The Salvation of Infants – Part 3
|By: Dr. Norman Geisler; ©2000|
|Dr. Geisler concludes this series with a discussion of the last two frequently held views regarding the fate of infants who die. Do they go to “limbo”? or do they have an opportunity to be evangalized after death?|
The Salvation of Infants—Part Three
(from Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker, 1999)
The above views all assume there are only two possible places for infants to go. Perhaps there is a third place or condition—limbo.
Statement of the View
Some Roman Catholic theologians have posited limbo for babies who die unbaptized (= unsaved). It is possible to detach limbo from a sacramental theology and simply argue that all nonelect babies go there or all babies who would not have believed had they been old enough to exercise it.
Even proponents find it difficult to adduce Scripture in support of limbo. It is more a result of theological speculation. The argument seems to be that God cannot justly allow them into heaven nor can he mercifully send them to hell. Hence, he sends them to a kind of neutral place, or at least a painless condition.
Critique of the View
Many contemporary Catholic theologians reject limbo as purely speculative. There is a total lack of references to any such view in the Bible. All references that can be appealed to in support speak merely about the baby having not yet reached a state of consciousness or one where they are no longer conscious of this world (cf. Job 3). And why should not God do the same for the heathen who have not heard the Gospel? After all, like infants they have not rejected Christ, since they have not even heard about him. Yet there is no evidence that God has a limbo for the heathen.
The very status of limbo is nondescript. Would it be a place of annihilation? If so, there are serious objections. Are individuals alive but not conscious—as in a coma? There are more questions than answers.
Evangelization after Death
The remaining position contends that infants will mature or grow up after death, at which time they will be given an opportunity to believe. Those who believe will go to heaven. Those who do not (if there are any) will be lost.
Statement of the View
A minority view holds that young children will be allowed to grow up in heaven, hear the Gospel, and decide for themselves where they will spend eternity. This belief goes back at least to Gregory of Nyssa in the fourth century. Some Roman Catholic theologians now hold it (Boros, 109-11). Sanders summarizes it: “People are condemned to hell for their own willful sin. Jesus died for all people, including young children who die. All people receive sufficient grace for salvation. The act of faith is necessary for salvation” (Sanders, 298). The belief that young children who die receive an opportunity to accept Christ is one of the few positions that does justice to all four premises.
Critique of the View
Admittedly, there is an absence of any biblical text which states that infants will “grow up” in heaven, although this is not an uncommon belief as applied to the size and shape of the resurrection body. In response, proponents point out that neither are there biblical texts explicitly stating the doctrine of the Trinity, but that does not mean it has no foundation in Scripture. Doctrines can be properly deduced or inferred from other biblical teachings.
However, even if infants do mature in heaven, there is no evidence that they will be evangelized there. The only place for evangelism mentioned in the Bible is earth (Matt. 28:18-20). It is explicitly stated in Scripture that there is no hope for salvation beyond the grave. For “man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb. 9:27; cf. Luke 16:26-31; John 8:24). In response, it is argued that these texts apply only to those who have lived to an age of accountability and have rejected the light God has given them, not to those who have not.
All the views have difficulties. The foreknowledge, salvation for all, and evangelization after death views seem to be the best options, having the most merit and indirect biblical and theological support.
If faith is not absolutely essential, then a distinction must be drawn between personal innocence and conscious rejection by adults. If so it makes more sense to speak of all infants being saved. If faith is an absolute essential for salvation—and numerous Bible passages seem to affirm that it is—there is no heaven for those who cannot believe. All must believe to enter. In this case, belief that infants will mature in heaven and be given a chance to believe makes more sense.
If God does not offer a real opportunity to believe, then the views that affirm only baptized or elect infants go to heaven makes sense. But the Bible seems to say that God genuinely offers salvation to all. If so, then it would follow logically that those who would believe, if they die before they can, will be given a chance after they die. God’s love and/or justice would seem to demand that this be so.
Inherited Depravity and Condemnation
If innate, radical depravity is inherited from the womb, then it would seem that only baptized infants or elect infants might go to be with God. If, however, one’s own personal decision in rejecting God’s message is needed before one goes to hell, then they lose plausibility. The salvation-for-all view depends on the fact that children have not had the opportunity to reject Christ, and that makes the difference.
It is worth noting that the views that allow for the possible salvation of all infants are not only compatible with God’s justice and love, but they also help solve the problem of heathen salvation. Since God is just and since one cannot be saved without the Gospel and since many heathen lands have not had the Gospel, it is reasonable to infer that God’s elect will be taken from every tribe, kindred, and tongue could have been taken from the infants who die. Since it is estimated that in heathen countries one-half of the babies born die before the age of accountability, then it follows that there will be innumerable heathen in heaven who never heard the Gospel—possibly all the infants who died before they could even understand the Gospel.
J. Arminius, The Writings of James Arminius, Vol.1
Augustine, On the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins and on the Baptism of Infants
L. Boros, The Mystery of Death
J. Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Bk. 4, chap. 16
R. Lightner, Heaven for Those Who Cannot Believe
M. Luther, Luther’s Works, 54:56-58
P. Melanchthon, On Christian Doctrine
J. Sanders, “Limbo” in The New Catholic Encyclopedia
J. Sanders, No Other Name, Appendix
B. B. Warfield, Studies in Theology
R. A. Webb, The Theology of Infant Salvation