Does Psalm 58:3 Teach that Babies are “Estranged from the Womb”?
James J. S. Johnson, JD, ThD
The wicked are estranged [zōrû] from the womb; they go astray [ta‘û] as soon as they be born, speaking [dōbrî] lies. (Psalm 58:3)
Among other Scriptures that deal with original sin (i.e., the sin nature that we inherit automatically from Adam, our ultimate forefather), there is Psalm 58:3. Yet those who disagree with the notion of inherited sin find ways to dodge what is (otherwise) obvious in Scripture.
Here is one example, “Does Psalm 58:3 Support the Doctrine of Original Sin?”, by Jason Hoag, who begins his critique by quoting a modern English translation of that Old Testament verse:
Psalm 58:3 (ESV) The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.
When we are interpreting scripture, we first need to recognize what type of literature we are looking at. The Psalms are a book of poetry and they need to be viewed differently than a book of history, law or prophecy. Poetry is a style of writing that says a lot with very few words. In doing this poetry often uses figurative language to make a point. With this in mind, let’s evaluate Psalm 58:3.
Is Psalm 58:3 figurative, or is it to be taken literally? This verse is clearly figurative and is meant to be taken that way. For us to take this verse literally we would have to assume that babies come out of the womb talking. Clearly this is not the case. Babies do not speak lies as soon as they are born because as everyone knows, babies are not born talking. [emphasis added]
[Quoting Jason Hoag, “Does Psalm 58:3 Support the Doctrine of Original Sin?”, at https://journeytochampel.wordpress.com/tag/psalm-583/ .]
REBUTTAL: Jason Hoag fails to appreciate that the verbs involved (in Psalm 58:3, which is numbered as Psalm 58:4 in the Hebrew Bible) are Hebrew verbs, so a detailed analysis of the verse should not ignore whatever precise information is built into the words and phrases of the Hebrew text (of that verse).
To clarify what verbs we are here analyzing, Psalm 58:3 is quoted below, again, this time from the King James Bible translation, with insertions to show the specific Hebrew verbs involved. (Immediately after that, the Hebrew text (of that verse ) is reprinted, to show the overall context of Psalm 58:3.)
The wicked are estranged [zōrû] from the womb; they go astray [ta‘û] as soon as they be born [no Hebrew verb here – it’s literally written as “from belly”], speaking [dōbrî] lies.
זֹ֣רוּ QAL perfect 3rd person masculine plural [root verb: zûr]
רְשָׁעִ֣ים adjective masculine plural (quasi-noun substantive use)
מֵרָ֑חֶם preposition + masculine singular noun
תָּע֥וּ QAL perfect 3rd person common plural [root verb: tâ‘âh]
מִ֝בֶּ֗טֶן preposition + feminine singular noun
דֹּבְרֵ֥י QAL active participle/masculine plural construct [root: dâbar]
כָזָֽב masculine singular noun
In other words, the actions portrayed by the verbs (in Psalm 58:3, which is numbered as 58:4 in the Hebrew Bible) denote 2 actions that are described as completed, plus one action that is continuing.
Let us consider those philological details – and what those details show that the verse is teaching, theologically.
It is noteworthy that Jason Hoag assumes that the phrase “from birth” means that the baby is speaking on his or her date of “birth”, if taken literally – so Hoag (recognizing that babies don’t speak intelligible language on their birthday) concludes that the verse must be “figurative” – and thus Hoag dismisses any literal approach to that verse’s meaning.
In fact, Hoag apparently never checked a Young’s Analytical Concordance (much less the Hebrew text) to see where the English phrase “as soon as they be born” came from – actually it’s a “dynamic equivalence” translation (which occurs rarely in KJV) for a compound word meaning “from belly” (or “from womb”).
So the continuing action of “speaking [of] lies” was not a change of habit that occurred sometime after birth, when a supposedly “sin-free” baby chose — sometime after birth (perhaps as a toddler) to avoid telling the truth, as he or she made the (supposedly) radical decision to speak a lie. Rather, the idea here is that the baby’s predisposition to be deceitful, when doing so appears to further a selfish desire, is built-in — even from BEFORE BIRTH. (Obviously that selfish predisposition must be expressed later, in order for us to see it in action.)
In fact, other Scriptures indicate that babies who are sinful-from-the-start is not a category limited to those who grow up to be “wicked” as “wicked” is defined by worldly norms; rather, it is everyone who is natural born as a descendant of Adam, as is clarified by Psalm 51 (which chronicles David’s agony about his own sins that manifested his own sinful-from-the-start nature, as well as Romans chapter 3, where Paul pronounced the tragic reality that “all” are sinners, as is exhibited by sin-manifesting attitude and action.
Consider how the first Hebrew verb in this verse [zōrû] is a perfect verb, denoting action that is complete. Likewise, the second Hebrew verb [ta‘û] is a perfect verb, denoting action that is complete. What exactly does that mean?
The phrase “The wicked are estranged [zōrû] from the womb” refers to the fact that “from the womb” the wicked alienated themselves from God – the spiritual alienation is not a continuing process, it’s a completed reality — even inside the womb. Likewise, the phrase “they go astray [ta‘û] from birth” refers to the fact that “from the [mother’s] belly” the wicked are have erred, i.e., separated from God. Again, it’s not a continuing process of separation, it’s a completed reality — even inside the mother’s belly. (Alienation? Sounds a lot like Ephesians 2:1.)
This does not fit well with the notion of “no original sin” because only inherited sin can explain how an unborn child can be alienated from God, in light of Romans 9:11, which says:
For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil — that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth. (Romans 9:11)
Also, because Sepher Tehillim (the book of Psalms) is Hebrew poetry, its meaning must ALWAYS take into account that meaning is conveyed by parallelism in meaning (not paralleled in sound, as in English poetry).
Thus, to understand Psalm 58:3b it is needful to understand Psalm 58:3a, plus it is needful to understand how both of them parallel one another (in meaning).
In this case, the parallelism (in meaning) is a form of synonymous parallelism – because both “halves” of the parallelism are saying pretty close to the same thing.
Here, the baby’s completed estrangement “in the womb” is the same thing as the baby’s completed separation “in the belly” — and Romans 9:11 informs us that unborn babies cannot individually commit right or wrong inside the womb.
Accordingly, whatever estrangement the unborn baby has, from God, inside the womb, cannot be caused by the baby’s personal wrongdoing – it must be (somehow) inherited from Adam. As Romans chapter 5 (and 1st Corinthians chapter 15) inform us, the original sin of Adam is imputed – and thus applied – unto all of Adam’s natural descendants (and that obviously excludes Christ Himself, since He was supernaturally conceived apart from the normal procreation process (Isaiah 7:14).
Yet, thankfully, those same Scriptures — Romans chapter 5 and 1st Corinthians chapter 15 – wonderfully promise us that those who trust Christ for redemption have Christ’s own righteousness (and many other aspects of the salvation He provides to those who believe in Him), which is the remedy for the problematic sin nature that we inherited from our first forefather, Adam.
So, the application of Adam’s original sin, unto us his descendants, occurred completely (and automatically) in the womb, where we were created as individuals (see Psalm 102:18), long before we could commit any wrongdoing of our own – yet the application of Christ’s redemption-provided righteousness can also be applied, at the individual level, unto “whosoever believeth” in the Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom be praise forever!
photo credit: Babies Daily News