “That which proceeds out of the man that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man” (Mark 7:20-23).
5. David, now let me go on to the next part of your question regarding the sins of the fathers not being foisted onto the sons. This issue is covered in several places in the Old Testament, but let me confine my answer to how it is stated in the Mosaic Law. It states, “Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin” (Deuteronomy 24:16).
This is a context of laws established as to how Israel was to govern itself. It deals with personal accountability. In those days, and even still in some countries, it was the practice to put to death the children and families of those who committed a crime. This law given to Israel was to guard against that practice, and place the accountability solely on the person who committed a crime.
On the spiritual side as relating to original sin, we do carry inherited guilt from Adam. But, as being sinners by nature, we are guilty for our own sin. My mother and father sinned, because everyone sins, but I will not be held accountable for their individual violations. However, the corrupted sin nature they inherited from their parents (and eventually back to Adam) they did pass on to me and me on to my children.
6. Now for this question, or issue you bring up, David. You say, “This must mean that babies and children, and aborted and miscarried, all go to Hell. If they are all born in sin and do not accept Jesus. There is no mention in the Bible of an age of accountability.”
The short answer is that no, babies, children and aborted and miscarried do not go to hell. And yes, an age of accountability is taught. Here is how.
I have written an eight page paper on this issue, but let me summarize just parts of it here. As we look at several biblical examples you will notice that some babies were considered saved before conception, some at birth, some after birth, and some in early childhood. Sometimes the evidence is not straight forward and dogmatic; nevertheless, the truths can be implied from the examples. The examples do not point to the precise point of the baby’s salvation, only that at that particular time in their lives they were saved.
Example one is Isaac where he was considered saved before conception. Scripture records, “But God said, ‘No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him’” (Genesis 17:19).
Example two is where babies were considered saved before birth. John the Baptist is one, “For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and he will drink no wine or liquor; and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, while yet in his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15). An unsaved person cannot be filled with the Holy Spirit. Other examples are Jacob, Samson, the Servant of the Lord, and Jeremiah (Romans 9:10-13; Judges 13:5; Isaiah 49:1, 5a; Jeremiah 1:5).
Example three is a baby saved at birth, namely, Moses, “And it was at this time that Moses was born; and he was lovely in the sight of God” (Acts 7:20; cf. Hebrews 11:23). Since God called Moses, “lovely” at birth, we can infer that Moses was saved. Certainly, Moses’ history indicated he was saved.
Example four are babies saved during childhood. The psalmist wrote, “But yet Thou are He who didst bring me forth from the womb; Thou didst make me trust when upon my mother’s breast. Upon Thee I was cast from birth; Thou has been my God from my mother’s womb” (consider Psalm 22:9, 10; 71:5, 6). Consider the examples of Samuel (1 Samuel 1:27; 2:11, 18); Josiah (2 Kings 22:1, 2); the child of Jeroboam (1 Kings 14:12, 13); and Seth (Genesis 4:25); Timothy (2 Timothy 3:15); and David’s son (Samuel 12:14, 23).
The best example is that of David and his son with Bathsheba. This is the best example of an infant going to heaven at death. This son had had been conceived in an adulterous relationship. At his birth, the infant became sick. David prayed and fasted before God. His servants became worried as David refused any encouragement. Then on the seventh day the small infant died, and the servants were afraid to break the news to David for fear he might harm himself in his grief. Here is the biblical record.
“But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David perceived that the child was dead…So David arose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he came into the house of the Lord and worshipped…Then his servants said to him, ‘What is this thing that you have done? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.’ And he said, ‘While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, Who knows, the Lord may be gracious to me, that the child may live. But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me’” (2 Samuel 12:19-23).
The only reasonable conclusion is this: death told David his child had gone to heaven where David expected some day to join him. The son’s death was a declaration of his salvation. Nothing else can explain David’s sudden change in composure from grief to calm assurance. The thought of a happy reunion consoled David. David said, “I shall go to him,” and David expected to go to heaven. Heaven is where David believed his son to be.
There are other examples, such as Jesus blessing the little children (Luke 18:15-17) where Jesus acknowledged that these babies were part of his flock – babies who at that time neither desired nor understood His blessing.
7. Now I will turn to another line of evidence: the implications of infant’s incompetence. Infants are incompetent to stand Bible judgment, and pure justice does not condemn incompetence – or the inability to discern right from wrong. Judgment is based on deeds, good or bad. Consider this, “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds” (Matthew 16:27; cf. Romans 2:5, 6; Revelation 20:12; 22:12).
The judgment of the unsaved is based on works. Christians are saved by grace through faith alone in the finished work of Christ; yet, even their judgment pertaining to rewards is based on works (1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:10-13).
Actual condemnation is based on actual sin. It is true that original sin renders all the race guilty; yet, actual judgment scenes in the Bible are always based on works. Damnability is converted into damnation only on grounds of actual, personal, conscious sin.
Infants are incompetent as to works or to tell the difference between moral right and wrong. Several verses state this. Here is one, “He will eat curds and honey at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the lad whose two kings you dread will be forsaken” (Isaiah 7:15, 16; cf. Romans 9:11; Johan 4:11; Deuteronomy 1:39).
We learn that children are incompetent to know or choose good or bad. We have the same truth in our human laws. When a murder is committed the accused many times bases his defense on mental insanity, which would render the accused incompetent to stand trial. If the jury is convinced, the defense then wins the case. The murderer is not held accountable for his actions. The same applies to infants.
8. There exists a specific “age of accountability.” It is a guess as to when that age actually occurs. It differs from child to child. The age could be as low as two or three, or up to eleven or twelve. The issue is that the child must be able to understand moral issues, their consequences, and be able to make a free moral choice. It is at that time when they can commit actual, personal, conscious sin.
The age of accountability must be true, because infants are innocent at birth, yet there comes a point in time when they become guilty.
David, I will get to your other questions later. I hope this will give you something to think about in the meantime. All the best, and God bless.
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