Generally, little children (e.g., under the age of eight) are considered innocent before God because they do not comprehend the difference between good and evil. In a nutshell, it is impossible for the adversary to entice any soul to sin who does not comprehend the good from the bad, regardless of age. This is the thought process behind our belief that children are “unaccountable” before God for their actions.
Moroni taught that “all little children are alive in Christ, and also all they that are without the law. For the power of redemption cometh on all them that have no law; wherefore, he that is not condemned, or he that is under no condemnation, cannot repent; and unto such baptism availeth nothing, and thus are unaccountable before God” (Moroni 8:22)(emphasis added). In other words, those “without the law” (i.e., children and mentally deficient individuals) have no need of baptism as they are deemed “unaccountable” before their Maker.
So, if the unaccountable have no need of baptism, is there an “accountability switch” that is flipped once kids hit the 8 year mark? When exactly does a child reach bona fide accountability before God?
James taught that “to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17). Thus, sinning implies a knowledge of the law and its attendant consequences, then subsequently choosing to go against it. In my opinion, there are children under the age of eight who undoubtedly understand the law and its consequences, and yet choose to rebel. Do we justly classify these little ones as sinners, and accountable before God?
Tying down the age of accountability to eight years is first referenced in the Joseph Smith Translation. While speaking to Abraham, God instituted the covenant of circumcision and declared that “it shall be my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, in their generations; that thou mayest know for ever that children are not accountable before me until they are eight years old” (JST Gen. 17:11)(emphasis added). Pretty clear cut, right? This truth, however, must be understood in light of modern revelation.
“But behold, I say unto you, that little children are redeemed from the foundation of the world through mine Only Begotten; Wherefore, they cannot sin, for power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable before me.” (D&C 29:46-47)(emphasis added)
To be clear, this passage does not say that children cannot sin before they are eight years old. Instead, we learn that children do not sin “until they begin to become accountable before [God],” a process that begins long before the child is eight, and which comes gradually with life experience. To conclude that a child can do nothing deliberately wrong before the age of eight is simply irrational. In fact, considerable accountability must be obtained prior to the child’s baptism, for our “children shall be baptized for the remission of their sins when eight years old” (D&C 68:27)(emphasis added).
Feel free to comment on my thoughts above, but I would also like to hear your comments on whether you think temptation only comes from Satan.
Post Script – Whether baptism always remits one’s sins was discussed in a previous post.