Introduction.

Our title is not scriptural terminology, but rather a commonly used description of an important Biblical concept.
Christians need to examine the topic very closely because there is widespread disagreement in the religious world on the subject. The differences arise mainly out of Catholic theology, subsequently adopted by numerous Protestant faiths, on what is called “Original Sin”.

The doctrine can be stated in a few words: hereditary total depravity, which led to the erroneous practice of infant baptism.  John Wesley, the British founder of the Methodist Church put it succinctly when he wrote “…infants are guilty of original sin…this original stain cleaves to every child of man; and that thereby they are children of wrath, liable to eternal damnation”.  He adds: infants “are proper subjects of baptism; seeing, in the ordinary way, they cannot be saved, unless this be washed away by baptism…”.  Wesley’s Works, Miscellaneous, Vol.2, p.16  (see Why I am a Member of the Church of Christ, by Leroy Brownlow).
Unmistakably, this doctrine asserts that all infants are born with the stain of sin on their souls and are in a lost condition. We need to reconcile this with the Bible before we can advance a different belief.
Let us carefully and thoroughly examine the scriptural account of the first sin and the fall from grace and consequential punishment, in the light of the Truth, neither adding to nor subtracting from.  We will assemble
all of the facts so that our opinion or interpretation is based on the best evidence.

The Original Sin.

“And the Lord God commandeth the man, saying, Of every tree in the garden thou mayest freely eat; But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Gen. 2: 16, 17)

“Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field…And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?  And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden: But of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.” (Gen. 3:1-3)

Here we begin to observe and comment.  The serpent was Satan -- this is not in dispute.  When the woman answered, we see a discrepancy between Gen. 2:16 and Gen. 3:1-3.  She adds “neither shall ye touch it.”  Did she invent this or had Adam so communicated this to her?  Either way, it may have been the first recorded instance of adding to God’s Word and may have contributed to their downfall. The ancient rabbins believe that when she said this, Satan took her hand and rubbed it against the fruit to show her that it was harmless.  This is interesting because whether it happened or not, the principle is well rooted in the scripture: adding to (or taking from) is plainly disallowed.

“And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as Gods, knowing good and evil. (Gen. 3: 4-5)

This was partially true and shows the cunning of the Devil, because Adam and Eve did not actually die in the day they ate thereof.
The original language is very helpful here.  The Hebrew phrase means “dying, thou shalt die”. The participle form indicated continuing action. In other words, they would begin to die on that day, but Adam actually lived to be 930 years old. (Gen. 5:5)
As we know, Eve and then Adam did eat, God discovered it and the punishment for all was meted out.  Man had fallen from grace; from immortal, became mortal, and the clock started running on God’s eternal plan.
The Punishment.
God addresses each of the sinning parties in this first sin and specifies the consequences.
He speaks first to the physical serpent (whatever it was) and doles out its physical punishment (Gen. 3:14) which is not germane to our topic.
This is followed by a remarkable and astounding prophecy: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” (Gen. 3:15)
For one thing, this is the first prophecy in the Bible. It is addressed to Satan, beyond dispute, and foretells the mutual hatred that will ever exist between him and the seed of the woman.  This seed is Jesus, the “God of peace [who] shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly”.  (Rom 16:20)
The essence of man’s entire history and God’s eternal plan is encompassed in this one verse.  Satan and Jesus will be archenemies vying for the souls of men.  We think of injuries to the head as very serious, often life threatening; but of injuries to the feet as minor, in comparison.  Satan will rule as the “prince of this world” (John 12:31) but Jesus will deal him a fatal blow (to the head) in the last days as he casts death and hell into the lake of fire. Satan will temporarily triumph by bruising Christ’s heel in the agony of the crucifixion and death.
For another thing, this prophecy transcends all time -- it was given here at the beginning, it was partially fulfilled in the sacrifice of Jesus, and will be finally and completely fulfilled at the second coming at the end of time.
This scripture also embodies the central theme of the book of Revelation – victory over Satan through Christ.
Surely the words “remarkable” and “astounding” are accurate, if insufficient, to describe this prophecy.  If you are looking for evidence to engender or bolster your faith in God and the Bible this is a scripture of paramount import.  Man could not possibly have written this out of his own imagination.  He would not even start to understand it until the Word became flesh and dwelt among us some 4000 years later.
We look now at the divine punishment to the woman and the man.
To the woman: “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception, in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee”.  (Gen. 3: 16)
To the man: “…cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread…”. (Gen. 3: 17, 18)
Consequences.
Mankind was now mortal and would begin to die “…till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return…”. (Gen. 3:19)
Because “man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life and eat and live forever: Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man…”. (Gen. 3: 22-24)
Note that nowhere in these scriptures is hereditary total depravity expressly forecast or implied.
The Nature of Man.
Man was created in the image of God.  We are not permitted to see this image clearly.  In fact, God has concealed his facial features from man so far throughout time, but seemingly will be revealed at the end of time when the “tree of life” is restored: “…and [we] shall see his face…”.  (Rev. 22:2 and 4)
But this much we know: as God is a trinity consisting of three personalities in one nature; man is a trinity consisting of three natures in one personality.  This is revealed in Paul’s closing words to the Thessalonians, book 1, chapter 5, verse 23: “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole
spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”.
The words “soul” and “spirit” often seem to be used interchangeably in the scriptures, but that there is a distinction can be seen in Heb. 4:12 “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit…”.  Further evidence of this threefold nature can be seen in Matt. 22:37: we shall love the Lord “with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” Mark 12:30 adds “strength”; Mark 12:33 adds “understanding”.
The Greek word consistently rendered “soul” is “psuché” and means “animal soul”. We can reason thus, and observation confirms this, that animals have likewise a body and soul (but no spirit, thus our superiority and closer likeness to God).
The Greek word rendered “spirit” is “pneuma” which is akin to the Hebrew “ruach”. Taken together, they impart the connotation of “wind, breath”. “Pneuma” is the same word used in “pneumatic” and “pneumonia” and the root meaning is evident.
What is the application of these facts?
The soul appears to activate (animate) or energize the body. When we die physically, the soul departs.  When Rachael died (Gen 35: 18) “her soul was in departing”: in Hebrew, “yatsa” -- to go out.  Without the soul, the body dies and returns to earth.  But the soul lives on.
When Isaac died (Gen 35:29) and “gave up the ghost”, the word “gava” is the original, signifying, “gasp, breathe out” as the spirit departed and lived on.
This highlights the difference between man and animals. When an animal dies, like Rover, he is dead all over.  There is no spirit to animate the soul and hence no life in the soul to animate the body.  When a person dies, the spirit continues to activate the soul and they both depart, and live on, but the body dies and decays.
At the second coming, and general resurrection, the “dead shall be raised incorruptible” as body, soul and spirit will again be united.
Impact.
We turn back now to see what impact the first sin had on the nature of man.
The body was certainly changed; it would now be mortal and begin to die.  This different body would also now be subjected to the wrack and stress of labor and pain which would take its toll and hasten its destruction.
No changes in the soul are evident.
There was a major change in the spirit which is the seat of the “heart”, mind and understanding.  Man would now be aware of and have the knowledge of good and evil; or in other words, right and wrong.
What is the component in our makeup that tells us whether something is right or wrong? The answer is “conscience” – once knowledge is added to it.  We conclude Adam and Eve were innocent in their original state and didn’t recognize good and evil; i.e., were naked and not aware of it.  They would now see their condition plainly and their consciences would convict them.  Interestingly, the word used for conscience in the Bible means “a knowing of one’s self”. There is the exact word – “knowing”, or “knowledge” which describes their changed state.

We can now see how this plays out.  “God created man, in the likeness of God made he him”. (Gen. 5:1)  “And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image, and called his name Seth.” (Gen. 5:3)
Adam and Eve’s offspring would be like themselves in their degraded state.  The children would begin to die (physically) as soon as they were born.  Life would be full of tribulation.  They would be born with a conscience but it would be innocent and of no effect until knowledge and understanding molded it into action.
There is not evidence in all of the foregoing that the stain of sin or depravity would accompany their entrance into the world.
Infant Baptism.
The practice of infant baptism emerged to wash away the supposed hereditary total depravity.  It is also called “christening” in some faiths.  But scripturally and logically, there is NO support for this remedy.

While conceived to wash away the effects of the “Original Sin”, it has not efficacy (or effect) in doing so.  Every punishment meted out by God is still in full force.  In spite of millions of infant baptisms (or adult ones, for that matter), the consequences of the first sin are unabated.  And will continue so until the judgement when “death and hell [are] cast into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:14).  Satan yet has dominion and is “prince of this world”.

The idea that a baptismal cleansing would isolate and single out a single aspect of the so-called “Original Sin” --  the depravity stain, is unknown to the scriptures and defies reasoning.

A study of baptism confirms that it is ALWAYS personal.  That we can be baptized to erase the sins of others is certainly heretical.  If it is possible, where is the evidence?

Baptism of infants turned God’s plan of salvation on its head.  In the scriptures, baptism is always the last step on the path to salvation and always follows hearing, belief, repentance, and confession (none of which is possible for an infant).

There are no instances (no, not one) of infant baptism in the scriptures.  It is simply unscriptural.

The Gold Standard.
Let the scriptures speak for themselves.  A divine commentary is superior to all others.  Here are the scriptures used by both sides on these issues:

Psalms 14:2,3 “The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”

The context here is a wicked generation.  The children of these “men” were following in their parents’ footsteps.  They were children, not necessarily including infants.  The children had “gone” aside, implying certainly that they were previously free from sin.  They had “become” filthy.  Likewise, they were
once clean.  This scripture proves infants are not born in sin.

Psalm 51:5 A psalm of David. “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.”

The “iniquity” and “sin” cited here, in any case, are not David’s; they predate his existence and certainly do not relate, anyhow, to the Original Sin of Eve/Adam.  What if a child is born out of wedlock? Surely, there is no justification for impugning the character of the offspring.

Psalm 58:3 “The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.”

Man is prone to sin; it is the nature of the flesh.  Every man or woman that has ever lived to spiritual maturity has sinned (except Jesus) and all who are to come will “go astray”.  This proclivity manifests itself at a young age, but this verse does not prove that it occurs at birth, since it specifies the sinners are “speaking lies” – which no newborn can possibly do.

Ephesians 2:3 “Among whom also we had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature the children of wrath.”

Comments above apply equally here.  Note also the context: “lusts” and “desires of the flesh and …mind” – these are the fruits of adulthood, not infancy.  No one denies that our “nature” is to sin, but the scripture certainly doesn’t prove that we are born with the stain of it.

Gen. 8:21 “…for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth…”

In fact, this scripture harmonizes and is concentric with those above.  We do sin from our youth, but that is not to say from birth.

Ezekiel 18:20 “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.  The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son…” 

This could scarcely be plainer.  We are only accountable for our own sins, not for those of others.
Matthew 18:3 Jesus speaking, “Verily, I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and come as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
Little children, not necessarily all children, but certainly babes are included, are innocent and held up as models to those who would be saved.

Matthew 19:14 Jesus again, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

The precise, supporting truth of Matt. 18:3.

James 4:17 “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”

I John 3:4 “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.”

One commits sin when he or she knowingly breaks God’s law.  This is impossible for an infant.  A trained conscience, unavailable to a newborn, is a prerequisite for commission or omission of sin.

Biblical Authority.

 

The Bible is virtually silent, both in the Old Testament and the New on an age of accountability.  Surely, if it were critical in God’s sight, we could find a commandment concerning age.  But there aren’t any.
God, in his wisdom, leaves to the intelligence and wisdom of man that of which he is capable.  A great example is the Bible itself.  Man could not write it; it was essential to bring it in its entirety through divine inspiration. Of only secondary importance, however, was the assembly of the 66 books which comprise the “canon” of the Bible.  This was no small matter.  Which books, of many, should be included?  Which should not?  Almost inconceivably, God left this up to man.  Did God control it?  We are sure His will was done but He didn’t do it through the Holy Spirit (as far as we know).  As we learn throughout from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, He permitted man to do on his own many things and defeated him where necessary to maintain control – God is always in control.
Is there any Bible or historical precedence that we can take into account?  Yes, some.  The ancient Jewish historians and rabbins report that under the Mosaic Law, the “custom” or practice was that a boy became a “son of the law” at  age 12.  Up until that age, they were excluded from all service and activity, but at age 12, they were now considered fully under the law.
One of the requirements of the law was that all subject men were to “appear before God” three times a year.  These were specified as Passover, Pentecost, and Feast of the Tabernacles.  The place where God was believed to dwell was in the temple in Jerusalem.
As a witness to the truth of this pattern, we see in Luke 2:41-42 “Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover.  And when he was 12 years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast.”  The intimation is that this was the first time Jesus had been taken by Joseph and Mary and perhaps the word “custom” signifies the special reason Jesus was taken: he was now deemed as a “son of the law”.
Thus we have a kind of divine example that Jesus became active in the worship at age 12.
Two denominational churches, the Catholic and the Episcopal, both heavily steeped in Original Sin doctrine and infant baptism, decree that at age 12, children enter service through “Confirmation” or “First Communion” rites.  This represent their attitude toward accountability and is not cited as authoritative.
With the number 12 looming in the background, let’s look at the question rationally.
The Case for Flexibility.
There is good reason for advocating a flexible approach.  It would allow for the vast differences encountered in actuality.  The most vital criterion is spiritual maturity.  Let’s look first at the extremes.  Occasionally, we hear of an especially “gifted” youngster who graduates from college at age 10 or 11.  At the other extreme, an individual may not develop normally and may never advance beyond a mental age of, say 6 or 8.  It does not seem reasonable or just to hold both of these youngsters to the same standard.
Also, it is well known that girls mature earlier than boys.  Two children in the same family with the same parents often have different capabilities.
Finally, we consider the level of spiritual maturity required for obedience.  Of the five steps which put one into the church, hearing, confession, and baptism demand lesser maturity.  Small children can be taught to say “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God”.  Baptism is not an especially demanding obstacle, at least physically.  Repentance normally can quickly follow belief and conviction and does not require significant additional time.
But belief is maybe the most critical of the five.  A young person must be old enough and mature enough to sort out the evidence, understand the magnitude of sin, appreciate the grace and mercy of God, feel sorry and helpless without Jesus, and be ready to become a faithful servant of the church.  It also needs to be a willing response.  God doesn’t like begrudging or coerced service, and so we should not push our children into obedience.
Conclusion.
The age of accountability is apparently different for each individual and occurs at the point when the person is old enough to understand God’s plan of salvation and to be pricked in the heart and to feel the need to be saved.
The age of 12, plus or minus a year or two – more for extreme cases – is probably appropriate for most children.
Illustration.
At last.  It will be helpful, perhaps, to use an illustration which will portray accurately these spiritual concepts.
[A family, consisting of a mother and father, two older teenaged children and a small child, decided one day to go white-water rafting on a nearby, wild river.  The parents put a life jacket on the child and strapped him in for security.  As the raft encountered especially turbulent water, it tipped badly and the parents and the two older children were thrown out into the dangerous rapids.
Those watching from the shore quickly and accurately sized up the situation and launched a rescue effort.  The parents and older children were in dire danger of being lost and needed to be
saved.  The small child was safe and secure, still seated in the raft in calm waters.]
As we mature in life, we reach our individual “ages of accountability”.  We sin and are in need of being
saved, but infants and small children remain safe in their innocence.