‘Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me (Ps. 51:5)
This verse concerns two people – King David and his mother*). No one else is spoken about so we can’t assume that all the people in the world are referred to here. The event spoken of is the conception of David and not the birth of David, and David is not saying that he was born as a sinner but possibly that his mother was in sin when she got pregnant. It could very well be that she was sinning when she conceived him, and a case could be made that this verse is talking about the defilement of David’s mother – because she was previously the wife (or concubine) of a heathen king.
The book of psalms is a poetic book and this means that it can be taken literally or figuratively depending on the context, so we must therefore be careful so we won’t end up starting a new doctrine based on pure poetry. It’s never a good idea to take a verse from Psalms, Proverbs or other poetic texts, to make a doctrine out of it which is contrary to other more clear verses in the Bible. We can reach all kinds of crazy conclusions with such methods. This particular verse in Psalms has often been used as an attempt to prove that David and ALL people under the sun are born in sin, but it fails miserably.
Some facts concerning David and his mother
David had two half-sisters (1 Chron. 2:13-16), and their father was not Jesse but Nahash (2 Sam. 17:25) who was an Ammonite king (1 Sam. 11:1). David’s mother might have been a second wife of Jesse. Perhaps the first wife of Jesse was considered superior to his second wife, because this would explain why David’s half brothers viewed themselves as superior to David and why David was not called before Samuel among the other sons – as he was possibly viewed as an illegitimate child (1 Sam. 16:11). We can speculate further that perhaps David’s mother was not married to Jesse when she became pregnant, or maybe she was still the concubine of, or married to Nahash when she conceived David. Moreover, we can’t rule out that it might be as per this story, reminding us about Jacob and Leah + her sister Rachel. If this story is applicable, then Jesse is indeed David’s father without even knowing it due to a sneaky plan carried out by his wife, and David’s brothers would regard him as an illegitimate and hated son of their mother. Either way, this poetic psalm simply cannot be used as support for that man is born with a sinful nature.
Psalm 69:8 I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother’s children.— 19 Thou hast known my reproach, and my shame, and my dishonour: mine adversaries are all before thee.—21 They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.22 Let their table become a snare before them: and that which should have been for their welfare, let it become a trap.
David was not blaming his sin on his birth, but he was simply stating that even the circumstances related to his birth were surrounded by sin, and he also says that he was ”wonderfully” and ”marvelously” made by God in the womb (Ps. 139:13-14). David is in Psalms 51 speaking to the Lord but he is not trying to ask God for forgiveness for that he (David) had the nerve to be born with a sinful nature – because that would hardly be David’s fault. On the contrary, sin at birth would be something that he could blame God for IF it were true – which it isn’t.
Psalms 51 starts out saying
Psalm 51:1 Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out MY transgressions.2 Wash me throughly from MINE iniquity, and cleanse me from MY sin.3 For I acknowledge MY transgressions: and MY sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.
If a person has an intimate relationship and conceives against the law of God, whose sin is it? The person who conceives or the baby that is conceived? Clearly it’s the former since the one being conceived doesn’t have any choice in the matter – which our righteous God is well aware of. We are sinners when we break the law of God, and it’s not a sin to be conceived or to be born into this world – neither is it evil.
Psalms 51 goes on to say:
Psalm 51:7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice…
Few would read this in a LITERAL sense. Can hyssop really make our sins go away, and can broken bones rejoice? Poetry might speak the whole truth or it might mirror the truth poetically. David was in jeopardy of losing the Spirit, because God had broken the covenant with him:.
Psalm 51:11 ”Cast me not away from thy presence; AND TAKE NOT THY HOLY SPIRIT FROM ME.”
In Ps. 51:14 David is talking about ”bloodguiltyness”, and it’s possible that he compares himself with his mother who also sinned in a similar way during his conception. This could explain his comparison with his mother in the previous verses.
Also compare with these verses:
Psalm 22:9 But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts.10 I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother’s belly. Psalm 139:14 I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.
None of the early church fathers the first 250+ years AD (with no exception) taught that man is born with a sinful nature (which you can read in this article with quotes from Ignatius, Irenaeus, etc) and the popularity of the idea of original sin can actually be traced back to Augustine (a former gnostic) and blamed on him. If neither the Bible nor the old church fathers taught original sin, but the contrary, we know we are on the wrong path if we still teach it.
Do read my blog post about Romans 5 (and the non-existent sinful nature) in this article
*) According to Midrashim, King David’s mother was Nitzebet.‘
source: Annika Björk (bjorkbloggen). (The latter links take you to her website.)