Saturday, February 21, 2009

Can Children Sin Before Reaching the Age of Eight?

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.


Eric B said...

The authority to which my children are accountable is me. They do not sin, but they transgress the law as did Adam and Eve in the Garden. I am the one who is accountable before God for the consequences of their bad choices, and if I fail to do all in my power to teach them the law, the importance of abiding it and the process of repentance, then I am the one sinning. As they gain understanding, their bill of transgressions will eventually be upon their own heads. Eight is not a magic age, but it is essentially the time in a child's life, on average, where there is sufficient understanding and control to hold them accountable in their own right. Sometimes I think Heavenly Father set the bar too low, but if properly instructed your standard issue eight-year-old can understand the concept of repentance confess their transgressions of the past and accept the responsibilities of church membership.

Jeremy said...

Thanks for your comments, Eric. D&C 68:25 accurately reflects your thoughts on parents being accountable when failing to correctly teach their children. I agree. Until reading deeper into D&C 29:47, however, I never contemplated the actual need for an eight year old to repent before baptism.

Thanks for stopping by.

Evgenii said...

If I understand you correctly, you are concluding that accountability for children starts well before the age of 8 and that when children are accountable they can then sin. I guess my question is how the Lord determines that 8 should be the magic number for something that depends on a case by case situation? Other saving ordinances like the endowment are often determined on one's readiness whereas baptism is not. Perhaps this is a direct correlation to circumcision under the old law which was the same arbitrary 8 days for all infant boys.

If we conclude that children can become accountable before the age of 8 which means that they can technically “sin”, is the logical conclusion that all such sins until the age of 8 are covered by the atonement? This discussion of baptism around the age of 8 reminds me of a time on my mission where the missionaries in another district accidentally baptized a girl who was seven because they did the math wrong in calculating her age. Prez was not happy.

About your question on Satan. I think a lot of the time we rely on Satan tempting us as an excuse when in reality it is the nature of our fallen state that allows us to have weakness to make bad decisions. It is a more orthodox view of the medieval period that bad behavior is a result of having been deceived by the tempter. That seems to take away our own accountability to make stupid decisions. Like sickness and other catastrophes that occur in the world, some things are a result of our telestial state, including our susceptibility to make a wrong decision, without Lucifer or a bad spirit whispering in our ear to do it. I do believe that he is out there and influences wrong, but I think we have been giving him too much credit for our own shortcomings.

Russ said...

D&C 18: 42
For all men must repent and be baptized, and not only men, but women, and children who have arrived at the years of accountability.

Notice the use of the word years. I think that a child does not sin until he or she can understand right and wrong but that is not at their 8th birthday. It is all based on the individual.

Evgenii said...

Is not sin committed when a child breaks the law. Yes, the child is not responsible for that mistake, but is not the law broken and therefore a mediation necessary. This is probably more semantics because we are saying the same thing in the sense that the child is not responsible for the sin, but the atonement has already taken in to account those misdeads, and those who don't have the capacity.

I suppose then my next logical step is whether the law is actually broken if the person does not have the capacity. If a four year old says the F-word, is the law broken or because of the lack of capacity to understand right from wrong, would a "sin" actually have been committed?

Jeremy said...

Hans, I wouldn't say that the Atonement automatically covers the sins of children under the age of 8. Moroni teaches us that only "those that are without the law" are covered. Clearly there are children of say, 6-7 years old, who understand sin, are capable of sinning, and therefore are not "without the law."

If not, this would mean that the proverbial "devil-child" could commit even some of the most heinous crimes before 8yrs old and then be given a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card. I think this is why the Lord commands parents to teach "the doctrine of repentance" to children before the age of 8, or "the sin be upon the heads of the parents." (D&C 68:25) In my opinion, regular repentance should be part of a child's life as soon as they "begin to become accountable before [God]" (D&C 29:47), which may occur much earlier than 8yrs old.

Jeremy said...

Great addition Russ. I'll make sure I add that to my cross-references to this topic. Thanks.

Evgenii said...

That sounds workable to me but for the restriction that a child who dies before the age of 8 can't receive vicarious baptism. It makes sense for an infant but you devil child example would not need baptism to enter the Kingdom of Heaven even though in your scenario sins were committed.

Jeremy said...

Interesting take on the vicarious baptism. I would venture to guess that a bright line 8-year-old rule had to be drawn so that the Saints could objectively know when a good time was to baptize. That age, however, isn't set in stone for we know that John the Baptist was ordained to the priesthood and apparently baptized at 8 days old (D&C 84:27-28).

Vicarious baptisms for those who may or may not have been "without the law" may possibly have to be dealt with during the Milennium. We are too imperfect to be the judge of those things now.

Evgenii said...

It is most likely that John was baptized at 8 days old as part of the circumcision ceremony. Do you think that John's baptism was like the type that JS and OC did after receiving the priesthood from him? I mean for the remission of sins only? JS and all who were baptized prior to April 6, 1830 were re-baptized into the kingdom. as John was preparing the way for the kingdom and the Messiah, would his baptism been a similar scenario? That also leads me to wonder whether John had authority to baptize by virtue of his Levite birth and not by the laying on of hands through ordination. John, through his Father's line, was the High Priest of Israel. Does that birthrite automatically grant the right to baptize?

Jeremy said...

In response to Hans, I would quote Hebrews 5:4. Did they receive it as Aaron did? I don't think John was automatically endowed with the priesthood by virtue of his lineage. I think there has to be an ordination under the hand of one with authority, despite the fact that lineage requires it.

The scripture I cited above says John "was baptized while he was yet in his childhood, and was ordained by the angel of God at the time he was eight days old unto this power, to overthrow the kingdom of the Jews, and to make straight the way of the Lord before the face of his people, to prepare them for the coming of the Lord." (D&C 84:28) Most LDS scholars assert that "in his childhood" means that he was baptized at 8 also.

Another take on this is that the word "ordain" doesn't necessarily have to relate to priesthood ordination. We were "foreordained" to come at this time (no priesthood involved), and John may have been "ordained" to, as the scripture states, "overthrow the kingdom of the Jews, and to make straight the way of the Lord before the face of his people, to prepare them for the coming of the Lord."

Doug Towers said...

I don't see D&C 84 saying that John the Baptist was baptised at eight days old, but that he was ordained at eight days old to do his role as forerunner for Christ. It says that he was baptised while still in his childhood. This may mean that others weren't baptised until becoming adults at 12, under that Law of Moses system.

It also stands out as a question as to why John was baptising at all? It presents that many (at least) weren't baptised. This could also be the reason that his youth baptism could have been an issue.

At the age of 7 I began to feel bad when I did something wrong. I'd lie to my Mother and she would believe me. This had never bothered me before. But then I felt horrible. Prior to this I hadn't had such an experience. I felt an absolutely terrible feeling inside. As I wasn't a church member I had no understanding as to why I was going through this terrible time at 7. But I remember it well. In fact I contemplated suicide because of it.

So my own personal belief is that at this time I came to understand the difference between good and evil. So that at the age of 8 I well and truly needed repentance and baptism.

I feel it possible that we take that long to actually work life out sufficiently to realise what is good and what is bad. Prior to that good is what we are told is good. And bad is what we are told is bad.

Jeremy said...

In response to Greg, I too felt an increase of understanding before my 8th birthday. I remember feeling as though I needed to be "good" because I was going to be baptized soon. But I hold that 8 is not some magic number, but a median range where we can objectively move into a covenant relationship with Christ. Some children develop faster than others, and some slower, but 8 is a good median range.

I'm not sure I follow you on your John the Baptist explanation. Baptism, although not explicitly part of our scriptural record of the Law of Moses, was nonetheless an ordinance performed since the days of Adam. Admittedly, there was a lack of authorized ministers to perform the ordinance, and that is why John's works were so important. Christ went to the one with authority.

Thanks for your thoughts, Greg.

Phil Gioldasis said...

its called shizophrenia unknown etilogy to the point!anything else would be satanical hillarity.