Embraced  by  Truth . . .
                                    reflections on theology and life

THEOLOGY > Man > Nature of Man > Origin of the Soul  


Apart from Adam, the Bible contains no statement of the origin of the soul in the infant. For this reason the believer should refrain from dogmatism. Three views have been held during the history of the Church: Pre-existence; Creationism; and Traducianism.


The belief is usually associated with Plato, who felt that the pre-existent soul explains the innate ideas of man, and later with Philo of Alexandria, who argued that the pre-existent soul, an emanation from God, is imprisoned in the body and needs to be freed. According to Plato the soul originally existed as nous, mind, but became deflated to merely soul; in most pagan thought the soul was originally a part of God.

It is interesting to note that Mormons hold that the soul which is in heaven with God is sent to the newly conceived baby. Some Jews believed all souls were created originally by God and kept by Him until placed in a body on earth. Eastern religions, Gnosticism, and the current New Age Movement all adhere to this thinking of emanation, which views each individual as an extension from God, flowing from God, rather than as a distinct creation by God that is separate from God.

These ideas were in part adopted by Origen, who taught that the soul originally existed with God and was placed in a body on earth because of its inclination toward the earth. Origen’s view as well as other forms of pre-existence effectively separates the soul from the body, creating part of the foundation for monasticism that developed during the Middle Ages.

Associated with the idea of the pre-existence of the soul is the belief that the body is evil because the body is that which captivates or imprisons the soul, and from which the soul needs to be released. Against this erroneous thinking Genesis affirms that man, in his totality, was good at the moment of his creation, a goodness which included both body and soul; and it is sin which affects body and soul, bringing depravity to both.

No hint of a pre-existent soul is found in the Scriptures. The Church eventually condemned the belief in a pre-existent soul as heresy.


Creationism affirms that the soul is created by God at the moment of conception; each soul is created ex nihilo for every person, and is created instantly and immediately (directly) by God. Support is found in the following passages: Gen. 2:7; Num. 16:22; Ps. 12:7; 139:13-14; Eccl. 12:7; Isa. 42:5; 57:16; Jer. 1:5; Zech. 12:1; Heb. 12:9. The following statements are examples of the support found in Scripture:

The spirit will return to God who gave it (Eccl. 12:7);

[Yahweh] forms the spirit of man within him (Zech. 12:1);

the Father of spirits (Heb. 12:9).

Creationism believes the soul is separate from the body—parents create the body but God creates the soul; therefore, the immortality of the soul is usually accepted, albeit a derived immortality. At death the body returns to the dust, but the soul continues in some disembodied, yet conscious, state.

This approach has been accepted by Lactantius, Ambrose, Jerome, Pelagius, Peter Lombard, Anselm, Aquinas, Calvin, Hodge, Boyce, Berkhof, Grudem, the Eastern Church, the Roman Church, and the majority of Reformed scholars.

But Creationism has the problem of a newly created soul, presumably a perfect soul, being placed in a body that is sinful. Does the soul becomes sinful by virtue of its union with the body in the womb? What about the soul of Christ? Creationism easily explains the perfect soul of Christ—the body was from Mary but the soul was from God.

The newly created soul becoming instantly corrupt is a problem for this position—it makes God the indirect author of sin. But if God creates a corrupt soul and places it in the body, then God is the direct author of sin. Either answer has difficulties: every soul is created perfect and falls when placed within the body, or God creates fallen souls and places them in a fallen body.

In Creationism Adam is the federal or covenant (representative) head of the race.

Traducianism (Generationism)

Traducianism affirms that the soul, along with the body, is formed at the moment of conception; thus the soul, like the body, is derived from and is dependent upon the action of the parents. God is still the Creator but the creation of the soul is mediate, through the medium of the parents.

This understanding appeared as early as Tertullian, was accepted by the younger Augustine, and has been the view of writers in the Western Church, Luther, Jonathan Edwards, A. H. Strong, W. G. T. Shedd, Buswell, Gordon Clark, Reymond, Culver, and the majority of Lutheran scholars.

Traducianism accepts the fact that God rested from His work of creation and, therefore, is not currently creating anything, not even the souls of infants (Gen. 2:1-3; Ex. 20:11; Heb. 4:4). Support for Traducianism is found in Gen. 1:27; 2:2, 21; 46:27; Ex. 1:5; Ps. 51:5; Jo. 1:13; Heb. 7:9-10; Rom. 5:12-13; I Cor. 15:22; Eph. 2:3; Heb. 7:9-10.

Especially significant is the Scriptural teaching that each “kind” reproduces its “kind”; though God is ultimately the source and cause of all, He brings to pass each new “kind” by virtue of reproduction. Man is to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28), producing children. The parents produce the child, not a part of the child, but the entire child, a being that is like the parents. Traducianism treats the child as a unity, with the total child being derived from the parents.

The statement, “All the persons (KJV has “souls”; Heb. is nephesh) who went with Joseph to Egypt, who came from his body” (Gen. 46:26), speaks of the totality of the people, that is, all that constituted each individual came from Joseph—“from his body” (see: Heb. 7:10).

The substance of humanity was resident in Adam and was to be individualized or distributed separately or individually as the race multiplied. In Traducianism Adam is the seminal or natural head of the race. “A human person is an individualized portion of humanity” (Shedd, History of Christian Doctrine, 434); the association of man with Adam is not so much that of representation as participation. Therefore, Traducianism is more easily tied to the solidarity of the race in relationship to Adam’s sin and the consequences of that sin, because it supports the unity of the race in Adam and the impact of Adam’s sin on the race.

Hebrews 12:9 does not teach that the soul is from God, but rather that God is the “Father of spirits,” that is, that all things are from Him, though specifically in the text the reference is to souls, in the sense that God is the source of all life. To be “the Father of spirits” means simply that God is the Father of all life.

Traducianism implies that for Christ to redeem man he must be identified with man, his soul was from Mary, that is, His life was from Mary; this was the purpose of the Virgin Birth. But the Incarnation was not the result of Joseph but the Spirit.

The view of the origin of the soul is related to the definition of the soul, whether it is a separate entity with substance or a word referring to the living man. If the latter view is accepted, then the question of origin is answered with Traducianism becoming the obvious method.

Berkouwer believes that the debate between Creationism and Traducianism is “an unfruitful controversy” because both are based on the assumption that the soul is a spiritual substance separate from the body (Man, 279-309).

QUESTION: Does Traducianism imply soul sleep?

 Return to Nature of Man; Next Article: Soul and Spirit

For overview of THEOLOGY, see: Site Map - Theology
Copyright © Embraced by Truth
All rights reserved.
Materials may be freely copied for personal and academic use;
appropriate reference must be made to this site.
Links are invited.