One of the most often-used weapons in the skeptic’s arsenal is to seize statements from religious people that make God look like a cruel despot waiting to cast any and everyone into a torturous lake of eternal fire. However, this frequently lands the skeptic in a less-than-defensible position when the actual text of the Bible is consulted. Consider the following paragraph from Ronald Defenbaugh, a self-avowed atheist:
One evening, a friend about the same age as us rode home with us from one of our children’s sporting events. This was the first time I realized I may have a real problem with believing. She was a good friend of my spouse’s, a member of our Church and very religious. I don’t remember how the subject came up but salvation was our subject of conversation. She stated that even though my father had been an honest, caring person who did nothing but good, he would not receive salvation. He could only go to Heaven if he accepted Christ as his Savior. I remember thinking that I wanted no part of a deity that sent my father to Hell under those circumstances. Why would a baby, or my father, or even me be sent to Hell just because we didn’t accept Christ as our Savior? What about the Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists? Again, what about me? This started me thinking that I probably was without belief. Or at least I didn’t understand it. It didn’t fit my logic (2003, emp. added).
After hearing from his religious friend that his father would not be in heaven because of his failure to obey Jesus’ teachings, Mr. Defenbaugh quickly constructed a straw man by insinuating that the God of the Bible would have no problem sending babies to hell along with disobedient, reasonable adults.
Does the Bible teach that babies go to hell when they die? In order to answer this question, we must find a biblical example in which an infant died, and in which his or her eternal destination is recorded. To do such is not difficult. In 2 Samuel 12, King David’s newborn son fell terminally ill. After seven days, the child died. In verses 22 and 23, the Bible records that David said: While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who can tell whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ 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. It is clear that David’s dead infant son would never return to this Earth, but David also said that one day, he would go to be with his son. Through inspiration, David documented that his own eternal destination was going to be in the house of the Lord (Psalm 23:6). Therefore, we can conclude that the house of the Lord would be the eternal destination of his infant son to whom David would one day go. King David was looking forward to the day when he would be able to meet his son in heaven. Absolutely nothing in this context gives any hint that the dead infant son’s soul would go to hell.
Furthermore, Jesus said in Matthew 18:3-5:
Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.
And in Luke 18:16-17, Jesus remarked: Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.
Therefore, we have been given a specific example in the Old Testament of an infant who died and would live forever in heaven. And Jesus Christ Himself, in the New Testament, stated that little children retain the qualities that make a person eligible to inherit the kingdom of God. We see, then, that infants and small children that die are in a safe state, and will live eternally in heaven.
With such clear statements from the Bible about the eternal destiny of dead infants and small children, why have religious people mistakenly taught that babies go to hell when they die? Due to the influential nature of John Calvin and his teachings, many people have taught that sin is passed from one generation to the next. It is believed by many religious people that children inherit the sins of their parents. Yet, the Bible pointedly and explicitly teaches that such is not the case. In Ezekiel 18:20, the Bible says: The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. Also, in Exodus 32, Moses pleaded with God to forgive the sins of the Israelites when he said: Yet now, if You will forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written. And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book’ (Exodus 32:32-33). The Bible is plain in its teaching that babies do not inherit the sins of their parents. [One commonly misapplied scripture used to teach that infants inherit sin is Psalm 51:5-6, which has been dealt with in detail by Wayne Jackson (2000).]
The Bible nowhere teaches that babies go to hell if they die in infancy. Neither does it teach that babies inherit the sins of their parents. Although many skeptics have tried to portray God as an evil tyrant Who condemns innocent children to eternal destruction, their arguments are without merit or any semblance of biblical credence. In the words of Jesus Christ, Let the little children come to me.
Defenbaugh, Ronald (2003), Why I Couldn’t Deconvert, [On-line], URL: http://www.secweb.org/asset.asp?AssetID=263.
Jackson, Wayne (2000), ‘Original Sin’ and a Misapplied Passage, [On-line], URL: http://www.christiancourier.com/archives/originalSin.htm
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