Part of the ongoing Verse Quick Reference project.
Psa 51:5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Psalms 51:1 is often used to defend doctrines such as Total Depravity or Original Sin. The claim is that King David’s statement is concerning the ontological nature of human beings; that all human beings are sinful from birth. But this is more likely not what King David is speaking about. Walter Brueggemann writes:
c) The statement of verse 5 can be readily misunderstood. It does not mean that sex is sinful, nor that this speaker has a perverted beginning, or that the mother is morally implicated. Rather the speaker asserts that he is utterly guilty, in principle, from the beginning. There never was a time when this speaker was not so burdened. I take this to be not a clinical statement, but an expression of theological candor as the speaker exposes himself to God’s righteousness. One may say that it is a piece of liturgical hyperbole, as is much of the Psalms. We do not need to take the statement ontologically as a ” doctrine of man . ” What is important is that in this moment of drastic confrontation, the speaker has no claim. There is indeed “no health in him.”
Brueggemann points out that the statement need not be more than hyperbole. This would be much like Job who says:
Job 31:18 …from my mother’s womb I guided the widow),
The speech is hyperbolic, meant to say that Job’s entire life is one characterized by helping the poor (Job is protesting his innocence). This is not about Job being sinless by nature. Likewise, King David’s statement is not about man’s utterly fallen nature. Psalm 51 is not even about anyone except King David himself. Instead, this is a submission to God’s judgment in the context of a Psalm exclusively about King David’s own sin and guilt.
Alternatively, it has been claimed by various Open Theists that King David is referencing the conditions of his conception in which his mother sinned to conceive him. But this is speculative in nature.