The subject of whether infants who die in their infancy will go to heaven is one that is rarely taught from our pulpits. Albeit, it is one of much interest in theological circles across faiths. This three-part article attempts to consider what the Bible teaches on the subject.
The immediate opposition to infants who die in infancy going to heaven we are confronted with is the fact that the Bible teaches that all who are born into this world are tainted by a sinful nature which we inherit from Adam. This is the Biblical concept of original sin, by which we mean all of Adam’s posterity—except for Christ, who was God incarnate—are born sinners and therefore objects of the wrath of God. The key verse is Romans 5:12; where Paul teaches that all of Adam’s posterity were accounted as sinners as a result of what happened in the garden of Eden:
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—
Paul’s words in Romans 5:14 indicates that this includes infants, who like the rest of humanity suffers the consequence of Adam’s sin—death—even though they have not sinned in the same way as Adam. Those who believe in what is known as ‘baptismal regeneration’ baptise infants for this reason. Their position is that unless infants are baptised, they will die in their sins and go to hell.
Contrary to the view that infants may end up in hell, this article proposes the belief that the Bible teaches otherwise.
To begin with, we consider verses that readily suggest that those who die in their infancy go to be with the Lord. Notable among them is 2Samuel 12:23 where David expressed the hope that his dead child will not come to him; instead, he will go to him when he dies.
But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.
(2 Samuel 12:23 ESV)
David, elsewhere, expresses the hope of an afterlife spent in God’s presence (Psalms 16:10). This text is therefore taken to mean that David was looking forward to reuniting with his young child in heaven.
Then we have Jesus’ statement in Matthew 19:14, where speaking with reference to little children, he said that the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.
but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”
(Matthew 19:14 ESV)
Teaching on the subject of conversion on another occasion, Jesus admonished his followers to turn and be like children if they wanted to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3). This, taken together with the statement in Matthew 19 leans towards an assurance from our Lord that children have a place in the kingdom of heaven.
Resolving the Bottleneck
If we are to arrive at our destination of how infants, despite being tainted by original sin like everyone else are assured of a place in heaven should they die in their infancy, we will need to resolve the bottleneck.
We will need to grapple with the Scriptures for answers to the questions of,
1. Adam’s (original) sin
2. What the consequences were, and
3. What can we deduce about the salvation of infants?
We first consider what the Biblical teaching of sin is.
What is Sin?
There are several terms used in the Bible to describe sin. For example, sin is defined as
- a special kind of evil.
This term distinguishes sin from other kinds of evil, for instance, natural disasters and other calamities.
- missing the mark or deviating from the right way.
- an absence of or a want of integrity.
- a departure from the appointed pathway.
- a deliberate breaking of a covenant or the law.
The Nature of Sin
We see from the Bible that sin has an absolute character. When it comes to sin, there can be no middle ground. It is either black or white; good or evil. As Aristotle put it so eloquently, there is no mean between two opposites. The Bible differs from the common saying that we are basically good. Humanity in sin is not good by nature according to God’s standard—if this were so, there would not have been any need for Jesus to die on the cross.
Sin is always in relation to God, His law and His will. Sin is a wrong relationship with God and is always defined in relation to God. For example, stealing from a neighbour is, first of all, a sin against God, although it also constitutes a wrong to the neighbour. For example, in Psalm 51:4, David prayed thus, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;” although he had been found out for wrongfully taking Uriah’s wife and orchestrating his death.
Sin does not merely comprise particular acts or actions; it is necessarily a state or condition. A sinful condition manifests in sinful action. The sequence can be summed up thus: state leads to actions, actions lead to habits. We sin because of our sinful nature. And as creatures of habits, we are consequently guilty of particular acts or actions.
In part II of this series, we will consider Adam’s sin, its effects (if any) on his posterity and how this relates to infants.