Last week, as I drove my boys and their friend home from AWANA, they began asking questions about the state of their body after they die. Will they have a body in heaven? Only on the new earth? If they’re a soul while they await their body, will they be able to eat (a question of great importance at this age)? On and on. It reminded me of the importance of discussing these things, and also of the need to revisit topics my husband and I thought we already sufficiently addressed. Kids just need repetition.
In light of that, this week I’m revisiting Jason’s series on the soul and where it *comes* from. There’s a lot of food for thought here, so grab a cup of something warm, and have a think.
Where Does the Soul Come From? Part 1
If you have children, or work with children, or have spent five minutes with a child, you know that they ask a lot of questions. A LOT of questions. Sometimes my children ask me questions that really stretch my brain as I try to answer them in a satisfying and understandable way. Sometimes I don’t want to make the effort. There is a comedy routine by Jim Gaffigan that underscores this pretty succinctly:
“Of course, these never-ending questions require answers you are not qualified to give…When my son Jack was four, he pointed to a car antenna and said, ‘Look, Daddy, stick.’ I clarified: ‘Actually, that is an antenna.’ Jack then asked, ‘What’s an antenna?’ After realizing I had no idea how an antenna worked, I explained, ‘It’s a…stick. A metal stick. You nailed it, buddy.’”
Recently, when discussing what a person is made from with my son (when asked, he answered ‘meat.’ Monism…we are working on it!) he asked me what a soul was, where it comes from, and how we get it. My answer was that God created the soul of Adam when he first created mankind. For now, that is all he is prepared to understand but I look forward to discussing some of the views on exactly how we get our souls; a topic that I never pondered until fairly recently.
So how DO we get our souls? That is what I would like to talk about. We will not discuss emanationism – which states that our souls emanate from God – or materialism – which denies the existence of a soul – at this time. Instead, we will focus on three views which all agree that God was the author of the first human soul: pre-existence, Traducianism and creationism. While they all agree on the origin, they differ in the method of ensoulment.
Let us first begin with the idea of pre-existence. In this theory, God created all souls at once, sometime before the fall of man. He then places these souls into the bodies of new babies sometime before birth. Jeremiah 1:5, in which God declares that He knew Jeremiah even before he was formed in the womb, has been used to support this view.
This idea, which was rooted in ancient Greek philosophy, was championed within Christianity by Origen (184 – 253) but gained little traction within the Church. The Second Council of Constantinople (Fifth Ecumenical Council) in 553 A.D. declared that, “If anyone asserts the fabulous pre-existence of souls, and shall assert the monstrous restoration which follows from it: let him be anathema.” Since then, the idea of pre-existence has not been accepted within orthodox Christianity.
A note on Latter-day Saints
Latter-day saints believe in a version of pre-existence in which all humans have existed eternally in the form of intelligences prior to being birthed as spirit children of God. This view is even less orthodox than Origen’s view as it denies the creation of our essence, rejects our finite nature, asserts that God has a wife, etc. Like Origen, LDS often use Jeremiah 1:5 for biblical support of their view. This verse, however, is about Divine foreknowledge – what God knows about the future – and not about our pre-existence.
 Fordham University, “Medieval Sourcebook: Fifth Ecumenical Council: Constantinople II, 553,” http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/const2.asp, (accessed May 18, 2015).
Where Does the Soul Come From? Part 2
In Part 1 of our “Where Does the Soul Come From?” series, I addressed the theory of pre-existence. The idea we will look at today is Traducianism. It is important to note that, beyond affirming that God is the ultimate author of our souls, this is not an essential Christian doctrine. During the next two installments, we will discuss the Scriptural support for Traducianism and creationism as well as some of their strengths and weaknesses.
Traducianism is the belief that the soul is propagated – transmitted from the parent(s) to the child. This view is sometimes referred to as Generationism; though, at times the two can be slightly different ways of viewing how the propagation of the soul takes place.
The argument of Traducianism is that once God created man, He completed the creation process and rested (Genesis 2:3). He created both animals and man to reproduce according to their own kind and we see in Genesis 5:4 that Adam begot a son in his own likeness. As a result of the fall, sin is now passed down from generation to generation through the soul.
6 Supports for Traducianism
Kenneth Samples, a senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe gives the following biblical and theological support for Traducianism.
- 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 descendants 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.
Challenges to Traducianism
The best challenge to Traducianism is found in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Traducianism may have difficulty explaining the sinlessness of Jesus if both his body and soul were passed from Mary. An easy way to explain this however is that the incarnation of Jesus is an unprecedented miracle. It is not difficult to say that the generation of His soul was also outside the standard method.
Proponents of Traducianism
This is not an exhaustive list but merely a quick reference of others who have supported the idea of Traducianism.
- Tertullian (c. 155 – c. 240)
- Tradux peccati, tradux animae
- Cyprian (c. 200 – 258)
- Macarius of Egypt (c. 300 – 391)
- Hilary of Poitiers (c. 300 – c. 368)
- Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335 – c. 395)
- Rufinus of Aquileia (c.340 – 410)
- Ambrose (c. 340 – 397)
- Augustine of Hippo (354-430)
- “In Adam all sinned, at the time when in his nature all were still that one man”
- See Letter 166 to Jerome for a great discourse on the soul.
- Apollinaris of Laodicea (d. 390)
- Nemesius of Emesa (c.390)
- Hilarius (d. 468)
- Anastasius Sinaita
- Theodore Abu Qurrah (c. 750 – c. 823)
- John Milton (1608 – 1674)
- G.T. Shedd (1820 – 1894)
- Augustus Hopkins Strong (1836 – 1921)
- “With regard to this view (Traducianism) we remark it seems best to accord with Scripture…”
- Lewis S. Chafer (1871 – 1952)
- Gordon Clark (1902 – 1985)
- Norman Geisler (1932 – )
- “It appears that Traducianism, rather than direct creationism, better fits all the data.”
- Millard Erickson (1932 – )
- “If Hebrews 7 does indeed support traducianism (and it appears to do so), this passage would in turn argue for the humanity of the fetus, since it would not then be possible to think of the fetus apart from a soul or a spiritual nature.”
- Robert L. Reymond (1932 – 2013)
- I myself am drawn to the traducianist view..”
- Kenneth Samples
Why is it important?
Again, this discussion is not essential to the Christian faith. It is not a matter upon which salvation hinges. However, the way you think about this can impact other areas of your theology and Christian walk.
It seems to me the Traducianism best defends the value of the human fetus because at no time would a fetus be less than human. In both pre-existence and creationism, there may be a point at which the fetus has not had its soul infused with its body. Furthermore, Traducianism avoids the issue of God creating fallen souls, or creating perfect souls knowing that they will immediately be fallen once placed into a body, and instead, the fallen soul is passed on by the parents.
In Part 3 we will look at creationism and how it may explain the origin of the soul.
 Tertullian, De Anima.
 Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology, (Philadelphia: The Griffith & Rowland Press, 1912), 494.
 Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology, Vol 3 Sin, Salvation (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 2004), 44.
 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1998), 570.
 Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998).
Where Does the Soul Come From? Part 3
Where does the soul come from? In previous weeks we have talked about the ideas of Traducianism and pre-existence. The last theory to discuss is that of creationism. Creationism, sometimes referred to as special creationism, is the belief that every soul is created by God sometime at or after conception and is placed into the human fetus.
In an effort to avoid confusion between this idea and the more common definition of creationism – that God created the universe – we will refer to it as special creationism. Why should you care? What you believe about the origin of the soul impacts the way you look at social issues and defend the faith.
Scripture used to Support Special Creationism
- Ecclesiastes 12:7
- Isaiah 57:16
- Zechariah 12:1
- Psalm 139:13-14
- Jeremiah 1:5
Challenges of Special Creationism
- The special creationist is faced with the question of exactly when the soul is created. Is it at conception, or days/weeks later? In both pre-existence and special creationism, there may be a point at which the fetus has not had its soul infused into its body. If that is the case, the special creationist is faced with the possibility that the fetus at some point is not a human being and therefore lacks any intrinsic rights. The implications of this within the right to life movement are obvious.
- Special creationism has limited explanatory power when it comes to the transmission of our sinful nature. It almost forces a view that sinfulness is centralized within the body, a view that can easily lead to Gnosticism or other negative views of the material world.
- Special creationism potentially places God in the awkward position of actively creating fallen souls or creating perfect souls knowing that they will immediately be fallen once placed into a body. This view appears to make God responsible for the continued sinfulness of mankind.
- The Scripture used to support special creationism could just as easily be used to explain God’s creation of the original human soul (see traducianism).
Proponents of Special Creationism
This is not an exhaustive list but merely a quick reference of others who have supported the idea of special creationism.
- Saint Jerome (c. 347 – 430)
- Pelagius (c. 390-418)
- Peter Lombard (c. 1096 – 1160)
- “in creating, God pours in the soul, and in pouring, He creates”
- Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
- “It is heretical to say that the intellectual soul is transmitted by process of generation.”
- John Calvin (1509–1564)
- Gregory of Valencia (c. 1550 – 1603)
- Francis Turretin (1623-1687)
- Charles Hodge (1797 – 1878)
- A. Hodge (1823-1886)
- Louis Berkhof (1873 – 1957)
- Oliver Buswell, Jr. (1895-1977)
Special Creationism versus Traducianism – Undecided
Since Scripture does not give enough clear information to make a perfect case for either special creationism or Traducianism, there are many who have decided not to take a stance on the issue either way.
Hugh of St. Victor (c. 1096 – 1141) (leaned toward creationism)
Alexander of Hales (c. 1185 – 1245) (leaned toward creationism)
Martin Luther (1483 – 1546)
Wayne Grudem (1948 – ) “Even if we say that God is the Father of spirits and the Creator of every human soul, just as he is the Maker and Creator of each of us, we must still also affirm that God carries out this creative activity through the amazing process of human procreation. Whether God involves the human mother and father to some degree in the process of the creation of a soul as well as of a physical body, is impossible for us to say. It is something that occurs in the invisible realm of the spirit, which we do not have information about except from Scripture. And on this point Scripture simply does not give us enough information to decide.”
 Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology : An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub. House, 1994), 484-485.