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You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

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What happens to Babies when they die?

There are various positions on this sensitive subject but of those typically proposed, none seem conclusive. The "perceived" silence of the Bible in this area has led theologians, seeking to champion the cause of the innocents, to define and espouse doctrines that are clearly at odds with the Word of God. It is my belief that there is a proper biblical view that can be substantiated through the Scriptures and satisfy the misgivings of our hearts.

The controversy centers on the Doctrine of Original Sin. The Moody Handbook of Theology defines Original Sin as:

"the sinful state and condition in which men are born. It is so designated because:

  • it is derived from the original root of the human race (Adam);
  • it is present in the life of every individual from the time of his birth;
  • it is the inward root of all the actual sins that defile the life of man.

Simply stated it refers to the corruption of our whole nature."

All three of the above statements are based on solid Biblical teaching and therefore are not in dispute by this writer. My greatest concern centers, not on these truths, rather it is the conclusions drawn by many theologians in light of these truths and their subsequent application to the matter of Salvation.

The main focus of this paper will center on the third point in the definition of Original Sin above, "it is the inward root of all the actual sins that defile the life of man." The orthodox teachings of Catholic and Protestant alike go beyond the provided definition and stipulate further that all mankind shares in the guilt for Adam’s transgression.

St. Augustine is widely regarded as the key historical figure behind the "shared guilt" interpretation of Original Sin. It should be noted that his view was disputed among certain of his contemporaries. According to my research, his final conclusions were most strongly influenced by the rendering of Romans 5:12-14 in the Latin Vulgate. As these verses serve as the cornerstone of his position, if his interpretation can be demonstrated to be in error, then his final conclusions lose their validity.

I quote Rom 5:12-14:
(12) Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned-- (13) for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. (14) Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

In The History of the Christian Church, Vol. 3, Chap. IX, subsection IV, article 155. "Arguments for the Doctrine of Original Sin and Hereditary Guilt." the first point of disputation, in layman's venacular, was centered on differences between the Latin Vulgate and then extant Greek translations. Augustine wasn't proficient in Greek so he relied on the Latin Vulgate as his textual preference. This wouldn't generally be a problem, but in this case, the Latin word construction in verse 12 points to a direct causal relationship between Adam's sin and the subsequent death of all men(shared guilt), However, in the Greek, the cause of death relates to the phrase "because all sinned" as the reason all die(personal guilt).

The above casts Augustines interpretation into question, but there is no need to appeal to extra-biblical resources to find fault. Verses 13-14 lend support for Augustine's teaching only if you ignore other portions of Romans. In these two verses, Paul makes the point that before the law, sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed where there is no law and yet all still died. This could be construed, when taken in context with verse 12, to indicate that since all men die even when there is no law, and therefore no imputation of sin and its penalty, that death must be a result of some other cause, i.e. Adam's sin.

Is the law limited to that which is recorded with pen and paper? Do the Scriptures teach that man apart from the written law is without guilt? Gen 3:22 says in part, "Then the LORD God said, Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil..." Did they know good and evil because it was written down for them? YES, but not on paper, it was written on their hearts. They had be imbued with a conscience as have been all their progeny.

Rom 2:12;14-16 says: "(12) For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. (14)For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. (15)They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them (16)on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus."

So, according to these verses, those without the law, the Scriptures, are still bound by the law of conscience. All are accountable and all will be judged based on what God has chosen to reveal to their hearts. Given this teaching of Paul in chapter 2, I don't believe it credible to assume that only three chapters later, he is saying that men die because of inherited guilt. They die, just as verse 5:12 says, "Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned. Verses 13 and 14 then become, not a proof text for inherited sin, but instead a proof text that death is the evidence that even those without the written law who haven't sinned in like fashion to Adam, are still judged to be guilty because they sin through the violation of God's law written on their hearts.

The Swiss Reformer, Huldrych Zwingli, (1484–1531) a contemporary of Martin Luther, espoused a view on Original sin that differed from the Catholic system and his fellow Reformers. Although I question some of the suppositions that led to his viewpoint, I am in agreement with his final conclusion as stated in the following quote. He acknowledged the curse of total depravity associated with the fall of man and the fact of original sin, but regarded original sin as a "calamity, a disease, a natural defect, which involves no personal guilt, and is not punishable, until it reveals itself in actual transgression." It was in his view, "the fruitful germ of actual sin, just as the inborn rapacity of the wolf will in due time prompt him to tear the sheep." Based on the biblical evidence, Zwingli’s conclusions merit serious consideration.

With this in mind and in order to gain a full orbed understanding of the issues involved, a bit of research was required. Below I’ve listed several key questions that are critical if we are to arrive at a proper biblical understanding of the problem.

• What is the definition of sin?
• Does God punish sin committed in ignorance?
• What is the Bible’s teaching in regard to shared guilt and punishment?
• How can sinners to be reconciled to God?
• What is required to enter Heaven?
• Who is a sinner?

What is the definition of sin?

The Compact Dictionary of Doctrinal Words by Terry L. Miethe defines sin as; A falling away from or missing the mark. The New Testament describes sin as actions contrary to God’s expressed will. Sin exchanges God for self as the absolute lawgiver…..

Moody’s Concise Theology defines sin as, "a lack of conformity to the law of God in act, habit, attitude, outlook, disposition, motivation, and mode of existence."

The following scripture references are just a small sample of the many dealing with sin and the true nature of man. After reading each quote, certain conclusions can be drawn

Romans 1:18-21

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations and their foolish heart was darkened.

Romans 1:28-32

"And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.

Romans 2:12-15

For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; 13for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. 14For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them,

Mark 7:21-23

"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."

Matthew 5:27-28

"You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (there are similar passages as this for other sins of the heart)

James 4:17

"Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin."

Based on the previous quotes, we can infer:

  • Romans 1:18-21 – God has revealed Himself both inwardly and outwardly to all mankind, therefore, denial of God and His truth is a sin for which there is no excuse.
  • Romans 1:28-32 – God condemns specific actions in the flesh, as sin.
  • Romans 2:12-15 – God has given inward knowledge of sin via our conscience.
  • Mark 7:21-23 – Sin is personal and originates from within each of us.
  • Matthew 5:27-28 - An outward act is not required to be guilty of sin.
  • James 4:17 – You can be guilty of sin by NOT doing what you know is right.

Assuming a person is totally ignorant of the Bible, Jesus and the Gospel message, it is still possible to "miss the mark" because at the most rudimentary level sin is; "An act of the human will, undertaken in light of an informed conscience, that is contrary to God’s will."John Fritzius

Does God punish sin committed in ignorance?

This question can be clearly determined from the Bible. Consider the following scriptures:

Romans 2:12-16
"For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus."

Man is judged based on his knowledge of the law. If you know the written law, you will be judged by that standard. If you are ignorant of the written law, you will be judged based on the innate, God given, law written in your heart. (conscience)

Romans 5:12 –14
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— for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.

It is impossible to commit the same sin as Adam, at least in the literal sense, as the tree of knowledge is no longer accessible. Until God gave His written law to Moses, man’s sins were comprised of "inward law" violations. All sinned and therefore all died.

John 9:39 - 41
"And Jesus said, "For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind." Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things and said to Him, "We are not blind too, are we?" Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains."

Unlike man’s system of laws that assign fault even when the perpetrator is ignorant of the offense, it would appear that God does consider our knowledge of sin and the intent of our heart as factors to be considered in judgement and imputation of sin. This is only possible with God as only He knows the true intent of the heart and whether we are truly ignorant in our actions, enabling Him to render a right and fair judgement.

What is the Bible’s teaching in regard to shared guilt and punishment?

Many Christians and certainly all non-Christians with an axe to grind against God, Christianity and the Bible are aware of scriptures in the Old Testament which teach that God punishes children for the sins of their fathers. It is apparent that the even the Israelites believed this to be true. However, in other lesser known passages, God strongly denies this.

Jeremiah 31:29-30
"In those days they will not say again, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, And the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ But everyone will die for his own iniquity; each man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth will be set on edge."

Ezekiel 18:1-4
"Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, "What do you mean by using this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, ‘The fathers eat the sour grapes, But the children’s teeth are set on edge’? As I live," declares the Lord GOD, "you are surely not going to use this proverb in Israel anymore. Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die."

Ezekiel 18:19-20
"Yet you say, ‘Why should the son not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity?’ When the son has practiced justice and righteousness and has observed all My statutes and done them, he shall surely live. The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself."

Deuteronomy 24:16
"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.

The first two verses use metaphoric language to express a thought that was apparently common among the Israelites of the day. Clearly the intent of the, somewhat caustic, saying was to express a sensed unfairness on God’s part when it came to punishment for sins. If we were to use the vernacular of today, the passage would read, "Our fathers sinned but the punishment of God falls on we, the children."

The very tone of the language being used in both Jeremiah and Ezekiel expresses God’s extreme displeasure with the import of the saying. God, in no uncertain terms, chastises those that would blame Him for their troubles. Based on the whole of the passages it would seem if punishment was being mete out to the Israelites, it had to be for their own transgressions, not their father’s. Once again a common theme of the Bible, evident since Genesis, is on display. Man attempts to shift the blame for sin away from self to some external cause.

The second passage in Ezekiel and the quote from Deuteronomy both affirm a mindset on the part of God to punish only those on whom punishment is due. God is a righteous Judge! So what are we to think regarding the many Scriptures which seem to teach that God punishes children, "unto the third and fourth generations." Following are two typical examples:

Exodus 34:6-7
"Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations."

Deuteronomy 5:9-10
"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, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments."

I submit that these two scriptures aren’t in conflict with those cited earlier. If you notice, in both passages there is mention of great numbers of persons for whom God keeps or shows lovingkindness and forgives for their iniquity. Once again we see God’s justice in that He treats us as individuals in relation to sin. He punishes those who are guilty and fail to turn from their sin and He forgives those that, though guilty of sin, repent.

NOTE: These verses do not mean that God will not corporately punish a nation, especially in regard to idolotry. Even in these dire times, God does frequently protect His Elect.

In light of all these passages, it must be assumed that the children being punished for "the iniquity of fathers" are being punished, like those whose teeth were set on edge, because they are personally guilty of the same sins as their fathers. The axiom "like father, like son" is generally true. The consequence of a fallen nature taken in conjunction with exposure to a sinful lifestyle, is a child that grows to adulthood manifesting the same sinful practices. This cycle of sin can only be broken through repentance and faith, without which, God will punish all offenders.

How can sinners to be reconciled to God?

The Bible is explicit regarding the requirements for reconciliation to God. It teaches that salvation is by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ (and His work) alone.

Jesus, the Son of God, took on human form and lived among us. He lived a perfect, sinless life in absolute obedience to the will of God the Father. Was falsely accursed of blasphemy, stripped naked, beaten, whipped, nailed to a cross, and crucified until dead. He was prepared for burial and placed in a tomb from which He arose bodily on the third day showing himself to many. After forty days, He ascended to heaven to be the everlasting savior and mediator between man and God the Father. His life was freely given, a ransom for many. His suffering and death paid the terrible price for sin for all those who would place their faith in Him. His resurrection gave evidence of the Father’s acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice and Jesus has promised, in like fashion, to resurrect the faithful to eternal life with Him, in the presence of God the Father. This is the hope of all believers.

Romans 2:8-9
"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast."

We as fallen sinners can do nothing on our own to facilitate salvation. It is wholly the work of God and the only piece of the puzzle that directly concerns us is faith and even that is a gift from God. We must exercise faith in the promises of Jesus, and the Gospel message He proclaimed, in order to be saved.

How do we obtain faith? The Bible says in Romans 10:17, "Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ." However, not every individual hearing the Gospel message will respond and be saved. This is because the "hearing" mentioned in the verse is two-fold in nature.

  • You must hear (understanding intellectually) God’s Word regarding the Gospel
  • You must hear (understand and respond on a spiritual level) which is only possible after the Holy Spirit quickens your dead human spirit to new life.

Once the above two conditions are met it is possible for the Holy Spirit to gift us with faith. Prior to the awakening of the spirit it is not possible to exercise faith as is evidenced by the following:

1 Cor. 2:14
"But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised."

What is required to enter Heaven?

I understand in the strictest sense that there is but one path of salvation through which we may gain Heaven and that path is via hearing, believing the Gospel message and exercising faith in the person and finished work of Jesus Christ. However, salvation, by definition, assumes you are lost and in need of a savior.

Genesis 2:15-17
"Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The LORD God commanded the man, saying, From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die."

In the quote above, the actual commission of sin would be the occasion of spiritual death, a separation from God the Father, leaving Adam in a lost condition in need of a savior. Traditional Church doctrine teaches that we have inherited the guilt of Adam's sin and are therefore already spiritually dead at birth. However, the Scriptures clearly indicate that God imputes sin only at the personal level. He never ascribes guilt or imposes punishment for sins committed by others.

Matt. 9:11-13
"When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners? But when Jesus heard this, He said, It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

Jesus by this statement was not indicating that the Pharisees were righteous and free of the need for salvation. In fact several scriptures in the NT make His view of their righteousness crystal clear (ie. whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness; But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?.) However, His words do indicate that if a person were to be without sin, they would have no needto be called to salvation as they would not be lost.

Romans 5:12 –14
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— for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.

Notice: Death came not as a punishment for Adam’s sin but because all men sinned individually. It further states that if there were no law, sin would not be imputed.

John 9:39 - 41
"And Jesus said, "For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind." Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things and said to Him, "We are not blind too, are we?" Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains."

We are not held accountable for sin that we commit in ignorance.

Who is a sinner?

I perused the New Testament, searching for instances where the word "all’ was used in a non-literal sense and had great success. Based on the various scriptures I found, some listed herein, it would appear that a good case can be made that the "All have sinned" statement may in fact represent a literal truth corresponding to a specific class. It is generally true of all mankind, but there is room for exceptions. Below are several scriptures that illustrate my point.

John 12:31
"Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. 32"And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself."

We know that all those drawn to Jesus will be saved, and we also know that only the elect will be saved. So the statement "will draw all men to Myself" cannot refer to all men, but instead must refer to all the elect.

Matthew 2:1-3
"Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him." When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him."

It is very unlikely that "all Jerusalem" was even aware of the statements made by the Magi. It would have been counter-productive for Herod to let this kind of information leak to the general populous, as he was not well received by the people. His secretive nature is demonstrated in the next few verses following those above. There would certainly be many whose position and power would be threatened by a new "King of the Jews" and all these would have been troubled, but the person on the street would likely have very different feelings about the subject.

Matthew 3:4-6
"Now John himself had a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins."

Once again we see the usage of "all" to loosely designate a large number of people from a sizeable geographical area, but it would have been impossible for "all" to come. Even if we were to exclude all the non-Jewish population of the given locality, there would still be a sizable number of Jews who were not given to religious convictions that would not be likely to participate.

Matthew 10:21-22
"Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved."

The use of "because of my name" is a sure indication that those who will be hated will be the elect God. The "all" mentioned here is referring to all those who are not of the elect. So, eventhough the word "all" is used, it is not intended to include everyone.

Luke 2:1
"Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth."

Refers to "all" the Roman Empire, not all the earth.

Conclusion

  • Based on scripture and accepted definitions of sin, a baby (and certain others with reduced metal capacity) would not be capable of sin.
  • God judges and imputes sin based on the knowledge of the person. Since a baby can have no knowledge of sin via the spoken or written word and the fact that their intellect (needed to interpret their conscience) has yet to be fully formed... sin will not be imputed.
  • The Bible makes it clear that God judges us as individuals and that the sins of our forbears, while they may have consequences, do not imbue the descendants with guilt - just a fallen nature.
  • There is only one Gospel which requires hearing and faith in the Word of Christ, none of which are possible for a baby.
  • Salvation is only required for those who are guilty of sin and therefore lost. If you have no sin then you are not lost and need not be saved. It would be natural for God to take you into His loving arms at death.
  • There are many verses that make it clear that the word "all" need not be taken literally. The context, in light of the whole of scripture, must be determinative. Case in point, if "all" used in "all have sinned" is to be taken in its ultimate sense, then we have to include babies. This would be a contradiction as we know that babies are not capable of sin and the scriptures indicate that God does not impute the sins of others to individuals.

If we say a baby has guilt for any sin yet is saved, even when the child is not capable of understanding the Gospel or exorcising faith, then we have another Gospel than that which is clearly communicated in Scripture. No water Baptism, Election or appeal to God’s loving nature can overcome this one truth: If you are guilty of sin, you are dead in your trespasses and the only avenue to heaven is by the narrow road, belief in the Gospel message and trusting in the finished work of Jesus Christ

If it is your firm unmovable position that babies share the guilt for Adam’s sin, then based on the teaching of Scripture, there is no remedy. Some interject unscriptural constructs by which they can be saved, but these are mere hopeful suppositions and not informed by the teaching of God's Word. If babies have any guilt before God and if there is only one Gospel, then you must be prepared to accept that they all stand condemned before a holy God and will spend eternity separated from Him and suffering His wrath.

Galatians 1:8
But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema.

 
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