In the Psalms, there are several places where David portrays himself as righteous and blameless. For example, Psalm 26:

1Vindicate me, O Lord,
for I have walked in my integrity,
and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.
2Prove me, O Lord, and try me;
test my heart and my mind. (Psalm 26:1-2, ESV)

and Psalm 18:

20The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness;
according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me.
21For I have kept the ways of the Lord,
and have not wickedly departed from my God.
22For all his rules were before me,
and his statutes I did not put away from me.
23I was blameless before him,
and I kept myself from my guilt.
24So the Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight. (Psalm 18:20-24, ESV)

In other places, David acknowledges that no one is righteous. For example, Psalm 53:

2God looks down from heaven
on the children of man
to see if there are any who understand,
who seek after God.
3They have all fallen away;
together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
not even one. (Psalm 53:2-3, ESV)

and Psalm 143:

2Enter not into judgment with your servant,
for no one living is righteous before you. (Psalm 143:2, ESV)

How are these passages to be understood together? What is meant by "righteous" or "blameless," and what is David saying about himself and the human condition?

  • Well, the obvious answer is that they aren't all written by David... Oct 18, 2011 at 17:53
  • @lonesomeday: The headings of the four psalms I mentioned attribute them to David.
    – jrdioko
    Oct 18, 2011 at 18:01
  • 1
    That's as may be, but it doesn't actually demonstrate that he wrote them... Oct 18, 2011 at 18:05
  • "no one is righteous" or all are sinners is a general statement, cannot be taken in absolute sense.
    – Michael16
    Dec 11, 2016 at 15:18
  • The Bible reader needs to use her/his intuition which will lead them to understand that David's claim to being righteous and/or blameless is hyperbole and/or figure of speech because he is follower of the Israelite God, and is relatively better than his people even though he has his flaws. Bible heroes are relatively more righteous/blameless in comparison to their enemies. Oct 24, 2021 at 19:59

4 Answers 4


All Psalms are poetry, which demands a different set of rules than we normally use for hermeneutics. Most of the Psalms attributed to David are additionally prayers to God. (We see an example of how a psalm was used in prayer during that time period in 1st Samuel 2:1-11.) Psalms appeal to emotion as well as reason. So we need to use somewhat specialized tools to interpret them.

David wears his heart on his sleeve when he prays to God. He pleads with God in a very raw and sometimes undignified way. When he wants to see justice done, he shamelessly emphasizes his own righteousness. When he wants to receive mercy, he shifts into a humble attitude. If you've ever deeply struggled with God, you probably recognize the emotions David is going through.

Further, it seems like David is using a sort of relativistic view of righteousness. Before God, none measure up, but compared to other men, David is righteous. (This observation is based solely on the Psalms listed above and my impression from reading Psalms over many years. I am open to correction.)

Concerning the authorship question: I don't see that it makes much difference if the Psalms attributed to David were written by the man or if they are pseudepigraphical. By the time the Psalms were collected, it must have been possible to view David as both a man who claimed to be righteous and claimed that none are righteous in his Psalms. Likely the compilers of Psalms had reasons similar to what I sketched above to reconcile the thoughts.

John Piper did a short sermon series on Psalms that I find very helpful. The first sermon on Psalm 1 is well worth a read or listen. Directly related to this question are his sermons on Psalms 51, 69, and 103. A word of warning: Dr. Piper explicitly reads Christ into the Old Testament following the ancient Christian tradition.

  • "Raw and undignified", I think, is putting it charitably. I would propose, going way over the top, to the point of bordering on embarrassing. David extols his own righteousness rather boldly, then heartbreakingly confesses his sinfulness in a way that sounds more like self pity than true repentance. Repentance means being sorry for sinning against God and turning from the sin back to righteousness. I'm not sure that a lot of sobbing and blubbering are required.
    – moron
    May 7, 2022 at 3:53

Genesis 15:6 is a good verse to define righteousness:

Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

This definition is supported by Psalm 24:4

The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god.

A righteous person is one who sincerely believes in the LORD and not other idols.

Psalm 18:20

The LORD has dealt with me according to my righteousness;

according to his belief in the LORD

according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me.

according to his trust only in the LORD and not some other idols

What is meant by "righteous"?

A person is righteous if he truly trusts in the LORD for all things.

What is David saying about himself and the human condition?

David speaks on his total dependency on the LORD and no other gods. Unfortunately, not every human does.


There are a few places in the scriptures which could help us to understand what our righteousness is.

Leviticus 4: if one sinned unintentionally and made up by offerings sin/guilt offerings to God.

Isaiah 64: if we keep on offending his laws our righteousness acts are like filthy rags.

Ezekiel 18: if one turns always from sins and keeps God's decrees, and does what is just and right.


There are two primary uses of the word Righteousness in the scriptures.

1) The righteousness that is provided by God, to man, through the atonement of Jesus Christ.

Rom 3:22 "This righteousness of God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all and upon all who believe, for there is no distinction. For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God."

2) The righteousness (in this case “Doing right”) attributed to men according to their works.

Ps 18:20-21 The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me. For I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly departed from my God.

Regarding the first usage of the word Righteousness, in Romans Paul explains that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, referring to the state of every unregenerated soul, every person who has not yet known or received true salvation from God. This of course is the case for every person prior to being born again. The main argument being made in chapter 3 of the letter to the Romans is that his reader should not think that any one can be justified by works but only can they be justified by faith in Christ.

Regarding the second usage of the word and the passage cited in Psalm 18, David is referring to good works including the keeping of God’s laws. The “rewarding” that David experienced in this passage didn’t have to do with salvation. It is more of the principle of sowing and reaping in that when a person does good or sows good seed they see good results. When a person does wrong they sow bad seed and reap a bad harvest. It is very clear in scripture that the actions of a person lead to benefits or loss. Jesus spoke of this in several passages of the Sermon on the Mount, one passage being, “Give and it shall be given, good measure pressed down and shaken”. It has nothing to do with salvation.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.