(from Bakerís Encyclopedia of
Christian Apologetics, Baker, 1999)
(Part two continues the discussion with the next two
Those God "Foreknows."
According to this position, God, as an omniscient Being,
foreknew which infants would have believed if they had lived long
enough. God saved only those infants. The rest are lost, since
they would not have believed if they had lived long enough to do
Statement of the View.
This view has common aspects with the elect-infant-only
view (above) and the evangelization-after-death view (below). It
argues that the Bible declares that God is omniscient (Ps.
139:1-6). As such, he knows "the end from the beginning"
(Isa. 46:10). Indeed, he "foreknew" the elect (Rom.
8:29). And there seems to be no logical reason why these could not
have included persons who would die in infancy among the elect.
One advantage over the elect-infant view is that the
foreknowledge approach avoids the criticism that God is unmerciful
and/or unjust in not trying to save all he possibly can. It takes
account of the need for faith as a condition for receiving
salvation (John 3:16-19). That is, it avoids the criticism that
God saves some apart from their willingness to receive salvation.
Another value of the view is that it preserves Godís
omnibenevolence, his manifest love for all.
Critique of the View.
There are some drawbacks to this position. Godís
foreknowledge is based on human free will rather than in
himself as the sovereign God. That is, it holds that God saves
these infants because of foreseen faith. This negates the
unmerited grace of God who acts solely "out of the good
pleasure of his will" (Eph. 1:5) and not based on anything we
do (Eph. 2:8-9).
However, since one need not hold that Godís
foreknowledge is based on anyoneís free choice but
simply, as the Scriptureís say, in accord with it (cf. 1
Peter 1:2). They are simply coordinate, coeternal acts of God with
no dependence of God on anything we do. God could have simply and
graciously ordained that their potential free choice would be the
means through which he would elect them. It is difficult to
understand just how God could save people simply in view of their
potential faith. If the free choice of believing is a necessary
condition for receiving salvation, then it is difficult to
understand how the fact that God knew that they would have
believed is sufficient. This is knowledge of an alternative
reality and so not knowledge in the sense of precognition. Of
course, on the assumption that babies grow up in heaven they have
a chance to actually believe. This would resolve the difficulty of
how potential belief can count for actual belief. But if this is
the case, it is no longer a matter of infant salvation, since they
would have been actually saved after they were infants when they
were old enough to believe for themselves. Also, salvation would
be effected, not by potential or implicit faith, but through
Like the first view, this view lacks clear biblical
support. It seems to be merely a theological possibility. There
are no Scriptures declaring this is what God will do with infants.
Can someone be saved by potential faith? If faith is an
absolute condition for salvation, then simply knowing that they
could have believed is not enough. And responding that they not
only would but do believe after death (when they "grow
up") is to reduce the view to the view that only those
infants who believe when evangelized after death are saved (see
Some modern Catholic theologians speak of infants as
exercising "implicit faith," but it is very difficult to
make sense out of the concept. How can someone whose faculties are
not even developed enough to think or make moral choices possibly
express any kind of faith? Certainly babies are dependent on their
parents for food and other things, but they make no deliberate
choice to do this. It is instinctive. But faith, at least
conscious faith, is not automatic; it is voluntary. And this
infants cannot do as infants.
This foreknowledge view involves the seemingly horrible
injustice of condemning to eternal damnation tiny infants who have
never sinned, which seems harshly unjust. A proponent of this view
could argue that all who die in infancy would have believed had
they lived long enough. Of course, one cannot deny this
possibility. But then this modified position fades into the next
one, that God in his mercy will save all infants.
Since the seventeenth century the view that all infants
are saved has become the most popular in varying theological
traditions. Some believe that all infants will eventually believe.
Others believe that God will save infants apart from the condition
that they would believe.
Statement of the View.
According to proponents of this teaching, there is no
heaven for those who will not believe. Those who willingly
reject Godís offer of salvation will perish (John 3:18; 2 Peter
3:9). But there is no verse that says those who cannot believe because
they are not old enough to do so will be excluded from heaven (see
Lightner). They appeal to a number of verses for support.
Jesus said "little children" are part of
"the kingdom of God." Mark wrote Jesusí words,
"Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them,
for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these" (Mark
10:14b). Yet Jesus made it clear that "no one can see the
kingdom of God unless he is born again" (John 3:3). It would
follow, therefore, that these little children would all be in
Those who object point out that there is no proof that
the term "children" refers to infants or those prior to
an age of belief. Further, the phrase "the kingdom of God
belongs to these" could refer to the fact that all must
become as little children (and humble themselves) in order to
enter the kingdom (Matt. 18:4).
King David prayed for his fatally ill child until the
child died. Then he immediately ceased praying and said, "But
now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back
again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me" (2
Sam. 12:23). King David went to heaven (Ps. 16:10-11; Heb. 11:32).
And surely his hope that he would see the child again encompassed
more than their bodies being in the same grave. Hence, it would
follow that Davidís baby went to heaven.
Critics of this interpretation point out that the phrase
might mean no more than "The dead do not return; we go to be
with the dead." In the Old Testament, the conception of life
after death was not explicit. But David clearly anticipated
resurrection (Ps. 16:10-11) as did Job (cf. Job 19:25-26).
Psalm 139:13-16 speaks to God of creating and knowing
him in his motherís womb. His life was recorded before it began.
David refers to himself as a person, an "I" in the womb.
This is taken by some to mean that God not only personally knows
little embryos and infants but he covers them with his love so
that they are written in his book in heaven.
Critics note that the "book" may be a figure
of speech of Godís omniscience or the book of his remembrance.
There is no clear indication that it refers to the book of life of
As to the age of accountability, Isaiah spoke of a
little child before "he knows enough to reject the wrong and
choose the right" (Isa. 7:15-16). This seems to imply that
there is an age of moral accountability. Jesus said even of
adults, "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin;
but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains" (John
9:41). How much more would this apply to infants who do not yet
know moral right from wrong?
In response, critics observe that even if this referred
to an age of accountability, it would not thereby prove all
infants are saved. For there are still at least two other issues
that must be settled before one can prove this, namely, that
inherited depravity in itself is not enough to send one to hell
and that faith is not an absolute essential to salvation. In
short, Isaiahís reference to a young child not yet knowing good
and evil may refer only to personal or social guilt, not to
Paul declared explicitly that "just as through the
disobedience of the one man the many [i.e., all] were made
sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many
[i.e., all] will be made righteous" (Rom. 5:19, emphasis
added). Since the text is clear that all are made righteous by
Christís death, it remains to ask in what sense were all saved
by Christís death.
Since universalism is clearly excluded by the context
and by other Scriptures, this can not mean they were all actually
made righteous. Further, it does not appear to refer to
declaring us righteous in the sense of justification, for that
comes only by faith (Rom. 1:17; 3:21-26). It can mean, however,
that original sin brought about by Adam is canceled by Christ. If
so, then no human being is hell-bound because of Adamís sin.
They must commit sins of their own to go there. In this case,
since infants have not committed personal sins, they could all be
saved even though they are not yet old enough to believe. The
judicial condemnation brought by Adam (Rom. 5:12) was reversed,
and God is free to save any and all. This being the case, there is
no reason that God must condemn infants. Christ died for them. God
can save them if he wishes to do so. But since God is
long-suffering, not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9),
and since the infants cannot believe, God saves them through the
finished work of Christ.
Critics of this view point to its novelty and deny its
necessity. It is possible and traditional to interpret the verse
in other ways. They also observe that this view tends toward
universalism. In fact, universalists take all being "made
righteous" to support their view. Most importantly, it
eliminates faith as a necessary condition of salvation.
Critique of the View.
The merits of this view is that it both satisfies the
justice of God and magnifies Godís omnibenevolence. In addition,
it offers some plausible basis in Scripture. Nonetheless, it is
hard to find clear scriptural justification for it and plenty of
statements that faith is a necessary condition for receiving the
gift of eternal life (John 3:36; Acts 16:31; Heb. 11:6). In
response, it can be argued that faith is a normative requirement
for salvation but not an absolute one. That is to say,
faith may normally be a condition for salvation; it is the way God
requires of all adults. But there may be no inherent necessity
that little children must believe in order to be saved.
It is argued that, by its very nature, salvation of free
creatures involves a free consent. It is not possible to force
someone to be saved. Saving infants against their will is no more
possible than saving adults against their will. Free creatures
cannot be forced into the fold.
In response, proponents note that infants are not saved against
their will but simply apart from their willóbecause
they are too young to believe. They insist that there is a
significant difference in God saving persons who will not believe
and saving those who cannot believeóbecause they
are not yet old enough to believe. The fact remains that they are
saved without believing which violates the belief that
faith is necessary for salvation.
It is always possible that all infants are the class of
those who would have believed had they been old enough to do so.
And that they will be given the opportunity to do so when they
"mature" in heaven. In this case, the problem of faith
and freedom is resolved.
Critics point out that nowhere does the Bible spell out
any age of accountability. Thus, it is purely speculative. In
response, it is noteworthy that there is some evidence in
Scripture that there is some point of moral responsibility in
oneís life. In addition, both experience and common consent
inform us that tiny children are not morally responsible. This is
why small children do not stand trial for wrongs they do.
Psychologically, when they are infants and small children, their
rational faculties have not even developed to discern good from
evil. Finally, the fact that it is difficult to point to a precise
age at which this occurs is not an insurmountable problem. Like
self-consciousness, even if we do not know precisely when it
occurs, we know that it occurs. In fact, the precise age of
accountability may differ individually, depending on their moral
development. Perhaps it is earlier for those who are exposed to
concepts of moral right and wrong earlier. At any rate, it
probably occurs sometime between ages four and twelve. The point
at which it occurs is when the individual is old enough to
understand the difference between moral right and wrong and the
consequences of making moral choices. In biblical terms, when they
are aware of the "law written in their hearts" (Rom.
2:15). They are morally accountable when they are old enough to
know that what they do is against the moral law of God. Or, as
Isaiah said, they are morally responsible when they are old enough
to "to reject the wrong and choose the right" (Isa.
Criticisms of this view are not definitive. It is
theologically possible and biblically plausible. The most
problematic issue is the need for these infants to eventually
exercise conscious faith of their own. This, however, is not
insurmountable especially in view of the possibility that God
foreknew that they would be among those who would eventually
"grow up" and believe. At this point, of course, the
view merges with both the foreknowledge view and the
evangelization after death view.
(This series will conclude next week.)