Q: I grew up hearing about the "age of accountability." What is the biblical basis for that principle?
—Randy Bishop, Lombard, Illinois

A: This term refers to the time when individuals become mature enough to be morally responsible for their acts and consciously responsive to God's grace. The term is not found in the Bible, but (like worshiping on Sunday) it is inferred from various Scriptures that seem to speak to the early spiritual consciousness of children and their accountability before God.

Deuteronomy 1:37-40 speaks of God's judgment on the children of Israel who were excluded from the Promised Land because of their rebellion. In this context the Lord says: "And the little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad—they will enter the land" (NIV). This does not mean that these children were innocent; they were included in the provision God made for the Day of Atonement. But their level of accountability was directly related to their moral awareness. We gain further insight into how God deals with children through the example of the young boy Samuel. When the Lord first speaks to him, he mistakes the voice of God for that of Eli for, we are told, "Samuel did not yet know the Lord" (1 Sam. 3:7). With Jeremiah, God's call came even before he was born, but his response was after he had grown to become an understanding child (Jer. 1:4-7). In the New Testament, we are told that Jesus himself "grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men" (Luke 2:52).

Some Christians have based their teaching about the age of accountability on Jesus' encounter with the teachers of the Law when he was ...

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