AGE OF ACCOUNTABILITY
(2 Sam 12:23) 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.”
There is a question among Christians about the age of accountability. This the doctrine that children are not held accountable by God for their sins until they reach a certain age, and that if a child dies before reaching the age of accountability, that child will be granted entrance into heaven by the mercy and grace of God. The term itself is not in the Bible, but neither is the word Trinity. It’s just a phrase someone pinned that has stuck fast as we think about children dying and whether they go to heaven if they never knew Christ as their Savior.
Now, we know children are sinners from birth (Psa 51:5). But there is teaching in scripture that there is an age of innocence whereby, as the Bible puts it, “they have no knowledge of good or evil” (Deu 1:39) until they are older. David lost a child. And he was encouraged by the fact that he would see his child again in heaven. (Read the whole story in 2 Samuel 12). Children seem to be covered by their parent’s faith until that time: (1 Cor 7:14) For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. (See also Joshua 7:22-25).
Most believers do not argue about the doctrine of the age of accountability. But what is on our minds the most is at what age are children responsible for their sins? There have been a few suggestions. Thirteen is the most common number given for the age of accountability, based on the Jewish custom that a child becomes an adult at the age of 13. According to Jewish law, when Jewish boys become 13, they become accountable for their actions and become a Bar Mitzvah (son of the law). This age was selected because it coincides roughly to puberty. Prior to this age the child's parents hold the responsibility for the child's actions. After this age, children bear their own responsibility, and are able to participate in all areas of Jewish community life. Others have submitted the age of twenty as the age of accountability, speaking for the fact of when Israelite young men went into battle.
It seems the age of accountability is different for each child because children are diverse in their development. Some are early bloomers and some are late bloomers. It’s kind of like the sun when it rises. At what point do you say the sun has risen? 5:20? 5:26? 5:35? You see the rays before and after the exact pinpoint of the suns rising. And so is the child. Each one is uniquely created by God and is on his or her own timetable.
So what do we do with this knowledge? Let us share Christ with our children and seek to lead them to a saving faith through the cross. That way we can have the assurance that no matter what happens to them at any age, we know they will be fit for heaven. (Gen 18:25)