The age of accountability is a teaching in Christianity which posits an age at which children are deemed responsible for their actions. Proponents believe that before this age where sufficient cognitive awareness of self-determined actions is reached, sins and the ensuing punishment is not charged to the unconscious child’s account.
The exact age at which one acquires sufficient cognitive awareness of their actions (which, in turn makes them accountable for their actions) is not known. Jewish tradition holds to it being around the age of 12 (bar mitzvah). Other traditions such as Methodists have confirmation at the age of 13 (a commonly accepted age).
Some passages that lend weight to this teaching are:
- Jonah 4:11 – God seems to compare innocence of the unconscious animals to the children of Nineveh.
- Deuteronomy 1:39 – This is perhaps the clearest affirmation of the doctrine of the age of accountibility as it is a clear charge to the Israelites to teach “your children who do not yet know good from bad”. This verse helps pave the way for the Deuteronomy 6:4
- Isaiah 7:14-16 – Speaks about he complete righteousness of the promised messiah. This verse is especially powerful since it also affirms that children do sin before they are consciously aware of it.
Additionally the following verses give us additional reason to think that:
- Genesis 18:25 God’s judgement are not arbitrary. They are based on conscious and willful disobedience.
- Deuteronomy 24:16, Ezekiel 18:20 God does not charge the sins of the fathers to the children (or vice versa). We are each accountable for our own sins.
- Luke 12:42-48 Our knowledge determines our degree of punishment.