Many people accept the doctrine of the Age of Accountability but among leaders who advocate for this there is little to any agreement and most will throw up their hands and say, “The Scriptures are silent” adding something about it being “when the child can understand.” Others set arbitrary dates or ages based on when the average child seems to be able to come to asking Jesus into their heart.
But the Scripture isn’t silent about this topic — it’s quite clear. It’s not called “The Age of Accountability” in the Bible, but it’s definitely talked about in two specific contexts. And what is amazing to me as I have studied this is how concretely the stages of development fit into the picture of the maturing child as they grow towards the age of accountability.
I also want to preface with saying that the age of accountability has nothing to do with when a child is able to have a relationship with God or invite Jesus to enter their hearts and lives. That can happen as young as it happens. In fact, we are told that we must come to Jesus “as a little child” and that “the Kingdom of God is like a little child”. Starting a relationship with God is different, however, from arriving at the age where God holds us accountable for our choices and our sins.
After much careful study and searching of Scripture I believe the age of accountability to be 21. As I mentioned, there are two specific Biblical texts that speak to this. The first is after the Exodus when the Israelites refused, out of fear and a lack of faith, to enter the Promised Land. God declared that all those 21 and older had to die before the next generation could enter the Promised Land-and for this they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. Everyone 21 and older was held accountable for the sin of disobedience and a lack of faith. Everyone 20 and under was not. The second is found in the regulations surrounding the sin offering which was given each year. The man who was the head of the household was required to offer the sin offering on behalf of himself and his sons until the age of 21 at which point they were responsible for offering their own annual sin offering. Until that age the father was accountable before God for their sins, after that age it was the son himself who stood accountable.