Psalm 58:3—How can an innocent child be wicked from the womb?

Problem: Over and over the Bible speaks of the innocence and guiltlessness of little children (cf. Deut. 1:39) who do not “know to refuse evil and choose the good” (Isa. 7:15), and who are part of the kingdom of God (Matt. 18:3–4; cf. Rom. 9:11). Yet, in this verse David insists that “the wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.” But, if a baby is morally guiltless, then how can he or she speak lies?

Solution: It is clear that this cannot refer to actual sins, but only potential ones, since the baby has not yet developed its moral consciousness and responsibility. The Scriptures clearly speak of “children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil” (Rom. 9:11). The sense in which a person is “sinful at birth” (Ps. 51:5, niv) is by way of inclination, not by way of moral action. All persons are “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3) because they are born with a tendency to sin, but they are not born in sin in reality. The condemnation over the head of everyone who comes into Adam’s race is judicial guilt, not personal guilt. We stand condemned before God because “all sinned” in Adam our representative (Rom. 5:12). This situation can be summarized as follows.

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.