Romans 5:12 and the Fate of the Unborn, Infants, and Other Human Beings Who Cannot Believe From Birth
Posted By MSH on July 29, 2009
Thanks for your patience with this thread. I hope you see that what follows is another “theological payoff” to the view I’m articulating. Not only do I think this view of Romans 5:12 simultaneously upholds a real “original sin” in Eden, the effect of that sin on all humanity, the need of all humanity for salvation only in Christ, and a coherent answer to exempting Jesus as a son of Adam from Adamic guilt (against the awkward inability of the traditional view to do that), I also believe my view of Romans 5:12 gives us real textual reasons to look grieving parents in the eye and tell them that their miscarried child; aborted child; or deceased infant, mentally impaired child, or small child unable to intellectually process the gospel, is truly with the Lord. But let’s start with the deficiencies of how those who adhere to the traditional view answer the question “where do babies go when they die?” That struggle (and its unsatisfying results) can be applied to the above categories of what I’ll call “innocents” (a category based on my view of what Romans 5:12 really means).
There are several tactics used by theologians to get babies into heaven, all while affirming the traditional view of Romans 5:12. To make sure everyone is tracking, the problem is illustrated thusly:
- All humans are human from conception
- All humans conceived are also persons
- All humans and conceived humans (persons) inherit Adam’s guilt via Romans 5:12
- All humans, regardless of their age (from conception, to birth, to death) are in a state of guilt before God and thus under the wrath of God, not by virtue of any sin they committed, but by virtue of existing as a human.
- Therefore, babies, aborted fetuses, the mentally retarded and unable to believe, the infant or young child unable to believe are STILL guilty before God and under God’s wrath.
- The solution to being made right with God is the gospel, and that gospel must be believed to avert hell fire (which is deserved, since all are guilty before God).
- There can therefore be no human being not in hell and so in heaven, who has not believed the gospel (or at least who has responded in faith to divine revelation given to them – I throw that in for old-line dispensationalists, and it has some merit due to the salvation of OT believers who believed in the God of Israel before the incarnation and work of Christ).
- Even allowing for the point above, babies, aborted fetuses, the mentally retarded and the infant or young child is STILL UNABLE TO BELIEVE other divine revelation that God might have accepted (in parallel to the OT believer situation).
- This means that babies, aborted fetuses, the mentally retarded and the infant or young child unable to believe are really the “most lost” humans – they are completely without hope, unable to believe in anything God might provide in the way of revelation.
- We must conclude, then, that babies, aborted fetuses, the mentally retarded and the infant or young child unable to believe go to hell, since that is their deserved fate, as those who are guilty before God and unbelievers.
It’s pretty obvious how cruel and offensive this thinking is, but it is completely faithful to biblical theology FILTERED THROUGH THE TRADITIONAL VIEW OF ROMANS 5:12. What are possible responses?
- So what – it matters not that we’re offended by God. The real question is “why does God save anyone?” not “can we get babies into heaven?” God damns babies, aborted fetuses, the mentally retarded and the infant or young child unable to believe because of Adam’s guilt and that’s just the way it is, despite how offended we are. We need to let God be God, period.
- God makes an exception out of his love and grace. Of course, there is no Scripture for this, but many are comfortable with having no Scripture here. It is a “logical” extrapolation extending from God’s attributes.
- God includes babies, aborted fetuses, the mentally retarded and the infant or young child unable to believe within his elective covenant relationship. Now, many evangelical Calvinist paedo-baptists won’t go as far here as to say that the baptized infant is “in” because of his/her baptism should they die before they can believe, but I’ve actually heard some say this. That is nothing more than baptismal regeneration. To deny this is to commit egregious illogic. They’ll say that baptism of the infant doesn’t guarantee salvation; it puts them into the covenant community, but they still have to believe. But then they’ll turn around and say that if the baptized infant dies, they DO go to heaven because their baptism put them into the covenant. NOW, with a change in circumstance, being in the covenant community means salvation. Okay…does it produce salvation or not? Yes and no – it just depends. Okay…what about people who were baptized and then forsake the faith? Does their baptism guarantee their place in heaven because they were once put into the covenant community? If you say no, then you need to backtrack and turn the logic center of your brain off. If you say yes, then you need to be reminded that circumcision, the OT “parallel” to baptism (circumcision, see Col. 2:11-12), while putting people into the covenant community, guaranteed NOTHING in spiritual terms. Remember that thing called the exile” You know, where hundreds of thousands of Jews went astray and God sent them to Babylon as a result. Remember those “here’s what’s going to happen to you if you violate the covenant” passages in the OT (given TO the covenant community members) that were warnings of the exile? Truly, some of the shoddiest theological thinking you’ll ever come across is with respect to the problem of infant baptism when it runs into the “P” of the rest of Calvinism – Perseverance. It’s disturbing, and I’ll get into that subject eventually on the blog. At any rate, to get babies into heaven the Calvinist either has God making an elective exception (electing people who haven’t believed), or has to suspend logic entirely, or just throws up his/her hands and opts for number one in our list (“who cares?”).
- Some offer a variation on number one. Yes, God sentences babies, aborted fetuses, the mentally retarded and the infant or young child unable to believe to hell, but he will “wipe away all our tears” so we don’t think about them. So, I guess wiping away tears = erasing our memories. Just where are we taught that we have our memories erased upon glorification? How could we be grateful for salvation if that were the case? How could we appreciated grace if we don’t remember we were sinners, or the point of what Jesus did for us on the cross (and we know he still bears the marks). And just how does that jive with the hints in Scripture (cf. transfiguration) that we will know people we’ve never met before on the other side? This one, like the others, is hardly coherent.
This all comes down to one simple question: Give me/us a verse that gets babies into heaven despite the fact that they are guilty before God and cannot respond to God’s revelation. The traditional view of Romans 5:12 forces its followers into one of the categories above. Good thing there’s a better answer.
My view of Romans 5:12 means that babies, aborted fetuses, the mentally retarded and the infant or young child unable to believe are not under the wrath of God, since: (a) they have not inherited GUILT from Adam and (b) they have not sinned (nor can they sin, since sin, in the sense of a MORAL violation – not a violation of ritual purity).
Despite their moral innocence before God, though, they will (as will all humans – unless there is a rapture!) suffer death. Their moral innocence is also not sufficient for eternal life. They need something else: they need to be raised from the dead. And they will be because of Jesus.
What do I mean? Let’s see what Paul says in 1 Cor 15:12-28
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.
Let’s look first at verse 22. Adam’s sin resulted in DEATH, jut like Romans 5:12 says; it doesn’t say it resulted in guilt. And in parallel thought, because of Christ’s resurrection, all shall be raised). Death was conquered by Christ (Rom 6:9, e.g.), and Christ is the “firstfruits” of the resurrection. But what of the other language – the eschatological talk of resurrection and death? That’s important, too. The rest of the passage summarizes Day of the Lord themes found in a number of other passages – resurrection, judgment, the kingdom, etc. We need to unravel this a bit. And be warned: what you read here might conflict with some popular system of eschatology that you’ve been taught, especially if it’s a popular dispensational variety (oh, well).
If we turn to Revelation 20 (Great White Throne passage) we read of TWO resurrections:
Rev. 20:5-6 – Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years (MSH: there’s resurrection #1). 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended (MSH: there’s resurrection #2). This is the first resurrection (MSH: the “this” refers back to the primary focus of the passage – the resurrection of the martyred believers). 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such ?the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.
What do we make of this? Well, the first resurrection regards martyred believers, martyred prior to the end of the “millennial kingdom”. This resurrection is only believers. As such, the “second death” (an explanation of which is coming in the passage) has no effect on them. That’s why they are blessed. The second resurrection is general, including both unbelievers and believers.
Rev 20:11-15 – 11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
At this second resurrection, the reason that some suffer the second death (lake of fire) is because of the sins they committed. This takes place, according to the text, after the “millennial kingdom” (“The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended”). This appears to be the resurrection Daniel 12:1-2, since the book of life is mentioned, and since believers and unbelievers are both mentioned.1
Looking at the passage, we read first that “books” (plural) were opened – but then another book (singular), the book of life, was opened. The dead were judged by the (plural) books “according to what they had done” – books that recorded their sins, a record of their guilt before God. That record was the basis of suffering the second death (hell). These people were still “in their sins and trespasses” as Paul would say. However, all that was necessary to avoid the second death was to have one’s name written in the book of life. That one wasn’t about works (there is no works salvation). All that mattered was inclusion in the book. If you had sinned and had never received Christ, you were in the “bad” book. If those conditions didn’t apply to you. You weren’t in the “bad” book. If you had never incurred moral guilt and had never rejected Christ, you weren’t in the “bad” book. Since moral innocents never sinned and never rejected Christ (they never had the opportunity, nor could they actually believe – something that takes a brain (cf. the conceptus or fetus here), and a brain functioning at a certain capacity (cf. infants, retardation, and even toddlers here), they are not written in the “bad” book. They can only be in the other book (we aren’t told of a third). That means that they are raised with/by/because of Christ, just like all humans, but they never suffer the second death. They simply don’t fit the description; they don’t match the scriptural portrait of those condemned to eternal punishment. I would argue that babies, aborted fetuses, the mentally retarded and the infant or children unable to believe are with Christ because they are raised by/with/because of Christ and are not condemned by their sin. It has nothing to do with works, and resurrection is absolutely essential. No one is in heaven by their own merit. No one is in heaven that is innocent without being resurrected by by/with/because of Christ. Christ is the essential means of salvation. Without Christ, there is no eternal life.
- How Daniel 12:1-2 fit with Rev 20 is a subject beyond the scope of this post; there are several approaches to the problem. ↩