What is the fate of the pre-term babies who die?

Greetings again,

This is a discussion we had with a friend of mine. He pointed out that according to him (he’s a Calvinist), aborted babies are immediately blessed with salvation and go to heaven.

I told him again about the scientific problem of the soul - aborted babies don’t have a well developed cortex yet, and the conscious life doesn’t even begin several years after birth. In fact, science challenges the notion of souls.

What do you think about this? I’m very confused.

Okay people, the question centers on the scientific problem of the soul and a theological question about salvation. If everyone can stay focused on this question, fine, but the minute the thread digresses into a political discussion about abortion, it is going to be closed.

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I’ll attempt to avoid the deep end of the pool, but it won’t be easy.

First, the question doesn’t have to do just with “aborted babies,” but with all fetuses. “Aborted babies” are not a special class of persons. So, the question really should be this: What happens to a fetus that dies in utero? In my opinion, the Scriptures do not clearly answer this question. In fact, the Bible is ambiguous about the fate of children (or the mentally disabled) in general. That is why there is widespread disagreement in the church on that issue, as well as the issue of infant baptism. Some believe that infants who die are ushered directly into God’s presence. Others agree with Augustine, that even infants are born in sin. There are many positions in between these two extremes, so there is no one “right” answer that all Christians can agree to. For me, since the Scriptures are ambiguous, I am comfortable leaving it unanswered and simply trusting that the Judge of all the earth will do right (Gen. 18:25).

Second, and despite all of the above, there is a logical and theological problem that goes along with the idea that an unborn fetus that dies (whether by natural or man-made causes) goes straight to heaven. As many as 25% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. If all these “unborn babies” go straight to heaven, then they are likely to outnumber everyone else in heaven. All things are possible with God, but this seems to me an extremely odd situation.


I’m not an expert here, so I hope I don’t come across as self-indulgent, but here’s my take on the matter.

Outnumber? I don’t really see how that’s a problem. Imo such a concept isn’t important to salvation. And further on the personal note, I personally think there’s a degree of innocence that is without accountability.

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@Jay313, having heaven filled with pristine infant souls is a benefit - - not a problem!

I assume you grant that infant souls, unencumbered by an infant brain, would be mature soul, but with no Earthly experiences to discuss.

Even as a Unitarian Universalist, I do not see the biological brain as “building” a person’s soul. I see the soul as a metaphysical (non-scientific) component of the human mind - - having nothing to do, ultimately, with what the fleshy brain allows the soul to do while in its mortal phase.

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When it comes to the issue of death in infancy, in my experience everyone becomes a Calvinist, because everyone wants to believe that God will unilaterally save the infant (as Calvinists believe God saves any of the elect) who was not mature enough to have or exhibit faith in any normal sense of the word. (Truth in advertising–I’m a Calvinist.)

I think that we have reason to be optimistic, in that King David spoke with certainty that he would see his dead son. And I believe we can be optimistic because of what we know of the mercy of God.

But I agree that the bible is more-or-less silent on this thorny topic. And of course if you believe that all infants are saved, including those who never would have accepted Christ, then at least somewhere in your mind you are morphing abortion into mercy killing. That’s a disconcerting place to be.

Edit: typo

Hm I would think that regardless of what the deed is, the baby is not accountable for it regardless. Another reason why I think how I do is that if sin is rebellion against God, I don’t think an infant is capable of that.

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The Chess Master scenario assures us that not only will the infant attain salvation, but every human will (without violating their free will), with the exception of anyone for whom God has different plans.

That is a perfectly reasonable (and not that uncommon) of a place to be, but it is certainly not the historic teaching of the church–not that the historic or majority position is infallible. Augustine debated this with Pelagius, and Augustine was declared orthodox and Pelagius (whose argument was tantamount to babies are born innocent) was repeatedly declared a heretic.

I am always amused by the story told by the late Presbyterian theologian John Gerstner. He was visiting a church where there was going to be an infant baptism. When entering the sanctuary he was given a white rose. Upon asking what it was for, he was told “it represents the innocence of the baby being baptized” whereupon he asked “you do know what the water represents, right?”


Despite the OP, belief in salvation of infants, children, mentally disabled is not just a Calvinist thing. This is one of those questions that cuts across the normal theological divides, because it becomes very personal very quickly.

Just an aside, but until the 20th century, infant mortality rates and childhood diseases meant that barely 50% of live births survived to adulthood. In that environment, it seems strange to me that the Bible does not directly address the question of children and salvation. With so many kids dying so early, you think it would have been a pressing question in the ancient world. On the other hand, the ancients did not view childhood through modern rose-colored glasses, so I’m not sure the question even mattered to them. I suppose the fact that they did not seek out an answer is answer enough on that front!

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Yet another good reason why we need a few more Eastern Orthodox Evolutionists here under the shade of the BioLogos umbrella.

While the position is, no doubt, not monolithically universal within a given Orthodox community, or even with all the Orthodox communities as a whole (the Russian Orthodox church seems to lean more towards Rome in this regard), the usual Eastern Orthodox position on infant baptism is: “it comforts the parents”.

Contradicting Augustine, Orthodox theology typically proclaims Adam and Eve to be the first humans to have an opportunity to sin … a human capacity passed onto all human generations.

But - - each human’s sin is his or her own to make, and not indigenous to the newly born.

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Although I’m living in Eastern Europe, I don’t belong to Eastern Orthodoxy for a reason :slight_smile: During my later life I met protestant friends and I’m married to a protestant lady.

But I never condemned my orthodox brethren, in fact I think their theology is sometimes sounder than ours.

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Just to be clear, “Original Sin” is not the view that everyone is charged with Adam’s sin, as if we all committed it. It is much worse than that. It is the idea that Adam’s sin so corrupted the race that all his descendants are born (apologies for the double negative) with the inability not to sin. But the sins we are charged with, presumably even dead infants, are our own, not Adam’s.

Edit: typo


So, let’s put your thoughts into a different vocabulary:

Your view of the Roman Catholic position on Original Sin is not that newborns already bear Sin.

But that they carry the “Nature to Sin”, from the Adam/Eve source.

David, I think your time in Eastern Europe has influenced your metaphysics more than you realize.

You are asserting something I’ve never heard a Roman Catholic say:
That having the inevitable Inclination to Sin = Is A Sin.

This is, frankly, the idea common to most Eastern Orthodox individuals and communities… but let me clarify that…

The Orthodox say that all humans bear the inclination to sin. But not the sin of Adam. That’s where you and they agree.

But they go one step further and maintain infant baptism doesn’t do what some congregants thinks it does.

While you and the Vatican would hold to the necessity of infant baptism, to clear the new born of Original Sin.

I struggle with the Roman formulation - - because it would seem to me that most Catholics don’t think infants are “free and clear” even after Baptism!

Want another shot at re-casting your view of Original Sin?

You are putting words in my mouth.

  1. I am not saying anything about the Roman Catholic Church. Both (many) Protestants and Catholics view Augustine as orthodox and perhaps the greatest theologian of the first millennium. Whether Augustine was a Roman Catholic is somewhat uninteresting.

  2. I am not saying that the doctrine of Original sin means “only” that they have a sin nature, but that they have already sinned, in the womb.

Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me. (Ps 51:5, NIV)


I’m not intentionally trying to put words in your mouth. The exercise is an attempt to see if the intersection of your two premises is a conclusion you actually didn’t want to make.

My reference to the Roman Catholics is purely to counter-poise the RC traditions with the Eastern Orthodox. It is relatively universally accepted that the Roman position is based on Augustine’s analysis. But I will be more careful about making it sound like Augustine had a made an official choice that he never actually needed to make.

So, you re-phrased your position to include:

“I am not saying that the doctrine of Original sin means “only” that they have a sin nature, but that they have already sinned, in the womb.”

well, this is what I thought your position already was. It was your writing: “It is much worse than that. It is the idea that Adam’s sin so corrupted the race that all his descendants are born (apologies for the double negative) with the inability not to sin.”

I’m not sure you even bother with this position, if you have already acepted the next sentence you wrote: “But the sins we are charged with, presumably even dead infants, are their own, not Adam’s.”

So, let me attempt a paraphrase again, especially in view of your interpretation of Psalms 51:5:

Psalms 51:5, NIV:
"Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. "

“Infants require baptism because infants have non-consciously sinned in the womb.”

That’s a pretty empatic assertion (I’m a pretty emphatic guy; I like empatic. So for the purposes of this thread, there is no sin in being emphatic!

But let’s look Psalms 51:5! You understand that the NIV interpretation is not the “usual one”, right?

King James has it thus:
Psa 51:5: “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.”

And that’s a completely different kettle of fish, yes @heddie ?

Look what I found here:

St. Augustine made a distinction between embryo inanimatus, not yet endowed with a soul, and embryo animatus, endowed with a soul

I don’t see a scientific problem here. No scientist has developed a ‘Soul-ometer’.

The only time the discussion will intersect with science is if one attempts to correlate the possession of souls to a specific set of physical/operational attributes. The same applies for legal and ethical systems that try to assign ‘personhood’ at particular stage of life.

There is no immortal soul, so no one goes to heaven or hell when they die.

I used the NIV because, as a paraphrase (and a good one) it has the freedom to capture the sense of the verse where the literal translations do not. But this “sense” is derived (by some) from the literal translations as well. This is evident by looking at commentaries (long before the NIV) on the verse, for example Calvin’s:

5 Behold, I was born in iniquity, etc He now proceeds further than the mere acknowledgement of one or of many sins, confessing that he brought nothing but sin with him into the world, and that his nature was entirely depraved. He is thus led by the consideration of one offense of peculiar atrocity to the conclusion that he was born in iniquity, and was absolutely destitute of all spiritual good. Indeed, every sin should convince us of the general truth of the corruption of our nature. The Hebrew word יחמתני, yechemathni, signifies literally, hath warmed herself of me, from יחם, yacham, or חמם, chamam, to warm; but interpreters have very properly rendered it hath conceived me. The expression intimates that we are cherished in sin from the first moment that we are in the womb. David, then, is here brought, by reflecting on one particular transgression, to east a retrospective glance upon his whole past life, and to discover nothing but sin in it

The point being–the view that infants sin in the womb (as a result of their fallen nature) regardless of whether it is right or wrong has been taught by many serious scholarly theologians and is not an artifact of or dependent upon the NIV translation.

And with that I’ll stop debating the issue.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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