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Is There an Age of Accountability for Children?

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Is it proper to witness to young kids?

Some Christians believe in an “age of accountability.” This is supposed to be some God-determined age where God holds people responsible for their sins.

My question: Where is this in Scripture and what exactly is that age? If it can’t be conclusively determined that there is a specific age, should we not tell everyone, regardless of how young, that they will also be held accountable for the things done while in the body (using discretion and age-appropriate language, of course)?

My daughter D.D. really started to understand Christ’s suffering on the cross in a new way after watching the end of the DVD, “The Gospel of John.” She said that she didn’t want to go to Hell, so we talked to her about sin, repentance, righteousness and Judgment—and this was when she was only seven-years-old. Though she asked Jesus to forgive her at age three, we aren’t taking any chances; we will continue to bring up our children in the training and instruction of the Lord.

Jonathan Edwards was serious about converting children at an early age. In Jonathan Edwards on Heaven and Hell by John H. Gerstner, I read this:

If the best doctrine to present to sinners is Hell, the best time is childhood [according to Edwards]. The number of special meetings for children that Edwards held, as well as the diligent attention he gave to the salvation of his own family, shows his persuasion of this point.

His approach to the children was basically the same as the approach to their parents. They too were in danger of judgment and must learn to free the wrath that is to come upon them as well as upon older sinners. They were “young serpents” who had not yet learned to bite, but were full of poison. They were no different in nature from their parents. They too were “children of the devil.” Neither can they “bear hell among the devils,” and they must beware of this dread judgment to which they are exposed.

“Supposing, children,” he exhorts. “you could now hear the cries of other wicked children that are gone to hell—Come therefore hearken to me—If you won’t hearken but will go to hell…”

“Many persons,” he warns the young people, “never get rid of the guilt of the sins of their youth, but it attends them to their graves and goes with them into eternity.

“So that you get nothing by spending your youth in sin, but are great losers for the present besides the danger that you incur of having your souls full of the sins of your youth when you die and then lying down with [them] in the grave and going with you to God’s judgment seat and into eternity.”

***Read about what happened at our church when I preached Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” last summer.***

9 Comments

  1. “Against you, you only , have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.

    Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”

    Psalm 51:4:5

  2. As much as we want to see our “young ones” in heaven, I’ve been taught about this “age of accountability” that it is some unknown age that varies from person to person. Yet there is little Blblical warrant for this teaching. Paul Latour’s quote above is clear & plain. I’ve served in children ministries for about 12 years, teaching mornings, nights, and helping with a couple children’s discipleship ministries and have regularly presented the gospel to children of all ages. As my Children’s Ministry Pastor says, when one is born again as a child, you have a whole life to give serving the Lord, unlike me who sent half of my life serving myself and the devil. Oh that I could have spent those years serving my Lord, how I regret the wasted years…

    So, readers, I employ you to reach out to children with the Law & Gospel. They understand sin and that they are guilty probably more than most adults. Imagine God having a full lifetime to work with rather than only 1/2 a one like mine. The harvest is RIPE! Children are probably the most approachable, teachable and reachable. Let’s get busy!

  3. Hey, did anyone see the Laker post game show last night. if so, you might have seen million dollar tracts being tossed into the air and folks streching out to get them.

    rr

  4. good verse paul.

    but, i have a question. why then does the jewish culture celebrate the bar & bas mitzvah’s. according to this tradition it is to welcome the child to the age of accountability…13yrs old.

    it’s true that i do not see any scripture backing this up but the jews have celebrated this for many years.

  5. Dede –
    Here’s aquote from bnaiavraham.net regarding the “true” meaning of Bat/Bar Mitzvah. It is a rite of passage into adulthood, recognizing the child as an adult, nothing about “accountability”.

    “The true purpose of the Bat/Bat Mitzvah is to bless a child into adulthood and to recognize that they are now old enough and mature enough to study the Word of YHWH and to develop their relationship with the Master of Life. Prior to a Bat/Bar Mitzvah a child is directly under the authority of their mother and father.”

  6. I had always heard that the age of accountability was different for each child and that it is the point where a child begins to fully understand right from wrong. This is not biblicaliy supported however when we look at Jonah chapter 4 God was willing to spare the city of Nineveh because there was 6,000 people there who did not know their right hand from there left. Nineveh was not a city of innocence. Were the 6,000 the children who did not know right from wrong? Even though a person has never heard the gospel scripture states nature testifies of God therefore they are still accountable. Even the unreached people groups. Thats why we should reach out to the lost as well as teach the children until they do understand.

  7. thanks tom…i’ll look into the website.

  8. Age of accountability reminds me of the teaching that one goes to hell for rejecting the Gospel – I believe it was Hank Hanegraaf who said such a thing was true, then let’s just not preach the Gospel, burn all the Bibles, and everyone will go to heaven because they reject Jesus. Age of Accountability is not in the Bible, although it makes one wonder what happens to aborted babies, still borns, etc.

    RR: As for the Laker post-game show, I didn’t see it, I was probably watching 18 and counting ( LOVE the Duggars ! )

  9. Many think that the Bible does not teach by example the (age of accountability) however it sure does and clearly in Exodus 30:11-16, Numbers 14:29, Deu. 1:39 and II Sam. 12:13-23! understanding who God is and His Grace and Mercy coupled with our common sense should allow us to understand that there is an AGE OF ACCOUNTABILITY. I have never married children, don’t know of any State that allows children to vote, children are not sitting on jurys in our courts, we don’t give drivers licenses out to children and they can’t make loans or buy houses! Is there a reason why they can’t? I believe we all were teenagers at one time and was you responsible as an adult? Medical research dtermined that the frontal part of the brain is not fully developed until the end of our teen years, of course God already knew that and thats why we see 20 years old as the age in scripture He says one is accountable! Hope this clears up the false doctrine that many are being taught!

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