Thursday, October 13, 2005

Infant Salvation and Some Neglected Evidence

I've seen some material lately, at a variety of web sites (most recently Frank Turk's blog), on the issue of infant salvation. I agree with those who say that scripture doesn't give us much information on the subject. Anybody who counsels parents, or others, on this subject ought to acknowledge his uncertainty and the relatively small amount of evidence he has to go by. And God doesn't owe us or our children anything.

I think that the information we are given leans in support of the salvation of all those who die in infancy. Passages like Deuteronomy 1:39, Isaiah 7:15-16, and Romans 9:10-11 seem to support an age of accountability. Job's comments in Job 3 and David's comments in 2 Samuel 12 (as contrasted with his reaction to Absalom's death in 2 Samuel 18) lean in the direction of both men assuming at least some degree of infant salvation. And I think that Jesus' approach toward children, such as in Mark 10:13-16, suggests infant salvation. We don't see Jesus laying His hands on unregenerate Pharisees to bless them, and it seems unlikely that He would do it. Passages such as Psalm 51:5, 58:3, and Ephesians 2:3 tell us that we're sinful from conception, but these passages have to be interpreted along with the others I've mentioned. The best explanation of all of these passages combined seems to be that all children are sinful in some objective sense, but that there's an age of accountability by God's choice.

My primary point in this post, however, is to mention another factor in evaluating this issue, one that doesn't seem to be discussed much. I'm referring to the testimony of the church fathers.

Some people give the church fathers an unrealistically high degree of influence in interpreting scripture. But on an issue like infant salvation, which isn't addressed much in scripture, the testimony of the fathers has the potential to carry more weight than it does on other subjects scripture tells us more about. Similarly, we use the church fathers and other non-Biblical sources to clarify social context, geography, and other matters where appropriate.

One of the reasons why I believe in universal infant salvation is because it seems to be the best-supported view on the subject among the earliest church fathers. It seems to be present in Aristides (Apology, 15), Hermas (The Shepherd, Similitude 9:29-31), Athenagoras (On the Resurrection of the Dead, 14), Irenaeus (Against Heresies, 4:28:3), and Tertullian (A Treatise on the Soul, 56), for example. These fathers come from a variety of backgrounds, locations, and dispositions, and I'm not aware of any contrary evidence among the earliest fathers. This line of evidence isn't mentioned much in discussions of infant salvation, but I think it ought to be.