The following is correspondence I had with a Calvinist who asked me about my views regarding ‘Infant Salvation’. Granted, the topic of ‘Infant Salvation’ is complex and demands consistent and Biblical definitions of philosophical considerations like ‘Free Moral Agency’ and ‘Volitional Accountability’ as well as a sound interpretation of the underlying doctrines of ‘Acquired Depravity’, ‘Original Sin’, and ‘Free-Will’. Indeed, I concede, there are some philosophical inconsistencies on both sides of the argument. The Calvinist who I engaged in this dialogue, per his theology, obviously believes infants are guilty due to Adam’s transgression. I, on the other hand, assert infants are born innocent and only become guilty of sin by their own personal transgression once they become morally volitional (see my note, Musings On The Doctrine Of Original Sin And Related Topics).
My defense of my views are expressed in my responses to the questions below. Many of the questions represent typical objections by those who hold to the doctrine of ‘Original Sin’ as defined by Calvinists. Of course, this article is not exhaustive nor is it the full extent of the correspondence I had with this Calvinist. Nevertheless, it addresses some of the more common points of contention and hopefully it will be a blessing for others studying this topic.
“Question: Do babies that die go to heaven through Jesus Christ? Please answer with Scripture. Line upon line, precept upon precept. As any other answer is unacceptable and divisive. Please do not force a ‘system’ of theology like Calvinism or Arminianism onto the answer.”
The question you ask concerns a topic which the Scriptures do not explicitly address. Throughout church history, the views on this topic have been many and varied. Because the Scriptures only address this issue indirectly, it is impossible to have an interpretation free from some philosophical underpinnings. For example, your view, based on the Augistinian interpretation of “original sin”, paints all children, even the unborn, guilty of Adam’s transgression, under the divine wrath of God, and therefore, hopelessly damned in their natural state. I assume you believe that Christ’s atonement addresses the Adamic guilt of original sin for the elect, which would include all those who die prematurely (actually, your view is not too different than what we believe). However, such a belief is admittedly not explicit in the Scriptures and can only be deduced by applying Biblical principles that, without fail, have been influenced by philosophical considerations. To be frank, the issue of “infant salvation” is a difficult one for anyone, Ariminian and Calvinist alike, and whatever our view, it is impossible that it be completely free from our theological presuppositions. Hence, I do not think I can fulfill your request, though I have every intention of citing the Biblical principles that under-gird my position.
As you know, King David had a child by Bathsheba which died in infancy. David’s words are significant: “While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, Who can tell whether GOD will be gracious to me, that the child may live? But now he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:22-23). The clear sense of this passage is that David believed that he would be reunited with his child in the next life. He knew the baby, having died, could not come back to this life, but he believed that he would go to him. While I would not be dogmatic that such a passage teaches infant salvation, it does seem to point in that direction. Other Scriptures that support this position: (Jer 1:5; Matt 18:6-10, 19:13; Mk 9:36, 10:13; Lk 1:44, 17:1, 18:15).
“Question: If they do go to heaven through Christ, why do they need Him if they are innocent?”
Indeed, I do believe infants are guiltless. The Bible describes infants as morally innocent (2 Kng. 21:16; 24:4; Jer. 13:26-27; Ps. 106:37-38; Matt. 18:3). When Israel would sacrifice their babies to false gods, God said that they were shedding “innocent blood”. Thus, God views infants as morally innocent. He was literally calling them “blameless” “clean” “guiltless” and “innocent” (according to the original languages, i.e., Strong’s Definition) Infants don’t have any moral character yet because they have not yet “done anything” morally “good or evil” (Rom. 9:11). Moral knowledge plus moral choices equals moral character. Those who are not yet moral agents cannot possibly have moral character. To apply the words “sinful” or “sinner” to those who don’t even know right from wrong and who haven’t yet made any moral choices is to empty these words of any meaning at all. No one can be “sinful” or a “sinner” if they don’t even know what sin is, and if they haven’t yet committed any sins. Consider that “account-ability”, “responsi-bility”, and “culp-ability” are all compound words that irrefutably establishes “ability” is necessary for moral blame. Both Deut 1:39 and Rom 9:11 imply infants are, due to lack of maturity, reasoning faculties, etc. incapable of committing sin. Moreover, they can neither believe on the Lord Jesus Christ or reject Him, seeing they are incapable of understanding the gospel (Rom 10:14). Nor are they accountable to the two intrinsic testimonies of “nature” and “conscience”, seeing they cannot reason (Rom 1:20; 2:15). Furthermore, the Scriptures teach we will be judged on the basis of our deeds committed “in (the) his body” (2 Cor 5:10). That is, we will face the judgment seat of Christ and be judged, not on the basis of something someone else did, but for our sins committed during our own lifetime. Each will answer “according to that he has done,” (2 Cor 5:10) and not for the sin of Adam. Indeed, all suffer for Adam’s sin (physical depravity, weakness, estranged from God, etc.) but none are guilty of Adam’s sin. The Bible does not teach we will answer for Adam’s sin, we will answer for our own. Finally, if you make infants sinners based on the Calvinist understanding of “Original Sin”, holding men responsible and guilty for the actual sin of Adam you misrepresent the justice of God and violate the clear teaching presenting in, among other passages, Exodus 32:32-33 and Ezk 18:1-30.
“Question: If you claim they are innocent then are you saying they are Holy?”
No. There is a vast difference between “innocence” and “holiness”. Innocence is the absence of guilt, holiness is character possessing virtue. Infants are not holy, they are innocent. When God called man “good” (say, for example, in Gen 1:31) it is debatable that he was attributing moral character to man’s nature as man had yet to exhibited a moral choice. “Evil” requires moral choice, and likewise, so does “good”. All that is necessary to be “innocent” is that infants lack the ability to choose evil, but to be “holy” requires the choice to follow Christ, which infants have not done. Therefore, we assert infants still need the atonement of Christ. We deny that men are guilty for Adam’s sin, but we acknowledge Adam’s sin adversely effected his posterity. We believe infants are born “fallen” (not sinful, which requires men sin) as a result of Adam’s transgression. This “fallen” quality, if you will, is not something resulting from an addition to our nature, but rather a subtraction. Fallen men are born estranged from God, their experience, however we may define it, is less than being born-again. Though young children are not guilty of sin, neither do they possess a relationship with God. Hence, we would suggest that the highest state of “innocence” is still to “fall short of the glory of God”. They exist in a moral state that is less than Christ, thus they need the blood of Jesus.
“Question: If they do not need him, please tell me the ‘other’ way to heaven without Jesus Christ as Savior?”
There is no other way.
“Question: Jesus is the only way to heaven. John 14:6, John 10:9?”
“Question: Jesus didn’t come to save the righteous, but sinners. Matthew 9:12-13?”
Agreed, however, as I have already established, even though infants are not “sinners” neither are they “righteous”. Though, infants are not “damned”, neither are they “saved” apart from the atonement of Christ. The term “sinners” here, considering the context, is a universal term for all fallen humanity but it does not negate the fact that infants are innocent.
“Question: What about, ‘For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe, 1 Timothy 4:10’. Or, ‘All have sinned 3:23″
As a Calvinist, you should know well that “all” doesn’t always mean everyone (seeing how Calvinists twist 1 Tim 2:4 and 2 Pet 3:9 to fit their theological presuppositions). When the Bible says “all have sinned” this is not without qualification. This description is obviously limited to those who are capable of sinning. It is self-evident that those who are not capable of sinning cannot be included in “all have sinned”. Those who don’t yet exist, those who don’t know right from wrong, and those who haven’t yet made any moral choices yet, are without the qualifying boundaries of the description of the “all” that have “sinned”. The “all” that have “sinned” are those who have reached the age of accountability. The Bible say’s man’s heart is evil from their youth (Gen. 8:21; Jer. 22:21; 32:30), not before they are born. Sin requires volition, knowledge, and ability (Rom 4:15; James 4:17). Where there is no moral knowledge or where there is no voluntary choice, the act is not sinful; it cannot be, for sin is the transgression of the law and transgression must be voluntary. Without moral knowledge and moral choices there can be no moral character. Children remain morally innocent until the age of accountability, which is the age of reason, when they know right from wrong (Deut. 1:39; Isa. 7:15-16), and choose to do wrong (Jas. 4:17). Those who don’t know right from wrong cannot be sinful (Jn. 9:41) and infants do not yet know right from wrong (Deut. 1:39; Isa. 7:15-16).
AUTHOR’S NOTE: The following questions center around the topic of innate moral quality/state apart from volition. Simply meaning, can something be ‘created’ or ‘born’ evil or holy without moral action. This is a crucial question that must be answered Scripturally, so as to arrive at a proper understanding of the topic at hand. The doctrine of ‘Original Sin’, of course, asserts infants are born guilty of Adam’s transgression even though they have no ability to make moral choices. The Calvinist I engaged is seeking to prove that Adam was created ‘holy’, apart from any moral choice, so as to argue infants are born sinful. I assert Adam was created innocent, not holy.
“Question: Keeping this simple, please tell me how Adam was created into and remained in the presence of God (from the very first nano second) until the fall without being holy?”
Don’t misunderstand the difference between Adam’s created state and his practical day to day state. Adam was created innocent, with the potential for holiness or unholiness; obedience or disobedience. However, after his creation, from the moment he exercised choice he was either holy or unholy, one or the other. Remember, as soon as Adam was created, he was apparently given commands (according to the most likely scenario presented in Gen. 2:7-8 coupled with Gen 2:15 with the command following in verse 16) making it necessary for him to exercise volition, co-operate with God, desire a relationship with God, etc. which all constitute volition and with his obedience, a state of holiness. So, apart from the very brief “nano-second” Adam was created, when he was merely innocent, it is apparent he remained in a state of holiness until the fall.
“Question: If Adam was not holy immediately (created holy) tell me why he ‘didn’t fall short of the glory of God’ immediately, as you claim the infants who are innocent do “fall short” but are not condemned. If he was as you say, he then needed a Savior immediately by your own admission. You can’t have it both ways.
No. For three basic reasons that distinguish Adam from infants:
2. Adam surviving the ‘presence of God’, as it were, and men experiencing eternal life in heaven, are two different things.
3. Even though Adam was innocent and infants are innocent, their respective states are still very different.
I do not deny that Adam’s created state was much higher than that of infants who are pro-created and that, after the fall. As I stated, infants are born “physically depraved” (for example, they experience physical death and need the resurrection only provided via the atonement). Furthermore, they are born with a “fallen nature”, which basically means they are less than what God intended and separated from God. This “separation” is not because of a sin-barrier, but because they are incapable of having a “relationship” (by a traditionally understood concept of relationship) which requires volition. Moreover, infants, at the moment of their conception and up and until the age of accountability, are in an undeveloped state far inferior to that of Adam, as he was created as a fully grown and fully developed adult man. He had all the faculties of reason, free-will, etc. He had the ability to understand, believe, and act on the Word of God, unlike infants. There is a vast difference between Adam and infants. This is self-evident.
Furthermore, we are not talking about merely the “presence of God”, but eternally abiding with God in heaven. There is a difference. Adam wasn’t created in eternal heaven, but on Earth. Just because he materially existed in the “presence of God” and survived does not prove he was “holy”, it proves he was guiltless. If Adam ultimately went to heaven, which I doubt he did, he needed the atonement. I do not deny infants, in their innocent state, could experience the “presence of God” without God destroying them, but that is vastly different than possessing an eternal relationship with God and living with God eternally. Infants have done nothing to merit hell-fire, but neither have they exercised any positive moral choice to love and obey God; Adam, the nano-second after he was created, presumably did both (at least until he fell). Finally, using the logic, “Man must be ‘holy’ as God is holy because man was created in the image of God” we could also make assumptions like, “Man must be immutable because God is immutable and God made man in His image”. Inconclusive at best.
As I mentioned in the beginning of our dialogue, establishing detailed theological systems of doctrine are impossible apart from some philosophical considerations, especially in addressing topics not explicitly addressed in Scripture. I concede that in seeking first, to remain faithful to the Scriptures, and second, attempting to be logical and consistent, I have theological presuppositions which are likewise influenced philosophically, nevertheless, so do you. In your view of “infant salvation”, you have “sinful infants” supernaturally, by the mere decree of God, born of God and included in the “elect” apart from “hearing” (or understanding) the gospel via “preaching”, which the Bible declares is prerequisite to “believing” (Rom 10:13-14). Moreover, you have “sinners” who realize salvation apart from “repenting”, which is also a condition for regeneration. Yet, as you know, the Bible declares believing and repenting are absolute necessary for regeneration (Lk 13:3; Jn 3:18). Perhaps you would like to offer explanation for these apparent contradictions without appealing to philosophy?
“Question: Are you saying that from Genesis 2:15 until Genesis 3:6 that no time elapsed under the One Positive Command given to Adam (do not eat)?”
“Question: Are you saying that Adam did not exercise moral choice to “keep” the command?”
“Question: Are you saying Adam was created in the image of God, but unable to be holy even though he ‘walked with God in the cool of the day’?”
“Question: Would you deny that the Angels in heaven were created ‘holy’ by God?”
I could be overlooking something, but as far as I know, there are no Scriptures proving God ‘created angels holy’. I do not deny there are holy angels only that holiness is not intrinsic to their created state. Holiness is an attribute that is contingent on moral choices. If this is not so, then there could be no fallen or unholy angels such as Lucifer. Lucifer, like all God’s creation, was created “good” or innocent and became wicked and evil because he choose to rebel against God and His moral law. Indeed, there are many references to “holy angels” in the Bible, but this only proves my point that they have the ability both to reason, choose, and act on or against the commands of God. Again, angels, unlike infants, have the ability to reason and rationally choose, hence they possess the moral attribute of holiness, while infants are merely innocent.
“Question: Also, are you outrightly denying the Scriptures crystal clear teaching on the coupling of death as the penalty for sin: Romans 6:23; Romans 5:12?”
No. We do not deny all human beings, infants and adults alike, are born physically depraved (suffer physical death, sickness, weakness, etc.). All suffer consequences for Adam’s sin, but no one is guilty for his sin. Just because infants die does not mean they are damned for Adam’s sin. There is a vast difference between dying physically and suffering eternal damnation; one speaks of consequences, the other of moral guilt. Moreover, it is not me, but you and anyone who holds to an Augustinian view of original sin, who denies the Scriptures, namely Ezekiel 18:20, by imposing your theological interpretations on Rom 5:12 (Rom 6:23 says nothing of Adam’s sin, but is obviously addressing personal sin). Infants die not because they are guilty for Adam’s sin but because they are physically depraved, suffering from the ramifications of the fall.
“Question: Do you deny that the principle of imputation is explicitly and frequently asserted in the word of God?”
“Question: Exodus 20:5 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me…?”
“Question: What about Genesis 9:25 So he said, Cursed be Canaan; A servant of servants He shall be to his brothers. (the curse of Canaan fell on his descendants)?”
Consequences, not guilt. No one went to hell for Canaan’s sin but Canaan. This is true or Ezekiel 18:20 is a lie.