Biblical Anthropology and the Mind-Body Debate, Part 2

Posted By on January 21, 2010

In an effort to further prod your thinking on the mind-body issue, here are some excerpts from Wayne Grudem’s theology textbook1 and the classic systematic theology by Charles Hodge.2 Let me know what you think is the best argument.

Grudem:

Creationism is the view that God creates a new soul for each person and sends it to that person’s body sometime between conception and birth. Traducianism on the other hand, holds that the soul as well as the body of a child are inherited from the baby’s mother and father at the time of conception. Both views have had numerous defenders in the history of the church, with creationism eventually becoming the prevailing view in the Roman Catholic Church. Luther was in favor of traducianism, while Calvin favored creationism. On the other hand, there are some later Calvinist theologians such as Jonathan Edwards and A.H. Strong who favored traducianism (as do most Lutherans today). Creationism has had many modern evangelical advocates as well.?

In favor of traducianism it may be argued that God created man in his own image (Gen. 1:27), and this includes a likeness to God in the amazing ability to “create” other human beings like ourselves. Therefore, just as the rest of the animal and plant world bears descendants “according to their kinds” (Gen. 1:24), so Adam and Eve also were able to bear children who were like themselves, with a spiritual nature as well as a physical body. This would imply that the spirits or souls of Adam and Eve’s children were derived from Adam and Eve themselves . . . Finally, traducianism could explain how the sins of the parents can be passed on to the children without making God directly responsible for the creation of a soul that is sinful or has a disposition that would tend toward sin.

However, the biblical arguments in favor of creationism seem to speak more directly to the issue and give quite strong support for this view . . . Isaiah says that God gives breath to the people on the earth and “spirit to those who walk in it” (Isa. 42:5).?? Zechariah talks of God as the one “who forms the spirit of man within him” (Zech. 12:1 NIV). The author of Hebrews speaks of God as “the Father of spirits” (Heb. 12:9). It is hard to escape the conclusion from these passages that God is the one who creates our spirits or souls.

Yet we must be cautious in drawing conclusions from this data. Our discussion of the doctrine of God’s providence in chapter 16 demonstrated that God usually acts through secondary causes . . . 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.

Charles Hodge

Creationism:

The common doctrine of the Church, and especially of the Reformed theologians, has ever been that the soul of the child is not generated or derived from the parents, but that it is created by the immediate agency of God. The arguments generally urged in favour of this view are . . .

1. That it is more consistent with the prevailing representations of the Scriptures. In the original account of the creation there is a marked distinction made between the body and the soul. The one is from the earth, the other from God. This distinction is kept up throughout the Bible. The body and soul are not only represented as different substances, but also as having different origins. The body shall return to dust, says the wise man, and the spirit to God who gave it. Here the origin of the soul is represented as different from and higher than that of the body. The former is from God in a sense in which the latter is not. In like manner God is said to form “the spirit of man within him” (Zech. xii. 1); to give “breath unto the people upon” the earth, “and spirit to them that walk therein.” (Is. xiii. 5.) This language nearly agrees with the account of the original creation, in which God is said to have breathed into man the breath of life, to indicate that the soul is not earthy or material, but had its origin immediately from God. Hence He is called “God of the spirits of all flesh.” (Num. xvi. 22.)

2. The latter doctrine, also, is clearly most consistent with the nature of the soul. The soul is admitted, among Christians, to be immaterial and spiritual. It is indivisible. The traducian doctrine denies this universally acknowledged truth.

3. A third argument in favour of creationism and against traducianism is derived from the Scriptural doctrine as to the person of Christ. He was very man; He had a true human nature; a true body and a rational soul. He was born of a woman. He was, as to his flesh, the son of David. He was descended from the fathers. He was in all points made like as we are, yet without sin. This is admitted on both sides. But, as before remarked in reference to realism, this, on the theory of traducianism, necessitates the conclusion that Christ’s human nature was guilty and sinful

Traducianism:

What is meant by the term traduction is in general sufficiently clear from the signification of the word. Traducianists on the one hand deny that the soul is created; and on the other hand, they affirm that it is produced by the law of generation, being as truly derived from the parents as the body. The whole man, soul and body, is begotten. The whole man is derived from the substance of his progenitors.

Of all arguments in favor of traducianism the most effective is that derived from the transmission of a sinful nature from Adam to his posterity. It is insisted that this can neither be explained nor justified unless we assume that Adam’s sin was our sin and our guilt, and that the identical active, intelligent, voluntary substance which transgressed in him, has been transmitted to us.

  1. Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology : An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England;  Grand Rapids, Mich.: Inter-Varsity Press;  Zondervan Pub. House, 1994), 484-485.
  2. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (Originally published 1872.;Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 2:67-72.

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7 Responses to “Biblical Anthropology and the Mind-Body Debate, Part 2”

  1. Jonnathan Molina says:

    Ok I think it’s clear from scripture that you do not even need a human father to be born both from the human species AND with a soul (I mean Jesus, of course, who was 100% human). In addition (and I really hate to be on the side of Catholics and Calvinists on anything but…) creationism seems to have a lot more going for it theologically than traducianism. Grudem wrote: “Finally, traducianism could explain how the sins of the parents can be passed on to the children without making God directly responsible for the creation of a soul that is sinful or has a disposition that would tend toward sin.” Readers of this blog know that there’s another way to get God “off the hook” of creating a soul that is sinful and that is simply that we aren’t born with “sin-infected” souls to begin with. (Remember the Romans discussion; do we really inherit a sinful nature at birth, etc.)

    Hodges support of creationism to me wins the day but his 3rd point I think is flubbed because he did not consider the fact that sin isn’t what is being transmitted through the human bloodlines as the result of the fall, but Death as Rom 5:12 points out. So he (and Traducianism) lose their steam on that fact alone in my opinion. And what about what Jesus said that that which is spirit is born of the spirit and that which is of the flesh is born of flesh? Clearly the spirit of man (key word: SPIRIT) comes from the realm where God (who is a Spirit) lives and is sent by Him and has nothing to do with us passing it down to each other like blue-eyes or webbed feet.

  2. blop2008 says:

    Simple:

    Creationism is more close to the truth
    Traducianism doesn’t really make it

    But, I prefer Grudem, especially his last paragraph.

  3. Ken Hamrick says:

    W. G. T. Shedd’s argument is superior to these; but it suffered from too much Platonic philosophy, as well as the error of thinking that both parents contribute to the soul of the child. Paternal traducianism solves many problems. I’ve written an article refuting Turretin on traducianism, which you might find interesting:
    http://www.light-after-darkness.org/forums/content.php?40-Turretin-on-Traducianism-Refuted

  4. [...] the body upon death. Here is the previous post, which offered three articles for reading.  Here is the post before that, where I included summary positions of “where the soul comes from” via some systematic [...]

  5. Bran says:

    I don’t see a problem concerning Christ in traducianism. Christ had no earthly father.

    I also fail to see why traducianism is needed to explain the spread of sin nature. The foundation for the sin nature seems to be the knowledge of good and evil. Why can this, and I mean the knowledge of good an evil, not spread via simple human interaction? It needs no hereditary mechanism.

    Finally, I find traducianism interesting in light of the nephilim. It is a question as to how nonbiological Elohim could produce offspring with humans. The descriptions of the events seem to almost require the adopt some manner of viable human biology. If that is the case, if they basically took on human form, then why would their offspring be extraordinary? Traducianism provides a good explanation.

    • MSH says:

      I tend toward Traducianism as well, so I’m with you. The issue (for the Jesus and sin nature issue) is that his mother was indeed a woman — and a human. But since I don’t take Romans 5:12 the way most Christians do, I don’t have a problem with traducianism. I’m just trying to give a “give and take” description of the options.

  6. Bran says:

    I suppose I may not take that verse the usual way either. I take it to mean that Adam, via the fruit, gained a sort of higher knowledge or consciousness. I also take it to mean that this was taught by Adam to his kids and so on. Thus sin entered, because when we know what we are doing is wrong, we are accountable for it.

    But maybe that’s not right.

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