Psalm 51:5 says David was born into sin, and in sin did his mother
conceive him. Can you explain to me please what that passage is referring
to and the meaning of it. I’m kind of confused and it seems like it’s
talking about original sin or necessary infant baptism? Also, Romans 5:12
says sin came through Adam…I’m very confused now, can you please explain
Psalms 51:5 does not teach that David was born into sin. You should bear
in mind the style of writing involved. This is a psalm–a poem in which
David is pouring out his heart before God. As a general rule, the poetic
writings such as the Psalms, Proverbs and Song of Songs should not be read
as a source of correct doctrine, especially for a Christian. The Psalms
should be read principally as an example of the kind of relationship we
should have with our Father in Heaven. The technical term for what David
is doing here is hyperbole. A hyperbole is an expression in which a writer
expresses his or herself on purpose in an exaggerated way in order to make
a point. When we say to a friend “You are killing me.” we are using
hyperbole. When David says in Psalms 22:9 “you made me trust you even even
at my mother’s breast” he is using hyperbole. First, does God “make” us
trust him? No. Did David already trust in God as a new born infant? Of
course not. David is using hyperbole to express in the strongest terms an
emotion he is feeling about God. That is what is going on in Psalms 51:5.
Allow me to paraphrase Psalms 51:5. “God, I am a big time sinner. I have
always been a sinner, and I need your grace to come before you.”
A general rule of Bible interpretation is that clear cut passages should
be a guide in interpreting passages whose interpretation is in doubt.
Clear Bible teachings such as the fact that each person is responsible
before God for their own sins, and not for the sins of others (Ezekiel
18:19,20) cannot be trumped by an emotional, hyperbolic statement in a
poem such as that in Psalms 51:5. In summary, Psalms 51:5 definitely does
not teach that infants are born in sin or that they must be baptized.
Anyone taking this stand must find a scripture which clearly teaches that
infants need to be baptized. Such passages are clearly lacking.
About Romans 5:12, the passage does indeed say that sin entered into the
world through Adam. This is not a case of hyperbole. Paul is not
exaggerating here at all. Our job as readers of the Bible is to reach an
understanding of what this passage means in light of other clear teachings
in the New Testament. Given passages such as the one mentioned in Ezekiel
18 above, and many many others which could be mentioned which clearly
state that we are responsible before God for our own sins, and our own
sins only, we need to begin with this in attempting to understand Romans
5:12. Let me give you my best understanding of Romans 5:12 which, I
believe does justice to the passage in its context, and which also makes
sense with other clear teachings in the New Testament. I believe Paul is
telling us that the tendency, indeed the inevitability of our sinning
against God entered the world through Adam (and through Eve, by the way).
Because Adam sinned, we too will inevitably sin. By eating the forbidden
fruit, Adam and Eve became well aware of “the knowledge of good and evil.”
We are born in a condition that we have this same nature. It is apparently
inevitable that as we mature and come to an age of responsibility before
God, all of us will sin (Romans 3:23. There is no difference, for all have
sinned and fall short of the glory of God). An infant does not and cannot
sin. They are not intellectually able to grasp the nature of sin or the
need to control their own self-gratifying tendencies. Do parents hold
their child responsible for crying when they want their diaper changed,
rather than patiently waiting for the parent to be less busy? No!!!
Neither does God. Those who teach that infants need to be baptized need to
do a lot better Bible study as well as a study of practice in the New
Testament church, but that is another question for another time….
John Oakes, PhD