What is the age of accountability? Is it in the Bible?

by Matt Slick

The age of accountability is supposed to be the age at which God holds children accountable for their sins. If, at that age, they do not repent of their sins and trust in Jesus, then they will face judgment. Furthermore, if they die before that age, they would have been saved. This theological perspective is based on a semi-pelagian type of belief about human nature. Pelagianism is the teaching that people are not born with fallen natures. Instead, they become fallen when they choose to sin, which would be the age of accountability. A lesser form of this is known as semi-Pelagianism which teaches that people are born with fallen natures, but they are capable of choosing between good and bad. Therefore, the age of accountability would be whatever age they decide to sin. Also, according to this theology, the age of accountability would differ between individuals since people have different levels of intelligence and moral awareness at different times in their lives.

Is the Age of Accountability Biblical?

The Bible does not mention any age of accountability unless perhaps the moment of conception is considered. Biblical theology teaches that we are by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). However, this does not mean that all children who die without receiving Christ are damned. The Scriptures do not tell us what happens to the young who die. Nevertheless, many people will cite scriptures in support of the age of accountability. For example in Luke 2:41-42 Jesus' parents took him to Jerusalem at the age of 12. It was there that he was in the temple questioning the religious leaders. Does this then mean that the age of accountability is 12? No, it doesn't. However, that has not stopped some people from asserting that 12 is the proper age of accountability.  People use other scriptures in support of their position as well. Let's take a look at some of them.

  • Matthew 19:14, "But Jesus said, 'Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”"
  • Romans 2:12, "For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law;"
  • Romans 7:7, "What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “YOU SHALL NOT COVET.”"
  • James 4:17, "Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin."

We can see how some of the Scriptures might be used to support the idea of the age of accountability. But there is no definitive declaration in the Word of God that supports it. Maybe people just want to find it in Scripture. After all, we know that the very young die and it is naturally difficult for us to emotionally accept the idea that babies who "haven't done anything wrong" are damned. Perhaps this is the reason people look for it and want it to be in Scripture. All I can say is that the Bible does not declare that there is an age of accountability. Furthermore, it does not tell us what happens to the young who die before they appear capable of understanding the basics of morality and who God is. But our ignorance due to God's lack of revelation in this area does not mean we can impose upon the Scripture a concept that it does not teach.





About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.