2 Samuel 12:23—Do those who die in infancy go to heaven?

Problem: The Scriptures teach that we are born in sin (Ps. 51:5) because we “all sinned [in Adam]” (Rom. 5:12). Yet David implies here that his baby, who died, will be in heaven, saying, “I shall go to him” (v. 23).

Solution: There are three views regarding children who die before the age of accountability, that is, before they are old enough to be morally responsible for their own actions.

Only Elect Infants Go to Heaven. Some strong Calvinists believe that only those babies that are predestined go to heaven (Eph. 1:4; Rom. 8:29). Those who are not elect go to hell. They see no greater problem with infant predestination than with adult predestination, insisting that everyone is deserving of hell and that it is only by God’s mercy that any are saved (Titus 3:5–6).

Only Infants Who Would Have Believed Go to Heaven. Others claim that God knows the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:10) and the potential as well as the actual. Thus, God knows those infants and little children who would have believed in Christ had they lived long enough. Otherwise, they contend, there would be people in heaven who would not have believed in Christ, which is contrary to Scripture (John 3:36). All infants whom God knows would not have believed, had they lived long enough, will go to hell.

All Infants Go to Heaven. Still others believe that all who die before the age of accountability will go to heaven. They base this on the following Scriptures. First, Isaiah 7:16 speaks of an age before a child is morally accountable, namely, “before the child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good.” Second, David believed in life after death and the resurrection (Ps. 16:10–11), so when he spoke of going to be with his son who died after birth (2 Sam. 12:23), he implied that those who die in infancy go to heaven. Third, Psalm 139 speaks of an unborn baby as a creation of God whose name is written down in God’s “book” in heaven (vv. 14–16). Fourth, Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14), thus indicating that even little children will be in heaven. Fifth, some see support in Jesus’ affirmation that even “little ones” (i.e., children) have a guardian angel “in heaven” who watches over them (Matt. 18:10). Sixth, the fact that Christ’s death for all made little children savable, even before they believed (Rom. 5:18–19). Finally, Jesus’ indication that those who did not know were not morally responsible (John 9:41) is used to support the belief that there is heaven for those who cannot yet believe, even though there is no heaven for those who are old enough and refuse to believe (John 3:36).

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.