Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dead Babies in Hell?

The subject matter today is highly speculative: the fate of preborn and born babies who experience death. I consider this topic to be speculative because I know of no scriptures which specifically treat the subject of the destiny of the souls of those persons who die in infancy or who are miscarried or aborted.

Thus, I would never address this topic—as a matter of doctrine--from the pulpit. But you are reading “Just Thinking (and writing),” not “Just Preaching (and writing);” and so we contemplate the question: Do dead babies (born and preborn) go to heaven or hell?

Some state, rather matter-of-factly, that all babies who die go to hell. They say this because they understand that we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ and they do not believe that babies have this saving faith.

Others offer that only babies of unbelievers go to hell, while the babies of believers go to heaven. Many go so far as to allege that the preborn and born babies of believers do in fact have saving faith; that somehow they “trust” God for their salvation. In other words, these babies, should they live and grow, will have no need to be born again, for they are born saved.

In effort to make the case for baby-faith more palatable, appeal is usually made to Psalm 22:9. The verse reads, “But You are He who took Me out of the womb; You made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts.” Using this as a proof-text the baby-faith proponent offers, “See…covenant community babies have saving faith even in infancy.”

But is Psalm 22 to be interpreted as normative? Hardly. This psalm is entirely—start to finish—Messianic. Baby-faithers apply verse 9 to their own infants, but do they also apply verse 18 to them? “They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots” (Psalm 22:18). I doubt they do!

Or what of verse 14, “I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; it has melted within Me”? No. Psalm 22 is not properly applied to believers in general, but rather to Christ in particular. I would no more claim Psalm 22:9 is true of my babies than I would that they were born of a virgin and suffered under Pontius Pilate.

So it seems the baby-faithers who claim, “My children and I were born with saving faith,” have a hermeneutical problem.

Then they also have an experiential problem. The experiential problem is namely this: We know you and your children and we ain’t buyin’ it. That is, you and your children need or needed to be born again, to be converted, no less than me and my children!

Because I don’t believe in baby-faith, must I believe that all babies who die go to hell? I don’t think so. The following is my rationale for saying that there is a basis to believe that dead babies need not suffer damnation. Let me again be abundantly clear: I am “just thinking” not preaching. Okay?

To begin, I would point out that there is a difference between election and what we typically mean by salvation. According to scripture I was elected or chosen by God before the foundation of the world, “before time began” (2 Timothy 1:9). Yet I was not saved or converted or born again until I was ten years old [quite some time after the foundation of the world].

In other words, we are elected in eternity past but we are born again, converted, or saved in space and time. We are elected in eternity past “according to the good pleasure of His will” (Ephesians 1:5). Thus, election is not based upon faith but solely upon God’s purpose or decretive will.

Is it reasonable that a preborn or born baby may be elect but not converted or born again--elect but not full of baby-faith? (This was certainly the case with me.) If an elect preborn or born baby dies, will God mercifully receive him/her unto Himself—not because of his/her being born again or converted but on the basis of His election of grace? This does not seem unreasonable to me.

Secondly, when I consider the dynamic between preborn/born babies and sin I think of it thus: We are born sinners but we are not born sinning. (I’ve heard a tiny minority argue—as did Augustine—that babies do indeed sin. This notion seems bizarre and contradictory of Jonah 4:11 and Romans 9:11.)

To be sure we are not born neutral or innocent or pure. We are born sinners by nature. But are we, as preborn/born babies, sinners by choice? That is, do babies enact their wills to transgress God’s law? “Sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). Do preborn/born babies willfully transgress the Law of God? Are they immoral when they awaken their exhausted parents just because they’re hungry or startled? Are they being sinfully selfish?

(Please note: I am not speaking of children who have the mental/moral capacity to lie, disrespect/disobey their mommy and daddy, or hurt others; I am referring to preborn/born babies.)

Hence, I think it germane to our conversation to distinguish between sinful nature and sinful behavior. Because of Adam’s sin we are born with a sinful nature, a propensity for evil. We are born sinners. But is the sinner damned to hell because of Adam’s sin? It seems the sinner shall be judged, not for the sins of Adam, but for his own transgressions of the law.

And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books” (Revelation 20:12). What evil works have preborn/born babies committed? It would seem the answer to that question is “none.” (In so saying, we are not denying or even addressing our sin in Adam per Romans 5:12; again, c.f. Romans 9:11).

When I consider that election is based upon the decretive will God and is not to be confused or conflated with conversion, and that sinners will be judged and condemned—not according to inherited sin but according to their personal transgressions of the law; I conclude that we need not consign dead babies to hell for lack of faith nor reward them heaven for baby-faith.

Rather, we know that God is infinitely good and it may be that He welcomes dead babies into glory on the basis of His good pleasure and the merit of the shed blood of His Son. Ultimately, isn't this true of all of us who shall make our abode there?


  1. I am a Lutheran and my answers will reflect that but I don't think you have taken the Biblical passages seriously enough. Certainly Psalm 22 is Messianic. All the Psalms are ultimately about Jesus. But that does not mean it is not about David. David wrote it of himself and he wrote it to be taken upon the lips of every Israelite as his own confession and later as the book of Psalms became the hymn book of the Christian church Psalm 22 became the confession of every Christian. Jesus fulfills Psalm 22 in the most ultimate sense but that doesn't mean it's not about David or Christians or the OT Jews.

    Even taking it as being about only Jesus you are still left with the same problem. Jesus was a true human being who grew in knowledge and cognitive ability just like everyone else. If people cannot have faith because of a lack of cognitive ability then Jesus could not have had faith in the womb either.

    Faith is not dependent upon our cognitive abilities. It is a gift of God worked in us by His Word. He has promised to work faith through His Word in baptism, through His Word in the Lord's Supper, and through His Word in the preaching of the Gospel. John the Baptizer leaped inf faith while still in the womb when he heard the Word of God proclaimed by Mary.

    Jesus said that if people were to enter the kingdom of heaven they had to become like the infants that were brought to him. The kingdom of God can only be entered into through faith. But you have it completely backwards just as the disciples did who wanted to turn these infants away.

    Your conception of faith is completely unbiblical. Your conception of faith is itself based upon your own speculations which have become a higher authority to you than the clear Word of Scripture. And so now you must continue the speculations.

    1. You allege: "Jesus was a true human being who grew in knowledge and cognitive ability just like everyone else."

      Jesus was human...He was NOT a human BEING. Jesus was NOT 2 BEINGS...one divine the other human. Jesus is 1 BEING. Jesus is a Divine being [God the Son] who assumes true human nature. (I believe your notion that Jesus was/is 2 beings falls into the heresy known as Nestorianism.)

      Yes, Jesus did indeed grow in wisdom. But to assume that you know what Jesus knew as a baby, child, young adult, etc. lacks biblical warrant. You have no idea what Jesus knew. His human nature, after all, did not suffer from the noetic effects of sin, did it?

      The rest of your post dealing with baby-faith is every bit as misguided and speculative as the above quote.

  2. Steve, this is an excellent piece. I will most certainly save this, and refer to it as needed...thank you...

    1. Thank you for reading! Blessing to you and yours.

  3. I'm not really sure that you understand the bible honestly. Didn't at the sermon on the mound our lord Jesus called all the kids up and say that no one would enter heaven unless we could have hearts like them? Also didn't jesus say "they praise me with their lips but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain. Their teachings are but human rules."? That neutralizes everything you wrote in my mind.

    1. Anyone who claims that children have pure/innocent "hearts" has apparently never had children or been around them. It is surprising that though you at one time presumeably were a child, that you should be so ignorant of the propensity for evil within the heart of a child.

      I've yet to meet a good parent who needed to teach their children to lie, steal, or be selfish. Quite the opposite.

      The good parents I know actually had to train their children to not do such sinful things. Humans, by nature, are not good or morally neutral. Hence, we must train our children to be godly. Godliness does not come naturally. We are naturally bad and must be taught to be good. We know this by scripture and universal experience.

      The Bible is abundantly clear that we are born with sinful natures/hearts. We are born sinners and therefore must be born again.

      The rest of your comment has absolutely nothing to do with what I wrote and so I've no idea why you wrote it or what you intended to convey in so doing.

      But thank you for reading.

  4. Your point of view here is based on the assumption that babies can not have interaction with the holy spirit and be saved in the womb, and that is incorrect. In Luke we read how John the Baptizer leaped for joy in Elizabeth's womb as she was anointed by the Holy Spirit when Mary came to visit while pregnant with Jesus. So while that passage possibly reinforces the Calvinist perspective, the idea that all babies are in trouble because they are unable to interact with the Holy Spirit and God impressing himself on their hearts is not entirely accurate.

    1. Yes, we do indeed read this of John the Baptist. However, we must be cautious to avoid eisegesis when reading narrative portions of scripture.

      We should not base doctrine solely on narrative. Nor should we take what is presented as exceptional [the birth and person of John the Baptist or Jesus] as normative.

      In other words, we have no biblical warrant to assume: "Because the forerunner of Christ leaped in the womb upon his mother's seeing the Virgin Mary, baby-faith is a reality." This is a hermeneutical leap too great for me.

      Thank you so much for reading and for your contemplative comments.

  5. I'm sorry I did read it actually. I feel dumber for doing so. I have 2 kids. Also what I intended to convey is you are truely a misguided man and hell is so full of men like you they are hanging out the windows. Teachers are held far more accountable. While I wouldn't call you a teacher. I will say if you ever disrespected me to my face like u did in you reply I would smack you so hard you would never forget it.

    1. "I have 2 kids...I would smack you so hard you would never forget it."

      It sounds like you set a very godly example before them. ;)

      "I'm sorry I did read it actually. I feel dumber for doing so."

      This is just a feeling of yours...I don't imagine it's possible that you actually are.

  6. My Take,

    1. Thank you for writing an excellent response. My response to your response may be seen on your response. :)

      Blessings to you.

  7. If I may make a counter assertion to your assumption that babies do not sin. We may indeed not be able to observe their sin, but sin begins in the heart and they are indeed sinful from the beginning.

    I otherwise completely agree about even unborn babies and newborns being elect from eternity past. It is most certainly possible and probably that He has elected some of them. However, on the other hand, I don't think we can then say He has elected all of those who will die in pre-birth or early after birth. Otherwise, does that not turn abortion into the greatest heaven-filling machination that evil men have ever concocted?

    1. Sin does indeed begin in the heart/mind and I've no biblical warrant to dispute your assertion. As I tried to make clear, we are speculating about the subject.

      Thank you for reading and contemplating these things with me.

  8. Very good. I think the Bible does teach that all babies who die are in heaven. For a much better defense than I can give, consider John MacArthur's book "Safe in the Arms of God." You've probably read it, but it's very good.

    God bless.

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting. No, I've not read MacArthur's book (only just recently heard of it), but I thank you for suggesting it.

      Blessings to you.