Discussing Ken Wilson’s Work, Part 12 – On Psalm 51 and Concupiscence



Recently, Dr. James White has been interacting quite a bit with Dr. Ken Wilson’s book (and dissertation) regarding Augustine’s “conversion” to a predestinarian. As I have been reading much of Augustine’s work lately as well as other Church Fathers, I felt that I should enter this discussion with a layman’s perspective. Since Dr. Wilson’s dissertation is available to freely view much of it on Google Books, as linked above, I will use that as my source. All of my posts on this topic can be found here.

Wilson’s Augustine on Concupiscence

To recap my previous post, I demonstrated that before 412 Augustine was not speaking as a “traditional” proponent, like Dr. Wilson, would regarding original sin. To me, it was quite strange that Wilson would argue that Augustine sounded “traditional” but then to follow up his statements to point out the following.

Wilson would go on to say that the “in iniquities I was conceived” refers to the enjoyment of the sexual intercourse. He was referring to an Augustinian doctrine of concupiscence.

The Actual Augustine on Concupiscence

Now, let us analyze what Augustine actually stated about Psalm 51 and compare it with what Wilson asserted above. I quoted a lengthier part of this section in my last post, but here is the relevant section.

10. For, behold, in iniquities I was conceived Psalm 51:5. As though he were saying, They are conquered that have done what thou, David, hast done: for this is not a little evil and little sin, to wit, adultery and man-slaying…. For if that infant could speak to you, it would say, and if it had the understanding which David had, it would answer you, Why do you heed me, an infant? Thou dost not indeed see my actions: but I in iniquity have been conceived, And in sins has my mother nourished me in the womb.

Apart from this bond of mortal concupiscence was Christ born without a male, of a virgin conceiving by the Holy Ghost. He cannot be said to have been conceived in iniquity…. How then without bond of sin is born that which is conceived and sown of a body dead because of sin? This chaste operation in a married person has not sin, but the origin of sin draws with it condign punishment…. In Adam, he says, all have sinned. Alone then could such an infant be innocent, as has not been born of the work of Adam.
Augustine, Exposition of Psalm 51, Section 10

Dr. Wilson makes an odd statement based off of Augustine using the term concupiscence. As I stated above, Wilson would go on to say that the phrase “in iniquities I was conceived” refers to the enjoyment of the sexual intercourse. He was referring to his skewed understanding of an Augustinian doctrine of concupiscence.

But instead of giving a full definition of concupiscence, Wilson uses one that misrepresents both the context of this in Psalm 51 as well as a more detailed view of this by Augustine. By this point in his writings (i.e. prior to 411), Augustine had not spoke much of concupiscence. He would write a full work on it nearly a decade later.

But before we look at that work, I would like to ask a question. At the heart of Wilson’s statement here about concupiscence is that when David mentioned that he was born in iniquity, Augustine saw that as meaning that David was referring to the enjoyment of his parents having sex. And since Augustine said that Jesus alone was excepted because he was born innocent, then Wilson must be asserting that Augustine would believe that the enjoyment of the physical marital relations by parents is what caused all humans to be “born in iniquity.” But as I will demonstrate (from Augustine’s own words when he is speaking to this matter in a full work dedicated to the subject), Wilson is again playing word games and intentionally misrepresenting the position and beliefs of Augustine in an attempt to undermine Augustine at every point.

As I stated above, in the year 420 Augustine wrote On Marriage and Concupiscence. This is a work that I have not completely read yet. But since I’ve primarily been reading Augustine chronologically over the past 3.5 years, this is expected since I’m only up to around 412 myself (I’ve read 28 books up to 412 and 12 books after 412).

However, I did locate a great section in chapter 16 where Augustine speaks directly to these assertions by Wilson.

Chapter 16 But in the married, as these things are desirable and praiseworthy, so the others are to be tolerated, that no lapse occur into damnable sins; that is, into fornications and adulteries. To escape this evil, even such embraces of husband and wife as have not procreation for their object, but serve an overbearing concupiscence, are permitted, so far as to be within range of forgiveness, though not prescribed by way of commandment: 1 Corinthians 7:6 and the married pair are enjoined not to defraud one the other, lest Satan should tempt them by reason of their incontinence. 1 Corinthians 7:5 For thus says the Scripture: “Let the husband render unto the wife her due: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife has not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband has not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud not one the other; except it be with consent for a time, that you may have leisure for prayer; and then come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency. But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment.” 1 Corinthians 7:3-6 Now in a case where permission must be given, it cannot by any means be contended that there is not some amount of sin. Since, however, the cohabitation for the purpose of procreating children, which must be admitted to be the proper end of marriage, is not sinful, what is it which the apostle allows to be permissible, but that married persons, when they have not the gift of continence, may require one from the other the due of the flesh — and that not from a wish for procreation, but for the pleasure of concupiscence? This gratification incurs not the imputation of guilt on account of marriage, but receives permission on account of marriage. This, therefore, must be reckoned among the praises of matrimony; that, on its own account, it makes pardonable that which does not essentially appertain to itself. For the nuptial embrace, which subserves the demands of concupiscence, is so effected as not to impede the child-bearing, which is the end and aim of marriage.
Augustine, On Marriage and Concupiscence, Book I.16, 420

In this section, one is hard-pressed to find Augustine saying that all children born from cohabitation in marriage are born in iniquity because of the sin of the enjoyment of sex by their parents. In fact, Augustine says the exact opposite and I believe would have some strong words for Wilson’s misrepresentation. There is much in the above section on which we could focus, but let us look at just one statement in detail.

Recall that Wilson stated that when David said that “in iniquities I was conceived” that Augustine understood that to refer to the enjoyment of the sexual intercourse.

Augustine, however, actually stated that “the cohabitation for the purpose of procreating children, which must be admitted to be the proper end of marriage, is not sinful“. I am not sure how detailed either Wilson or Augustine would want to get into a discussion about whether Jesse approached his wife merely for enjoyment or for the purpose of procreating. From my reading of Augustine, for example, he stated that the Jewish Patriarchs who practiced polygamy shouldn’t be seen to be in sin as they (most of them) did so for procreation rather than mere pleasure. Here is one example from the year 401.

And, the case being thus, enough and more than enough answer has been made to the heretics, whether they be Manichees, or whosoever other that bring false charges against the Fathers of the Old Testament, on the subject of their having several wives, thinking this a proof whereby to convict them of incontinence: provided, that is, that they perceive, that that is no sin, which is committed neither against nature, in that they used those women not for wantonness, but for the begetting of children: nor against custom, forasmuch as such things were usually done at those times: nor against command, forasmuch as they were forbidden by no law.
Augustine, On the Good of Marriage

Obviously the fruit of their intercourse was the conception of David. Although Dr. Wilson appears to be putting words into the mouth of Augustine, what we do see Augustine state is that it would not be sinful at all in marriage to have intercourse in the hopes of having a child rather than out of mere enjoyment.

But on this point, we see Wilson so desperate to defend his system that he would claim that Augustine knew that Jesse and his wife did not intend to have a child and that David must have been a mistake. Therefore, David could say that he was conceived in iniquity because his parents did not want to have a child at that time. As Dr. White is fond to say “that wouldn’t hold up under cross-examination”!


Again, it is painful to read Dr. Wilson’s assertions in this dissertation. Constantly we are given quotes from Augustine which do not line up with what Augustine actually taught. This post is yet another that demonstrates the extreme prejudice employed by Wilson in his reading and assessment of Augustine. As a committed Protestant Baptist in the 21st Century, when I began reading Augustine in 2017 I approached it with no agenda. I knew that there would be many things that Augustine wrote with which I would agree and many with which I would disagree. But I have not approached my reading looking for a way to either assimilate Augustine into my tradition or accuse him of heresy from the start. My reading has been fruitful and a blessing. Dr. Wilson’s approach to Augustine appears to have been started with a bias and an effort to make Augustine someone that he was not.

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