Tough Text – Psalms 51 & 58
There are passages in the Bible which are sometimes used as “proof texts” to support the many false doctrines that have infected the Christian faith. Psalm 51:5 and Psalm 58:3 are probably two of the most well known of these passages. David wrote the fifty first psalm after being confronted and rebuked by the prophet Nathan for the sin that he had committed with Bathsheba. David wrote “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). David also wrote the fifty eighth Psalm where he was speaking of the wicked of the world. He wrote, “the wicked are estranged from the womb, they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies” (Psalm 58:3). Both of these passages are often used as “proof” that all people are born totally depraved sinners, and are in a lost spiritual condition from the moment they leave their mothers womb.
This false belief is part of the foundational teaching of John Calvin and his “TULIP” doctrine. Calvin believed that all men inherited the guilt of Adam’s sin and are thereby totally depraved from the moment of their birth. The actual name of the doctrine is “total hereditary depravity”. Proponents of Calvinism often refer to the two above passages in support of their belief.
If these two verses teach what the supporters of Calvinism state they teach, then we have a huge problem. That would mean the Bible contradicts itself. The Bible clearly teaches that a person does not inherit the sin (or the guilt of sin) from their father or mother (Deut. 24:16). The Bible teaches, “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself” (Eze. 18:20). We inherited the consequences of Adam’s sin, but not the guilt of it. So what do the two verses in Psalms refer too?
In Psalm 51:5, David was stating that he was born into an environment or atmosphere of sin. He was not saying that he was born guilty of sin. That again would contradict other scriptures. Jesus said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). Consider what the Jews said on Pentecost. They said, “and how is it we hear, each in our own language in which we were born” (Acts 2:8). Those Jews were born in a certain area where a certain language was spoken, but that does not mean they were able to speak that language the very minute they were born does it? In the same sense we can see how David was conceived and then born into an environment of sin, but not that he was born a sinner.
To understand Psalm 58:3, one must simply dig deep into the verse and common sense will bring forth the true meaning. The verse says the “wicked are estranged from the womb”, but it then says they go astray as soon as they are born. Well they have to be in a safe condition to begin with before they can “go astray”. A person cannot go astray unless they are in an upright condition to go astray from. Also notice that David says “they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies”. We must ask how a newborn baby could “speak” a lie and also how a newborn baby would even know what a lie is? All babies are born in a safe saved position, and are not accountable until they sin while understanding what sin is (Deut. 1:39). -Ed