The “Age of Accountability”
In the Bible
Until what age should we continue to train up our children in the way they should go? When are we, as parents, released from this particular intensive duty? Certainly we should always be available to offer advice and support to our grown children, but at what age do our children cease to be children, and become accountable to Yahweh for their own lives and choices? Let us look to the Bible for the answer.
It is often stated in theological discussion, that the Bible does not speak of, nor define, nor even address, an “Age of Accountability” anywhere. Let us examine this position.
First, let us take a look at the definition of accountability in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Liable to being called to account; answerable. See Synonyms at responsible.
That can be explained: and accountable phenomenon.
In the Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary Copyright 1996,1998 MICRA, Inc. it states:
Ac*count’a*bil”i*ty, n. The state of being accountable’liability to be called on to render an account’ accountableness. “The awful idea of accountability.”--R. Hall.
WordNet (registered) 1.6 copyright 1997 Princeton University lists: Accountability, n.: responsibility to someone or for some activity [syn: answerability, answerableness]
The Bible states, in Matthew 12:36,“ But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.
The question is, at what age do we become responsible in this manner to Yahweh for our conduct? When we look in the Torah, we find some interesting instructions directed at a specific group of people. In Leviticus 27:1-4 in the KJV Bible translation (Sacred Names have been inserted) we read:
1 And Yahweh spake unto Moses, saying,2 Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When a man shall make a singular vow, the persons shall be for Yahweh by thy estimation.3 And thy estimation shall be of the male from twenty years old even unto sixty years old, even thy estimation shall be fifty shekels of silver, after the shekel of the sanctuary.4 And if it be a female, then thy estimation shall be thirty shekels.
The passages go on to assign lesser values of estimation to the varying age groups, but to this group is the estimation levied upon.
In Numbers 1:1-4 we read, “1 And Yahweh spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tabernacle of the congregation, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt, saying,2 Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, after their families, by the house of their fathers, with the number of their names, every male by their polls;3 From twenty years old and upward, all that are able to go forth to war in Israel: thou and Aaron shall number them by their armies.4 And with you there shall be a man of every tribe; every one head of the house of his fathers.
Here we see that a person was not eligible to participate in the army unless they had attained a certain age. That age was twenty.
In Numbers 14:26-34 we also read, “26 And Yahweh spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,27 How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, which murmur against me? I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against me.28 Say unto them, As truly as I live, saith Yahweh, as ye have spoken in mine ears, so will I do to you:29 Your carcases shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward which have murmured against me.30 Doubtless ye shall not come into the land, concerning which I sware to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun.31 But your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which ye have despised.32 But as for you, your carcases, they shall fall in this wilderness.33 And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear your whoredoms, until your carcases be wasted in the wilderness.34 After the number of the days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years, and ye shall know my breach of promise.
This is one of the most compelling entries in the Bible for the age of accountability being twenty years old. The adults who murmured against Yahweh were not allowed into the Promised Land, except for Caleb and Yahshua the General, both of whom gave good reports of the spied out land of Canaan. Those men responsible for bringing an evil report about the spied out land, died immediately of the plague, before Yahweh.
In Deuteronomy 24:5 we read, “5 When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business: but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken.This verse is very interesting. It tells us that a man shall not go out to war, which presumes, as we have shown previously, that he must be 20 years old or older. It would seem prudent for a young man to be at least 20 years old then, before he consummates a marriage, and that the happy couple should have one full year to get to know each other and adjust to married life before resuming full responsibilities. It would seem logical that the parents of the twenty year old male shall have helped him prepare to fulfill this directive of a year at home, by saving up money and storing a years worth of provisions for the couple. Further more, preparation and rehearsal for the Sabbatical year should have well prepared them to more easily carry this directive out.
Furthermore, we see no indication in the Bible of an alternative age of accountability. At the age of twelve, when Yahshua was in the Temple, about His Father’s work, he was still accountable to his earthly parents, as evidenced by their returning to look for him and questioning his absence. Thirteen is the age the Jews perform the Bar/Bat mitzvah, but the children remain under their parents tutelage. A search of the Strong’s Concordance of numbers shows no other such compelling evidence of the answer to the original questions posed at the beginning of this tract. The numbers 13 and 18 are not mentioned in such context. The following is from the web site http://www.mnment.com/barmitzvahs/historical.bar.mitzvah.php: The notion of a Bar/Bat Mitzva dates back to the Talmudic period. This concept of Bar Mitzvah is not discussed in the Bible. It is a concept that the Rabbis of the Talmud created perhaps over 2,000 years ago.
The earliest source of which I am aware on this subject is the Mishnah, ca. 200 C.E., where it is taught that thirteen is the age for responsibility for the mitzvot. (Avot 5:23) There were some authorities which held people fully responsible only at the age of 20, but this was a decided minority.
The rabbis determined that a girl at age 12(and one day) and a boy at age 13(and one day- brought to your attention so as not to introduce the fallacy that the Jews really mean from conception-this is their definition also taken from the above site (editor‘s clarification), had reached an age where they were old enough to know right from wrong and should have enough self-discipline to choose to do what is right. Bar- son and daughter- bat mitzva- commandment- you are now legally responsible for fulfilling the commandments which are part of being a Jewish adult. One becomes a Bar or Bat Mitzva upon reaching the age of responsibility. One also gains certain privileges, such as being able to be counted in a prayer quorum- minyan, and being able to recite the blessings at the Torah reading- aliya. Initially, the Bar Mitzva was publicly celebrated by doing this for the first time, perhaps giving a short talk with an explanation of the Torah reading, and one's parents providing juice and cookies following the service. It has only taken on a life of its own in relatively recent times.
We find the preceding to be contrary to what we read in the scriptures.
Society and its humanism and secularism has decided that age 18 is the optimal age to put a child out into the world to fend for itself.
While some children may be exceptions to the rule, generally having a child move out of the house at age 18, shaves off two whole years for the opportunity to reinforce Biblical concepts to the child as they approach the time when they will become an adult. We, personally, would rather look to the scriptures to help us decide the optimal age to expect to hand over full accountability to our children. In light of this information, we surmise that a child should be “around” age 20 to appreciate and accept the responsibility of baptism. The Bible has recorded no accounts of children being baptized, and its silence is compelling. There are plenty of recorded adult baptisms. (Take Yahshua’s for example.) We are certainly not implying that a child does not have a close spiritual relationship with Yahweh before then, but that Yahweh will not hold them “accountable” for wrong actions before then. (Certainly there should be "earthly consequences, by parents, for those wrong actions, they are, indeed, perfect opportunities to reinforce and stress correct actions, based on Torah!) At whatever age you decide is right for your children, it would seem beneficial to see that the child has a clear understanding of what accountability means.
The Laverty Family Ministry-2004