Last November I posted and asked if there is anything that you would like to see addressed in our weekly Theology Thursday posts (see here). Anthony Karam took me up on the offer and asked about the age of accountability.
Locating information on the historical origins of this concept is difficult to say the least. There are several councils and other writings that make mention of it, often without any elaboration; however, it seems to have been formed within the theological stream of Arminianism as a means to address the origins of personal guilt.
From Scripture it is clear that we have not only inherited Adam’s sinful nature (Psalm 51:5) but his guilt as well (Romans 5:18-19). With that in mind the age of accountability is quite similar to the man on an island argument. Both of them are positing situations whereby God is unable to hold man accountable for what he is; we are no longer liable for what we are. Because of this both of these arguments are theologically problematic. Furthermore, an age of accountability is not clearly delineated in Scripture and finding it as an incipient concept requires much speculation.
What then happens to babies and children who die? There are numerous passages which could be examined; however, I think two will suffice. In Jeremiah 19 the Lord pronounces judgment because of their worship of false gods and child sacrifice. Pertinent to the topic at hand is the description of these children as innocent. In II Samuel 12 David’s son with Bathsheba dies and David indicates his hope explaining, “I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” (v.23).
What these passages and others seem to be indicating is not that infants are not liable for their guilt but rather that God is gracious and glorious. Salvation is not found in our inability to hear (the man on the island) nor in our inability to understand (the age of accountability) but salvation is found at the cross of Christ. David’s hope and the innocence of those sacrificed to Baal are not rooted in their inability to understand but the sufficiency of Jesus Christ.