The Transmission of the Soul (Pt. 3)

This is the belated third installment of a series I started last year on the topic.  I do apologize for dropping the ball on this one.  The material is taken from a lecture from the course, “The Doctrine of Man & Sin” at Telos Biblical Institute.

Part Two

The Traducianist Position: Traducianism (from a word meaning ‘to sprout’), holds that both the material-bodily substance of a person, and the soulish part of a person is passed on from parent to child through all generations, and because of this, the sin nature is passed on through all generations. This involves what is called a realistic view of the impartation of sin, within the transmission of the soulWhy “realistic?”  Because it actually happens; it is not something whereby guilt is just decreed, but because we participate in sin by sinning according to the fallen nature which we inherit from Adam.

As W.G.T. Shedd writes,

Sin cannot be transmitted along absolute nonentity; neither can it be transmitted by merely physical substance. If each individual soul never had any other than an individual existence and were created ex nihilo in every instance, nothing mental could pass from Adam to his posterity; there could be the transmission of only bodily and physical traits. There would be a chasm of 6000 years between an individual soul of this generation and the individual soul of Adam, across which original sin or moral corruption could not go by natural generation. –  W.G.T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology,446

I myself am drawn to the Traducianist view for the following reasons:

     1.   It appears to be everywhere assumed by Scripture that through conception via our human parents, we inherit sin natures, and not just physical bodies.  So the psalmist says, “…in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psa. 51:5b). 

     When Charles Hodge, himself a staunch creationist, to avoid the conclusion that God creates sinful souls, declares ‘We do not know how the agency of God is connected with the operation of second causes, how far the agency is mediate and how far it is immediate’, and then admits in his later discussion of Original Sin that, “it is, moreover, a historical fact universally admitted, that character within certain limits is transmissible from parents to children; every nation and every tribe and every extended family of man has its physical, mental, social, and moral peculiarities which are propagated from generation to generation”, he has effectively abandoned his Creationism, for if God does immediately create souls at conception or at birth, the mental and moral characteristics of parents cannot be propagated.

2.      Creationism allows for only the physical or corporeal connection between Adam and his offspring, and has to explain how human souls, immediately created by God, with no soulish connection to their parents, become evil.  Whereas Traducianism has a ready answer for why the individual is guilty in Adam and is thus corrupt (see e.g. Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 424-425).

 Lewis and Demarest add,

Neither do we find adequate evidence to support the view that spirits are individually created at conception or birth. The passages teaching that spirits come from God can be interpreted providentially and ultimately, rather than miraculously and approximately. Creationists raise the problem of how Christ could be without sin if souls are derived from parents along with bodies. The point is irrelevant to normal conceptions however, because the conception of Jesus was miraculous! The conception of Jesus by a virgin, involved both a biological miracle and a moral miracle, so that Mary’s sinful nature was not transmitted to Jesus and he was holy…(Lk 1:35). The major problem with a Creationist hypothesis is that for all normally born persons, the Holy One allegedly directly creates their souls with sinful dispositions. Scriptural teaching traces sinfulness not to the body but to the inner soul or spirit…(Jer.17:9). The “flesh” refers in moral contexts only secondarily to the body as the instrument of the fallen spirit; primarily the flesh is the sinful nature conceived at conception. Since throughout Scripture God is the source of good and not of moral rebellion against Himself, it seems unthinkable that He, the Holy One, should specifically create each human soul with a bent toward disbelieving and disobeying him.” – Gordon Lewis and Bruce Demarest, Integrated Theology, Vol. 2. 170

To this I add the comment of Robert Culver:

It seems to this writer that it takes some shading of evidence from sincere convictions drawn from another quarter of doctrine to suppose that adam and anthropos whence ‘anthropology’, ever means just man’s body to the exclusion of his soul. – Robert Culver, Systematic Theology, 279

But that is what Creationists must teach.  So, how do Creationists say that we are sinners and we are guilty of Adam’s transgression if we didn’t participate in it, and really we had nothing to do with it? They say that it is because God imputes his sin to us in the same way as God imputes righteousness in Christ to us. Well, we understand why God has to impute the righteousness of Christ to us: because we’re not in ourselves connected to the righteousness of God in Christ. But we also understand that we are connected to Adam!

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. – I Corinthians 15:22

Why Do We Die?

Why do we die? Because we are “in Adam.”  We need to get into Christ to be made alive. But how do we get into Christ? By a new birth.  We have to be joined to Christ, and we are joined to Him through adoption and the new birth by the Holy Spirit.  That is when His righteousness is imputed to us. But why do we need Adam’s sin and guilt heaped on us?  

As Shedd says, “to make the eternal damnation of a human soul depend upon vicarious [i.e. “in our place”] sin, contradicts the profound convictions of the human conscience.”

To say that because Adam sinned we’re damned, just because that’s the way God decides it, and not because of any relationship we bear to Adam, would be unjust.  Calling on God’s freedom to do as He wants to validate such a thing amounts to redefining God’s desires along voluntarist and nominalist lines.  This is a card played all too often by some theologians. 

Arguing against Traducianism and for Creationism, Herman Bavinck introduced covenant theology to bolster his doctrine.  He wrote:  

The so-called realism, say of Shedd, is inadequate both as an explanation of Adam’s sin, and as an explanation of righteousness by faith in Christ.  Needed among human beings is another kind of unity, one that causes them to act unitedly as a moral body, organically-connected as well as ethically-united, and that is a federal unity, that is a covenant unity. Now on the basis of a physical unity an ethical unity has to be constructed; Adam as our ancestor is not enough, he must also be the covenant head of the human race just as Christ, although he is not our common ancestor in a physical sense, is still able as covenant head to bestow righteousness and blessedness upon his church. Now this moral unity of the human race can only be maintained on the basis of Creationism, for it has a character of its own, is distinct from that of animals, as well as that of the angels, and therefore also comes into being in its own way; both by physical descendent [Adam] and by a created act of God [Creationism], the two of them in conjunction with each other. – Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 2.586

Of course, Traducianism is not inadequate for an explanation of Adam’s sin, because we are connected to him spiritually.  As the Bible clearly declares, God created the whole person:

The Creation of Eve So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.Genesis 2:21-22

Did God just bring a body to the man, or did he bring a person, body and a soul?  There is nothing here to say that God breathed a soul into Eve like he did with Adam in verse 7.  Here, God just takes the material as it were – the substance, the essence of the man – from the man and creates a woman, body and soul.  In the Old Testament the words for  ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ (especially the former), designates more often than not the whole person.

More to come…

11 thoughts on “The Transmission of the Soul (Pt. 3)”

  1. Hello Paul.
    “Scripture that through conception via our human parents, we inherit sin natures….” Is it theologically plausible that we inherit our sin nature only from our fathers? The fact that “the conception of Jesus was miraculous” is sufficient in and of itself. However, perhaps a more specific reason is that the sin nature is passed along by the father. This would provide a logical explanation as to how Jesus could be born without a sin nature. It seems like it fits with the “in Adam” theme and would dovetail with the Gen 3:15 promise. I do not know of anyone who advocates (or opposes) this point of view but it is something I’ve been curious about.

    1. This view would seem to need careful evaluation in light of Genesis 6, depending upon one’s view of the identity of the ‘sons of God.’ If taken as angels (my view), such a view would imply the offspring did not inherit a sin nature from humanity–since they were without human fathers. Of course fallen angels are sinful, but holding that the ‘daughters of men’ did not pass on the sin of Adam would seem to raise additional thorny questions within this already vexing passage. In any event, the progeny were obviously sinful. Personally, I’m loath to tread such a speculative path… Not sure if that’s a sign of wisdom or lack of theoological metal.

      1. Hi Tony.
        I agree that this is a speculative path, but it is an interesting one to me at least.

        1. I agree with your view that the “sons of God” = (fallen) angels, i.e, demons. That makes their offspring demonic. That makes things sufficiently thorny already. Ascribing or not ascribing an Adamic sin nature to these beings doesn’t really move the “thorniness” needle in my opinion. We’re already off the charts here 🙂

        2. Linking the sin nature to the seed of the woman makes things a bit thorny when we get to Christ’s incarnation and sinlessness, don’t you think?

        3. Permit me to expand my already thorny speculation just a bit more. I would suggest that maybe the enemy, having understood the Gen 3:15 “seed of the woman” promise, was frantically attempting to defile all possible virgins to short circuit this promise. The larger the population grows, the more difficult this task would become. Perhaps he sent his minions out to deceive and defile virgins and we’re left with the strange, vexing account of Gen 6. Whatever was left of these beings would have been wiped out with the flood.

      2. Tony,

        I agree that the “angels” view (with which I agree in Gen. 6), poses a little problem for the sin nature being passed on solely through the man. But this does not threaten traducianism itself; only the male only position. I can’t resolve it, although I am not convinced that the sin nature in man is different than the sin nature in, say, Satan: only its effects.

        The “through them” language of Gen. 6:13 MAY refer to the particular corruption of certain of humanity via the fallen angelic influence.

        Sin is a moral declension and twisting with phenomenal consequences. We must never speak of it as analogous to the way physical traits are passed on through DNA.

        God bless,

        Your brother,


  2. Hi Dan,

    I agree that this is an interesting topic to consider. Moreover, it is bound to come up in discussions–I’ve already had this idea raised in a Bible study. It was enough of a rabbit trail at the time that we didn’t follow down. Nevertheless, it seems only natural, having bypassed Joseph in the incarnation [1], the question would arise as to whether the sinlessness of Jesus in His incarnation was also a byproduct of this process.

    Regarding your second point, I’m not sure that linking the sin nature to Mary’s seed really adds much additional complexity to what is already a supernatural event beyond our ability to fully discern. For Jesus to be fully man, He had to supplied with the full male DNA content–not to mention possibly other biological requirements science has no clue of yet. Since the Holy Spirit evidently supplied missing components normally provided from the husband, it doesn’t seem much of a stretch to conclude the Spirit could also prevent transmission of that which Mary might have normally contributed (e.g., sinfulness).

    I’m also unsure about concluding that the omission of Joseph as the father would be sufficient to fully account for the divine sinlessness of God incarnate. For one thing, as these posts have recognized, the sin nature affects immaterial aspects of mankind–so those too would have to be deemed to flow down the male side. Secondly, the ramifications of a Holy Divine God entering creation seem immensely complex to me. Enough so that taking the mere lack of a human father as an explanation for the sinless result seems frightfully simplistic. (On the other hand, being an engineer by profession I recognize that simplicity is often a sign of elegant design.)

    I would be quite surprised if this topic had not already been discussed at length by some notable theologians of the past. It would be interesting to research whether so and read their conclusions.

    Tiptoeing where angels fear to tread – Tony

    [1] The blood curse (Jer. 22:30; Jer. 36:30) was on Jeconiah (Mat. 1:11) in the line of Solomon leading to Joseph (Mat. 1:6) and was not passed to Jesus since Joseph was not His biological father. Mary’s lineage appears to have come through a different son of David: Nathan (Luke 3:31) and would not be affected by the blood curse on Jeconiah.

  3. Interesting series, it has really gotten me to think about a lot of stuff. So, in your opinion, according to traducianism, does God play any part in the creation/formation/development/design of a person’s soul/spirit? Of course, the sinful nature part is transferred from the parent to the offspring, but what about the “good” parts, if you will? what about the essence of what makes a person who they are? is that a deistic process, or all nurture perhaps? or does God play a role in the “creation” of a person?

  4. I am so late into this discussion, but I only just found this. In considering the transmission of the sinful nature and how it is that it bypassed Jesus at His conception, what assumptions are we making? We are *assuming* that Jesus *inherited* His human nature from Mary yet without inheriting a corrupted (fallen, sinful) human nature. Is this assumption reasonable? I would say that it is not. The answer, I think, is to conclude that Jesus *inherited* nothing more from Mary than he did from Joseph! That is to say that Mary simply loaned her womb; she was the first true surrogate mother! If we adopt this conclusion (perhaps it would be better to still call it an assumption rather than a conclusion), then I think all of the problems with the other views wash away and I see no new problems arise. Making this assumption makes the ‘compare and contrast’ verses of Adam and Christ much more pointed and makes the NT description of Christ as the last Adam much more real.

  5. Dr. Reluctant,
    I’m planning to do a deep dive into Traducianism but don’t have access to Seminary libraries with a deep catalogue of journals.
    If I was to focus on the necessary breadth of original sources, other than Tertulian’s Treatise on The Soul, what would you recommend?

    What modern material is must-read?

    1. Stephen,

      I think Robert Culver’s treatment of Traducianism in his ‘Systematic Theology’ is very good. He relies a lot on W. G. T. Shedd (who excels here) but adds his own thoughts. I don’t know if you’re a fan of Systematics, (I have too many!) but I think Culver (or Shedd) is the best on this subject.


      Paul H.

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