The question of how God brought about the origin of the human soul involves deep mystery. For many, the theological doctrine that humans are made in the direct image and likeness of God (imago Dei: Genesis 1:26–27) raises profound inquiries about God’s own essence or being. It may be that at some level this question will remain unanswered—at least in this life.
Nevertheless two basic views concerning the origin of the human soul have been set forth in church history—traducianism and creationism. This article will briefly explore the position of traducianism whereas part four will examine creationism.
What is Traducianism?
Sometimes referred to as “generationism,” traducianism is the view that human beings derive both their bodies and souls from their parents through procreation. This perspective insists only Adam’s soul was created directly by God. All other human beings have their immaterial soul passed on through a spiritual–physical union or process.
Biblical and Theological Support for Traducianism
The Bible does not address the topic of the soul’s origin in any formal or explicit way. Therefore inferences and implications from Scripture must be carefully drawn and weighed accordingly.
- God’s breathing into man the breath of life is not said to have been repeated after Adam (Genesis 2:7).
- Scripture seems to convey the idea that descendents are in some sense in the loins of their fathers (Genesis 46:26; Hebrew 7:9–10).
- Since the Bible teaches man is a unity of body and soul (Matthew 10:28), it seems reasonable to conclude that both component elements of man had a simultaneous beginning.
- From a biblical perspective begetting involves passing on the image of God, therefore, it seems reasonable to conclude that the immaterial aspect of man is passed on in this act (Genesis 5:3).
- Since it can be argued God has ceased creating (Genesis 2:2), it can thus be concluded that no new souls are being created by God but rather are passed on through this natural–spiritual generation.
- Traducianism appears to be the superior explanatory model in terms of explaining how sin is transmitted to all of humanity.
Concerns and Criticisms of Traducianism
- None of the biblical arguments are clinching or determinative in their support of traducianism.
- This perspective could be viewed in a secondary sense as making the parents the creator of the child.
- Affirming traducianism makes it more difficult to explain the sinless human nature of Jesus Christ (his body and soul being passed on from his mother Mary).
- Some think in vetro fertiliztion and the possibility of cloning count against the truth of traducianism.
- Others think traducianism detracts from the view that embryos have a soul and are to be recognized as full persons.
While containing theological strengths and weaknesses, traducianism remains a provocative and possible explanatory theory for the soul’s origin. Yet among theologically conservative Christians, traducianism remains the minority position.
Next week I’ll review the more popular position known as creationism.
For more about the historic Christian view of human nature, see my book A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test, particularly chapter 10.