The Salvation of Infants: An Additional Line of Evidence

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One of the most popular articles we’ve ever published at Between the Times is “Why We Believe Children Who Die Go To Heaven,” which we have posted on three previous occasions (including yesterday). The article was co-authored by Al Mohler and Danny Akin over a decade ago and has been published in a number of venues under a couple of different names over the years (including on Dr. Mohler’s website). I would not be suprised if more people have read this article than anything else Dr. Akin or even Dr. Mohler has ever written.

Like the aforementioned authors (and Charles Spurgeon over there), I affirm the “salvation of all infants” view, though I confess that it is impossible to make an exegetical case for any view with total accuracy. In fact, the famous Presbyterian theologian B. B. Warfield noted at least five views just among Reformed Christians, not counting all the other options that have been advocated throughout church history! This particular question has vexed Christians since at least the second century, and I suspect it will continue to do so until the end of the age.

While Mohler and Akin provide several reasons why they hold their position, I want to add an additional thought. While I do not think it provides a “slam-dunk” defense of the salvation of all infants, I do believe it provides corroborating evidence for the salvation of at least vast numbers of infants who do not come from believing families, which is different from the position held by many of our Reformed friends.

Revelation 5:9 and 7:9 both provide glimpses into the heavenly court wherein we see a great multitude of believers from every tribe, tongue, and nation in the presence of God. Now Baptists and other evangelicals are used to thinking of these verses as Great Commission passages; after all, how will they hear and believe unless someone preaches the gospel to them (cf. Rom. 10:10-15)? But I think we also see in these passages at least a hint about the salvation of infants.

Remember that there were entire civilizations that had come and gone prior to the time of Christ, and many others that were extinct prior to ever having access to the gospel. Most evangelicals agree that conscious faith in Christ is normally necessary for salvation, with the possible exceptions of infants, very young children, and the developmentally challenged. So if inclusivism is not an option (and I think it isn’t), how is it that there are people from every people group around God’s throne if some people groups never had access to the gospel? I think a possible answer is that there are infants from every people group who have, by God’s grace, been redeemed, and therefore are now believers in the presence of their King. To say it another way, some of those tribes and tongues and nations may be represented by redeemed infants rather than men and women who exercised conscious faith in Christ.

Again, I confess this doesn’t entirely solve the problem of infant salvation. Nor does it necessarily provide the only viable answer for how there are redeemed individuals from all people groups in heaven. But as one who rejects inclusivism as a legitimate biblical option, this seems like the best interpretation to me. And it has a direct bearing on the question of what happens to those who die in infancy.

So for this reason, along with many of the reasons articulated by the Mohler and Akin article, I think I can say with some confidence that at least large numbers of infants go to heaven. And since I see no biblical reason to place limitations on the number of infants who will be saved, I hold to the idea that all infants will be saved, again confessing that there is no way we can be certain about this question. We can, however, be sure of this: God is both just and merciful and always does what is right, no matter what–even when we have a hard time explaining it. This is true in the case of the salvation of infants, no matter who turns out to be right in the end.

(This entry is re-posted and lightly edited from an earlier post first published on November 27, 2009. Image credit.)

  7Comments

  1. Bekah   •  

    An interesting follow-up/addition to yesterday’s (re)post. I really appreciate our faculty and the community of learning we have here at Southeastern. We are a blessed bunch!

  2. Jason Wilkerson   •  

    I struggled with this for years, as I saw the salvation of infants as necessarily falling outside of faith in Christ, which was problematic for me. My turning point came when I read a little book by John MacArthur called “Safe in the Arms of God.” (Nelson, 2003). In that book, MacArthur spends quite a bit of time dealing with the life of David. In particular, the difference in David’s reaction between the death of the child born from the affair with Bathsheba, and the death of his adult son, Absalom. In essence, David started mourning when Absalom died, but he stopped mourning when the infant died. For me, that was a lightbulb moment.

  3. Roy   •  

    So if this argument were valid, then couldn’t one make the case that every tribe and nation is already there and therefore the fulfillment of this passage already completed? I mean of the what 3,000 + PGs, that have yet to have any presence at all of the Gospel, surely at least one infant has died either pre or post birth. I love the idea of infants in Heaven, just wish I had that silver bullet. I put it in my things hoped for list.

  4. Nathan Finn   •     Author

    Roy,

    I don’t think so, because I’m not arguing that “presently existing” people groups are represented “only” via infants, etc. Only that those groups that were extinct by the time of Jesus are.

    NAF

  5. dr. james willingham   •  

    A little reading and research in missionary history and in theology might be helpful. I outlined A.H. Strong’s Systematic Theology (along with 4-5 other works) before my ordination and found a reference to a person of India who was converted before the missionaries came. When they came, he recognized their message of Jesus as that of the God whom he had been enable to recognize. Dr. Strong also mentioned a tribe of African men who were nearly drowned in a great storm on the Ocean, while on a fishing expedition. The chief called on God to save him and his men and promised that they would change their ways of living. They were spared, and the missionaries came a generation later. The tribe recognized Jesus as the one whom they had been worshipping. In a master’s thesis on the Primitive Baptists at Ball State University by one Stanley Phillips recorded the example from history of an American Indian who was converted by the Great Spirit before the Christians every came to Indiana. When he heard the Baptists preaching the Gospel, he recognized the Savior as the one who had touched his heart many years before. He was also called to the minister and supposedly served as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Wabash Indiana for many years. This is a memory from research more than 40 years ago, but I think the fact of the conversion, etc., and the service will be found to be the case though I cannot vouch for the particular church the man served.

  6. Pingback: Where Do Children Go When They Die? Resources You Can Trust

  7. william mock   •  

    On the issue of infant salvation have you considered Robert C. Boyt Howell a baptist pastor from Virginia and his book “the Evils of infant Baptism” 1851, (avaiable on line). He makes the best scriptural argument I have ever read that all infants who die are under the blood of Christ. Dr. MOHLER you need to say more about the evils of infant baptism as many baptist are lured into covenant ministries. I have found that it is common that 50% or more of the membership of PCA churches are baptist or have experienced
    believers baptism. Until recently I was unaware that infant baptism
    denies ” justification by faith alone”, a serious error in Christian doctrine.

    denies “justification by faith alone*, a serious error in a fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith.
    denies justificstion by gaith alone. This is a serious error in

    doctrine regardless of the good we see in churches that practice
    covenant theology. Until recently I was a member of a PCA church but now I am a reformed baptist in an armenian minded Soutern Baptist Church.

    Southern Baptist church.

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