Age of accountability?

Have you ever pondered why it is that in (what I term loosely) civilized countries, human beings under the age of 18 or 21 are considered juveniles? And, that juveniles are usually treated much more mercifully for crimes committed before they reach maturity? I find it remarkable that so much of what we take for granted in the normal order of things is actually based on the Bible.

For instance, every nation on earth marks time by 24 hour days, 7 day weeks, and 12 month years. These all have their beginning in Genesis, chapter 1. The age of accountability also seems to be indicated as being less than 20 years of age, based on God’s own consideration of those under twenty not being condemned to die in the wilderness because of unbelief (Numbers 14:29).

A recent article in the Washington Post made me think about this. This article reports on a book that was written by Frances Jensen and Amy Ellis Nutt about how the teenage brain is NOT completely developed, contrary to earlier theories. One of the more significant things they discovered is that teenage brains are much more easily damaged and addicted by exposure to drugs and specifically marijuana. In fact, the marijuana effect is that it stunts brain development and causes what appear to be lifelong learning abilities.

This makes me question the idea of kids under the age of 13 being able to actually comprehend the gospel sufficiently to make a lifelong commitment to living as a Christian. I know quite a few people who claim to either have become a Christ follower at a single digit age or (incredibly) say they have “always been a Christian”.

Thoughts?

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2 responses to this post.

  1. There are examples of both types of procedures in the Bible: some practiced on infants, and some only on adults.

    Circumcision was practiced on infants. Jesus was also dedicated at the temple shortly after his birth. Jesus and John, while in the womb, were able to respond to the Holy Spirit, through their mothers. We also have examples of mothers and fathers dedicating their children to God from conception (Hanna, Samson’s parents, John the Baptist’s parents).

    In these examples, the children had no personal choice in the matter. The parents carried out the particulars on behalf of the child. Yet it was to be more than just a ritual.

    After, Jesus attended his first passover at the age of 12, and of course, was not baptized until about 30. And as you noted already, there were other privileges or punishments that were given above a certain age.

    So, I think that baptism is a ceremony that is to be done at the “age of accountability”, or when the person is mature enough to know what they are doing. The minister, or others who are witnesses in the church, should make sure (as far as possible) that the candidate understands what the new birth is, what it means to be joined to the body, and that he/she has “tasted the good word of God and the power of the worlds to come”.

    But that does not mean parents have to leave their child in a spiritual “black hole” until that age. They should start praying for them from the moment of conception, and pray for the Holy Spirit to give their child a new birth, even in the womb. This can be done because the child in the womb (and even after) is dependent on the parents, and therefore open to the influence of God through the parents. It is a special time of privilege, where the prayer of the parent can open a door for God to work in behalf of their child.

    Luke 1:15, and Jeremiah 1:5, indicate that parents can choose for their children, even from the womb. But this should be followed by baptism, when the child has grown up to be accountable.

  2. Love, and agree with, your reasoning, Frank.

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