Does Psalm 58:3 Teach that Babies are “Estranged from the Womb”?

Does Psalm 58:3 Teach that Babies are “Estranged from the Womb”?

James J. S. Johnson, JD, ThD

baby-in-the-womb

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!

><> JJSJ

romans9-11-nasv

photo credit:  Babies Daily News

(https://babiesdailynews.com/2016/05/18/5-things-your-baby-would-learn-in-the-womb/ )

Proverbs 22:6 – is it a promise, or a command, or a description of a general trend in human behavior?

Proverbs 22:6 – is it a promise, or a command, or a description of a general trend in human behavior?

James J. S. Johnson, JD, ThD

fork-in-the-road-forest

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6).

What does that verse look like under a “Hebrew microscope”? Are there any details, in the Hebrew, that can clarify our understanding of this amazing verse?

For starters, consider whether the verbs involved (i.e., in Proverbs 22:6) are descriptive or imperative: is the verse telling us what to do, or is the verse describing to us how life works, or both?

The verb translated “train up” is the same verb that the noun “Hanukkah” is derived from – the root verb (ḥanak) means to “dedicate”. In this verse it is an imperative (in fact, the only imperative form of ḥanak in the Bible), commanding us what to do – it is not a descriptive verb, describing what occurs. Specifically, this command is a 2nd person masculine qal imperative verb, effectively indicating that the verse is a command directed at the child’s father. (More on the importance of that to follow.) So the child’s father is hereby commanded to “dedicate” the child in some way.

But in, or into, what “way” — is the child to be dedicated? In English translation the next verb is “go” but there is no such verb in the Hebrew text! Actually, the English phrase “way he should go” is a translation of one Hebrew word, pî (pronounced “pea”, like the small round green vegetable), as if pî was a noun meaning “way-he-should-go”. The noun pî is a construct form of the Hebrew noun peh (usually translated “mouth”), sometimes translated “entry” or “opening” – the idea being a mouth-like entrance to something, such as the earth’s “mouth” (Genesis 4:11; Numbers 16:30 & 16:32) or the “mouth” of a grain-sack (Genesis 42:27; 43:12; 43:21; etc.).

In this context (i.e., in Proverbs 22:6), the construct noun pî is directly linked to a form of the noun derek (“way”, i.e., pathway) that immediately follows pî in that sentence, in what is called a construct-absolute relationship. (Specifically the noun derek, meaning “way”, has a possessive pronoun suffix attached, producing the word darkô to convert the noun’s meaning to “his way”.) The meaning of these 2 nouns, as a noun coupling unit, is that the first noun (pî) is a “construct” noun, linked to the second noun (darkô), which is the “absolute” noun. In Hebrew grammar, a construct noun is built onto (i.e., appended or attached to) an absolute noun, so the idea is that the construct noun belongs to the absolute noun. An illustration of how pî is the construct form of the noun peh (meaning “mouth” or entry) occurs in Genesis 29:2-3, where the phrase “well’s mouth” is a translation of pî-habeêr (i.e., “mouth of the well”). Thus, the literal translation of the construct-absolute noun coupling pî-darkô (in Proverbs 22:6) is “mouth of his pathway”, i.e., the entrance of his path (in life) – i.e., whichever of the two destinies that the child takes in life.

Another important observation, to avoid the error of “adding to the Word”, when analyzing the absolute noun darkô, is to recognize that the verse does not specify what is “his way”, i.e., which pathway (of the child) is the one that the child’s parent is being told to dedicate (and thus direct) his child into. (Answering that question must involve other Scriptures.)

The next verb in the verse is translated “he is old”; it is a form of the Hebrew verb zakên (“to age”, i.e., to be or to become old, as used in Genesis 18:12-13; 19:31; 24:1; 27:1-2; Proverbs 23:22; etc.). Specifically, however, this verse uses a hiphîl imperfect form of zakên, i.e., a causative form that denotes action that is not completed – he is causing oldness. (The only other instance in Scripture, of a hiphîl imperfect use of zakên, is Job 14:8, which refers to the roots of a chopped-down tree aging and dying.) In other words, this use of zakên indicates the scenario of the child causing oldness, i.e., making old – but who is becoming old, the child or the parent (or both)?

The third (and last) verb in this verse, which is qualified by a negative (“not”), is translated “depart”, so combining the negative to the verb produces the phrase “not depart”. The root verb here is sûr, usually translated “to depart” (e.g., Numbers 12:10; 2nd Samuel 12:10) or “to turn aside” (e.g., Exodus 3:4; Judges 14:8; Ruth 4:1; 1st Kings 20:39). The action described (when the verb sûr is used) is turning aside, turning away, changing direction to avoid someone or something. So the idea here is that the time will come when the child will not “turn aside” from “his way” in life. (But, we wonder, what is “his way” that the child will eventually not “turn aside” from?)

But what is the relationship between the action of dedicating (a child) and the outcome of that child’s life? The linking particles are 2 Hebrew words, gam kî (translated in KJV as “and when”). The word gam is a conjunctive particle, often translated “and” or “again” or “also”. It is the second particle (kî) that is trickier to translate, because it can mean “because”, “in order that”, “when”, etc., depending on the words and phrases that contextualize it. To get the context it is necessary to look at whatever contiguous verse has a parallel meaning, because Proverbs uses Hebrew poetry format, and that involves message parallelism — sometimes identifying similarities, sometimes identifying contrasts.

(For more on that Hebrew grammar concept, consult “Genesis is History, Not Poetry” http://www.icr.org/article/genesis-history-poetry-exposing-hidden — as well as the analysis of Psalm 42:1-2 within http://www.icr.org/article/hart-for-god — and the analysis of Proverbs 26:4-5 within http://www.icr.org/article/how-do-we-answer-fools .)

Therefore, as a logic-linked couplet, consider the parallel messages of Proverbs 22:5-6, as if the pair were “twins”, providing together a linked unit of meaning:

5 Thorns and snares are in the way of the froward; he that doth keep his soul shall be far from them. 6 Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

Notice various parallelism themes that link these two verses. Verse 5 refers to the soul-keeping person as avoiding the “thorns and snares” that are “in the way”. As a contrast, Verse 6 refers to the child not avoiding “his way” after aging occurs. In order to understand Verse 6 we need to understand what Verse 5 is saying, because the meaning of both is discerned by understanding their messages as a package, a unit of wisdom about living life.

Accordingly, Verse 5 defines 2 different pathways in life – the way of the “froward” and the way of one who “keeps his soul”. These are 2 basic choices in life. These 2 pathways can be compared to the 2 paths mentioned in Psalm 1 (q.v.), which are really the same 2 pathways mentioned by the Lord Jesus Christ, when He defined that choice between the “strait gate” and the “broad way”:

13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat; 14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. (Quoting Matthew 7:13-14.)

Therefore, the “froward” is unlike the one who “keeps his soul”. The “froward” person will live life with “thorns and snares”, but not so the one who “keeps” (i.e., guards) his soul. Matthew 7:13-14, like Proverbs 22:5, is a general description of universal realities regarding human destinies. It is upon this description, about how human life works, that Verse 6 follows.

In effect, Verse 5 reminds the reader that human destinies are the built-in result of cause-and-effect dynamics: namely, a froward personality has a thorns-and-snares life to look forward to; however, a soul-guarding personality will avoid living a life dominated by thorns and snares. These twin principles are a framework upon which Verse 6 builds, adding a practical application. Unlike Verse 5, which is descriptive only, Verse 6 is “dominated” by an imperative verb – the command to “dedicate” a child to the entrance of “his way”. But Verse 6 does not subtract the message of Verse 5!

Rather, the reality of what Verse 5 describes should motivate the parent (who is assumed by the 2nd person masculine singular in Verse 6, as Verse 6’s intended audience) to “dedicate” the child, because the child’s destiny alternatives are already known from Verse 5. Of course, only the child can choose – from the age of moral accountability onward – whether he (or she) will be “froward” or “soul-guarding” in character. The parent can (and should) provide early guidance, such as boundaries and consequences, to teach the child about these alternative destinies. This is leading the child unto the entrance of “his way”.

The parent’s duty is to lead the child to the choice, with sufficient training (and explanations) to ensure that the child’s choice is an informed decision. Yet having done so, the choice made (and thus the life chosen) by the child is still “his way” – not the parent’s way.  Thus, the (well-informed) choice — about how to live life, etc. – is and remains the child’s choice, not the parent’s!  Personal moral accountability before God is the essential key to understanding Proverbs 22:6, because Proverbs 22:5 is the very foundation whereupon Proverbs 22:6 provides a parental imperative.

And what about the aging aspect of Proverbs 22:6? Recall that it uses a causative verb form (of zakên) that also appears in Job 14:8. Consider how trees might “make a comeback” in life, if the root system obtains water at the right time.

7For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease. 8 Though the root thereof wax old [same form of zakên as appears in Proverbs 22:6] in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground; 9 yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant.   (Quoting Job 14:7-9.)

Thus, just as a chopped-down tree’s root system can again revive, producing above-ground maturity (aging, growing, developing) in a tree, the child’s pathway through life can experience a revival, using his own parentally-provided “root system” to support a “comeback” in life, so long as the right kind of spiritual “water” (i.e., the “water of life – see John 7:37-39) is obtained (i.e., accepted by the spiritually accountable child) at the right time.

(One way or another, God is honored, ultimately, in the child’s life – either by displaying God’s glory in redemption — or by showing His glory in judgment.)

Bottom line: parents can (and should) lead their children to “water” (escorting them to the right “doorway” for a “soul-guarded” life), but parents can’t make those children “drink”. However, each child will choose his (or her) own “way” in life, and time will tell what the child is really rooted to, sooner or later.

The above analysis may not clear up all of the questions that parents have about Proverbs 22:6, but hopefully it helps.                  ><> JJSJ     profjjsj@aol.com

GOD’S PROVIDENTIAL JUDGMENTS REVEAL HIS WILL (AND SOMETIMES HIS MERCY, TOO)

trumpvictoryspeech-cnn-ad2016-11-09

Donald Trump’s victory speech (11-9-AD2016)       CNN photo

When in history the LORD acts, He speaks,
Yet speaking not like pollster geeks;
As one God demotes,
Another He promotes,
With help, sometimes, from WikiLeaks!

COMMENTARY:   See Psalm 75:7 (“But God is the Judge; He puts down one, and He sets up another”) & Daniel 2:21.   God rules in the affairs of mankind, regardless of whether or when humans notice and/or admit it.   See also Daniel 4:17 & 4:37.   The word “judgments” [often as  mishpateka = “Thy judgments”] appears at least 20 times in Psalm 119, a psalm that focuses on how God reveals His truth to mankind.  Of course, the Holy Bible is the ultimate, most authoritative, and most perspicuous revelation of God’s truth to mankind;  however, God’s providential workings in history can also reveal His will to those “with eyes to see” it — and, when God so, His Providential history-communicated truth produces moral accountability (as Daniel reminded Belshazzar, especially in Daniel 5:21-23).

Though many don’t value pigeons, doves are important in the Holy Bible.

rockdove-in-flight-wikipedia

The rock dove (a/k/a “pigeon”) is perhaps the most under-appreciated yet ubiquitous birds of the world.  Yet God the Holy Spirit descended upon the Lord Jesus Christ “like a dove” (Matthew 3:16-17) at the Lord’s baptism, and examples of the dove family were used as sacrificial offerings in Mary’s purification ceremony,  after Christ’s circumcision (Luke 2:22-24, following Leviticus 12:8).  Moreover, in the Old Testament Noah used a dove to determine when to leave the Ark (after the Flood — see Genesis 8:8-12), and there is even a prophet named “dove”, because “Jonah” (jonah) is the Hebrew word for dove.