“Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.” – NRSV
“Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” – NIV
“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” – NASB, ESV, RSV
What is going on here? The first sounds like Calvinism and the second sounds like it was sexual intercourse that was considered impure.
First, the context. The heading of the psalm tells us this is what David wrote after Nathan rebuked him for his sin with Bathsheba.
Second, the genre – This is poetry and poetry does not always speak literally.
Third, the tone – this is penance rather than doctrine…an expression of an inner turmoil and frustration rather than anthropology (teaching us something about what it means to be human) and ontology (teaching us something about the nature of our existence).
Fourth, context – verse 6 tells us that God is desiring something of us that is incompatible with a literal interpretation of verse 5, while also reminding us that this is both poetic and hyperbolic, “Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in the secret place.” God does not create “In Utero sinners”
So David has been shamed. His sin has been exposed. He has had to come to grips with the seriousness of his transgression and the repercussions that will follow (including the death of the child Bathsheba is pregnant with). David poetically pours out his heart. In his “dark night of the soul” experience he bemoans the depth and pervasiveness of the sin in his life. Jack Lewis gives a good example of a parallel statement of hyperbole in explaining this verse, “I have never been any good!” (Exegesis of difficult Bible Passages, 41). That is a perfectly understandable statement. That isn’t doctrine. It isn’t intended to be doctrine or theological anthropology. It is a statement of feeling about one’s self that is overwhelming, so overwhelming that the most accurate way to describe the feeling is hyperbole (exaggeration).
This is not a passage that promotes original sin. It is not a passage that teaches us that sex and conception are sinful. Both of those fail to take into account the three pieces of the puzzle that snap together to give us a clear picture of what is being communicated in this verse.