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Dr. Steve Tracy

Phoenix Seminary

T 502, Fall 2008

Importance of this doctrine:

Abortion, reincarnation, cloning, reproductive technology, Mormonism all hinge on this doctrine


Plato taught the preexistence of the human soul as pure mind (nous) which was part of God, but by looking downward lost its divine fire and fell from God.  This Greek influence was felt in the early church, and some of the Alexandrian church fathers, most notably Origen, affirmed the pre-existence of the human soul.  Origen felt that the present human existence, with its moral and physical irregularities is best explained as punishment for sins which were committed in a previous existence of the soul.

Much more recently, Mormons have affirmed the preexistence of the soul, stating that God has sexual relations with a heavenly mother, and spirits are produced.  These spirits are in the heavens waiting for an earthly body to inhabit (which is one of the main reasons they encourage Mormon couples to have large families).  This heavenly pre-existence is called the "first estate" and according to LeGrand Richards it is "the life we lived in the spirit world before we were born [on earth]."  Mormon theologians use Jer 1:5 ("before I formed you in the womb I knew you") to support the pre-existence of the soul (spirit).  They also cite Job 38:7 which says that at creation "the morning starts sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy."  This is said to refer to the spirits of men in their bodiless form before they were united with a body on earth.

There are several serious problems with the doctrine of the pre-existence of the soul:

-1.        There is absolutely no biblical basis for this doctrine; it rests entirely on philosophical speculation.  The texts cited by Mormons are easily explained as references to angels, or in the case of Jer 1:5, to the sovereign omniscience of God.

-2.        Contrary to the biblical record, it makes the body unnecessary and almost accidental.

-3.        It largely obliterates the distinctions between humans and angels.

-4.        Contrary to Scripture, it explains the present human condition through events which took place outside of human history whereas Scripture explains the human condition solely in terms of what took place in the Garden of Eden and afterwards (Rom 5:12-21).

-5.        It destroys the unity of the human race (Gal 3:28; Col 3:11), for all humans had a previous existence elsewhere in another form.

Evolution—Spontaneous Creation of the Soul

Some theistic evolutionists such as Richard Bube argue that the human body and soul originated through evolutionary processes.  He uses the metaphor of combustion to explain the development of the soul, which "results from the interaction between his [man's] bodily part...just as flame bursts suddenly into being as a qualitatively new entity due to the interaction of wood and oxygen, so the spirit of man can be envisioned coming into being under the guidance of God."  This divine guidance, however, is the result not of the direct hand of God, but of natural evolutionary processes.  "The spiritual nature of reality need not be imposed from the 'outside' upon the material, but may have its origin within material interactions in themselves."

-1.        This analogy is invalid, for wood, oxygen, and fire and all physical entities whereas the soul is immaterial.

-2.        This model is illogical; how can an immaterial soul arise spontaneously out of purely physical elements?

-3.        This model is unbiblical, for Scripture declares that God, not impersonal evolutionary processes, gives humans a soul/spirit (Eccles 12:7 "the spirit will return to God who gave it").

-4         This model is unbiblical, for it logically implies that the soul is mortal, since it arose from mortal physical elements, whereas the Scriptures declare that the soul is immortal and survives death (Matt 10:28; James 5:20; Rev 6:9).


This is the view that God creates a new soul at the conception (or some time before birth) of every individual.

+1.       Creationism is more consistent with the creation account in Gen 1-2, which shows a distinction between the creation of the body (which was taken from the earth) and the creation of the soul (which came directly from God).  This distinction is maintained in Scripture, for the body and soul are described as different substances having different origins (Eccles 12:7; Is 42:5 the Lord "gives breath to the people on it"; Zech 12:1 the Lord "forms the spirit of man within him"; Heb 12:9 "the father of spirits").

+2.       Creationism is more consistent with the natureof the soul, for the immaterial spiritual soul is created by God, and thus no division of the essence of the soul of the parents is necessitated.

+3.       It best explains biblical Christology, for Christ inherited His physical human body and human traits from his human mother, but His spiritual essence came from God who creates the soul. 

-1.        Creationism makes God the author of evil, for it implies that God creates souls which are tainted by sin.  The only logical alternative for creationists would be to say that God creates the soul pure and it is later corrupted, but this can't explain universal human depravity.  If God creates pure souls, then why don't some of them remain pure?

-2.        Creationism is not in harmony with God's normal dealings with the world in this age.  Normally, God works through secondary causes.


Traducianism comes from the Latin word traducere which means "to transmit or propagate."  Traducianism asserts that human souls are propagated along with the physical body by natural generation, and thus are transmitted to the children by the parents.  Tertullian, Luther, and most Lutheran theologians are Traducianists.

+1.       It is supported by Gen 1-2, which indicates that once God breathed into man the breath of life (2:7), it was left to man to propagate the species (1:28; 2:7).

+2.       Gen 2:2 says that after the seven creation days were completed, God rested from His creative work.  This implies that God does not continue to create souls directly.

+3.       Descendants are said to be in the loins of their fathers (Gen 46:26; Heb 7:9-10).  This concept is best explained by Traducianism, for all humans are propagated body and soul from their ancestors.

+4        Traducianism best explains the fact that children not only inherit physical traits from their parents, but also mental, psychological and moral similarities.

+5.       It is supported by the analogy of the animal world, for animals increase not through immediate creations, but by natural generation of new individuals from the parents.

+6.       Most importantly, Traducianism best explains human depravity, for Scripture clearly indicates that from conception humans have a sin nature (Ps 51:5).  If creationism is correct, then it would seem that God creates a sinful soul, but a holy God would not do this (cf. James 1:13).  Ecc 7::29 says that God made humans morally upright, and human sinfulness is of human origin. Thus, Traducianism best explains the inheritance of the sin nature from one's parents (assuming one accepts the seminal view of the transmission of the sin nature—cf. Rom 5:12).

-1.        Philosophically, Traducianism is a difficult concept, for it implies the division of the soul, whereas the soul is a pure spiritual substance and hence indivisible.  (Not really, for the parents soul is not separating and being given to the children.)

-2.        It is predicated on the assumption that after the seven creation days, God no longer directly creates, but works mediately through secondary causes.  This however, contradicts biblical statements about God's direct work in creation through miracles as well as His work of regeneration, which is direct and not through secondary causes.  (But these are the exceptions and not the norm.  Regeneration is a different issue altogether, for it relates to the new creation in Christ)

-3.        Traducianism creates serious Christological problems, for if the body and sinful soul is passed on from parents to children, then Christ would have been born with a sinful soul.  (But creationism still doesn't solve this problem.  Christ's incarnation is a mystery and a divine work of God.)

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