The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Apr 2, 2015

A Slightly Expanded Exegetical Discussion on why I Believe Babies go to Heaven

Generally I stay away from controversial theological topics (my desire is for this site to be a resource), but I felt I'd expand a bit on Dr. Danny Akin's brief discussion of why he believes babies go to heaven (click here; and thanks to my Doctorvater David Alan Black for mentioning this on his blog); I'm aware of counter-arguments to some of Dr. Akin's thoughts, so I want to expand a bit more on a few of his statements and mention a couple other relevant verses. (Dr. Akin is a theologian and scholar, president of my Alma mater Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and an excellent preacher)

This is, of course, a highly charged discussion at times, and also one that is not explicitly discussed in Scripture. Theologically, the debate can go either way: the inherent goodness and mercy of God, on the one hand, and the total depravity (however defined) and sin nature of all human beings from the moment they are conceived on the other hand. Furthermore, I cannot discern any theological positions that automatically fall on either side of the debate; both Calvinists and Arminians, for example, could take either position (one could argue, though, that the belief in regeneration prior to faith [which I do not hold to] might make this position a bit easier to defend).

Nonetheless, while Scripture does not directly discuss the topic, there are a few textual hints that seem to imply a certain "age of innocence" where a child may not be held accountable for their sin nature, or rather is held accountable but receives the mercy of God. First of all, we have such general statements as that in Isaiah 7:16, a particular prophecy will occur "before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good" (KJV; NET has something similar, "before the child knows how to reject evil and choose what is right"). All this proves, of course, is that at a certain stage, a "child"  is clearly distinct from an adult in his or her ability to make moral choices. Nevertheless, keep that distinction in mind as we look at some other verses, and this will play a key roll in our discussion of Revelation 20:11-15. (The Hebrew word for "child" here is na-ar, which seems to be a fairly broad word applicable to various ages, but context seems to indicate a very young age).

For me, 1 Kings 14:13 is also significant. As God curses Jeroboam's line for their wickedness, he declares through the prophet that of all his line, only this little child will be properly buried (Hebrew yalad, much more frequently referring to newborns and young babies; see, for example Genesis 21:8, Exodus 1:17, 2 Samuel 12:21-22; however, Genesis 4:23 may be a counter example, unless Lamech was bragging about killing a child!). Why, then, would this young child (perhaps still a baby) be given a peaceful  and proper burial in contrast to the rest of Jeroboam's line? Because "he is the only one in whom the Lord God of Israel found anything good" (NET; the KJV has "because in him there is found some good thing toward the LORD God of Israel"). Since this is a yalad, it is doubtful that the child or baby has had time to manifest a godly character (though a counter-example might be Samuel). What, then, is the "good" that God has seen in him? Context would seem to indicate the lack of wickedness that characterized the rest of Jeroboam's family, i.e., a sort of innocence. None of this denies the fact of Adam's sin imputed to our DNA (or whatever; I'm a Biblical studies guy, not a theologian, so pardon the inexact language). Rather, this may simply indicate that at a certain level the child was considered innocent. Once again, by itself this does not prove that babies go to heaven, but it's evidence that needs to be taken into consideration.

The most cited passage, of course, is 2 Samuel 12:15-23 where David quits weeping when the child dies and declares to his surprised servants that "I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me" (KJV; the NET has "I will go to him, but he cannot return to me"). Now, granted that David is not necessarily divinely inspired in what he says (in the way that the narrator is), and granted that David is probably referring to the afterlife in general, not necessarily a New Testament concept of "heaven" per se (this is a common counter-argument). Having said that, I see no other way to read the expression other than that David believed he actually would be in the presence of his child someday. The contrast "going to him" vs. "coming to me" seems to indicate this is not simply David saying "just like him  I'm going to die"; furthermore, the total loss of his child (with no hope of seeing him again) would certainly not have given David reason to stop weeping or begin to comfort his wife (and Dr. Akin makes this point in the link above). Regardless of David's own knowledge of the afterlife compared to our own, at the least he obviously did not consider his infant to be suffering in hell. 

In the New Testament, two passages are significant (both of them discussed by Dr. Akin). In Luke 18:15-17, Jesus says that "of such is the kingdom of heaven" (KJV; the NET has "the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these") in regards to little children (or, perhaps, babies or infants, though the parallel passage in Matthew 19:14 uses the broader paideia). Those who have toddlers in the house, of course, may be making an incredulous face right now, but nevertheless Jesus saw something distinct in children and/or babies--a "child-like faith." The counter-argument is that Jesus may not actually be saying "babies enter into the Kingdom of Heaven," but rather "those who have trust/faith like babies/children enter into the Kingdom of Heaven" (see verse 17). [note: I will take "Kingdom of Heaven" to broadly refer to the sphere of those who belong to God, including the temporary state in heaven and the eternal state of the New Jerusalem and New Earth] Yet consider the nature of the statement; would Jesus' declaration ring true if, in fact, children/babies did not go to heaven but rather were suffering in hell? This would be akin to saying "You have to be as famous as a football player to get into that club" when, in fact, football players are categorically not allowed to enter a particular club. Would it make sense to say "You have to be like a little child to enter into the Kingdom" when all those who die as a little child cannot possibly enter into the Kingdom? [I am loosely referring to those at too young an age to understand or accept the Gospel; I think the same line of thought might apply to those mentally unable to grasp the Gospel, i.e., mental toddlers, no matter what the age, but that's a discussion for another time] In other words, the effectiveness of Jesus' statement seems to presume that those who die as infants or little children do indeed populate the Kingdom of Heaven.

Finally (and I credit Dr. Akin for bringing this passage up, because I hadn't really thought of it), Revelation 20:11-15 indicates that the basis of eternal torment in the Lake of Fire is the evil works one has done, not the acquisition of a sin nature per se. Since infants, at least, cannot "choose the good or the evil" (remember, we saw that all the way back in Isaiah 7), consequently infants are not included in this group. In other words, here's my logic: 1. Isaiah 7:16 indicates that there is an age before which one can make moral choices; 2. Revelation 20:11-15 indicates that sinners are judges on the basis of their moral choices; 3. Consequently, infants are not included in the judgment of Revelation 20:11-5.

I trust this has been a helpful expansion of Dr. Akin's arguments that takes into account potential counter-arguments. In the end, those of us who are able to "choose the good and refuse the evil" must nevertheless trust in the saving power of the crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus Christ to save us from our sins; no other hope for salvation exists. For those who have died before they could "choose the good and refuse the evil," I also trust that Jesus' precious blood, through the grace of God, has washed away their old nature and regenerated them. To paraphrase Charles Spurgeon's quote (which Dr. Akin gives in his paper), "Mother and father, if you have a baby who has died, and yet you yourself have not repented and accepted Christ as your Savior, how horrible it would for your child to be enjoying the benefits of eternal fellowship with God Almighty and His Son, Jesus Christ, while you yourself suffer justly for your sins? Repent, and turn to the Resurrected Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, trust in Him alone for your salvation, the One who died on the cross for your sins and my sins yet rose again on the 3rd day by the power of God--'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved' (Acts 16:31)."

Dear reader, if you wish to post a comment, whether in agreement or disagreement, please keep it relevant and courteous.

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