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Question:

"If a baby dies, does it automatically go to heaven?"

Answer:

Many people believe that if a child dies before reaching an "age of accountability," that child will go to heaven. The idea is that infants and young children are not mature enough to understand about sin and about Jesus' sacrifice for our sins, and therefore they are not held accountable for sin. Scripture seems to support this idea.

First let me lay a quick foundation to help us understand some of the concepts involved here. Pastors, Bible teachers, etc., sometimes say that Christians are "spiritually alive," and non-Christians are "spiritually dead." However, these terms can be misleading unless we understand what they really mean. Recall that the Bible says that God is a spirit (John 4:24), and we are told that humans were created in God's image (Genesis 1:26-27). Even though we all have a physical body while we live on the physical earth, all humans have a spirit because we were made in God's image. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 says that we are made up of "spirit, soul and body." Your body is aware of the physical world around you, your spirit is aware of God within you, and everything else is your soul, which is aware of "self." Pastors and Bible teachers often describe the soul as being made up of your mind (what you think), your will (what you want), and your emotions (what you feel). Every human, whether Christian or non-Christian, is made up of a body, a soul, and a spirit.

When we say that non-Christians have a spirit but they are "spiritually dead," this is not intended to mean that they are dragging around a dead "spirit corpse" everywhere they go. The Bible never says that a spirit can die, whether it's a demonic spirit, an angelic spirit, a human spirit, or God's Spirit. Some people might disagree with this statement based on their view of what will happen to sinners after they are cast into the Lake of Fire, because some people believe that sinners will eventually be totally annihilated (in which case their spirits would presumably be dead). However, my article called Will Sinners Burn in Hell Forever? shows that sinners will be in torment for all eternity. Their spirits will never die nor become "annihilated."

Again, the Bible never says that a spirit can die. Being spiritually dead really means being separated from the life that is in Christ. For example, notice how Jesus defined eternal life:
John 17:3: "Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent."
In the above passage, Jesus defined eternal life in terms of a relationship with God. Notice that "eternal life" does not simply mean "existing eternally," because even the unrighteous people throughout history will exist eternally (eternal anguish in the Lake of Fire). All humans will exist eternally because our spirits can never die or be snuffed out of existence. However, only the righteous will have "life" eternally, because we will be in a relationship with God.

Notice that once again Jesus said that He is the "life," and once again He put this in the context of a relationship with God:
John 14:6: "Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
John 14:7: "If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.""
The apostle John also tells us over and over that eternal life involves remaining in the Son and in the Father:
1 John 1:1: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched--this we proclaim concerning the Word of life."
1 John 1:2: "The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us."

1 John 2:24: "See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father."
1 John 2:25: "And this is what he promised us--even eternal life."

1 John 5:11: "And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son."
1 John 5:12: "He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life."

1 John 5:20: "We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true--even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life."
To summarize so far, all humans have a spirit, and all humans will exist eternally (because our spirits cannot die). The phrase, "eternal life," does not simply mean "existing eternally," it means remaining in a relationship with God eternally. All unrighteous people throughout history will exist eternally, but they will be in anguish because they will be denied that fellowship with God. What it boils down to is that a "spiritually dead" person does not have the life of Christ in him, and therefore he will not go to heaven if he dies in that state. Similarly, if a person will go to heaven when he dies then by definition he is "spiritually alive" because he has a relationship and fellowship with God. There is no such thing in the Bible as a person going to hell who is not "spiritually dead," and there is no such thing in the Bible as a person going to heaven who is not "spiritually alive." Those things go together. Therefore, if infants will go to heaven then by definition they are "spiritually alive."

Now, before people place their faith in Jesus for salvation, they are "lost" or "unrighteous" or "sinners," and they will end up in the Lake of Fire (i.e. hell) if they die in that state. They are "spiritually dead." But when they trust in Christ for salvation, notice what happens to them. They are "born of God" (John 1:12-13), they are "born again" (John 3:3), the Spirit "gives birth to spirit" within them (John 3:6), they are "born of the Spirit" (John 3:8), they become "a new creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17), they become "a new creation" (Galatians 6:14-15), they "put on the new self" (Colossians 3:9-10, Ephesians 4:22-24), they are given "new birth" (1 Peter 1:3), they are "born again" (1 Peter 1:23), they are "born of God" (1 John 5:1), and so on.

In other words, when we receive salvation through faith in Christ then we receive the new birth. We are born again. We have new life. We are "spiritually alive" and we will go to heaven when we die.

Okay, now that we have a better idea of what it means to be spiritually alive or spiritually dead, notice that the apostle Paul said that he "died" as a result of becoming aware of sin, and notice that he was alive until that happened (verse 9):
Romans 7:1: "Do you not know, brothers--for I am speaking to men who know the law--that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives [zao in the Greek]?"
Romans 7:2: "For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive [zao in the Greek], but if her husband dies [apothnesko in the Greek], she is released from the law of marriage."
Romans 7:3: "So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive [zao in the Greek], she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies [apothnesko in the Greek], she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man." ...
Romans 7:9: "Once I was alive [zao in the Greek] apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died [apothnesko in the Greek]."
In verse 9 (above), notice that Paul didn't say, "Once I was happy apart from law," and he didn't say, "Once I was at peace in my conscience apart from law," and so on. Paul said, "Once I was alive apart from law," and then he said that he "died" when he learned of the commandments. In verses 1 to 3 (above), Paul talked about individual people being alive or dead, and then in verse 9 (above) he talked about being alive and being dead using the same Greek words as in verses 1 to 3. In verse 9 (above) he was talking about his own personal death. When Paul said that he died, he obviously didn't die physically because he wouldn't have been able to write the above passage. So if he died, but he didn't die physically, then we tend to say that he died "spiritually," meaning that he would not have gone to heaven and would not have had eternal life with Christ if he had physically died in that state. Here's what a prominent Bible commentary says about this verse:
"Evidently the apostle was speaking of his personal experience as a child and perhaps even a youth prior to his awareness and understanding of the full impact of God's commandments. ... The result was that the principle of sin within made its presence and power known (it sprang to life) in his violations of the commandment. As a result Paul died spiritually" (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Walvoord and Zuck, Dallas Theological Seminary, p.466-467, emphasis added)
According to Paul's example, we were all "alive" in some sense as children until sin "sprang to life" within us through an awareness or understanding of sin. At that point we "died." This further supports the view that infants and young children are spiritually alive and will go to heaven if they die.

Now, when Paul said, "when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died" (Romans 7:9, above), some people argue that he was probably saying that sin sprang to life and mankind died spiritually at the time of Moses when the commandments were issued. However, there are a couple of reasons why this argument doesn't work. For one thing, the time of Moses is not when sin sprang up and man became spiritually dead. Notice that before he wrote Romans 7:9 (above), Paul had already explained that sin sprang up at the time of Adam:
Romans 5:12: "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned--"
Romans 5:13: "for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law."
Romans 5:14: "Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come."
So when people argue that sin "sprang to life" when Moses brought the commandments to the Israelites, this argument creates a contradiction. Notice that either sin originally sprang to life in Adam's time, or else sin originally sprang to life in Moses' time. We can't have it both ways!

The reason why that argument creates a contradiction is because it tries to interpret Paul's statement in Romans 7:9 ("when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died") as being a general statement about mankind rather than a personal statement about Paul. But notice the immediate context of Paul's statement. In Romans 7:7-8 Paul said that he learned what coveting is through the Law, and that this produced every kind of covetous desire in him. Paul was speaking of himself personally, and notice that he continued to speak of himself when he said that he died:
Romans 7:7: "What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, "Do not covet.""
Romans 7:8: "But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead."
Romans 7:9: "Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died."
Romans 7:10: "I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death."
Romans 7:11: "For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death."
Romans 7:12: "So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good."
Romans 7:13: "Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful."
Romans 7:14: "We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin."
Romans 7:15: "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do."
Romans 7:16: "And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good."
Romans 7:17: "As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me."
Romans 7:18: "I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out."
Romans 7:19: "For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing."
Romans 7:20: "Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it."
Romans 7:21: "So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me."
Romans 7:22: "For in my inner being I delight in God's law;"
Romans 7:23: "but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members."
Romans 7:24: "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?"
Romans 7:25: "Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin."
The point here is that the immediate context both before and after Romans 7:9 is all about Paul himself. It is not about sin springing to life in Moses' time. Again, Paul's example demonstrates that we were all "alive" in some sense as children until sin "sprang to life" within us through an awareness or understanding of sin. At that point we "died" (not physically, but spiritually). Notice that if we died spiritually at some point in our lives, then we must have been alive spiritually before then (as infants and young children).

Here's another example. Notice that the Bible says that we were all dead in our sins before we received salvation:
Ephesians 2:1-2: "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,
Ephesians 2:2: "in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient."

Colossians 2:13: "When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ."
So we were all dead in our sins before we accepted Christ as our Savior. But consider that an inanimate object such as a rock can never be dead because it was never alive in the first place. So if we were spiritually dead in our sins, the implication is that we must have been spiritually alive before we died. This supports the idea that babies and young children will go to heaven if they die before they reach an "age of accountability," because they are spiritually alive before sin "springs to life" within them.

In a similar way, Adam and Eve were spiritually alive before the Fall:
Genesis 2:15: "The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it."
Genesis 2:16: "And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden;"
Genesis 2:17: "but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.""
According to this passage, when Adam and Eve ate the fruit, they died. They did not die physically, because they lived for several hundred years and had a number of children after being banished from the Garden of Eden. Instead, they died spiritually, just as Paul said that he had died spiritually when sin "sprang to life" within him (Romans 7:9 , above). Since Adam and Eve died spiritually at that point (when sin "sprang to life" within them), this means that they were spiritually alive before they ate the fruit.

All of these examples demonstrate that people are spiritually alive (as infants and young children) until sin "springs to life" within them, causing them to die spiritually. The Bible does not say at what age this happens (and possibly it happens at different ages for different people since everyone matures at a different rate), but the Bible does say that we need the new birth through Christ in order to receive spiritual life again.

Now, here's something else to consider. Jesus said that we must become "like little children" in order to enter the kingdom of heaven:
Matthew 18:3: "And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children [paidion], you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."
Matthew 18:4: "Therefore, whoever humbles himself [tapeinoo] like this child [paidion] is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."
Matthew 18:5: ""And whoever welcomes a little child [paidion] like this in my name welcomes me."
Matthew 18:6: "But if anyone causes one of these little ones [mikros] who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea."

Matthew 19:14: "Jesus said, "Let the little children [paidion] come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.""
The Greek word for "little children" in these verses is paidion, which means "a little child, either male or female" (The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament, Spiros Zodhiates, p.1089). In verse 4 (above) we are told that whoever "humbles himself" like a child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, and the Greek word for "humbles" (tapeinoo) means "to bring low, to humble" (The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament, Spiros Zodhiates, p.1366). These "low, humble" people who believe in Jesus and are like little children are mentioned by the Greek word mikros in verse 6 (above), which means "low, humble" (The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament, Spiros Zodhiates, p.986). Now, notice in the above passages that Jesus did not say, "unless you change and become like murderers, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." We would not expect Jesus to say such a thing because unrepentant murderers are excluded from heaven (1 John 3:15, Revelation 21:8, 22:14-15). Since Jesus said that we must become like little children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven, the implication is that little children are not excluded from heaven for any reason. This further supports the view that infants and young children are spiritually alive and will go to heaven if they die.

Here are several more interesting passages:
John 9:41: "Jesus said, "If you were blind [tuphlos], you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.""

Deuteronomy 1:39: "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. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it."

Isaiah 7:14: "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel."
Isaiah 7:15: "He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right."
Isaiah 7:16: "But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste."
In John 9:41 (above), Jesus said that those who are "blind" are not guilty of sin, and He used the Greek word tuphlos which means "being blind, ignorant, stupid, slow of understanding" (The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament, Spiros Zodhiates, p.1400, John 9:41). This refers to people who are ignorant of sin rather than those who are physically blind, which means that infants and young children (who are too young to understand about sin) are not guilty of sin. In Deuteronomy 1:39 (above) we see a reference to children who were too young to know good from bad. This demonstrates that young children are ignorant of sin, and Jesus said that those who are ignorant of sin are not guilty of sin (John 9:41, above). In Isaiah 7:14-16 (above) we see once again that there is a period when young children are ignorant of sin, and therefore they are spiritually blind and not guilty of sin (John 9:41, above).

Some people also use the following verse as evidence that infants automatically go to heaven:
2 Samuel 12:23: "But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.""
The above passage describes King David's grief over the death of his infant son. The argument here is that David said that he will go to be with his son, which implies that his son must be in heaven because it is clear that David would be in heaven (for example, God says that David was a man after His own heart - Acts 13:22). However, this is probably reading too much into this verse. The ancient Jews had the concept of Sheol, which was "the place of departed spirits" or simply "the grave." Every dead person went to Sheol. Therefore, David was probably just saying that one day he too would go to Sheol, where his son went.


Now, sometimes people assume that infants are born spiritually dead based on passages such as Psalms 51:5:
Psalms 51:5: "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me."
Notice that this verse does not say, "Surely I was born spiritually dead," so people are making an assumption that this verse means that infants are born spiritually dead. The problem with this argument is that sin and spiritual death are two different things. Remember, every Christian is spiritually alive, and yet every Christian commits sins due to the sin nature which we inherited from Adam, as these examples show:
1 John 1:8: "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us."
1 John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."
1 John 1:10: "If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives."

Romans 7:14: "We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin."
Romans 7:15: "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do."
Romans 7:16: "And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good."
Romans 7:17: "As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me."
Romans 7:18: "I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out."
Romans 7:19: "For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing."
Romans 7:20: "Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it."
Romans 7:21: "So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me."
Romans 7:22: "For in my inner being I delight in God's law;"
Romans 7:23: "but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members."
Romans 7:24: "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?"
Romans 7:25: "Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin."
Every Christian is spiritually alive, yet the above passages show that every Christian commits sins because of the sin nature which was passed down to us from Adam's Fall. Therefore, it is erroneous to make a statement such as, "having Adam's sin means that infants are born spiritually dead." That is a false statement. For example, if that were a true statement then all Christians must be spiritually dead because all Christians still have the sin of Adam within them. We were born with Adam's sin in us, and as Christians we still have Adam's sin in us. That never changes. The curse or the penalty for sin was removed when we received salvation, but the "sinful nature" is still with us and we still commit sins, as we saw above. So if Christians are not spiritually dead even though we have Adam's sin in us, then we can't say, "Infants are born spiritually dead because they have Adam's sin in them." Therefore, Psalms 51:5 (above) does not prove that infants are born spiritually dead.

Sometimes people also use passages such as Romans 5:12-15 to argue that infants are born spiritually dead:
Romans 5:12: "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned--"
Romans 5:13: "for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law."
Romans 5:14: "Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come."
Romans 5:15: "But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!"
However, notice what the above passage actually says. Verse 12 says that sin entered the world through Adam, and death through sin, and death spread to all men because all sinned. Verse 14 says that death reigned from Adam to Moses, and verse 15 says that by the one man's offense many died, and so on. Sometimes people argue that this passage means that we were all born spiritually dead, but they are assuming that these verses are referring to spiritual death. However, many Bible scholars interpret the above passage as meaning physical death, which is why this passage is often used to refute evolution (because the above passage says that there was no death before the Fall, which contradicts the theory of evolution). But for the sake of discussion, let's pretend that Paul was referring to spiritual death. Notice that this passage does not say that we are born in a spiritually dead state. If Paul was referring to spiritual death, then all he said was that spiritual death came because of sin, and that spiritual death spread to all people because everyone sins. This doesn't prove the argument that we are born spiritually dead, it simply means that at some point we become spiritually dead. In fact, if Paul was referring to spiritual death in the above passage then notice that verse 15 specifically says that "many died," which would imply that they were in a state of being spiritually alive but then they became spiritually dead, which is exactly how Paul described himself in Romans 7:9 (as we saw earlier). So this passage does not prove that infants are born spiritually dead.


Conclusion

The Bible does not specifically tell us where infants and little children go when they die, but the Scriptural evidence leads me to believe that they all go to heaven if they have not yet reached an "age of accountability" (which is possibly a different age for different children since everyone matures at a different rate).

As we saw, all humans have a spirit, and all humans will exist eternally (because our spirits cannot die). The phrase, "eternal life," does not simply mean "existing eternally," it means remaining in a relationship with God eternally. All unrighteous people throughout history will exist eternally, but they will be in anguish because they will be denied that fellowship with God. What it boils down to is that a "spiritually dead" person does not have the life of Christ in him, and therefore he will not go to heaven if he dies in that state. Similarly, if a person will go to heaven when he dies then by definition he is "spiritually alive" because he has a relationship and fellowship with God. There is no such thing in the Bible as a person going to hell who is not "spiritually dead," and there is no such thing in the Bible as a person going to heaven who is not "spiritually alive." Those things go together. Therefore, if infants will go to heaven then by definition they are "spiritually alive."

This does not mean that infants are sinless, it means that God's grace through Jesus' blood is "covering" infants and young children until they are old enough to understand and be held accountable.

As we saw, being "spiritually dead" means being unable to have a relationship with God. If you have ever been around young children from Christian families, you have probably seen that they have no problem believing in God and praying to God and trusting God and talking to God and so on. Faith and having a relationship with God are not a problem for little children. And remember, Jesus said that we must become like them (like little children), because little children have no problem with faith. They are not "spiritually dead" (unable to have a relationship with God).

However, this brings up an interesting question. If the Bible says that everyone must believe in Jesus in order to go to heaven, then how can babies go to heaven when they are too young to believe in Jesus? In order to answer this question, let's think about why we must believe in Jesus for salvation. Remember, Jesus died on the cross in order to atone for our sins, and when we put our faith in Jesus as our living Lord and Savior then our sins are wiped from our record. In other words, we need to believe in Jesus because God is holding us accountable for our sins. If we don't put our faith in Jesus then our sins (our sin nature) will send us to hell. But what we have seen in this article is that God does not hold infants and young children accountable for sin. Therefore, since infants and young children have no sins on their record (because God is not holding them accountable), then they do not need to believe in Jesus in order to wipe their slates clean. Their slates are already clean until they reach an "age of accountability." The point here is that infants can't believe in Jesus because they don't have that level of awareness and understanding yet. That's why the Scriptural evidence indicates that God does not hold them accountable.


I hope this has been helpful, and may the Lord abundantly bless you as you study His Word!
 
 
 
  Modification History  
 
 

  • 12/07/2005 - Modified some of the wording throughout the article, added an answer to the argument that Paul was referring to the time of Moses in Romans 7:9, added an explanation of Psalms 51:5, and added an explanation of Romans 5:12-15, modified the Conclusion section.
  • 05/20/2005 - Modified some of the wording throughout the article, added an extensive explanation of what it means to be "spiritually alive" or "spiritually dead," and added a description of 2 Samuel 12:23.
  • 10/13/2003 - Added a paragraph in the Conclusion section to answer the question of how babies can go to heaven when they are not able to believe in Jesus for salvation.
  • 02/26/2003 - Added some comments on Matthew 18:3-6, 19:14, John 9:41, Deuteronomy 1:39, and Isaiah 7:14-16.
  • 05/22/2001 - Modified some of the wording.