FairMormon is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing well-documented answers to criticisms of the doctrine, practice, and history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Question: Does the Book of Mormon contradict the Bible regarding when are children capable of sin?
Question: Does the Book of Mormon contradict the Bible regarding when are children capable of sin?
"Listen to the words of Christ, your Redeemer, your Lord and your God. Behold, I came into the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; the whole need no physician, but they that are sick; wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it hath no power over them...."
"Anyone who thinks that children under age eight cannot sin has not visited the classrooms of today's schools."
—Walter Martin 
The critics' claim requires us to accept the morally repulsive idea that God condemns little babies or children to eternal torment for something that is no fault of their own
- The Bible is claimed to contradict the Book of Mormon teaching that children cannot sin under eight years of age.
- The Bible is claimed to place sin at the point of conception.
- Walter Martin writes, "Anyone who thinks that children under age eight cannot sin has not visited the classrooms of today's schools." 
If the critics' position is accepted, then we must agree that:
- children are guilty of sin from the moment they are born
- anyone who sins and does not accept Jesus in the manner which He prescribed must be damned
- those who are damned suffer in hell for all eternity
Thus, the critics' claim requires us to accept the morally repulsive idea that God condemns little babies or children to eternal torment for something that is no fault of their own (being born) simply because they have not yet done something which they cannot yet do (accept Jesus).
(It should be noted that moral responsibility for sin is not an all-or-nothing thing in LDS theology. After age eight, LDS scripture says that "power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable before me" [DC 29:47, italics added]. Full moral responsibility is developed on a continuum.)
The critics' scriptures
The critics use the following scriptures as "evidence" that sin occurs at conception and that children under age eight are guilty of sin:
- Scripture #1: Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: 13 (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. 15 But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. (Romans 5:12-15)
- Scripture #2 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: 11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. 12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. (Romans 3:10-12)
- Scripture #3: Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me. (Psalm 51:5)
Response to the critics' reading of scripture
Scripture #1: This scripture teaches only that Adam sinned and brought the fall upon all humanity. The LDS agree with this doctrine—but deny that this means that infants and children are damned. Without the atonement of Christ, all would be damned and lost forever as the Book of Mormon teaches:
- 8 O the wisdom of God, his mercy and grace! For behold, if the flesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God, and became the devil, to rise no more.
- 9 And our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself; yea, to that being who beguiled our first parents, who transformeth himself nigh unto an angel of light, and stirreth up the children of men unto secret combinations of murder and all manner of secret works of darkness.
- 10 O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit. (2 Nephi 9:8-10)
But, thanks to the grace of Christ (as Paul emphasizes in Romans 5), no one is damned for Adam's sins.
'Scripture #2: This teaches that all are sinners, and none can merit God's presence. The Latter-day Saints agree—the Book of Mormon teaches this doctrine clearly:
- And now remember, my son, if it were not for the plan of redemption, (laying it aside) as soon as they were dead their souls were miserable, being cut off from the presence of the Lord. And now, there was no means to reclaim men from this fallen state, which man had brought upon himself because of his own disobedience....And thus we see that all mankind were fallen, and they were in the grasp of justice; yea, the justice of God, which consigned them forever to be cut off from his presence. And now, the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also. (Alma 42:11-12,14-15).
All 'are sinners, and all are damned without the atonement of Christ. But, thanks to the atonement of Christ, mercy is offered. And, the Latter-day Saints believe that this mercy includes mercy extended to little children and other innocents who cannot willfully sin. Without the atonement, even they would not be saved:
- And even if it were possible that little children could sin they could not be saved; but I say unto you they are blessed; for behold, as in Adam, or by nature, they fall, even so the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins (Mosiah 3:16).
So, the critics have provided an accurate state of affairs—IF there was no atonement of Christ.
Scripture #3: The critics wish to make this scripture into an affirmation that the act of conception places original sin upon a newborn child.
This understanding of original sin was not taught in the early Christian church; it is a later innovation.
The Psalm cited goes on to say that "thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise" (Psalms 51:16-17).
So, God desires a repentant heart and spirit—yet, what if a baby or child cannot yet provide this because they are not capable of moral thought or genuine repentance? Are we to conclude that they are damned forever?
The critics miss several vital scriptures about Christ's attitude toward little children
In their haste to condemn children as damnable sinners from the moment of conception or birth, the critics miss several vital scriptures about Christ's attitude toward them:
- Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3).
- Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:13-14).
- And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them (Mark 10:13-16).
- And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them: but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God (Luke 18:15-16).
It seems perverse to argue that Jesus' clear love of little children, and his holding them up as an example to believers, is evidence that they are damned from the moment of their conception. That the critics' reading of scripture must lead them to ignore the clear import of these passages ought to strike them as irrefutable evidence that their thinking has gone badly astray.
The Book of Mormon teaches the same view of little children as Jesus does
The Book of Mormon teaches the same view of little children as Jesus does:
- And even if it were possible that little children could sin they could not be saved; but I say unto you they are blessed; for behold, as in Adam, or by nature, they fall, even so the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins....the infant perisheth not that dieth in his infancy; but men drink damnation to their own souls except they humble themselves and become as little children, and believe that salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent....none shall be found blameless before God, except it be little children, only through repentance and faith on the name of the Lord God Omnipotent (Mosiah 3:16,18,21).
- And little children also have eternal life (Mosiah 15:25).
- Jesus blesses the little children (3 Nephi 17:).
Martin's rather snide aside completely misses the whole thrust of LDS doctrine on this topic. The Latter-day Saints do not believe that those under eight cannot do wrong, or that they do not make wrong choices which violate the will of God. Clearly, many can and do.
LDS doctrine, however, holds simply that in an act of universal grace, Christ has declared that no one who sins before age eight will be held accountable for their crimes. Thus, when LDS scripture says that little children "cannot sin," this means that the acts which they do are not considered as sin, are not due to Satan's tempting influence, and have no impact on their standing before God. Without Christ's atonement, such acts would assuredly be sins, but by His grace they are not.
It is telling that sectarian anti-Mormon critics—who are often quick to attack the Latter-day Saints for "neglecting" the doctrine of Christ's grace—also criticize Latter-day Saint theology for extending that same grace universally to infants and children.
FairMormon believes that the words of the Book of Mormon provide a fitting rebuke for the ungodly and repulsive doctrine of a child's guilt before God. (In In the Book of Mormon, to accept Christ is to be baptized, so this concept is inserted parenthetically.)
- And their little children need no repentance, neither baptism [accepting Christ]. Behold, baptism [accepting Christ] is unto repentance to the fulfilling the commandments unto the remission of sins. But little children are alive in Christ, even from the foundation of the world; if not so, God is a partial God, and also a changeable God, and a respecter to persons; for how many little children have died without baptism [accepting Christ]! Wherefore, if little children could not be saved without baptism [accepting Christ], these must have gone to an endless hell. Behold I say unto you, that he that supposeth that little children need baptism [need to accept Christ to be saved] is in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; for he hath neither faith, hope, nor charity; wherefore, should he be cut off while in the thought, he must go down to hell. For awful is the wickedness to suppose that God saveth one child because of baptism [accepting Christ], and the other must perish because he hath no baptism....Little children cannot repent; wherefore, it is awful wickedness to deny the pure mercies of God unto them, for they are all alive in him because of his mercy. And he that saith that little children need baptism [to accept Christ to be saved] denieth the mercies of Christ, and setteth at naught the atonement of him and the power of his redemption. Wo unto such, for they are in danger of death, hell, and an endless torment. I speak it boldly; God hath commanded me. Listen unto them and give heed, or they stand against you at the judgment–seat of Christ. For behold that all little children are alive in Christ, and also all they that are without the law. For the power of redemption cometh on all them that have no law; wherefore, he that is not condemned, or he that is under no condemnation, cannot repent; and unto such baptism [or accepting Christ] availeth nothing—But [this teaching] is mockery before God, denying the mercies of Christ, and the power of his Holy Spirit....(Moroni 8:11-15,19-23).