How Did You Get a Soul? Creationism versus Traducianism

Author Tim Barnett Published on 09/29/2015

It’s not a question most of us have thought very much about. How did you get your soul? Even to ask the question is a little awkward since “you” are your soul.

There are two basic perspectives held by orthodox theologians on the origin of each human soul: creationism and traducianism. The creationist view (not to be confused with scientific creationism) holds that God directly creates a new individual soul for everyone born into this world. Even though the soul is supernaturally created by God, the body for every new human is generated by the parents. The exact moment the soul is created is debated amongst creationists. However, most evangelical creationists maintain that the soul is created by God at the moment of conception. Others have attempted to argue that the creation of the soul doesn’t come until implantation, or after implantation, or even at birth. All three of these views are fraught with difficulties.

The Bible supports the argument that the soul exists at conception. David wrote, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). We are also told that Jesus existed in Mary’s womb at conception. An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20).

There are also scientific arguments demonstrating that every individual human life begins at the moment of conception. The most important is that all the genetic information is present at conception. There is nothing added (genetically speaking) from that moment on. Given proper health and safety, the human zygote will develop into a newborn around nine months later.

The word traducian comes from the Latin tradux, which means “branch of a vine.” This means that every human being is a “branch” off of his or her parents. Both soul and body are generated by father and mother. This is in opposition to the creationist view that says God creates every new soul directly.

Traducianism seems to have overwhelming support from Scripture. First, God said that He had finished His work of creation on day six (Gen. 2:2) and is resting from His work (Heb. 4:4). Therefore, it would contradict Scripture if He is creating souls today. Second, the creationist perspective doesn’t make sense of the fallen nature of man, while traducianism does. Creationists must suppose that God creates each soul with a sinful nature. However, the best explanation of inherited original sin is that both fallen soul and body are generated by the human parents. Romans 5:12 appears to indicate that we all sinned “through one man,” which points to everyone’s connectedness to Adam and his original sin.

Now, it must be stated that on the traducian view, the parents are only the instrumental cause of the new human soul. God is still the efficient cause. Therefore, both creationists and traducianists believe that God creates all souls; creationists claim God does it directly, while traducianists believe He does it indirectly through parents. That is to say, God causes being, while parents cause becoming.

In addition, the creationist view holds that man is a soul, but man has a body. Traducianists would push back and say that man is a unity of soul and body. As a result, traducianists take the image of God to include the soul and body, while creationists take only the soul to be the image of God.