What Is The Spiritual Condition Of Infants, Small Children, And Mentally Handicapped Persons?

(More Bible Studies Available @ www.marktabata.com)

It is written:

Psalm 139:13-16-For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. 14  I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well. 15  My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. 16  Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them.

One of the questions that sometimes arises deals with the spiritual status of infants, children, and mentally handicapped persons. The question may be worded thus:

“If a person cannot understand the Gospel, are they doomed to Hell?”

It is an excellent question, and worthy of serious attention.

Let’s study.

To begin with, we must understand the spiritual status of those who are born into the world. It is a common teaching that humans are born as sinners, somehow stained with the sin of Adam. Yet the Bible nowhere teaches this: indeed, it teaches the exact opposite.

In the Bible, sin is a personal choice that a person makes to either to what God forbids, or to not do what God commands.

For example:

1 John 3:4-Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.

1 John 5:17-All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death.

James 4:17-Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.

Sin is preceded by desire to do wrong:

James 1:13-15-Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. 14  But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15  Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.

Moreover, the Bible is clear that children are not born guilty of sin before the Lord. We see this clearly from the statement of Moses:

Deuteronomy 1:39-Moreover your little ones and your children, who you say will be victims, who today have no knowledge of good and evil, they shall go in there; to them I will give it, and they shall possess it.

Observe that the “little ones” and “children” are described as having “no knowledge of good and evil.” In the Garden of Eden, it was not until Adam and Eve chose to personally sin that the Bible describe them as eating from the tree of “knowledge of good and evil.” So having “no knowledge of good and evil” has reference to their being in a state of sinlessness, just like Moses describes infants and children.

Again, think about the words of the Prophet Ezekiel regarding the king of Tyre:

Ezekiel 28:15-You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, Till iniquity was found in you.

Look at that word “perfect.” It is the Hebrew word, taw-meem. Listen to how it is described by the Greek word scholar, W.E. Vine:

“In several contexts the word has a wider background. When one is described by it, there is nothing in his outward activities or internal disposition that is odious to God; “. . . With a cognate in Ugaritic the word means “complete or perfect” (Song of Sol. 5: 2, RSV), “sound or wholesome” (Gen. 25: 27), and “complete, morally innocent, having integrity” (Job 1: 8). B. Noun. tōm (םתֹּ, 8537), “completeness.” This noun, which occurs 25 times, signifies “completeness” in the following senses: fullness (Job 21: 23), innocency or simplicity (2 Sam. 15: 11), integrity (Gen. 20: 5). C. Verb. tāmam (םמַתָּ, 8552), “to be complete, be finished, be consumed, be without blame.”” (W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words: With Topical Index (Word Study), 176 (Kindle Edition); Nashville, TN; Thomas Nelson, Inc.)

The king of Tyre had been born into the world (like all human beings) as a person that had nothing in his “internal disposition” that was “odious to God.” He was “complete, morally innocent, having integrity.” He was “without blame.” This is the case because he was innocent and free of sin. It was not till later that “iniquity was found” within him.


Matthew 18:3-and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 19:14-But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

In these passages, Jesus clearly teaches us about the spiritual status of children. We are to become like children (which statement would make no sense if children are born as sinners). They are an example to us of humility and innocence. Indeed, Jesus is clear that the kingdom of Heaven is comprised of these little children (teaching us again of their spiritual purity and wholeness).

The Lord Jesus even here touches upon the eternal status of children:

Matthew 18:14-Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.

“Further, in Matthew 18: 14 Jesus said: “It is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.” The word translated “little ones” is micron. It applies to children up to reading age or where they can discern between right and wrong. The word thelema, “the will of your Father,” has to do with the decision using the will. It is different from the word in 2 Peter 3: 9 where we read: “The Lord is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (KJV). There the word translated “will” is boulomai which has to do with desire toward purpose. He desires that all men would not perish, but obviously some do by making a decision to go against the Lord, but thelemo in Matthew 18 says that the Lord has made a decision concerning the “little ones” that do not know the difference between right and wrong, that they will not perish.” (John Ankerberg & John Weldon, When Does Life Begin? And 39 Other Tough Questions About Abortion, 238-249 (Kindle Edition); ATRI Publishing)

We see another passage in the Gospel of John which deals with this subject in principle.

In John 9, Jesus had healed a blind man:

John 9:6-7-When He had said these things, He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay. 7  And He said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated, Sent). So he went and washed, and came back seeing.

Some of the Pharisees were angry with the miracle which took place, so they ended up kicking the man out of the Temple.

John 9:34-They answered and said to him, “You were completely born in sins, and are you teaching us?” And they cast him out.

Jesus seeks him out and reveals Himself to the man:

John 9:35-38-Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He had found him, He said to him, “Do you believe in the Son of God?” 36  He answered and said, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” 37  And Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.” 38  Then he said, “Lord, I believe!” And he worshiped Him.

At this point, some of the Pharisees have this interesting dialogue with the Savior:

John 9:39-41-And Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.” 40  Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, “Are we blind also?” 41  Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains.

This passage teaches us the principle that those who are mentally handicapped are not accountable for sin. Notice that Jesus is clear that if the Pharisees were truly blind, they would have no sin. The idea of their being “truly blind” could be worded“if you were truly unable to comprehend what was happening, you would have no sin.” The Lord was using the languages of “blind” in this passage to refer to spiritual understanding. This was a common occurrence throughout John, especially as he quotes from and alludes to the Book of Isaiah:

Isaiah 6:10-Make the heart of this people dull, And their ears heavy, And shut their eyes; Lest they see with their eyes, And hear with their ears, And understand with their heart, And return and be healed.”

Isaiah 29:9-Pause and wonder! Blind yourselves and be blind! They are drunk, but not with wine; They stagger, but not with intoxicating drink.

Isaiah 29:18-In that day the deaf shall hear the words of the book, And the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity and out of darkness.

Isaiah 42:18-20-Hear, you deaf; And look, you blind, that you may see. 19  Who is blind but My servant, Or deaf as My messenger whom I send? Who is blind as he who is perfect, And blind as the LORD’s servant? 20  Seeing many things, but you do not observe; Opening the ears, but he does not hear.”

Isaiah 56:10-His watchmen are blind, They are all ignorant; They are all dumb dogs, They cannot bark; Sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber.

In all of these passages, the theme of “blindness” was a lack of understanding. The Lord declares that if the Pharisees had truly been unable to understand His Word, they would not be guilty of sin.

In the same way, infants, small children, and those who are mentally handicapped are not guilty of sin. They are not lost, and they are not saved; they are SAFE.

Infants, small children, and those who are mentally handicapped are safe in the mercy of God.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

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