Focus On Jerusalem


Children Before Cognizance that Die—
Heaven or Hell?
By: Charles F. Strong

Children Before Cognizance that Die—Heaven or Hell?
By: Charles F. Strong


This is not an easy topic or one where the Bible student may confidently stand in light of available scriptural instruction.  It can be quite complex considering that Christians are divided as to when a fetus actually becomes a living and sentient being or, if you please, a created person in the sight of God.  Is it at the point of conception within the mother’s womb, or, as with Adam, when the child takes in his first breath via the procreation process that God has established for proliferation of planet earth?  Then there is the concept of the Age of Accountability, which is considered that age, when reached by a child, that he is able to comprehend the need and way of salvation and is able to make a discerning choice regarding the matter.  In the title this “age” is represented by the word cognizance, which literally means “awareness, realization, or knowledge and perception.”  And what happens to unsaved children at the Rapture, that time when Christ appears in the atmosphere to retrieve His Church, all those saved during the Age of Grace, as described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18?  Finally, how does the Book of Life and the Lamb’s Book of Life impact on the subject?  These are some of the questions that make this topic a cumbersome matter to consider.

The reason one may not assume a confident position regarding this topic is because there is not clear and decisive treatment regarding it within the Word of God.  However, there are a number of scriptural passages that will allow a Christian to come to thoughtful and reasonable, although not dogmatic, conclusions.  These conclusions are based on various scriptural texts, definite Bible doctrine and rational thought processes under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  The following treatment of this matter will endeavor to convey these foundational issues.  Nevertheless, the writer admits that due to the emotionalism attached to and the ambiguity associated with this topic, the reader may go away less than satisfied with the outcome of this study/commentary.  In fact, this is a most likely prospect.

Conception of the Person

For lack of a better term, “conception of the person” will stand for the moment a fetus actually becomes a created being in the sight of God.  A large segment of Christianity and various religions (Note.  This writer does not consider Christianity a religion; rather, it is a union or relationship with a Person, Jesus Christ, through the sole means of faith) hold to the belief that upon conception, when the embryo is impregnated by the sperm, the resulting fetal mass is sacrosanct before God; and furthermore, any destruction of such is the equivalent to murder of a human being.  Then there are those who just as tenaciously adhere to the Bible as the Word of God who believe that the development of the fetus within the mother’s womb is the equivalent to a person being formed out of the “dust of the ground” and his first breath outside the womb is equivalent to God breathing “into his nostrils the breath of life” allowing him to become a “living being”—in the same order of Adam in Genesis 2:7.

For the purpose of this study, this commentator concludes that a person is sacrosanct before God at moment of conception.  This conclusion is based on both scripture and scientific fact.  Luke 1:39-44, the account where Mary visited Elizabeth when both were pregnant, informs that the “baby” in Elizabeth’s womb “leaped for joy” upon hearing that Mary, the earthly mother of Jesus, was present.  From this verse, one may conclude that the fetus within Elizabeth’s womb that would soon be known as John the Baptist was a feeling and sentient being.  Furthermore, from the field of science, this writer believes it has been demonstrated that a fetus contained within a womb is subject to the stimulation of its senses.  And as for the “breath of life,” the fetus partakes of oxygen within the womb during normal development.  This being the case, and for the purpose of this study, a child is considered a person from time of conception within the womb.  The concept of abortion is never considered within God’s Word.  It is unfortunate that within present day secular thought, this practice has become accepted.  It appears that today life has been reduced to its chemical compounds with no link to the Creator, all of which is within Satan’s master plan.  How sad!

Age of Accountability

The “Age of Accountability” is a term that many Christians believe represents that age in which a child becomes accountable before God for his actions, the time when he is able to understand moral consequences and implications—when he can appreciate his lost condition, the need for salvation and is able to make an informed choice regarding the matter.  No where in the Bible will you find the term, but then, nowhere in the Bible is the term, trinity or rapture or vicarious or other common terms used by Christians to express definite biblical truths.

For the purpose of this study, this commentator believes that there is scriptural foundation for believing in an age of accountability applicable to every child; although differing in time for and relevant to each child.  This commentator also believes that such an age is applicable to those who are mentally insufficient throughout their life (mentally retarded) to come to a proper understanding of their sinful condition and need of salvation.

Although it is true that every person conceived by a human father and mother inherits a sin nature and is in fact “dead spiritually” from conception (Romans 5:12, 17; 1 Corinthians 15:22; Psalms 51:5-7; 58:3-5), there is indication within God’s Word that until a person understands the concept of God’s law he does not in fact willfully transgress against God and therefore God does not impute (taken into account or charged against) his sin to him for eternal purposes (Deuteronomy 1:39;  Nehemiah 8:2, 3; Isaiah 7:16; John 9:41; Romans 5:13; 7:7-10; James 4:17; 1 John 3:4).  The distinction is drawn between what some call “original sin” and “actual sin.”  A child with the sin nature is indeed spiritually dead and is prone to sin, even from birth; but, before the age of accountability he lacks the understanding of the gravity of his actions and it is believed that his sin is not held against him by God.

John MacArthur of the “Grace to You” media ministry ( has this to say:

However, another point may be helpful in answering this question.  While infants and children have neither sensed their personal sin and need for salvation nor placed their faith in Christ, Scripture teaches that condemnation is based on the clear rejection of God’s revelation—whether general or specific—not simple ignorance of it (Luke 10:16; John 12:48; 1 Thess. 4:8).  Can we definitely say that the unborn and young children have comprehended the truth displayed by God’s general revelation that renders them “without excuse” (Rom. 1:18-20)?  They will be judged according to the light they received.  Scripture is clear that children and the unborn have original sin—including both the propensity to sin as well as the inherent guilt of original sin.  But could it be that somehow Christ’s atonement did pay for the guilt for these helpless ones throughout all time?  Yes, and therefore it is a credible assumption that a child who dies at an age too young to have made a conscious, willful rejection of Jesus Christ will be taken to be with the Lord.

There is no clear indication in Scripture that pinpoints exactly when in a child’s development he reaches the age of accountability.  As this writer understands it, Jewish children are not considered to come under the Law until they reach 12 years of age.  But it would be wrong to infer too much from that.  Children develop rationally at different rates; some never develop at all and are classified as “retarded.”  It can only be surmised that every child reaches the age of accountability in accordance with their genome (DNA— a full set of chromosomes; all the inheritable traits of an organism) and environment.  And since no one can know for sure when a child crosses over the threshold from inability to understand to cognizance or comprehension, it is wise for every parent to constantly expose his children to God’s clear plan of salvation, which is faith alone in Christ alone.

It should also be made clear that this commentator is not specifying that a child is saved prior to reaching the age of accountability.  If any term may be used, the word safe is suggested.  One may only be saved through faith in Christ and that only when one is able to understand the need for and what “faith in Christ” means, which is a willful and genuine decision to place one’s total trust (confidence) in Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on Calvary for one’s personal salvation.  But prior to the age of accountability, the person may be safe from God’s judgment—an eternal judgment based on one’s “willful rejection” of Christ.

The Book of Life and the Lamb’s Book of Life

One’s understanding of what the Bible says about the Book of Life may influence one’s belief regarding the eternal destiny of unsaved children prior to the age of accountability.  There are approximately 15 references to the Book of Life or the Lamb’s Book of Life in the Bible, and there are several views regarding this issue, a few of which follow:

  1. There is only one book, the Book of Life and the Lamb’s Book of Life being the same.  This view presents difficulties since certain scriptures indicate, or at the very least imply, that one’s name can be “blotted out” of the Book of Life (Exodus 32:32, 33; Revelation 3:5; 22:19).  The inference here is that one can lose one’s eternal right to heavenly life.  If both books are the same and the previous supposition is true, then there is stark conflict between it and the clear teaching in God’s Word regarding the eternal security of the believer (John 5:24;  6:39, 40; 10:27-30; 11:25; Romans 8:38, 39).

  1. There are two books.  One is the Book of Life (or the Book of the Living), which contains all names of everyone born of a human father and mother, which was written before the beginning of time (Psalm 56:8; 69:28; 139:16; Revelation 20:12, 15); and from which names may be blotted out based on one’s rejection of Christ and there is no longer any opportunity to repent (change one’s mind regarding Christ), such as physical death.  Since the Book of Life records everyone from conception on, indicating that all men are potentially able to go to heaven from the point of conception unless they become cognizant of and reject the gospel message, this position then supports the doctrine of unlimited atonement as taught in 1 John 2:2

The other book is the Lamb’s Book of Life (or the Book of Life of the Lamb), but at times referred to as “Book of Life” (Daniel 12:1, Luke 10:20; Philippians 4:3; Hebrews 12:23; Revelation 13:8; 17:8; 21:27), in which is permanently recorded the names of every person who by faith alone in Christ alone receives God’s gift of eternal life. 

  1. The Lamb’s Book of Life, also known as the Book of [the] Life of the Lamb, is a living record (a spiritual record; not an actual book with pages) of Jesus Christ in which all who have received Him by faith are now contained therein through the exchange of man’s sin and Christ’s righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21), which is further attested to by each Christians spiritual union with Christ (John 14:20; 1 Corinthians 6:15; Ephesians 5:30; 1 John 2:24).  This position reinforces the permanency of this book, which then definitely distinguishes it from the Book of Life from which a person may be extracted.

It is therefore possible that every child before the age of accountability has access to eternal life, which access is withdrawn (blotted out) after the age of accountability and at the time there is no longer any opportunity to repent (change one’s mind regarding to Christ), such as physical death.  But should the child, after the age of accountability and before physical death, receive by faith (trust in) Christ and His sacrifice for his personal salvation, his name would permanently remain in the Book of Life and would also become permanently inscribed in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

Overshadowing Doctrine

Regarding this issue there are some overshadowing or overriding doctrines that when considered will influence one’s position regarding the state of children who die prior to reaching the age of accountability.  They are as follow:

  • God is good (Psalm 25:8; 34:8; 69:16; Matthew 19:17; Romans 2:4)

  • God is just (Genesis 18:25; Nehemiah 9:33; Psalm 119:137)

  • God is merciful (Psalm 103:17; 108:4; Titus 3:5)

  • God is loving (John 3:16, 17; Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:8, 9, 16)

  • God desires eternal life for everyone (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 John 2:2)

Christ’s Attitude toward Little Children

Jesus affirmed that the Kingdom of God belonged to little children.  In Luke 18:15-17 He is stating that saving faith is a childlike faith, but He also appears to be affirming the reality of children populating heaven (Mark 10:13).  The statement by Christ in Matthew 18:14 affirms that God is not willing that any little children be lost.

2 Samuel 12:15-18

When the baby boy born to David and Bathsheba died, David ceased his state of sorrow and declared his confidence that he would see the child again.  The only interpretation that does justice to the text is that David knew that his child went to paradise and that upon David’s death he would join his child there.

Unsaved Children and the Rapture

Although there is ample scripture regarding the Rapture of the Church (Body of Christ), there is no explicit enlightenment pertaining to unsaved children.  Children who have reached the age of accountability and have been saved will most definitely be included.

There are devoted Christians who “hang their hats” on 1 Corinthians 7:14 regarding their children (and grandchildren), believing that this verse conveys the possibility that children who have not reached the age of accountability will accompany them in the Rapture.  This commentator respectfully disagrees with this interpretation.

The meaning of this verse is that it has nothing to do with the salvation of the unbelieving spouse or the children of the union between the believer and the unbeliever.  On the other hand it is Paul's instruction regarding this unequal union, which he explains is a dissimilarity or contrast to the Old Testament legal requirement regarding such a union.  When Jews married heathen wives and had children by them, they were commanded to put both the wives and the children away (Ezra 9:1—10:44).  Under grace, Paul explains that such a union has a sanctifying influence pertaining to the unsaved spouse, which is to say that the unbelieving spouse has been placed in a "set apart" position in which conditions are more favorable for that person to be saved.  This would go both ways, no matter which spouse was unsaved.  But it does not mean that the unsaved spouse is "saved" because of the “state of salvation” of the other spouse.  If this were true, it would seriously violate very specific instruction throughout God's Word regarding the doctrine of salvation.  This state of "sanctification" (or its meaning) is also true regarding the children of the union, since the word "holy," as used in 1 Corinthians 7:14 pertaining to them, also comes from the root word translated "sanctified."  In other words, the children of a union where at least one spouse is a believer are in a better position to be saved than if they belonged to a husband and wife who were both unbelievers.

One is left to conjecture regarding those children who have not reached the age of accountability at the time of the Rapture.  But if one views the Rapture as a demarcation between the Age of Grace and the start of the Great Tribulation upon earth, it is reasonable from all that has been discussed to conclude the following.  All children, whether of saved or unsaved parents, who have not reached the age of accountability, are extended the grace of God—since Christ has indeed paid for them on the cross (1 John 2:2) and they are not under condemnation stemming from a personal and willful rejection of Christ—such being the natural expression of God’s goodness, justice, mercy and love.  To assume that all these children would obtain cognizance during the seven year tribulation period, is, to this commentator, a stretch and apparently unfair in light of God’s revealed nature.  Does the extraction of children during the Rapture include the unborn fetuses within lost mothers’ wombs?  To be consistent, it must.  At the Rapture this commentator can accept the position that there will be many unsaved soon-to-be mothers who will find themselves no longer pregnant in a “wink of an eye.”  And if this is so, won’t it be an interesting situation to explain?  If anyone wishes to disagree with this conjecture, it is perfectly okay with this commentator.

Another Opportunity?

Now whether or not any children under the age of accountability who are transferred to heaven either through death or the Rapture are provided another opportunity to hear the gospel message for acceptance or rejection, this again must be left to conjecture.  One may believe that such an opportunity will be provided to them to mature and hear the gospel message during the Millennial Kingdom.  This may be true, but there is little scriptural text to clearly support such a view.


As this commentator stated at the beginning of this study, “This is not an easy topic or one where the Bible student may confidently stand in light of available scriptural instruction.  It can be quite complex . . . .”  This commentator has drawn conclusions within this study with which he is certain many will disagree.  That’s okay.  There are several, if not many, topics within God’s Word where concrete dogma may not prevail.  What happens to children prior to the age of accountability at the time of the Rapture is one of them.  But all Christians will agree that one day when they are with Christ around the throne of God, they will know and understand all the answers and all be of like-mind.


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