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Psalm 22:9 and Infant Salvation

From Issue: R&R – Issue 44 #2

Some within Christendom believe that babies receive salvation while in their infant state. They believe that God saves them by causing them to have faith in Him—even from the womb. For example, official Lutheran Church doctrine maintains that God makes infants to trust: “Although we do not claim to understand how this happens or how it is possible, we believe (because of what the Bible says about Baptism) that when an infant is baptized God creates faith in the heart of that infant.”1 They further maintain: “Scripture clearly teaches that infants and children CAN have faith…. In Psalm 22:9 we see that David trusted in the Lord when he was a breast-feeding infant.”2 The average Christian cannot help but question such a claim, since it is self-evident that babies obviously lack the characteristics/capabilities and mental maturity that only come with growth and development. Such sentiments are tied to the Calvinistic notion that God directly interferes in a person’s life in order to save some and condemn others—through no fault of their own and absent the exercise of the individual’s own will.3 Since children obviously lack the mental aptitude and intellectual wherewithal to conceptualize God, coming to a knowledge and understanding of Him, let alone to “believe” in Him, the Calvinist must rely on verses of Scripture that seem on the surface to provide support for their claims.

Does Psalm 22:9 teach that God directly intervenes in a child’s heart and mind, miraculously instilling faith in that child’s mind, causing that child to possess self-aware comprehension of what it means to trust in Him? The verse reads in the New King James Version: “But You are He who took Me out of the womb; You made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts.” The verse certainly appears—on the surface—to attribute trust being formed in David by God while David was but a nursing infant. However, Scripture often speaks figuratively of God’s involvement in the lives of human beings. In fact, in the same verse, God is depicted as removing David from his mother’s womb. Does Scripture intend for the reader to conclude that God momentarily took human form and participated in the delivery of David—perhaps the attending Physician on call? Or is David actually speaking figuratively—as indicated by the context—that God’s care had been extended to him throughout life? To state the matter emphatically and unequivocally: Though David said, “You are He who took me out of the womb,” David could not have meant that God personally, physically, and literally took David out of his mother’s womb.

A Messianic Psalm

However, there’s more to consider. Psalm 22 is very clearly a Messianic psalm. Messianic psalms often can have a dualistic application, i.e., they can refer in part to the immediate, contemporary circumstances that the psalmist is facing, while also pointing 1,000 years into the future to indicate what Jesus would endure. They can also include features, some of which apply exclusively to Jesus. Consider some of the phrases of Psalm 22:

  • Verse 1: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”—quoted by Jesus on the cross, uniquely referring to His sole circumstances.
  • Verses 7-8: “All those who see Me ridicule Me; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, ‘He trusted in the LORD, let Him rescue Him; let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!’”—again, uniquely anticipating the actual words spoken by Jesus’ enemies while He was suspended on the cross:

Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, “I am the Son of God” (Matthew 27:41-43).

  • Verses 14-15: “I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; it has melted within Me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue clings to My jaws; You have brought Me to the dust of death”—a graphic description of Jesus’ agony and depleted condition on the cross, including the stretching of the skeletal framework which caused the bones to separate and extend, the extreme thirst and resulting dehydration (cf. “I thirst”—John 19:28), and eventual death by asphyxiation with its fatal impact on the heart and chest cavity—which may well be described as the heart melting within.4
  • Verses 16-18: “For dogs have surrounded Me; The congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet; I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me. They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots”—additional detail that characterizes a Roman crucifixion, including the piercing of hands and feet—which David surely never experienced since crucifixion was unfamiliar to the Jews of his day. Crucifixion was a public spectacle to which Jesus was subjected. And, again, all four Gospel writers pinpoint precisely the fact that the Roman soldiers cast lots for His clothing (Matthew 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34; John 19:24)—a circumstance that David surely never faced.

Notice that verse 9 of the psalm is “sandwiched” in the midst of these Messianic anticipations. If the verse refers exclusively to Christ, it pertains to the divine mission that Jesus fulfilled by coming to Earth to provide atonement for mankind. This mission required Him to assume human form by being physically born as a baby via a human female. That infant body was specifically “prepared” (Hebrews 10:5) by God for Jesus—not David—to indwell. Consequently, verse 9 would refer to the submissive role that Jesus voluntarily assumed in order to accomplish the divine scheme of redemption. While in the midst of performing that role, Jesus repeatedly described Himself as being under the direct involvement of the Father, even to the point of stating: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38). Hence, verse 9 may well refer to nothing more than the submission that Jesus reflected when He left the eternal realm and assumed human form—all under the orchestration and guidance of the Godhead.5 Accordingly, it makes perfect scriptural sense to speak of God taking Jesus in bodily form out of Mary’s womb in a state of eternal trust/compliance with the divine will to save mankind.

“Faith/Trust” or Security?

However, let’s assume that verse 9 refers to David. Was David claiming that God instilled religious “faith” or “trust” within him while in a state of infancy? Apart from whether it is sensible to conclude that an infant is capable of having trust in God—even if instilled miraculously and directly by God—is verse 9 actually stating that God did so? Are there any linguistic indicators that aid the English reader in arriving at an accurate understanding of the verse? Yes, there are.

It is true that several English translations render the verse in such a way that God is represented as making or causing the psalmist to believe/trust Him while still in infancy. But, again, such language may be nothing more than a figurative way for David to indicate that God had been with him and cared for him throughout his entire life. However, the underlying Hebrew does not fully support this rendering. The premiere Hebrew lexicographers Koehler, et al., insist that the word means “to inspire confidence.”6 Brown, Driver, and Briggs have “cause to trust, make secure.”7 Parkhurst gives as the first meaning of the word “to hang close, cling” and gives Psalm 22:9 as a verse where that meaning is intended: “causing me to cling upon my mother’s breasts.”8 Davidson notes the exact same meaning in the Hiphil stem, citing the same verse: “to cause to cling to, or hang upon.”9 As a matter of fact, these Hebrew nuances are reflected in a number of English translations. For example, several render the phrase with the word “hope,” like the KJV: “thou didst make me hope” (also the AMPC, KJ21, BRG, GNV, WYC). Others have “made me feel secure” (NET, HCSB, CSB) while others have “made me feel safe” (ERV, CEB, EASY, GW, GNT, ISV, TLB, NOG, NRSV, RSV). Still others express a comparable meaning: “you protected me when I was a baby at my mother’s breast” (CEV). “You took care of me at my mother’s breasts” (EASY). “You made me trust [have confidence in] you” (EXB). “You cradled me” (MSG). Each of these renderings correctly capture the meaning being conveyed by the original language. Even the renderings “trust” or “faith” are not referring to religious faith—as if the psalmist was suggesting that David “accepted Jesus as his Savior” while in the womb or shortly thereafter. Rather, they are referring to the reliance on God that David realized he had enjoyed his entire life. As a baby learns to feel secure and trust his mother through the comfort of breast feeding, so David would have learned to trust God throughout his life, from beginning to end.

The classic historical treatments of the psalms given by prominent commentators over the years confirm these linguistic considerations. For example, in his popular treatise on the psalms, Princeton Theological Seminary Hebrew and Greek instructor Joseph Alexander alludes to God’s delight in David, “for it was he that brought him life, and through the perils of infancy.”10 Specifically, he insists that the phrase “made me trust” “does not refer to the literal exercise of confidence in God—which could not be asserted of a suckling, but means gave me cause to trust or feel secure, in other words, secured me, kept me safe.”11 In his acclaimed Exposition of the Psalms, H.C. Leupold, Professor of Old Testament Theology, translates the phrase, “Thou didst make me to feel safe at my mother’s breast” and notes:

In the process of birth it was God who held a protecting hand over him and delivered him. In the tender years of extreme infancy it was He again who gave to the infant’s heart that assurance of safety that comes when the little one can nestle close to its mother’s breast…. Summing it up, it is as though he had said: “During every moment of my life till now thou hast been my God and hast sustained me.”12

Observe that Leupold is saying that it was David’s mother that made him feel safe as an infant—which David then attributed to the providential care of God—not the direct intervention of God.

Albert Barnes agreed with these observations on the verse. After noting the marginal alternate reading of “Keptest me in safety,” he observes: “the idea is, that from his earliest years he had been led to trust in God.”13 However, lest one get the idea that David was speaking literally of his infancy, he adds concerning the allusion to “my mother’s breast”: “This does not mean that he literally cherished hope then, but that he had done it in the earliest period of his life.”14 Again, the word “trust” refers to the reliance and reassurance that a person can experience due to the non-miraculous care that God extends—a care that He even extends to the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45).

Summary

There’s no doubt that a child can feel a sense of safety derived from a loving mother. But that infantile awareness does not mean that the child comprehends anything more than that the same person that the child can hear and smell is the one who, more than anyone else, holds and cares for the child. Actual trust can only come as the child’s mental faculties mature enough to grasp his/her surroundings. We come to trust our parents only as we grow, develop, and become sufficiently self-aware that we can conceptualize our nurturers.

The Bible makes abundantly clear that babies are not capable of sin, nor do they inherit alleged sin from Adam. To suggest such is to place the Bible into a state of hopeless self-contradiction. Human beings must reach an age of accountability in which they are mentally, emotionally, and spiritually capable of grasping the gravity of the situation, realizing that they have reached a point in their development that they are accountable to God and personally responsible for their own behavior.15 Until that time, they are deemed by God as “safe” and not culpable for their infantile and childish condition—a condition that Jesus, Himself, spotlighted as a state of innocence (Matthew 18:3). Psalm 22:9 does not teach that babies have the capacity to believe in God or that God miraculously imparts faith into their hearts.16

Endnotes

1 The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (2023), “FAQs about Doctrine,” https://www.lcms.org/about/beliefs/faqs/doctrine#faith.

2 Tom Eckstein (no date), “Why Should We Baptize Infants?” Concordia Lutheran Church, https://www.con35.cordiajt.org/sermons-resources/concordiajt.cfm. See also Just and Sinner (2012), “Infant Faith,” October 24, 2012, http://justandsinner.blogspot.com/2012/10/infant-faith.html.

3 For more on Calvinism, see Kyle Butt (2004), “Do Children Inherit the Sin of Their Parents?” https://apologeticspress.org/do-children-inherit-the-sin-of-their-parents-1378/; Dave Miller (2017), “Flaws in Calvinism,” https://apologeticspress.org/flaws-in-calvinism-5387/; Robert Shank (1989), Elect in the Son (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House).

4 For the medical aspects of the crucifixion of Christ, see William Stroud (1847), Treatise on the Physical Cause of the Death of Christ and Its Relation to the Principles and Practice of Christianity (London: Hamilton & Adams), p. 153. See also B. Thompson and B. Harrub (2002), An Examination of the Medical Evidence for the Physical Death of Christ (Montgomery AL: Apologetics Press); W.D. Edwards, W.J. Gabel, and F.E. Hosmer (1986), “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” Journal of the American Medical Association, 255[11]:1455-1463, March 21.

5 The translators of the NKJV so understood the verse and thus capitalized both “He” and “Me” to convey to the English reader that Jesus—not David—is under consideration.

6 L. Koehler, W. Baumgartner, M.E.J. Richardson, & J.J. Stamm (1994-2000), The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, electronic ed.), p. 120). Also Selig Newman (1834), A Hebrew and English Lexicon (London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown & Green), p. 58.

7 R. Whitaker, F. Brown, S.R. Driver, & C.A. Briggs (2004 reprint), The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson), p. 105, emp. added.

8 John Parkhurst (1799), An Hebrew and English Lexicon (London: F. Davis), p. 61, italics in orig.

9 Benjamin Davidson (1848), The Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970 reprint), p. 78, italics in orig. See also T.K. Brown (1858), A Lexicon of the Hebrew Language (Southwick, England), p. 24.

10 Joseph Alexander (1975 reprint), The Psalms Translated and Explained (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker), p. 101.

11 Ibid., italics in orig., emp. added.

12 H.C. Leupold (1969 reprint), Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker), pp. 199-200, emp. added.

13 Albert Barnes (2005 reprint), Notes on the Old Testament: Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker), p. 197.

14 Ibid., italics in orig.

15 See, for example, Dave Miller (2002), “The Age of Accountability,” https://apologeticspress.org/the-age-of-accountability-1202/.

16 For additional analysis of Lutheran Church doctrine, see Kyle Butt (2005), What the Bible says about the Lutheran Church (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).


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