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


Well, I certainly agree with you on this:
"… 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."

But now that you can see the King James interpretation, I would think you would be a little less likely to accept the NIV version… and reject Augustinian’s proposition.

But if you don’t care to do that, blessings upon you in any case!

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Much of this discussion seems to be looking for the Christian teaching on the question of what happens to fetuses and infants after death rather than the actual truth of the matter. There have been many comments based on various Christians denominations and theologians, and a little bit from Scripture. But I have always felt that at BioLogos we are looking for the truth about things as much as we can figure based on science and as established in Scripture. The early church fathers and other theologians are helpful when they shed light on the issues we discuss. However, on many issues, they also provide confusion. So do the teachings of various denominations.
Science has nothing to tell us about the soul. Scripture also has rather little that is direct. From what we can gather in reading the whole of Scripture, human beings are apparently a combination of a body and a soul. Through science we can see when, and a lot of how, the body is made. We cannot see and are not told in Scripture when and how the soul is made, nor when or how the soul is attached to the body it inhabits while on earth. Since the soul exists separately from the body, it does exist after death, and possibly before birth or conception as well. Paul’s statements about God having chosen us before the beginning of time indicate that this may be so. Thus I am hard pressed to understand Jon’s comment that there is no immortal soul. But even though the soul is of utmost importance, we are not told in Scripture when it is attached to its body or when it begins its existence. The only hint we have is the overwhelming emphasis on birth as the beginning of a person’s life; and the frequent association of life the intake of breath. David’s statements about being sinful from the time he was in his mother’s womb is poetry and hyperbole, meant to exclaim about our utter sinfulness in God’s sight.
The summation of all this is that we cannot know what happens to the soul of a child or the soul soon to be attached to a fetus if the body is lost, although Jesus does say of children that their angels always face God (Mat 18:10). All we can do is realize that God is good and that he loves us. This is something that we can rely upon in all cases.

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Wow… I never noticed this text before. Thank you, @Marg!

In Greek it is thus:
"Ὁρᾶτε μὴ καταφρονήσητε ἑνὸς τῶν μικρῶν τούτων λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν ὅτι οἱ ἄγγελοι αὐτῶν ἐν οὐρανοῖς διὰ παντὸς βλέπουσιν τὸ πρόσωπον τοῦ πατρός μου τοῦ ἐν οὐρανοῖς "

The King James English for this Greek is: “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.”

And there is pretty consistent interpretation from Bible to Bible.

But deep inside, I have to wonder if the intended meaning for “their angels” was - - rather - -

“the spirits of these little ones, as angels, will always behold the face of my father in Heaven”

I have wondered about that interpretation too, and what the “their” means. But I’m not sure how the “little ones” could be angels while on earth unless “despise” means something much more sinister.

I assume this is one possible scriptural basis for the idea of a “guardian angel.” Whichever interpretation is correct, it did still bring me comfort in the midst of first-time-parent anxiety.


I don’t think you can get that interpretation from Mattew 18:10.

It says, “that in Heaven, their Angels do always behold the Face of God…”

We have two, maybe three choices…

[1] that as soon as a child achieves a so-called “Moral Age”, the angel assigned to him punches the clock and perhaps finds another blessed child.

[2] a very different interpretation is that if a child dies, he has an angel in Heaven always by his side.

At the very least, this text would suggest that Purgatory is not relevant to children (prior to his or her achieving an age of moral agency).

There is a third interpretation: that every human has an angel representing him or her until he or she arrives at the Gates of Paradise.

But that would be pretty unusual, yes?

Yeah, I can’t think of anything else in scripture that supports the idea of a “guardian angel” assigned to everyone. I do really hope it’s true that “little ones” have them though.

So much of the theology in the past (and in this thread) has concentrated on sin, sin, sin…neglecting the fact that our benevolent God has given us so many blessings that should be celebrated. Thank goodness that @Marg has started and you, Ellie, have continued to steer the discussion toward how privileged we are for the ability to conceive of God and how we can behave so as to please him–even though we so often fail to do so. This goes way back in Scripture:

And Augustine, in besting Pelagius, cast it in stone. The pleasure of sexual union has been one of the strongest forces driving procreation and advancing evolution. In many animal species, e.g. the elephant seal, it is seen as pure lust. When God blessed Homo sapiens with a conscience, we were given the ability raise animal lust into something so much more purposeful and pleasurable–conjugal love, so that when “two become one flesh”, they can provide a safe haven in which they can guide their offspring into a life pleasing to God.

Theologians of the past have concentrated on the symbolism of water as a cleansing agent to wash away Original Sin. But in the case of John’s baptism of Jesus it was not that. Every parent knows that raising children to become good human beings and productive members of a just society is a difficult task full of obstacles. Infant baptism is not only a plea for God’s help and blessing, but also for the help of the Godparents they have chosen. As a Catholic parent myself, the concept that each of my three children were conceived in sin (unbridled concupiscence) is repulsive. But I do welcome and appreciate the aid of their Godparents (and their Guardian Angels!) in making them the loving adults they have become.
Al Leo

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One thing seems certain to me about this whole question of what happens to those who never reach any age where they can “know good from evil”: the whole issue is way above everybody’s pay-grade. I guess you can muse over it as volunteer worriers if you are so-inclined. Either God has everything taken care of according to the ultimate standards of justice or else the Christian God isn’t the caring, loving Deity that Christians preach … in which case we are all lost anyway. Either way, this problem --if it even is a problem, won’t be solved by us.

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Just a quick clarification. I reject that versino of Psalms 51:5 - - which is what we find in the New International Version. In my view, the more standard translation for 51:5 references David’s mother, and her sin when David wasn’t even born.

I greatly disagree with this. We were never commanded to convert or save as many as possible. And the best way to save some from hell, would be a mercy kill. God could have done that, or just teleported us all to heaven and skipped earth. God created us because He wants us to freely chose Him. Human life is precious, God would never advocate a “mercy killing”, even if you believed all infants are saved.

I guess their faith that God was good, just, merciful, and loving was enough for them.

Interesting thought. But if it existed before birth, when did it come about? Surely it is a created thing and not something that has always been, like God?

I agree with that possibility.


Personally, I am not attempting to solve this issue and use the result to weight against God or His ultimate goodness. However, understanding of this issue, can, and has helped bring me to a different understanding than I have been brought up to believe. In attempt to loving Him with all my mind, I think trying to know the ‘details of God’ is part of that quest.

What are you greatly disagreeing with? It should be clear that I am not advocating any sort of mercy killing. It should be clear that I am not stating that God advocates mercy killing. I stated only what is painfully obvious: if all aborted infants are saved (and I pray they are) then, at least for any of those would have grown up to reject Christ, assuming that’s not the null set, then their eternal destination is heaven rather than hell. By any definition, that’s a mercy killing You might disagree, but you didn’t refute.

I am greatly disagreeing with…

No where in my mind am I morphing abortion into mercy killing. So my disagreeing is to your assertion that due to believing in X (infants are saved), then Y (I am morphing abortion into mercy killing). I just think it is an untrue statement.

Nor am I implying that you believe or advocate abortion or mercy killing. I don’t know what your stands are on that topic, I was simply trying to clarify that X does not guaranty Y, somewhere, or anywhere in my mind.

Mercy killing is killing with the intent of having mercy. Like if someone is in pain, it can end their pain. If someone has a terrible future, prevent that future from happening ect. But you have to have good intent, and perceived knowledge of that persons future.

If you kill someone, then later believe if could have prevented an unfortunate future, that is not mercy killing, as your intent at the time of the killing was not mercy. You can’t use after the fact to justify it. Or if I believe aborted infants are saved, and someone else kills them (for their own non-mercy-related reasons), that is also not a mercy kill. I did not kill them, or advocate it (regardless of where they spend eternity). The type of kill assigned goes to the intent from the one that killed them.

Even my voting for pro-choice, because from a governmental and constitutional standpoint, I agree with pro-choice (though I am anti-abortion) that is not a mercy kill (if they went to heaven). The only way for abortion to be considered a mercy kill is if I believed that babies went to heaven, and I was a pro-abortionist. Now my intent would be to abort all in order for that human to go to heaven, that could be considered a mercy kill.

If I hit someone in my car by accident. And the autopsy and police report shows some disturbing findings on that person, that they were on their way to massacre thousands, that doesn’t make me a hero. The killing was still an accident, what we find our after the killing is moot.

So that is why I disagree with that statement. But as far as refuting it on the logic of mercy killing (which I don’t think it would be… this takes a bit longer to explain.

Paul kind of speaks of the Israelite’s in a few different books of the Bible in this way. The Israeilite’s were “burdened” with the law. They were now held to a higher standard then their Gentile counter parts. But Paul sees the law not as a burden, rather a blessing.

Life is like this. Sure, since we are given life, we now have the potential to go to heaven or hell, greater consequences then those not born. But being created and able to know God is a blessing. So killing someone due to a potential is not mercy killing, it is robbing them of a blessing.

We are also not placed in control of the world and other lives. We can be placed with great responsibility, which also comes great potential for blessings, when people are placed under our influence. Like with children, or with the church flock/congregation, constituents, students, employees. But even then, that is just influence, not control. Only God has control, but even then, not really ultimate control, as we have free will. But all of that to say that, peoples most beneficial destinies (even our own), ARE in God’s control. If you want the best for you, or anyone else, let God be God, and they (the people and God as God will be given glory) will benefit the most.

So we need to be concerned with having a heart that loves God, and others. Love that Jesus showed, sacrificial love, serving love. I would give great caution to anyone who would kill someone to prevent or attempt to control the future (play God and think you know better than Him). God could “mercy kill” everyone who would not be saved, but then why not just skip life and go right to heaven?

God has us here for a purpose, He wants to see it “played out”. He wants us to know Him, and to be given the chance to know Him. Anyone to rob anyone of that opportunity (even though that person may go to hell) is Biblically wrong.

I also have a different view of what many refer to with heaven or hell. Jesus came to give us life, and more abundantly. We are created to know God, and to be able to chose God… He allows us not to chose Him, but we were created with optimal results occurring when we chose Him. We can’t always see the optimal results, this is why we do sin or chose not God. I am not perfect, I chose wrong all the time. But I know in my heart that God is always optimal in the long term, we suffer for shortsightedness.

I don’t even consider hell a punishment, rather a consequence to a bad choice. If you want to live in a world without God, He will allow that. It will be a terrible, place, filled with hate, anger, fear, and no love, no glimpse of the God that you didn’t want.

I could when God created us in His image, He also blessed us with spiritual myopia. We can’t see the future, which requires us to have faith in Him, who can see very far. But when we can only see what is in front of us, we frequently act on that, even if in conflict with God’s commands. That is why we need the Holy Spirit to help us trust in Him. This is why frequent prayer, sabbath, ect, are passages in the Bible, advising us in how to best help chose God’s ways, to ignore our spiritual myopic sight.

But to me (and I can use scriptures to back it up, though most scripture is known, I am mostly weaving them to make a tapestry of logic to explain my beliefs, but feel free to ask me for scriptures if you feel I am making a large leap), heaven and hell is not anything like current tradition.

Hell is simply separated from God (rejecting His will). Heaven is simply with God. So if you never had the chance to chose or reject God (like mentally disables or pre-mature babies), why would you go to hell?

Perhaps Jesus could have died for all sins, literally justifying every human, not just those who ask for Him to (what I do believe). A sinless/forgiven person, who still doesn’t think God knows best or wants God to rule their lives, will still not want to God to heaven. Our hearts decide where we go, not some act. Jesus always spoke of our hearts, and refuted how our acts had any merit on anything.

This isn’t to say that we can “wish” to go to heaven and it be. But if our hearts desire is to know our Creator, God provided a way for us to know Him, and to be reconciled to Him, through Jesus.

God knows our hearts, we can’t fool Him. Like you can’t say you want to lose weight, and eat a pound of bacon and sugar everyday. Your heart doesn’t really want to lose weight. You can want to lose weight, maybe walk a bit more, still have a unhealthy fatty meal every now and then, or possibly not the best diet ever, maybe .5 pound of bacon and .25 pound of sugar. That is still showing effort to do better than you once had been doing whether through willful disregard, or ignorance of a good diet. There is no “min recipe for salvation”. God knows your heart, and if you are trying (though failing is ok) God will know.

Thanks be to the glory and mercy of God, that He allows us to fail so many times and that He can see our hearts, and not just our actions. That is one of the main differences in Christianity and other religions. It isn’t about our actions or deeds, it is about our heart! Which is why we are not to judge or condemn the .5 lb bacon eater, who might be trying. We can encourage and pray for them, and if they genuinely want to lose weight, we can show them that is not the way. But we shouldn’t judge them on their actions, we don’t know were their heart is. Maybe they go through withdraws, and can’t quite bacon cold turkey (a lot of unintended meat references here), we don’t know why people act they way they do nor are we to condemn anyone for those acts. If we were blessed with a church or a parent who educated us on not eating bacon, so we never started, to God be the glory! If someone is trying to honor God in their heart, to God be the glory! We are no better than anyone based on actions, nor should we condemn anyone based on actions.

So again, no part of me advocates mercy killing, nor would I even consider an abortion a mercy killing, and yes, I do believe babies are born sinless and go to heaven when they die.

I’ll just repeat myself, in a slightly different way:

P1: A infant is born sinless and therefore not at risk for eternal damnation
P2: Infant X is destined to grow to accountability and reject the Gospel
C: Under those suppositions, abortion of Infant X results in an eternity in heaven rather than an eternity in hell. Under those circumstances, not only is it a mercy killing, it is the mother of all mercy killings.

(Of course, I’m not stating my personal position on this–for starters I’m Augustinian and so I don’t believe infants are born sinless, I’m just making a what-if argument.)

This reminds me of a horrible true crime story I read about where a mother drowned her children. She was obviously mentally disturbed, but as terrible as it was, she actually had some logic behind her decision. She had been taught that children went straight to heaven up until the age of accountability (7, I believe), and she thought she was a bad mother and wasn’t teaching them correctly, and thus in her mind it was more merciful to send them straight to heaven right before they reached that age than to risk them ending up in hell.

I don’t have a strong personal position on this either, but that is one issue that comes up with the whole “age of accountability” idea – why shouldn’t we all die young if it makes the difference in eternity, and if eternity is so much better than the here and now? Of course, on the other hand I would assume the Calvinist idea is that only babies who happen to be among “the elect” are saved anyway, no matter the age or manner of death. I don’t know the answer. This is one of those cases where I simply try to rest on the merciful nature of God and leave it in his hands.

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Well P2 is an odd suppositions, that no human has the powers to know…

And since you need to have perceived knowledge of that persons future in order to kill them with the attempt to prevent this perceived bad thing from happening to make it a mercy kill, it is a moot point.

With the logic above, you could call any kill a mercy kill, because a person could be put in a painful situation (or hell), in which death is better, so we might as well kill everyone. Mercy kill sees a perceived (it might not happen, but that person beliefs it will in their head) definite (not possible) bad outcome, and prevents it from happening by killing them. You are attributing it to a possible outcome, not a known or perceived outcome. I guess if you don’t agree with me on that, the rest of the debate is moot as I am basing my argument of a mercy kill on that supposition.

You original statement is still invalid. Of which you say if one has the belief that a baby is saved, somewhere in their head they are mercy killing. In that you can’t speak/think for everyone as you do in your statement.

I agree. The very fact that God doesn’t kill us all young shows us that the whole purpose in life is not to go to heaven or hell. It is to be able to know God and chose Him. This is why we have life here, to go through it, and chose Him in it, and be rewarded with an eternity with Him. Or to not chose him, and face the consequences of a life without Him. Though there are few and far between exceptions to this (like babies or those who aren’t mentally developed enough) the majority of humans, God wants us to have the experience of life, and to chose or reject Him.

I used to think this way, and still do, but I have found more and more scripture that leads me to the logic based argument I have too. But yes, I ultimately fall back on that truth you stated.[quote=“Elle, post:34, topic:36734”]
This reminds me of a horrible true crime story I read about where a mother drowned her children.

I don’t condemn this lady either(but I do those actions). I know child rearing can be extremely rewarding and frustrating. I don’t know her heart or circumstances or situation. Maybe she was lacking in sleep for days, just had a divorce, kids screaming stressing her out, haven’t prayed to God or read His word in days or weeks or months, fellowshiped or reached out the the church for help…ect. I also believe like those who commit suicide, are so overwhelmed in sin at times, they aren’t able to think clearly in those times. She could have been a nut, but she could have been a God loving woman, who had a very bad mistake that can’t be taken back, like a suicide. I know I go places where I look back and think, if I struggled with depression or anger, I could see how those who do, did those things they did. I am no better them, my vices just might not have as great of an effect on my physical body or others.

I actually can’t follow your argument, so I’ll leave you with the last word. Peace.

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