Psalm 51:5 CEV vs ESV addressed the questions of CEV vs ESV.

Contemporary English Version: I have sinned and done wrong since the day I was born.

English Standard Version Behold: I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Neither versions have addressed the issue in

Holman Christian Standard Bible: Indeed, I was guilty when I was born; I was sinful when my mother conceived me.

I am not asking whether the psalmist was sinful at the time of conception. Theology and hidden agendas aside, what I am asking is this: Is Holman a more faithful translation here in Psalm 51:5b than CEV and ESV?


3 Answers 3


The Hebrew text of Ps 51:5 is just six words as follows:

הֵן־בְּעָוֹ֥ון חֹולָ֑לְתִּי וּ֝בְחֵ֗טְא יֶֽחֱמַ֥תְנִי אִמִּֽי׃

The six words are two statements of classic Hebrew synthetic parallelism which I would render (overly literally):

  • Behold, in iniquity I was brought forth
  • and in sin conceived me my mother

The word translated "conceived" is יֶֽחֱמַ֥תְנִי (yehematni) of the lexical form יָחַם (yawkham). It occurs just 10 times in the OT: Gen 30:38, 39, 41, 31:10, Deut 19:6, 1 Kings 1:1, Ps 5:5, Eccl 4:11, Eze 24:11; and is always associated with sexual desire, conception or breeding, whether in humans or animals.

BDB offers the following meaning for יָחַם (yawkham):

Pi`el conceive (Arabic see inclauerunt pecora, Frey; Aramaic יְחַם be hot, usually of sexual impulse of animals) —

Qal see חמם.

Pi`el Perfect3 feminine singular suffix יֶחֱמַתְנִי Psalm 51:7 in sin my mother conceived me ("" חוֺלָ֑לְתִּי); Infinitive construct of heat of cattle in breeding, conception; בְּכָליַֿחֵם Genesis 30:41 at every breeding-heat of the flock (J); בְּעֵת יַחֵם Genesis 31:10 at the time of the flock's being hot in breeding (E); suffix 3 feminine plural לְיַחֲמֶנָּה Genesis 30:41 in order that they might have breeding-heat (J).

Therefore, I have translated as shown above. Of the options in the OP, ESV is closest. However, this leaves the incorrect impression that David's mother did something wrong associated with the conception. (See final note below.) Therefore, the version that correctly translates the Hebrew without this misleading overtone is:

  • NIV: Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
  • BSB: Surely I was brought forth in iniquity; I was sinful when my mother conceived me.
  • CSB: Indeed, I was guilty when I was born; I was sinful when my mother conceived me.
  • HCSB: Indeed, I was guilty when I was born; I was sinful when my mother conceived me.
  • NET: Look, I was guilty of sin from birth, a sinner the moment my mother conceived me. [This is VERY Good!]

We must recall that this Psalm of David is a great public confession of a hideous sin against Bathsheba of a very sensual/sexual desire; hence David's choice of words here.

Benson observes:

Psalm 51:5. Behold, I was shapen in iniquity — Hebrew, חוללתי, cholaleti, I was born, or brought forth: for it does not appear that the word ever signifies, I was shapen; and then the ensuing words will contain the reason of it; the sense being, because in sin did my mother conceive me, therefore I was brought forth in iniquity; that is, with great propensities and dispositions to sin. This verse is, both by Jewish and Christian, by ancient and later interpreters generally, and most justly, understood of what we call original sin; which David here mentions, not as an excuse for, but as an aggravation of, his transgression, inasmuch as the knowledge which he had of the total corruption of his nature, and its tendency to evil, ought to have made him more on his guard, and to have watched more carefully over his sensual passions and affections.

Cambridge Commentary reaches a similar conclusion:

  1. Behold, I was shapen] Better, Behold, I was born. Acts of sin have their root in the inherited sinfulness of mankind. It does not appear, as some have thought, that the Psalmist pleads the sinifulness of his nature as an excuse for his actual sins. Rather, in utter self-abasement, he feels compelled to confess and bewail not only his actual sins, but the deep infection of his whole nature (Job 14:4; Romans 7:18).

Barnes is also similar:

Behold, I was shapen in iniquity - The object of this important verse is to express the deep sense which David had of his depravity. That sense was derived from the fact that this was not a sudden thought, or a mere outward act, or an offence committed under the influence of strong temptation, but that it was the result of an entire corruption of his nature - of a deep depravity of heart, running back to the very commencement of his being. The idea is, that he could not have committed this offence unless he had been thoroughly corrupt, and always corrupt. The sin was as heinous and aggravated "as if" in his very conception and birth there had been nothing but depravity. He looked at his, sin, and he looked back to his own origin, and he inferred that the one demonstrated that in the other there was no good thing, no tendency to goodness, no germ of goodness, but that there was evil, and only evil; as when one looks at a tree, and sees that it bears sour or poisonous fruit, he infers that it is in the very nature of the tree, and that there is nothing else in the tree, from its origin, but a tendency to produce just such fruit.

Finally, David is not accusing his mother of wrong doing (as some Rabbis have suggested); but stating a simple fact that David had inherited the usual depraved human nature at conception from which spring all human failures, and for which only God's miraculous cures are appropriate as the rest of the Psalm makes clear.


Of the three, the ESV is most formal in its translation equivalence.

The highlighted text in Hebrew (v. 7) is וּבְחֵטְא יֶחֱמַתְנִי אִמִּי. This is formally "and with/in sin my mother bred/conceived me."

בְחֵטְא "with/in sin": We can understand this phrase as either modifying the subject or the object. If the subject, then the mother's sexual activity is being described as sinful. It can be translated adverbially: "and my mother sinfully bred/conceived me." If the object, then the son is being described as sinful since birth, hence the CEV and HCSB renderings. It can be translated adjectively: "and my mother bred/conceived me sinful." These renderings are as much interpretations as translations. Though it seems more natural to me to understand the phrase adverbially, the context from the previous verse appears to support the adjectival reading. In this reading, David is lamenting to God how he has sinned not only on this occasion but ever since he was brought into this world.

יֶחֱמַתְנִי "(my mother) bred/conceived me": The verb is traditionally translated as "conceived" but the Hebrew root is associated with heat and elsewhere means "to be in heat" or "to breed/mate in heat" (Gen 30:38-39, 41, 31:10). I translated the word as both for these reasons.


In agreement with @RyanStephan as stated above, David was not accusing his mother of anything, especially passing sin to himself. Sin is not passed to the child by the mother, but rather, by the father. This is not an attempt to bypass OP's requirement that this is not a question about whether David was sinful at the time of conception, but rather to stress the point of this portion of scripture being concerning that very "time" of the conception foreward. Additionally, SINCE David's mother did not pass the sin, which should be understood by all relevant scripture, the question looms, just what is actually being referred to?

David makes it crystal clear in verses 2 and 3 that he was seeking a complete and thorough forgiveness of his specific sin of having gone in to Bathsheba. However in verses 5 and 6 he raises an entirely different issue:

Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.

Here, David is speaking of the matter of man's inward parts--the sinful nature of mankind. Verse 5 is stressing the CAUSE that produced that sinful nature--sin passed to all men, as in Romans 5:12:

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (My emphasis)

David understood this precept, and so he was speaking precept upon precept. Hence, this was not modifying the subject of either David, nor David's mother, but rather, an admission that only God's "lovingkindness" and "tender mercies" could blot out his transgressions (plural--past, present, and future), rather than only the specific sin referred to in verse 1.

Accordingly, the Ryans choice of the ESV appears to be spot on.

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