Detailed Exegesis of Psalm 51

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Puritan Board Freshman
Can somebody please help me with a detailed exegesis of Psalm 51. Specifically verse 5

Psalm 51:5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Recently, I have come accross some people that hold to a Pelagian understanding of theology and deny original sin. I want to be careful not to misrepresent their position, but generally, they would argue that David's mother was a fornicator (he had half brothers) and that supports that it was her personal sin that he was referred to in this passage. Furthermore, David says he was fearfully and wonderfully made.

Does this interpretation stand up upon the detailed exegesis of this passage?


Puritan Board Sophomore
Great question. I've never really heard the Pelagian view of that verse. I'm eager to read the responses to this one.


Obi Wan Kenobi
At verse 4 then David confesses he has broken God’s covenant which was intended to include his children, and declares that God’s judgment is blameless. Then next he recognizes the reality of original sin. Not that the sex act is sinful. Far from it. Sex is God’s good idea. For by means of it, and with God involved in it, a man and a woman together can do what God does, viz. create (see Gen. 4:1). Now, the word for God’s mercy in verse 1 derives from the noun for “womb”. So in giving birth to a child Eve would experience what we must call “mother-love”. This is a special love only a woman can know for the child of her body. Eve, womankind, knows mother-love; God knows mother-love. So how could sex and human birth ever be considered sinful? Rather, what David is saying is that he was born of a sinful father and a sinful mother, and they in their turn of sinful parents, for all men and women are sinners. God’s judgment upon both David and his parents is thus perfectly justified and blameless.

George Angus Fulton Knight, Psalms : Volume 1, The Daily study Bible series (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001, c1982), 243.


Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
That is a horrible interpretation. Bastards were left out of the public life of Israel. Deu 23:2 "A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the LORD."

From JFB Commentary: "“To enter into the congregation of the Lord” means either admission to public honors and offices in the Church and State of Israel, or, in the case of foreigners, incorporation with that nation by marriage."


What... are we supposed to assume that the alleged "fact" of David's illegitimate birth was just conveniently overlooked by the nation? No... better, David hid the fact so he could be king, no wait ... here it comes ... David never knew it, but then God inspired him with the truth! Please.

panta dokimazete

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Calvin's exegesis:

5 Behold, I was born in iniquity, etc He now proceeds further than the mere
acknowledgement of one or of many sins, confessing that he brought nothing
but sin with him into the world, and that his nature was entirely depraved.
He is thus led by the consideration of one offense of peculiar atrocity to
the conclusion that he was born in iniquity, and was absolutely destitute of
all spiritual good. Indeed, every sin should convince us of the general
truth of the corruption of our nature. The Hebrew word יחמתני, yechemathni,
signifies literally, hath warmed herself of me, from יחם, yacham, or חמם,
chamam, to warm; but interpreters have very properly rendered it hath
conceived me. The expression intimates that we are cherished in sin from the
first moment that we are in the womb. David, then, is here brought, by
reflecting on one particular transgression, to east a retrospective glance
upon his whole past life, and to discover nothing but sin in it. And let us
not imagine that he speaks of the corruption of his nature, merely as
hypocrites will occasionally do, to excuse their faults, saying, “I have
sinned it may be, but what could I do? We are men, and prone by nature to
everything which is evil.” David has recourse to no such stratagems for
evading the sentence of God, and refers to original sin with the view of
aggravating his guilt, acknowledging that he had not contracted this or that
sin for the first time lately, but had been born into the world with the
seed of every iniquity.

The passage affords a striking testimony in proof of original sin entailed
by Adam upon the whole human family. It not only teaches the doctrine, but
may assist us in forming a correct idea of it. The Pelagians, to avoid what
they considered the absurdity of holding that all were ruined through one
man’s transgression, maintained of old, that sin descended from Adam only
through force of imitation. But the Bible, both in this and other places,
clearly asserts that we are born in sin, and that it exists within us as a
disease fixed in our nature. David does not charge it upon his parents, nor
trace his crime to them, but sists himself before the Divine tribunal,
confesses that he was formed in sin, and that he was a transgressor ere he
saw the light of this world. It was therefore a gross error in Pelagius to
deny that sin was hereditary, descending in the human family by contagion.
The Papists, in our own day, grant that the nature of man has become
depraved, but they extenuate original sin as much as possible, and represent
it as consisting merely in an inclination to that which is evil. They
restrict its seat besides to the inferior part of the soul and the gross
appetites; and while nothing is more evident from experience than that
corruption adheres to men through life, they deny that it remains in them
subsequently to baptism. We have no adequate idea of the dominion of sin,
unless we conceive of it as extending to every part of the soul, and
acknowledge that both the mind and heart of man have become utterly corrupt.
The language of David sounds very differently from that of the Papists, I
was formed in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me He says nothing
of his grosser appetites, but asserts that sin cleaved by nature to every
part of him without exception.

Here the question has been started, How sin is transmitted from the parents
to the children? And this question has led to another regarding the
transmission of the soul, many denying that corruption can be derived from
the parent to the child, except on the supposition of one soul being
begotten of the substance of another. Without entering upon such mysterious
discussions, it is enough that we hold, that Adam, upon his fall, was
despoiled of his original righteousness, his reason darkened, his will
perverted, and that, being reduced to this state of corruption, he brought
children into the world resembling himself in character. Should any object
that generation is confined to bodies, and that souls can never derive
anything in common from one another, I would reply, that Adam, when he was
endued at his creation with the gifts of the Spirit, did not sustain a
private character, but represented all mankind, who may be considered as
having been endued with these gifts in his person; and from this view it
necessarily follows that when he fell, we all forfeited along with him our
original integrity. [263]

from here

Jimmy the Greek

Puritan Board Senior
To allege that the David is referring to his mother's sin of adultery is not merely an argument from silence, but contradicts Scripture.

From Matthew Henry: "He elsewhere speaks of the piety of his mother, that she was God's handmaid, and he pleads his relation to her (Ps. 116:16, 86:16), and yet here he says she conceived him in sin; for though she was, by grace, a child of God, she was, by nature, a daughter of Eve, and not excepted from the common character."

See also John Gill: "Moreover, it is beside his scope and design to expose the sins of others, much less his own parents, while he is confessing and lamenting his own iniquities: and to what purpose should he mention theirs, especially if he himself was not affected by them, and did not derive a corrupt nature from them?"


Puritan Board Freshman
Very good. If David, as an inspired writer of the Psalms penned this in repentance ... What reason would there be for him to bring up someone elses sin when lamenting over his own other than to display his total corruption?

I think they would attempt to explain this away by saying that he had the example of sinful parents even from his youth.
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Puritanboard Librarian
Speaking of original sin as taught in Psalm 51.5, George Estey notes:

conceived...Not that bed companie betweene his Father and Mother, and bed beneuolence (as fome fondly haue thought) was fin: but that euen from thence hee was infected.
...naming his Mother and conception, hee fheweth that it [original sin] came from the firft Mother to all following children.
This [original sin] cometh by the difobedience of Adam and Eve, in whofe loynes we were, who is our roote, with whom we ftand or fall, of whofe iuyee we fauour and relifh. For as in matters of treafon, the Father tainted all the blood, fo is it in this cafe.

The Parents propagate this, neither is it, as the Pelagians dreame, only by imitation. Rom. 5, 12, 16, 17, 18, 19. I Tim. 2, 15.

Also, I recommend the meditation on original sin grounded in this verse as found in James Morgan's The Penitent: An Exposition of the Fifty-First Psalm, which is very rich.


Puritan Board Freshman
Also, I recommend the meditation on original sin grounded in this verse as found in James Morgan's The Penitent: An Exposition of the Fifty-First Psalm, which is very rich.

Thanks Andrew ... This looks great! I also plan on checking out Spurgeon's Treasury of David tonight as well.


Puritanboard Librarian
Also, I recommend the meditation on original sin grounded in this verse as found in James Morgan's The Penitent: An Exposition of the Fifty-First Psalm, which is very rich.

Thanks Andrew ... This looks great! I also plan on checking out Spurgeon's Treasury of David tonight as well.

You're very welcome. I love Spurgeon's Treasury of David; it is a gold mine. You can read that selection online here.

One another meditation on this Psalm by Richard Baker which is worth reading is found here:

Links and Downloads Manager - Old Testament - Meditations and disquisitions upon the first psalm; the penitential psalms; and seven consolatory psalms -- Richard Baker - The PuritanBoard


Puritanboard Librarian
This may be information overload but here are a couple more resources.

First, Francis Turretin's proof of original sin based on Psalm 51.5 as found in the Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 632-633:

From Ps. 51:5

X. Fourth, from Ps. 51:5 -- "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." David, by ascending from the consideration of actual sin committed by him to the first taint of evil, confesses before God that he was corrupt even from the womb and inclined to sin. Hence an invincible argument flows for original sin. One conceived in iniquity and nourished in sin cannot be without original sin. Nor does what Volkelius urges here with his associates (to escape the force of this passage) avail: either that David does not speak here of men in general, but only of himself; nor simply, but in reference to his fall. We answer that although he speaks of himself, why can it not be extended to others in the same condition who are in a similar manner conceived and born (as his birth was common to him with others, so also his native corruption)? Yea (from the greater) if David, a man after God's heart, was conceived in sin, how much more others? Or he speaks not of his own original sin, but of the actual sin, either of his parents in common or principally of his mother in particular. We answer that it is certain that David makes confession of his own sin (whose pardon he seeks for himself, not of another's sin) as the whole connection clearly demonstrates (which would be entirely destroyed, if a leap was made to another's sin). Besides that, it is falsely supposed that his parents sinned in his generation (as if he were born in unlawful wedlock). Nor can the words be so distorted. The verb chvllthy ("I was conceived") cannot be referred to the parents' act of begetting, but to the formation of the begotten body in the womb. Ychmthy does not signify "to beget" or "to conceive" (which belongs to both parents), but "to be made warm" and "to be cherished" (which refers to the fetus already formed and warmed in sin).

Then also, see David Clarkson's exposition of the doctrine of original sin based on Psalm 51.5 as found in Volume 1 of his works starting at p. 3:

Links and Downloads Manager - Educational Links - The Practical Works of David Clarkson Online - The PuritanBoard


Puritan Board Freshman
No way ... The more the better.

I was reading the Turretin that you quoted from his Institutes last night (one of my better purchases :)). It's very helpful to kick these things around with the saints as well. Thanks again.


Puritan Board Freshman
Not to :deadhorse:, but can someone more familiar with Hebrew then me help me with this portion of Turretin's proof:

Nor can the words be so distorted. The verb chvllthy ("I was conceived") cannot be referred to the parents' act of begetting, but to the formation of the begotten body in the womb. Ychmthy does not signify "to beget" or "to conceive" (which belongs to both parents), but "to be made warm" and "to be cherished" (which refers to the fetus already formed and warmed in sin).

Is chvllthy Strong's 2342 and is Ychmthy Strong's 3179?

Meaning: to whirl, dance, writhe

3179 ~x;y" yacham {yaw-kham'}
Meaning: 1) to be hot, conceive 1a) (Qal) 1a1) to be hot, become hot 1a2) to mate (of animals) 1a3) to be or become hot (fig. of anger) 1b) (Piel) 1b1) to conceive (sexually) 1b2) to be in heat (of animals)

Is there something about the construction here that I am missing? Why can't this be referring to the act of begetting?



Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
I think the author's point is, that "conception" isn't really focused on sexual activity, but on the product of it. Mothers conceive children. Parents together conceive. Fathers, alone?... not exactly.

Make sense?


Puritan Board Freshman
Yes, this makes sense.

So, since the text does not say, "In sin did my mother and father conceive me" ... The text is probably speaking of an already formed fetus?


Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
The question for us is what is David thinking of. He's just not thinking about two parents making a baby, per se. Therefore, these Pelagians don't even have any kind of leg to stand on. David is thinking of the mystery of that new person, in the womb, at any stage of its conception or development (conception has a beginning, but the whole process to separation and birth is all conception).

He comes forth from him mother in iniquity, that is his character to begin with. And the makings of that sinful child was not at the moment of birth, perhaps an instant product of the new environment. No, but even in the womb (at whatever point) he was a sinner.
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