It is written:
“Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you.” (1 Corinthians 11:2)
We have learned that the Old and New Testaments teach that infants are sinless when they are brought into the world; and that the doctrines of original sin and total hereditary depravity have their origins in Gnostic heresy which infiltrated the church long after Jesus died. Furthermore, there is not a hint of these doctrines within Judaism until nearly the end of the first century A.D., when the Gnostics were beginning to rise to power. We have learned that the teachings of Christ and His Apostles are often contrasted with these Gnostic heresies.
In this article we will notice that the early Christians-the ones who lived shortly after the Apostles of Christ-clearly understood and taught the innocence and sinlessness of children. Please consider the following quotations:
“They are as infant children, in whose hearts no evil originates. Nor did they know what wickedness is, but always remained as children.” (Hermas, 150; 2.53)
“Who are they that have been saved and have received the inheritance? Those, doubtless, who believe God and who have continued in HIs love-as did Caleb of Jephuneh and Joshua of Nun-and innocent children, who have had no sense of evil.” (Irenaeus, 180; 1.502)
“Behold, Christ takes infants and teaches how all should be like them, if they ever wish to be greater. However, (the Gnostics point out that) the Creator, in contrast, let loose bears against children, in order to avenge His prophet Elisha, who had been mocked by them. This antithesis is impudent enough, since it throws together things so different as ‘infants’ and ‘children.’ The first is an age that is still innocent. The other is one already capable of discretion (able to mock, if not to blaspheme). Therefore, God is a just God.” (Tertullian, 207; 3.386)
“If you mean the (region in Hades of the) good, why should you judge the souls of infants and of virgins to be unworthy of such a resting place-those who by reason of their condition in life were pure and innocent?” (Tertullian, 210; 3.233)
These are some examples of how the early Christians regarded the sinlessness of children.
Scholar and historian, Everett Ferguson, has made this interesting note regarding burial inscriptions from the ancient world:
“The earliest surviving Christian inscriptions come from the end of the second or beginning of the third century. They are overwhelmingly burial inscriptions. The thought of the innocence of children continued to be expressed with no reference to baptism: “Eusebius, an infant without sin by reason of his age, going to the place of the saints, rests in peace” (ILCV 2155).” ()Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries: History, Theology and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries, 7421 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).
Later, the Catholic Church adopted these Gnostic heresies into their formal dogmas. It is interesting to notice, however, that the Jewish people as a whole continued to reject these doctrines.
“Just by way of contrast, it’s worth noting that that great document of Jewish mysticism the Zohar, written in Spain in the thirteenth century, understands the death of infants in almost opposite terms. These children are the “oppressed ones,” who are “without sin and without blame,” and their sufferings pose a challenge to belief in God’s justice. Therefore the Zohar insists that “the Holy One, blessed be He, does in reality love these little ones with a unique and outstanding love. He unites them with himself and gets ready for them a place on high close to him.” Presumably the author of the Zohar—almost certainly a rabbi named Moses de Leon—knew the Christian church’s position on the nature of infants and wished to distance himself and his people from it. It is also appropriate at this point to note that it is all but impossible for people raised in Western cultures at this point in history not to feel immense sympathy for the Zohar on this point and equally intense revulsion for the Augustinian view. I know that I cannot imagine a just God who does not behave in the way that Moses de Leon’s God behaves. I am absolutely convinced that the Zohar is right and Augustine is wrong. I also know—notionally at least—that if I had been born in another age and time I might have held the Augustinian position with equal firmness. Yet this notional knowledge does not enable me any more seriously to imagine believing what Augustine believed.” (Alan Jacobs, Original Sin: A Cultural History, 286 (Kindle Edition); New York, NY; HarperCollins E-Books)
In our next studies, we will carefully investigate the other primary tenants of Calvinism.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.