Does Psalm 51:5 say Babies are Born Guilty?

By Royce Frederick

In Psalm 51:5, David writes, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.” Is he teaching that all babies are born guilty of sin? First, notice that he is not talking about all babies. He says, “I” and “me.”

David is using a tool of language called “hyperbole” (pronounced “high-per-buh-lee”). It is from “hyper” (over or beyond) and “ballein” (to throw). Hyperbole is exaggeration for emphasis. It is a statement which goes far beyond the facts to draw attention to the real message.

Hyperbole is often used today. For example, a mother tells her son, “I’ve told you a million times not to hit your sister!” She is greatly over-stating the facts, but she is not deceiving anyone. The true message is clear and emphatic.

Luke uses hyperbole: “For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17:21). Does that mean no one in Athens cooked, ate, slept, bought vegetables, or did any other work? Certainly not. Luke uses hyperbole to emphasize the fact that people in Athens devoted an extreme. amount of time to telling and hearing new things.

David uses hyperbole in another psalm: “The wicked are estranged from the womb; They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies” (Ps. 58:3). Have you ever heard a baby talk on the day it was born? A newborn baby cannot tell lies — or even say one word. David uses hyperbole to emphasize the true message that these people have been wicked for a very long time. Notice that he does not say they are born guilty. He says, “They go astray” — after they are born.

David committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband, Uriah (2 Sam. 11). In Psalm 51, he is confessing his evil deeds and telling God how deeply sorrowful he is. He is pouring out the feelings of a broken, contrite heart (a “bruised” heart): “...I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight...” (51:3-4). “Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God…” (51:14). He is not saying he inherited sin from Adam or from anyone else. He is not blaming other people. He is doing the exact opposite — accepting all the blame and guilt. He is confessing his own evil deeds. He uses hyperbole in verse 5 to emphasize that he is a very, very bad, sinful person.

We need the same kind of sorrow for our sins. That is what leads us to repentance and the joy of salvation (2 Cor. 7:10; Acts 2:38; 8:39).