Haven’t Heard

November 2, 2012

Adam Harwood, PhD
Assistant Professor of Christian Studies
Truett-McConnell College
Cleveland, Georgia

This is the first article in a two-part series. Part one considers the eternal destiny of the uncondemned, comprised of infants, young children, and the mentally incompetent. Part two will consider the unreached, people who are morally accountable to God but die without hearing the message of the Gospel. These were published in the Oct. 18 and Nov. 1, 2012 issues of The Christian Index.


Southern Baptists differ on many political, social, and theological issues. But we’re united in affirming that faith in the Risen Christ is the only way to be forgiven of sin and reconciled to God. Thankfully, we are united on the Gospel. But this question is sometimes raised: “How does God deal with people who die without hearing the Gospel?” This question is not referring to people who hear and understand the Gospel but refuse to repent of their sin and place their faith in Christ. Rather, this concerns people who die without ever hearing the message of the Gospel. What is their eternal destiny? Those people can be placed into one of two groups, the uncondemned and the unreached.

Some individuals never mature mentally beyond early childhood. They are mentally incompetent, or mentally disabled. Among this group, there are different levels of mental maturity. Some people have the mind of a newborn; others have the mind of a 4-year old. What is the eternal destiny of a 30-year old man with the mind of a 3-year old? Because the Bible is silent on mental incompetence, we can only speculate. These people have a trusting and childlike nature. The conclusions regarding the eternal destiny of infants and young children will be applied to adults who have the mind of a child.

Tragically, miscarriage, abortion, stillbirth, and SIDS claim the lives of some infants. Each of them was a special creation of God, made in His image (Genesis 1:27; Psalm 139). The SBC’s confessional statement provides insight. Article 3 of the BFM 2000 explains that all people “inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin.” It continues, “Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation.” Infants and young children have not yet become transgressors and are not yet under condemnation. They inherit a nature inclined toward sin. They may experience physical death. But they are not condemned by God.

The Bible records God’s judgment against sinful thoughts, attitudes, and actions. In the days of Noah, God judged people for their sinful thoughts and actions (Gen 6:5), carried out since “childhood” (Genesis 8:21 NIV84, NLT), or “youth” (ESV, HCSB, NKJV). The younger generation of Israelites in the desert was not held accountable for the sinful actions of the group. The younger generation escaped judgment due only to their age (see Deuteronomy 1:39; Numbers 14:31). In Romans 1:21-32, Paul lists the many sinful thoughts, attitudes, and actions which have prompted God to pour out His wrath on all humankind. Read the passage and consider if any of those sins can be committed by infants and young children. A similar list appears in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.

Jesus had a chance to ask a group of children to repent. Instead, He blessed them and pointed to them as examples of citizens of God’s kingdom (Mark 10:13-16). Also, consider David’s comment about one day being with his deceased infant son (2 Samuel 12:23).

All people need to hear and respond to the Gospel. Nevertheless, the biblical texts above (and many others) provide a compelling case that although infants, young children, and the mentally incompetent inherit a sinful nature, that nature alone does not bring God’s judgment and condemnation. God welcomes them into His arms.


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I think this is a great topic that needs more attention. Though I think using the example of the flood goes against your point because I would think that many children died during the flood as a result of their parent’s sin.

    Adam Harwood

    Thanks for your note. The death of any infants during the flood supports my contention that infants can be impacted by the sins of their parents apart from a judgment of their personal guilt. Like the example of David’s son, an infant may lose his physical life as a result of a parent’s sin but that is not the same thing as the imputation of guilt and has no bearing on their eternal destiny.
    In Him,

Steve Martin


ALL people are condemned.

“No one is good, no not one.” “No one seeks for God.” (both from Romans 6)

Everyone needs the Savior. Jesus was pointing out to us that we must “become as these little ones”, because He’s not looking for intellectual assent of a certain level of understanding, but faith…trust in Himself.

Children may not have a great deal of knowledge and may not be able to size everything up and make the correct choices…but they ARE capable of a great deal of trust. Even an infant trusts in the loving arms of it’s mother.

So Jesus has given us this clear example of what we should be like. And we fight it all the way, so that we can keep our so-called “free-will” intact.


    Roman’s 6 does not prove that we are conceived damned. I suggest you read Adam’s book to get up to speed on this.

      Steve Martin


      With all due respect, the text of Scripture says that we are all lost, born in sin, not seeking God, not being “good”, separated from Him. That is certainly made clear in many places in the Bible.

      I’m sure that Adam’s book is a fine book, but the points I have made are biblical truths not open to alteration, in the same way that Calvinists alter the clear Word of Scripture that “God so loved the world”.

      We are “dead in our sins and trespasses”, inherited sin from Adam (the 1st Adam) and that is our condition…each and every person on this planet and all who have gone before us.

      Will Christ Jesus be merciful to infants and others who may not have certain capacities that “normal” sinners have? We certainly hope and pray so. Our God is a loving and gracious God. I pray that every baby who has died or will die, will go right to His side, for eternity.


        Barnes on Romans 5:12

        “All have sinned – To sin is to transgress the law of God; to do wrong. The apostle in this expression does not say that all have sinned in Adam, or that their nature has become corrupt, which is true, but which is not affirmed here; nor that the sin of Adam is imputed to them; but simply affirms that all men have sinned. He speaks evidently of the great universal fact that all men are sinners. He is not settling a metaphysical difficulty; nor does he speak of the condition of man as he comes into the world. He speaks as other men would; he addresses himself to the common sense of the world; and is discoursing of universal, well-known facts. Here is the fact–that all men experience calamity, condemnation, death. How is this to be accounted for? The answer is, “All have sinned.” This is a sufficient answer; it meets the case. And as his design cannot be shown to be to discuss a metaphysical question about the nature of man, or about the character of infants, the passage should be interpreted according to his design, and should not be pressed to bear on that of which he says nothing, and to which the passage evidently has no reference. I understand it, therefore, as referring to the fact that men sin in their own persons, sin themselves–as, indeed, how can they sin in any other way?–and that therefore they die. If men maintain that it refers to any metaphysical properties of the nature of man, or to infants, they should not infer or suppose this, but should show distinctly that it is in the text. Where is there evidence of any such reference? “

Steve Martin

I’m not saying that all babies and mentally handicapped people are going to hell. That is Jesus’ call.

And what kind of a God do we have? Gracious and merciful.

But my point is that we are all “conceived in sin” and need a Savior. There’s no escaping that biblical fact.

    Norm Miller

    Philosophically, Steve, if you open that door, then you can’t reject Dr. Harwood’s premise. I would ask you upon what basis is it Jesus’ call which infant goes to heaven or hell? Do you have a scripture reference? — Norm


I’m sorry. What Biblical truth is being altered?

Steve Martin

Original sin.

(I’m late for work so I’ll be very brief)

Do you mean to tell me that you actually believe that two, or three babies would share their rattle, or their bottle of milk? Are you kidding? They grab it away from the other so fast it makes your head spin.

WE don’t even properly share what we have…and we know better.

Off to the salt mine. Thanks for the discussion. I won’t be back till this afternoon.


    Have a good one, buddy.


    “Do you mean to tell me that you actually believe that two, or three babies would share their rattle, or their bottle of milk? Are you kidding? They grab it away from the other so fast it makes your head spin.”

    I often wonder if Jesus cried to be fed as a baby. Perhaps Mary had him on a schedule so he would not have to remind her to feed or change him.

    Are we so sure that what we are calling sin isn’t really a God given instinct?


      I think Steve is trying to make the point that selfishness is at the root of all sin, and that babies are born selfish. The question at hand, however, is not about the sin nature of all but about wheather a child is damned before she commites her first sin.

        Norm Miller

        First to Lydia: Great point.
        Yes, Donald, you have summarized the point well. As has been made repeatedly and patently clear, Dr. Harwood posits — accurately and biblically, I believe — that we are born with a sin nature, but are not culpable until we actually sin. To my heart and mind, Dr. Harwood has explicated how the Bible settles that matter. — Norm


          Hello Norm,

          “As has been made repeatedly and patently clear, Dr. Harwood posits — accurately and biblically, I believe — that we are born with a sin nature, but are not culpable until we actually sin. To my heart and mind, Dr. Harwood has explicated how the Bible settles that matter.”

          I agree with you here Norm, Harwood’s book is just fantastic. For years I had wished for a single book that I could recommend to people concering the eternal fate of infants: in Harwood’s book I now have that resource.

          I have a mentor who is an extremely intelligent engineer and he has taught me and influenced me into thinking that when considering a problem you have to evaluate the parameters. The parameters are the fixed things regarding the issue. Once you establish or know the parameters, you can then better proceed to deal with the problem.

          And when it comes to the parameters regarding infant salvation. What are some of them?

          A big one is God’s heart when it comes to whom he wants saved. He says explcitly that he desires the salvation of all, that he wants to have mercy on all. All who deny this simple but true principle are denying the very heart of God. God is not a grace restricter as some are (sadly some who profess to know him are some of the worst grace restricters you will ever meet!), instead he loves to lavish his grace on people. So we have to start with the mindset that God is not trying to keep people out of heaven, he wants to get them in there. I am always leery of legalistic types or types who restrict the grace of God to only those who espouse their theology or think like them or agree with them, etc. That is not at all the way God is.

          Another parameter is that all who are born after Adam and Eve are born spiritually dead (which biblically means they are separated from God, no one is born in relationship with God, no one is born a Christian, you have to become one). It is because we are born spiritually dead that with time as our faculties mature we are then able to sin on our own.

          This is why I thought that Harwood makes a very important point in bringing up the BFM words that say we are born inclinded to sin, but not culpuble until we actually do sin. Yes we are born separated from God/out of relationship with God/spiritually dead: but we are not born immediately practicing sin. In order to sin, a minimum amount of rationality needs to be present (we have to know right and wrong, know that we should or should not make a particular choice). Harwood makes this point by distinguishing having a sin nature and being culpuble for personal sin. A baby or mentally disabled person is born spiritually dead, but unless they have the requisite faculties they are not yet culpuble of sin.

          And this brings up something that really, really concerns me. Why are some so quick to condemn and desire to argue so strongly that babies or the mentally disabled are to be condemned from birth? There is something very wrong to me about this mentality.

          Virtually all of us (except of course for those who propose certain theologies) realize that a person ought only be eternally condemned if they have in fact sinned AND if they have refused to repent of their sin once the Holy Spirit has convicted them of their sin and shown them their sinful condition.

          But that is just it, if you have a heart like God, and so desire for all to be saved, then why would you be so quick to condemn people from the moment they are born?

          Don’t you believe that God desires to save all?

          Don’t you believe that God will send his Holy Spirit to convict them of sin, righteousness and judgment once they have the mind to understand these things?

          Why so quick to judge and condemn when all of us are saved by the mercy of God anyway?

          I find it interesting that the gospel records provide us a perfect example of how not to be in the passages that present the Pharisees. They were quick to condemn, quick to judge. They saw themselves as better than the common people. They condemned Jesus for how he hung around the “wrong people”! They were arrogant and convinced they were the chosen ones and they wanted to restrict the grace of God only to themselves and others who thought just like them. They emphasized the outward appearance while God looks at the heart. They were perfectly happy if they were saved and everybody else went to hell. And its interesting that while Jesus himself condemns the Pharisees you never see Jesus condemning the sinners or the common people.

          Why are so many religious people, professing Christians some of the most critical and condemnatory and grace-less people you will ever meet?

          And what about being Christ-like? I love Jesus and its easy to relate to people who are really like him. But some are very religious and yet not at all like the Jesus revealed in the New Testament. Some seem to exult in bible verses that present a negative picture of man (they are quick to run to Romans 3 to tell you their view of man). But Romans 3 is only half the picture, half the story. Paul did not present Romans 3 so we could be happy about how people were sinners. Paul wrote Romans 3 as part of an argument to show that all had sinned and come short of the glory of God and so all were in a desperate condition and needed salvation. In other words Paul pens Romans 3 in order to make the case for the grace of God found in the gospel.

          Paul did not exult in the problem (our sinful condition) instead he exulted in the fact that because God knows our condition and loves us and knows that we cannot save ourselves that the Father sent the Son in order to provide an atonement for the world so that all could be saved.

          In other words Paul spoke of our sinful condition and need for salvation, but exulted in the grace of God for sinners!!!

          When I read some people’s posts they appear to love to point to our sinful condition. But I don’t point to our sinful condition to exult in that, I point to our sinful condition because in order to take the medicine you have to first acknowledge that you are sick. And merely acknowledging that you are sick is not the goal, the goal is to get you healthy.

          One of the things that I really appreciate about Harwood’s book is that he hits all the key parameters. And I believe when you do so, you will conclude as he does, that Yes we are born spiritually dead, but we are not condemned for the sin of Adam we are condemned for our own sins. Which then brings up the issue of when do we sin in such a way that we are then condemned for our sin? And it is clear that the New Testament is very clear that we are condemned for our own sins. No one at the final judgement, who is condemned, will be condemned for Adam’s sin or someone else’s sin. Instead they will be condemned for their own sins. And what will be sad about those condemned is that they will be people who spurned the work of the Spirit in their lives. God will have shown them their sinfulness, shown them the way of salvation through Christ, shown them the need for repentance and faith. And yet they spurned it all, rejected every bit of light that God gave them.


            Norm Miller

            After having read your comment, Robert, I have a sudden urge to take an offering and offer an invitation. — Norm

      Dell Russell

      Amen Lydia!

      Michael Williams

      Why Lydia, have you never read, “The little Lord Jesus no crying He makes?”

      Just kidding.

      I’m sure He did cry!

      I think the point Steve was making was that children are naturally selfish. I do not believe the Lord Jesus was selfish at any stage in His human development.

      God bless.


        “I think the point Steve was making was that children are naturally selfish”

        Is crying to be fed as an infant selfish or an instinct? I can understand why an instinct to cry for feeding by an infant would be considered sin to Calvinist thinking. But I guess we can take it a step further and ask does an infant know it is being selfish when it wants to be fed? (which is basically the same thing) :o)

Steve Martin

Our sin is our ‘condition’. And we get that in the womb (according to Scripture).

Sin(s) are merely the symptom of the main problem.

    Dell Russell

    “Our sin is our ‘condition’. And we get that in the womb (according to Scripture).

    Sin(s) are merely the symptom of the main problem.”

    Hello Steve,
    We are not born sinners, but we are born without God. We are not born broken, but we are born incomplete.

    God created man to be in fellowship with Him and for God to be in the driver seat of our lives, but being born outside of that relationship we are surely bound to sin.
    Scripture says nothing about man being born sinners and twisting scripture to say so does not change that fact. Psalms 51:5 is not saying anything of the sort that we get that from the womb. I believe to be shapen (KJV) or brought forth (other versions) is speaking of the fact that we are born in a world full of sin.
    If Adam and Eve sinned with only one thing not to do while they were in a world with no sin and in a face to face relationship with God, How much the more will we be tempted and fail in a world already full to the brim with sin and born outside of the presence of God?

    We are not born with a sinful nature, we are born without God. Being born without God our spirits are out of proportion to our flesh and the environment in which we live. Our spirit is only able to fully overcome our flesh, world and the Devil’s temptations when we are in that fellowship God created us to be in and that comes after we are born again and walk in the Spirit and not after the flesh.


    “Our sin is our ‘condition’. And we get that in the womb (according to Scripture).”

    Steve, Have you ever wondered how an Incarnate Holy God could live in a womb full of sin that you claim is in there? Was the sin goo suspended for a time in Mary? Or, is it that babies are born with a corrupted body that is dying the minute he/she is born and into a corrupted world?

    EXCEPT for our Savior.

    I fear we take metaphorical poetic language in scripture (man talking to God as in Psalms) and make it a literal law. We had best be careful because there is also this:

    Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did
    on the day Jerusalem fell.
    “Tear it down,” they cried,
    “tear it down to its foundations!”
    8 Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
    happy is the one who repays you
    according to what you have done to us.
    9 Happy is the one who seizes your infants
    and dashes them against the rocks.

    Ps 137 as one example.

    I realize the implications of even uttering such a thing. I will be accused of not believing in original sin, etc, etc.

      carl peterson


      I do not think Steve said that the womb is sinful or that something in the womb makes us sinful. I think his comment was more about a timing issue. We get it before birth.

      But I could turn around your question to him. Lydia, why do you think an incarnate God could live in a body that is full of sin? or was the Lord’s body the only one without sin? Of course Jesus was without sin and was really human with a real body. But it was different than ours in that there was no sin. He lived in a world completely tainted by sin without sin.


        If sin is in the womb as Steve applies the scripture he refers to, then how do you get around my question?

carl peterson

I think Adam’s well thought out article here makes complete sense as ong as you believe “Article 3 of the BFM 2000 explains that all people “inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin.” It continues, “Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation.””

If you believe in a more historical understanding of Scripture (whether right or wrong and I know it has various forms) then you can’t see how much of the article makes much sense. But since Adam is coming from that understanding (not me) then it is a good article.

    Adam Harwood

    Dear Carl,

    Thanks for your note. Your compliment that my article makes sense turns on your remark “as (l)ong as you believe ‘Article 3 of the BFM 2000 explains…'”

    Because you refer to my post as an “article” and also refer to “Article 3” of the BFM, I am unsure what you mean in your comment. I apologize for my failure to understand and ask that you clarify.

    Is it your claim that:
    1) my post does not accurately reflect Article 3 of the BFM?
    2) Article 3 does not accurately reflect “a more historical understanding of Scripture?”
    3) my post does not accurately reflect “a more historical understanding of Scripture?”
    4) both 2 and 3.
    5) Something else.

    I desire to understand your perspective.

    Thank You,

      carl peterson


      I apologize for not being clear. Frist, whathis is what I meant by Article 3 of the BFM 2000. It is what you quoted “people “inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin.” It continues, “Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation.””

      So if one believes in Article 3 of the BFM 2000 then your post is a seemingly natural conclusion.

      If one does not agree with that part of the BFM then they will not agree with your post. I do not agree with that part of the BFM amongst other things so I do not agree with the theological conclusions in this post.

      Also I respectfully argue that Article 3 of the BFM 2000 is different than what most orthodox Christians have taught. This does not mean necesarily that it is wrong. I am only stating that most of the church thorughout history would disagree with it. I do not think it is unorthosox or heresy but I do think it is wrong and that there are negative consequences with believing in it.

      All that being said I am a Calvinist and there are some position and doctrines within Calvinism that I cannot demonstrate historical continuity with the church throughout history. I think Calvinism is closer than what has been labeled as “traditional Baptist” theolgoy to what most of the church has taught though.

      So it was a slight jab or rebuke only. I cannot get into a long discussion on all the reasons why I do not agree with the quoted section of Article 3 of the BFM 2000. Too much work and ministry in my church to do.

      Your a good man Adam. I have a lot of respect for you. I hope anything I have said dos not take away form that. I think we have met before BTW through a mutual friend who is teaching NT at SWBTS Houston. If he likes you then you must be a good guy.



        Adam Harwood


        Thanks for your note. I took no offense and only wanted to clarify.

        So your objection is to that portion of Article 3 which is found in the BFM 1963 and 2000. Understood.

        I learned last summer that you are not alone. Some more-Calvinistic brothers in the SBC regard this portion of Article 3 to reflect a theological downgrade which was not cleaned up during the Conservative Resurgence. I understand but disagree with their view.

        This is an important issue that will likely be discussed in our convention in the coming months–perhaps years.

        Thanks for your words of encouragement. I am sorry that I didn’t recognize your name but would love to reconnect. Please find me on Facebook (see hyperlink on my name above this comment).

        In Him,


          Carl Peterson


          To tell you the truth I had never heard the position in Article 3 ever taught at any SBC church I have have ever gone nor in any of my seminary classes. And I went to a SBC seminary. Maybe it has been my fault for not researching the BFM as much as I should have but that was never how I understood the Baptist (SBC) position.

          “Some more-Calvinistic brothers in the SBC regard this portion of Article 3 to reflect a theological downgrade which was not cleaned up during the Conservative Resurgence.’

          I would not say this. I think it is much different than the moderate and liberal Baptist postitions pre- and post conservative reassurgence. We have much more doctrine in common and some real basics that make real discussion and debate more possible and palatable.

          Just so you know that I am no longer a Baptist but I have tons of good friends that are and many are profs. and otherswho are Baptist (i.e. ex-seminary students, members a large and small SBC churches).

            Adam Harwood


            Thanks for your note. It’s interesting and sad–but not surprising–that you graduated from an SBC seminary still unfamiliar with the BFM. That is meant as an indictment on your seminary, not on you.

            I agree with you, a self-professed former Southern Baptist, that not all people regard that portion of the BFM to reflect a theological downgrade. However, one prominent pastor in the SBC thinks this is the case. Consider the following criticism by Dr. Tom Ascol of the BFM article on sin which was imported into the recent Traditional Statement on Salvation:

            “The 1963 statement (which remains virtually unchanged at this point in the 2000 revision), reflecting the doctrinal downgrade of the SBC in that era that ultimately necessitated the conservative resurgence that began in the next decade, reduces the impact of the fall from leaving man’s nature enslaved to sin to leaving it, along with his environment, “inclined toward sin” (Mark Coppenger addresses this in a helpful article documenting “The Ascent of Lost Man in Southern Baptist Preaching”).”
            Link here:

            In Him,

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