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Original Sin (1)

Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me (Ps. 51:5).

A reader writes,"All gospel preachers emphasize that we are all undeserving sinners who deserve to spend eternity in hell. Yet it can be argued that we are not undeserving (Ps. 51:5). I never chose to be shapen in iniquity, nor that my mother should conceive me in sin. I never even chose to be born in the first place. Better not to be born at all then to spend eternity in hell." The reader’s argument is this: We are not really to blame for our sins because we were born sinners and had no choice in the matter. Therefore, we are not "undeserving sinners."

A brief history of Psalm 51 would help us in our understanding of the text. The heading of the psalm reads, "To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba." The history is recorded in II Samuel 11-12. This psalm was written after David’s repentance for his sins of adultery and murder.

It is, of course, a part of sacred Scripture, and is, therefore, infallibly inspired. In fact, it is addressed to the "chief Musician," because it was intended to be sung by the temple choirs as a part of the worship of God in His sanctuary. It has found a place in the liturgy of the church ever since David penned these words, for it is a confession that arises out of the heart of every child of God.

We must understand at the very outset that verse 5 of this psalm is not an attempt on the part of David to put the blame for his sin elsewhere than on himself. This is clear even from the opening three verses of the psalm. David can only appeal to God for "mercy" (Ps. 51:1) and cleansing (2), according to His "lovingkindness" and "the multitude of [His] tender mercies" (1), because of his terrible sin, which is "ever before" him (3) and which he freely confesses: "I acknowledge my transgression" (3).

David’s statement in verse 4 is also important: "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest." If verse 5 is an attempt on David’s part to excuse himself for the crimes he committed, the question arises: Who is to blame? The only answer can be: God is to blame, for God caused me to be born and God caused me to be born sinful. But now David confesses his own sin as his and his only, in order that God might be justified when He condemned David through Nathan the prophet, so that God might be clear of all blame when He judged David a sinner.

The correct interpretation of Psalm 51:5 is this: What David says here about being shapen in iniquity and conceived in sin is itself a confession of sin. David is saying (as difficult as it may be for us to understand), "It is my fault that I was born in sin."

I do not mean to say that verse 5 is not an explanation which David makes for his sin; indeed it is. He sinned because he was born a sinner. But David is not trying to escape responsibility for his sin. By his explanation, he is making a further confession of sin. David’s confession is somewhat analogous to a man who explains the reason why he robbed a bank by pointing to the fact that he was a member of a gang whose purpose it was to acquire money through robbing banks. He is not excusing himself, but explaining why he did what he did. That he joined such a gang is his activity, his first big sin.

The question is: How is it possible that David is responsible for the fact that he was shapen in iniquity and conceived in sin? He did not even have anything to say about the fact that he was born; much less that he was born a sinner.

The answer to the question is the biblical doctrine of original sin.The doctrine of original sin is taught in many places in Scripture, but most clearly and most emphatically in Romans 5:12-14: "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come." As Paul explains further in Romans 5, this doctrine is based on the truth that Adam was created as the head of the human race. Adam was the legal head and the organic head. As the legal head, Adam represented the whole human race in his moral and ethical relation to God, especially in connection with God’s command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

In representing the whole human race, Adam’s act of obedience or disobedience was the act of the whole human race. His obedience would be the obedience of the human race; his disobedience would be the disobedience of the human race. The guilt of his disobedience would be the guilt of the whole human race. The punishment for his disobedience would be the punishment of the whole human race. We will explore this further next time.

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Additional Info

  • Volume: 10
  • Issue: 14
Hanko, Herman

Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)

Ordained: October 1955

Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965

Emeritus: 2001

Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof._Herman_Hanko

Contact Details

  • Address
    725 Baldwin Dr. B-25
  • City
    Jenison
  • State or Province
    MI
  • Zip Code
    49428
  • Country
    United States
  • Telephone
    616-667-6033

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