It’s Time for New Thinking on Atonement, Part 7: Traducianism

This eight-part series introduces the new perspective of Realistic Substitution, which unties the knots and answers the questions that previous theories could not. It is the ancient Realistic view of Adam further developed and applied to Christ.

Traducianism is the belief that the immaterial nature (the spirit or soul) is propagated from one or both parents. Creationism is the only Christian alternative, the belief that the spirit is created out of nothing.

While one may hold an implicitly realistic view without affirming traducianism, (preferring to leave it to mystery), it is inescapably implied. A participative union implies common being in singularity of origin, and a propagation of individuals out of that common being. It is my contention that the biblical case for traducianism is strong, and it should not be avoided, as it sheds light on the Adam-Christ parallel. While no explanation of traducianism is without mystery, neither is the creationist view without equal mystery, since it is as difficult a problem to view God creating morally corrupt souls out of nothing as it is to view Him creating them out of the parents.

Traducianism from Scripture
Man was made in the likeness and image of God. Yet, God created man as a propagative being—a being that could “multiply and fill the earth.”

Genesis 2:7-8 ESV
7then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. 8And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.

God breathed the breath of life into Adam, and he became a living soul. This is a startling picture of personal contact. The breath of life can also be translated, “spirit [or, ‘soul’] of lives.”[23] God created Adam’s spirit out of nothing and breathed it into him. Unlike all other creatures, who were strictly material, man was made to be like the Creator, a spiritual being; and because of this he was a moral being.

Genesis 5:1-3 ESV
1This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. 2Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. 3When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.

The spirit is the substance of God’s image in man. The qualities that are often referred to as the image of God, that man is a moral, rational and relational being, are qualities only possible because man has a spirit. Here, the propagative nature of that image is revealed. How unexpected it is that Seth is said to have been begotten in the image and likeness of Adam, rather than God! The spirit that God breathed into Adam was propagated to his son. Since Seth is the first begotten man whose birth is accompanied by such an explanation, his mention provides the pattern by which all men are begotten. Generation after countless generation, the spirit of the child comes from out of his father’s spirit, through all forefathers back to Adam.

The natural sense of the Genesis account is that God had made man and every other creature as propagative beings. Like begets like, as is the way of all living creatures. This is such a part of our thinking that we miss the significance. God created at the beginning, but He designed into His creatures the ability to propagate and “fill the earth” without any further supernatural creation. This is not to say that God remains aloof, but simply that God’s original creating was all that was necessary for His purposes. Robert Culver points out the plain reading of the Genesis account.

The creation of mankind climaxes a narrative wherein every living thing in the waters was to reproduce ‘after their kind.’ In each case no one doubts the whole living creature in each offspring was to be completely the procreated offspring of its parents. Creation first of man, male, then of man, female, comes precisely at the climax of that movement of the narrative, with the command to ‘be fruitful and multiply.’ It would be assumed by anyone who reads on that the same would be the case, notice to the contrary lacking. The same fully ‘after their kind’ in every respect would be assumed to be the case when in obedience to the command to be fruitful, it is said ‘And [connecting with previous narrative] Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain’ (Gen. 4:1 KJV). […] Should we suppose that what Adam and Eve brought forth was half created de novo by God, utterly apart from their own procreative powers implanted in the first place by their Creator, God? I think not.[24]

There is in Scripture no separate origin for the spirit and body, unless we start with that presupposition. God supernaturally created both Adam’s body and spirit. Man was thereafter propagative. Nothing further is needed to justify the inference that man is propagated as a whole. What would justify introducing a distinction, insisting that only the body is propagated?

Heb. 7:9-10 ESV
9 One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, 10 for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.

When Levi is said to have been “still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him,” this is the same as all men having been in the loins of Adam when he sinned. If Levi was not in Abraham in an immaterial way (spiritual, rather than merely physical), then it could not rightly be said that Levi did anything while in Abraham, for it was not Levi, but only his physical nature. Shedd agrees:

…Levi and his descendants are said to have had an existence that was real, not fictitious, in Abraham. But it contradicts the context to confine this statement to the physical and irrational side of Levi and his descendants. The “paying of tithes” which led to the statement is a rational and moral act and implies a rational and moral nature as the basis of it.[25]

It is implied that Levi was in Abraham in a complete way, rather than only one-eighth of Levi being in Abraham (who was only one of eight great-grandparents). Scripture consistently presents the parental relation of the father in this manner. In Gen. 35:11, Jacob is told that kings would come out of his loins: “And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins…” Again, in Gen. 46:26, “All the souls that came with Jacob into Egypt, which came out of his loins, besides Jacob’s sons’ wives, all the souls were threescore and six…” The souls that came with Jacob into Egypt are not spoken of in any way that would indicate a partial presence, such as would be expected under the shared origin of a bi-parental propagation of the soul. Such language is never used of any female progenitor.

Elisha cursed Gehazi and “all his descendants forever,” in 2 Kings 5:27: “The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee, and unto thy seed for ever. And he went out from his presence a leper as white as snow.” Such a curse parallels the depravity that fell upon Adam and all his descendants. The fact that every descendant of Gehazi, no matter how many generations removed, bears the full curse of his leprosy, implies that every descendant was “in the loins of” Gehazi in a complete way that would only fit with a paternal traducianism.

In Deut. 5:9, God makes a startling statement about such generational consequences: “…I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me…” Although the exact meaning of the phrase, “visiting the iniquity,” is unclear, the fact that it is the iniquity of the fathers and not of the mothers is clear and explicit. This verse is balanced by the following:

Ezek. 18:19-20 NKJV
19 “Yet you say, ‘Why should the son not bear the guilt of the father?’ Because the son has done what is lawful and right, and has kept all My statutes and observed them, he shall surely live. 20 The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

Whatever God meant by “visiting the iniquity” in Deut. 5:9, He assures us here that it does not involve the everlasting condemnation and second death—and explains this to the Israelites who had misunderstood His justice. It is significant that, while God contradicts their charges of divine injustice, He does not contradict the idea that such a relation exists between the father and children. Nowhere in Scripture is there the idea of the children bearing the iniquity of the mother.

It may be objected that Ezek. 18:1-4 contradicts traducianism:

The word of the Lord came to me again, saying, 2 “What do you mean when you use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying: ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, And the children’s teeth are set on edge’? 3 “As I live,” says the Lord God, “you shall no longer use this proverb in Israel. 4 “Behold, all souls are Mine; The soul of the father As well as the soul of the son is Mine; The soul who sins shall die (NKJV).

However, it was not the principle of the sons reaping what was sown while in the loins of their fathers that God was contradicting, but rather, it was the mistaken idea that the sons were personally condemned for the actions of the fathers—as indicated by God’s answer throughout this chapter. “The soul who sins shall die.” The death spoken of in this chapter, which shall happen to the wicked but not to the righteous, can only be the second death, since all the righteous do in fact physically die.

Rom.5:12-15 ESV
12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.

All men die because death is in the world, and death came into the world through the one sin of the one man (v. 12). And so we die through the one man’s trespass (v. 15). But the text also says that “death spread to all men because all sinned…” Through whose sin then do we die? Considering that even the unborn die in some cases, and Rom. 9:11 affirms that they have done neither good nor evil, then their own sinning seems not to be the cause of death spreading to them. Also, considering the repeated emphasis in the context here, that the cause that has resulted in death and condemnation to all is, “one man’s trespass” (v. 15), “one man’s sin” and “one trespass” (v. 16), “one man’s trespass” (v. 17), “one trespass” (v. 18), the only reasonable conclusion is that the one man’s sin is the sin referred to by, “because all sinned” (v. 12). It is inescapable that death has spread to all men prior to the existence of any except Adam and Eve; and further, that at the moment when the one man sinned, all men sinned in his sin. This is the one sin that has caused it all—the one in which we all sinned in the one man.

Representationists (Federalists) believe that Paul is speaking figuratively when it is said that “death spread to all men because all sinned,” since this sinning (in their system) was long prior to any real existence of “all men.” In other words, God has chosen to view us as if we had sinned when Adam sinned, but in actuality, we did not yet sin. But how then can the result be literal if the cause is figurative? He does not view us as if we were subject to death, but instead, brings a real death upon us. The Realistic view is the most fitting way to understand this: (reality for reality) all men had a real existence in Adam, so that Adam’s sinning was the sinning of all of his descendants—a corporate participation as real as our corporate existence—and this is traducianism, whether affirmed or merely implied.

Now consider our rebirth. Since Adam, every man has been born spiritually dead—except One, who was born of a virgin. We all were begotten of sinful, fallen fathers. We need a New Father to give us a new image. We need a new spiritual conception in which the Spirit of that New Father is begotten in us (see Ezek. 11:19; 36:26-27; 37:14). Gal. 4:6-7, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” The Spirit of the Son in our hearts makes us a true son of the Father. Now, I ask you: Is Christ in us in a real, substantial way?—or, is it merely that God chooses to view us as if Christ were in us?

Prooftexts Offered Against Traducianism
The first prooftext offered by creationists is Ecc. 12:7:

and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.(ESV)

Human flesh has not been made from the dust since God created the body of Adam. All other human flesh has been derived—propagated—from the flesh of Adam. When any man dies, his flesh returns to the dust from which it was ultimately taken at Adam’s creation. And it is with this same creation in mind, in which God breathed the spirit of lives into Adam, that the author refers to man’s spirit returning to the God who gave it. Because these two things are passed down through the generations, the Bible here tells us that at physical death the body returns to the dust from which it came and the spirit returns to God who gave it.[26]

The next prooftext is Zech. 12:1:

The oracle of the word of the Lord concerning Israel: Thus declares the Lord, who stretched out the heavens and founded the earth and formed the spirit of man within him:(ESV)

When did these three great divine acts occur? Does God daily stretch forth the heavens? Does He continually lay the foundation of the earth? Undeniably, these occurred at creation—and yet all three are in the same tense, as happening together.

Psalm 102:25 (ESV)
25 Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.

Isaiah 48:13 (ESV)
13My hand laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens; when I call to them, they stand forth together.

Further, these acts are put forth as of the same magnitude. Forming the spirit within man is just as great a creative act as stretching forth the heavens and laying the foundation of the earth. But why would such a routine task, happening hundreds of times per day, be so great? The great creative act to which is here referred was the act of God breathing the spirit of lives into Adam. It is also a fact, overlooked by creationists, that this verse could validly be rendered, “…and forms the spirit of Adam within him,” since adam is the Hebrew word for man (cf. Hos. 6:7).

Addressing this verse, William Shedd points out that the verb, “formeth,” “favors the traduction of the soul,” because it means to fashion or form, as from existent material [like a potter forming the pot from clay], and does not necessarily mean to create out of nothing.[27] Augustine also noted this as important.[28]

Another common prooftext is Heb. 12:9:

We have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?”

Shedd answers this well:

…This text [Heb. 12:9] is quoted by the creationist to prove that man is the father of the body only, God being the father of the soul. There are two objections to this explanation. (1) God is not called the “Father of our spirits,” which would be the required antithesis to “fathers of our flesh.” He is denominated “the Father of spirits” generally, not of human spirits in particular. The omission of hemon [of our] with pneumaton [of spirits] shows that the fatherhood is universal—relating to men and angels. God is the heavenly Father in distinction from an earthly father. (2) Had the writer intended to set the human spirit in contrast with the human body, as the creationist interpretation supposes, he would have said “the Father of our spirit” (tou pneumatos hemon) instead of “the Father of spirits” (ton pneumaton)…[29]

Shedd goes on to argue that sarx [flesh] “comprehends the whole man, soul and body,” and does not refer to the body only. I will not go so far as to agree, but Shedd’s point about God being the Father of spirits in general, including angels, stands. Gordon Clark offers another excellent rebuttal:

Hebrews 12:9, which [Louis] Berkhof next cites, speaks of God as “the Father of spirits.” How can one get creationism out of this? He quotes “Delitzsch, though a traducianist [as saying] ‘There can hardly be a more classical proof text for creationism.’” One cannot but wonder whether Delitzsch was speaking sarcastically, for if this is the best text creationists can find, traducianists need have no fear. In ancient Jewish society, and sometimes in American English, the term father does not mean a boy’s immediate parent. Abraham Lincoln said, “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers….” The Jews regularly referred to Abraham as their father (John 8:39). If the verse has any reference at all to the origin of souls, it suggests traducianism, not creationism. Berkhof really gives his case away by adding to the verse in Hebrews 12:9, Numbers 16:22, which says merely that God is the God of the spirits of all flesh. Well, of course; God is the God of all the universe.[30]

Baird explains the flaw in looking to such passages for proof of God’s creation of the soul when so many more attribute the creation of the body, as well, to Him:

…the question is not whether God is the Creator; but whether in the creation of the soul his agency is immediate, and without the instrumentality of a second cause. Hence, quotations to prove God the soul’s creator, are entirely aside of the mark. Yet such are the texts above cited. They do not even seem to have any bearing on the real question… It is on all hands agreed, that the bodies of men derive their being through generation; and yet the Scriptures speak of the creative agency of God in this case, with a particularity and minuteness of detail, such as has no parallel in reference to the soul… It would be acknowledged preposterous to conclude, from these expressions, that the bodies of men are created immediately by God, without generation. Why, then, should such an interpretation be forced upon expressions in regard to the soul, which it cannot be pretended are more emphatic and unequivocal than these?[31]

If the passages that speak of God as the Maker of the soul are taken as proof that the soul is the immediate creation of God, then those passages that speak of God as the Maker of the body (which are more in number and greater in detail and emphasis) must be taken as proof that the body is also the immediate creation of God. Baird continues:

…it must be evident to any candid interpreter, that the scriptures which merely declare God to be the maker of the soul, are no more conclusive to the purpose for which they are usually cited on this subject, than would be the addition of those which speak with at least equal emphasis of the body, to prove that both body and soul are the immediate workmanship of God, and that the human species is not propagated by generation at all![32]

Baird’s point is unanswerable.

Arguments on the Supposed Materiality of the Soul
Turretin (T5, Q13, §VII):

…The same thing is proved by arguments from reason. The soul is propagated by generation, either from both parents or from one only; either as to its totality or only as to a part. But neither can be said. Not the former because thus two souls would coalesce into one and be mingled. Not the latter, for if from one (either the father or the mother only) no reason can be given why it should be propagated by the one rather than by the other (since both parents are equally the principle of generation). If the whole is propagated, then the parents will be without it and so will be deprived of life. If a part, it will be divisible and consequently material and mortal.

Turretin’s objections demand a materialistic explanation, and offer many reasons as to why the materialistic propagation of the soul is impossible. But he fails to squarely address the possibility of the immaterial propagation, because he fails to acknowledge the limits of man’s knowledge. Baird addresses this scholastic overconfidence:

…the arguments here set forth… are made up of dicta of the scholastic philosophy, which assume the thing to be proved, are any thing but self-evident, and are incapable of demonstration. Such are the propositions, that whatever is generable is corruptible; that the soul is something above nature, and therefore incapable of generation by a natural power; and that every exertion of the generative faculty is from a merely physical force. In fact, Turretin, with calm unconsciousness, states as an unquestionable proposition, and an element of his argument, the very thing which he had set out to prove, that “the soul, as being immaterial and simple, cannot arise otherwise than from the creative power of God.” …There are two propositions here assumed as true, each of which is demonstrably false, and each of which is fundamental to the whole argument and essential to the conclusion. These are,—that the phenomena of generation are so entirely within the reach of comprehension, that if we are unable to explain the mode in which a soul may be begotten, we by that confession of ignorance forfeit our cause; and,—that the process is purely physical. An air is assumed of intimate familiarity with the whole rationale of the matter;—a familiarity which is not only unattained, but unattainable…[33]

As James Boyce points out, such objections stand on an uncertain knowledge:

The chief, and almost the only objection to this theory of any weight, is that the idea of propagation of souls involves their materiality. If this be true the theory must be rejected, even if we are left without any satisfactory explanation…
But it may be questioned whether any such materialism is essential to a propagation of souls. It is claimed that extension belongs to matter alone, and that only through extension can there arise the capacity for increase in number. But this argues a knowledge of the nature of created spirits which we do not possess. The fact that the unity of nature and attributes in God as the Great Spirit, the Father of Spirits, involves actual simplicity in him, does not prove that the same is necessarily true of the spirits he has created. It is not certain that they may not have some kind of spiritual bodies. Is it not more than possible that he, who, though a simple spirit, can create spirit like himself, but not of his own substance, may be able to confer upon such spirits such a power of multiplication, that, what he does by direct agency in the first creation, he also may do through them in the mediate creations of other spirits? It is not affirmed that this is true, but is it possible to affirm that it cannot be true?[34]

Turretin allows for no mystery in the prospect of spiritual propagation, providing a set list of faulty materialistic options as if to declare that no other rational explanations of propagation can exist, and therefore, propagation of the spirit is disproven. But when it comes to points in his own doctrine, of which he is unable to remove all the mystery, he affords a less rationalistic confidence. Regarding the difficulties in explaining how sin is propagated, when the soul is not propagated (T9, Q12, §II), Turretin says, “Now although in a question of the highest difficulty all difficulties cannot be removed, still such things can be brought forward from the word of God as can satisfy the humble mind so that we may firmly and indubitably hold the thing, although we cannot fully and clearly understand the mode.” We apply this answer, aptly stated, to Turretin’s own rationalistic demands for a detailed explanation of the metaphysical mechanics of spiritual propagation—and point out his double standard, since it is the very denial of spiritual propagation that results in the mysterious difficulties of how sin is propagated to a child whose spirit is a new creation.

Turretin is assuming a level of knowledge concerning the human spirit that is not available. Boyce continues:

Besides, we should be careful how we dogmatize as to what can and cannot be true of spirits, when we now know so much to be true which a priori we should have judged to be impossible. Thus we now know through the creation of man that spirit can be so associated with matter as to give it a fixed location in space; as to bring it into such contact with matter as to be able to act through it, and upon it; and, more than this, that it is so affected by the condition of the material organism with which it is connected, that the outward manifestation and exercise of its powers is weakened or strengthened through that organism and its moral faculties influenced towards sin or holiness. These, and many similar facts, we now know to be true, which, without experience and Scripture teaching, we should have denied to be possible because of the substantial differences of spirit and matter. Even in the Divine Spirit we are taught that forms of plurality exist, which, without the instructions of the Word of God, we might have denied to be compatible with his spirituality and simplicity, yet, which, as now revealed, are seen to be in no respect inconsistent with these necessary peculiarities of the One God. These facts are not sufficient to enable us to maintain this theory of Traducianism as true, but only as possible, but they at least suffice to keep us from asserting that descent of one spirit from another can only come through some material substance in the soul, and from accepting, as the only possible solution, any other theory which may be accompanied with objections equally insuperable.[35]

What Turretin has tried to do is apply a kind of natural law to the human spirit, to set out what is possible and what is impossible. But as Boyce and Baird have cautioned, the knowledge necessary to declare any laws regarding the spirit, and specifically, the possibility of immaterial propagation of the spirit, does not exist. The fact that one cannot scientifically explain such propagation to the satisfaction of objectors does nothing to disprove the possibility.

Since knowledge is insufficient, Turretin’s division of potential means of spiritual propagation cannot be relied on as accurate—much less exhaustive. Even if acknowledged that the physical is analogous to the spiritual, Turretin has over simplified the analogy to mere division of material. This is inadequate, since propagation (even of the physical) is not production of the mass of the offspring out of the mass of the parent. Even in physical propagation, it is not mere material that is propagated. The material is used to communicate the principle of biological life (or, “life force”) and the necessary genetic information; but both of these are propagated in whole, not in part—and they remain whole in the parents. Also, both of these were created ex nihilo and added to the dust that composed Adam’s body.

The material of a human body is not what defines or identifies the body. Certainly, I have the same body with which I was born, over fifty years ago; yet, not one molecule within me was present at my birth. In fact, it is a cycle by which old cells die and new cells replace the old, that completely renews the human body every ten years. Though the material is completely different, the definition and identity are the same—the same life force and the same genetic information. But how can the principle of biological life and the correlating genetic information be propagated in whole without, as Turretin reasons, leaving the parents devoid of these? His reductionism is inadequate even for physical propagation.

Shedd’s logic on this point is unassailable:

The propagation of the soul involves no greater difficulty than its creation. If creation may be associated with both spirit and matter without materializing the former, so may propagation. We do not argue that if spirit is created, it must be material because matter is created. And neither should we argue that if spirit is propagated, it must be material because matter is propagated. God creates matter as matter and mind as mind. And he propagates matter as matter and mind as mind.[36]

Even if such objections regarding what may be naturally possible of spirits were accurate (and we do not concede that they are), Turretin has missed the fact that supernatural creation can be out of a preexistent substance and does not have to be out of nothing. Even if proven that a spirit cannot propagate by natural means, it remains true that God can supernaturally create the spirit of the child from out of the substance of the spirit of the human father—and God is not limited by any natural laws as to what is possible or impossible. While the evidence from reason and Scripture weighs in favor of the mediate agency of God in spiritual propagation, we are content to accept the possibility of a supernatural traducianism; therefore, this entire line of objection from reason fails. Though natural propagation makes more sense (and has been the traditional argument for traducianism), a supernatural propagation suffices for traducianism, so that all the usual philosophical objections about what cannot be naturally possible regarding spiritual propagation are set aside. Those same objections can be made regarding the possibility of five loaves and two fish being multiplied to feed five thousand people—it is not the infiniteness of the substance that matters in this case, but the infiniteness of the Agent.

Baird speaks of the proper place of philosophy in this matter:

Further, whilst philosophy is entitled to a most respectful hearing, in its own proper sphere, on the other hand, when the Spirit of God makes to us communications involving radical questions concerning the whole relation of man to God, and to the salvation of Christ, it is the business of philosophy to be silent; and the statements are to be interpreted solely by the assistance of their Author, speaking in other scriptures. The declarations of the Bible are indeed to be explained and understood in accordance with the established laws of language; but the meaning thus ascertained may not be set aside, or modified, out of respect to any other than a scriptural authority,—the result of an impartial and reverent comparison of spiritual things with spiritual, in accordance with the analogy of faith. This is especially true where the statements in question, as in the present case, involve important theological issues.[37]

Where the Bible has revealed a matter, philosophy has lost its authority.

Turretin (T5, Q13, §XVII):

Although the soul is not materially from Adam (as to substance), yet it is originally from him as to subsistence. And as man is rightly said to beget man (although he does not beget the soul), so an impure progenerates an impure, especially (the just judgment of God intervening) that by which it was established that what he had bestowed upon the first man, he should at the same time have and lose for himself as well as his posterity. Now although it is curious to inquire and rash to define why God infuses a soul tainted with sin and joins it to an impure body, it is certainly evident that God did not will (on account of the sin of man) to abolish the first sanction concerning the propagation of the human race by generation. Thus the order of the universe and the conservation of human nature demanded it.

To say that the spirit (soul) is not from Adam “as to substance…yet it is originally from him as to subsistence,” is overly scholastic obfuscation. Either the spirit is propagated from one generation to the next, or it is specially created out of nothing by God—there is no option between the two. Turretin wants to lean on the law of propagation when he says that “an impure progenerates an impure…” but such reasoning only makes sense when an impure is propagated out of an impure. However, this is not what he has in mind. It is not propagation that causes the progeny to be impure, but “the just judgment of God intervening…that by which it was established that what he had bestowed upon the first man, [Adam] should at the same time have and lose for himself as well as his posterity.” In other words, God “established” that if Adam should, by sinning, lose his original righteousness, then God—out of some “just judgment”—would specially create each of Adam’s descendants with a soul tainted with sin. God is made to be a continual fountain of corruption, as children are conceived around the world daily. Furthermore, if God has created their corruption, then how can He justly condemn them for it?

Arguments from the Miraculous Nature of Special Creation
Traducianists maintain the distinction between the supernatural and the natural: creation was finished in six days, and God rested on the seventh. Shedd explains:

Genesis 2:1-3 teaches that the work of creation was completed on the sixth day: “God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it; because that in it he had rested from all his work which God had created and made.” If the human soul has been a creation ex nihilo, daily and hourly, ever since Adam and Eve were created on the sixth day, it could not be said that “on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made.”…[38]

Turretin (T5, Q13, §XI):

God is said to have rested from all his work (Gen. 2:2), not by retiring from the administration of things, but by ceasing from the creation of new species or individuals (which might be the principles of new species). Thus he works even now (Jn. 5:17) by administering the instituted nature and multiplying whatever was; not, however, by instituting what was not. Now the souls which he creates every day are new individuals of species already created.

Turretin blurs all distinction between the supernatural, immediate work and the natural, mediate work of God. In the latter, God works with, in and through nature; while in the former, God works miraculously in ways that transcend natural laws and limitations. In six days, God supernaturally created the heavens and the earth and all that are in it. Of course, He has continued to “administer” things, but He does so mediately, not supernaturally. Calling into existence that which is not cannot rightly be called “multiplying whatever was.” God multiplies “whatever was” mediately through the natural processes and mechanisms that He designed into His creatures. For God to continue to create supernaturally would directly contradict the idea of God resting from all His supernatural creative work.

Those who hold that God specially creates the soul cannot escape the contradiction of turning the miraculous into the mundane. Any time that God creates something out of nothing, it requires the supernatural, miraculous power of God. Such a divine creative act is above and beyond nature. However, if it is held that the soul is created in this way, then this presents the problem of putting what is above and beyond nature into nature itself, incorporating the miraculous into the natural processes that are constantly in operation.

God is just as responsible for the conception of an ape as He is of a man. But as long as one holds to the Biblical view that men are more than animals, it cannot be denied that God does something profoundly above and beyond in the conception of a man (in the creationist view). In every other case in which God creates a new member of a species, the offspring is created in its entirety by using the preexisting substance of the parents. But when God creates a child, he is not created in his entirety from out of the substance of the parents. God must provide a substance that does not yet exist—the soul of the child. Thus, creationism cannot avoid the conclusion that God both works with nature in mediately creating the body and works above nature in immediately creating the soul.

Charles Hodge objects that, “…We do not know how the agency of God is connected with the operation of second causes, how far that agency is mediate, and how far it is immediate…”[39] By this statement he gives up the argument to the traducianist, as Gordon Clark noted.[40] Hodge further states, “Creationism does not necessarily suppose that there is any other exercise of the immediate power of God in the production of the human soul, than such as takes place in the production of life in other cases…”[41] This confusion of the natural with the supernatural, which is characteristic of the creationist view, strips the miraculous of all meaning.

God’s supernatural creative power miraculously transcends nature and natural law; but, by the creationists’ argument, God’s supernatural power is incorporated into nature, subordinated to natural laws, and made part of the natural processes. This blurs the line between God’s transcendence and His immanence, and destroys the very concept of the miraculous. Was Christ’s birth miraculous?—Every birth is miraculous. Was Christ conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit?—Every child is conceived by such power, as God supernaturally creates the spirit within him.

Charles Hodge argues that “such an objection does not seem to have even plausibility:”

A miracle is not simply an event due to the immediate agency of God, for then every act of conversion would be a miracle. But it is an event, occurring in the external world, which involves the suspension or counteracting of some natural law, and which can be referred to nothing but the immediate power of God. The origination of life, therefore, is neither in nature nor design a miracle, in the proper sense of the word…[42]

The act of conversion does not involve creation out of nothing. Clark explains:

Now, it is true that the apostle speaks about a new man and even a “new creature” (II Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15). But if the Greek word in these two verses be understood as bara is used in Genesis, there would have come into being, ex nihilo, another person. One must remember that regeneration, in the epistles, is usually called a resurrection. Resurrection allows the individual sinner to remain himself. Well, re-generation does so too. Creation ex nihilo produces someone else.[43]

Hodge’s contention that no miracle takes place unless there is a suspension of some natural law does not help his case. It is as much a natural law that something cannot be produced out of nothing as any other natural law. This attempt to categorize the supposed supernatural creation of the soul as being a work of God in cooperation with natural law rather than counteracting it merely begs the question, and is self-contradictory.

The Propagation of Sin
“Propagation,” says Shedd, “implies continuity of substance and immutability of properties. In the propagation of the body, there is continuity of substance and sameness of properties between the producing and the produced individuals, between the parents and the child. There is no creation ex nihilo of new substance and properties.”[44] Since Turretin’s view of the origin of the soul incorporates the supernatural creative power of God into nature, making supernatural creation an ordinary part of the natural processes, he is able to redefine propagation so that it includes creation ex nihilo. He calls it a “certain and immovable law” and “an established law of nature” that God would put a soul [specially created ex nihilo] into every human body. Turretin (T9, Q12, §XII):

Nor ought it to be considered unworthy of the divine goodness that the soul should be placed in a corrupt body. From the beginning, he sanctioned (by a certain and immovable law) that he would place a soul in every organized human body. This law ought not to have been abolished on account of the sin of man.

And in the next section (§XVIII):

Now in this way God cannot be considered the author, but the avenger of sin. He is the author of the union as his own work; but not of the sin (another’s fault). He unites the soul to the body to preserve the species; he joins the soul deprived of righteousness to a corrupt body for a punishment of sin. Nor is God the cause of the corruption, if in joining the soul to the body he carries out an established law of nature (from which man proceeds properly, but the sinner only accidentally).

Laws of nature are carried out by nature and need no divine intervention; otherwise, it is not natural law being carried out but supernatural acts. This confusion of the natural with the supernatural, as addressed earlier, is an error. Thus, Turretin has misappropriated the term propagation, using its normally understood meaning to lean on the idea of immaterial propagation without explicitly embracing the idea. He states (T9, Q10, §VI), “Rather the question is whether there is any inherent depravity (called original sin) propagated from Adam to all his posterity springing from him by natural generation. They deny; we affirm”; and (§VIII), “Second, the same thing is proved from Gen. 5:3 where Adam is said to have begotten Seth ‘after his image’ (i.e., a corrupt one begat the same). Now he could not be corrupted in generation in any other way than by contracting original corruption.” He clearly insists that depravity (corruption) is contracted, inherent and propagated by natural generation. The next section (§IX) is even more perplexing:

Third, from Job 14:4—”Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one.” Here purity is removed from all men (not even one being excepted), and uncleanness is ascribed to them (not simply external of the body, which can easily be taken away, but internal of the soul). The latter is inevitable, cannot be purged by nature and renders one liable to the judgment of God (Job 14:3); not actual only and transient, but permanent and hereditary, derived from the parent to the offspring (which can be no other than original sin, whatever is meant by the word tm’, whether “seed” or “man”).

Turretin affirms that this uncleanness is “internal of the soul,” and that it is “hereditary, derived from the parent to the offspring.” Job’s meaning is straightforward, with which Turretin agrees: the offspring are unclean because they are brought out of unclean parents. This requires that the thing in which the uncleanness inheres is the thing which has been brought out of the unclean parent. If it were the body that is referred to here as unclean, then it would mean that the unclean body of the child is brought out of the unclean body of the parent. Since Turretin rightly recognizes that the text is referring to the soul that is unclean, then his acknowledgement that the soul of the child is brought out of the soul of the parent is implied. Thus, he again leans on traducianism. Only by traducianism can such expressions as “contracted,” “hereditary,” and “derived from the parent to the offspring,” be used in their proper meaning to indicate the propagation of moral corruption. If God supernaturally creates (ex nihilo) the soul of the child in a condition of moral corruption, and does so according to the corruption that he sees in the parents, then the only thing derived from the parents is the idea and perception and not the corruption itself. Furthermore, since this corruption was created by God, it cannot be said to be contracted like a disease, unless it is contracted from God who is the only Source of the soul’s origin. Turretin (§XI):

Fifth, all are by nature “flesh and born of the flesh” (Jn. 3:5, 6). For “except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” Here is pointed out: (1) the necessity of a supernatural regeneration, which supposes natural generation to be corrupt; (2) the universality of corruption infecting all because all are flesh…

Turretin rightly acknowledges that supernatural regeneration is made necessary by the corruption of natural generation. However, since the moral corruption of the soul is in view, then the contrast is lost in his system, since both regeneration and generation are supernatural. Turretin (§XIV):

The common law that everything begotten is like the begetter; as much as to species as with regard to the accidents belonging to the species. Generation is the communication not only of essence, but also of the qualities and accidents belonging to the species (as therefore a man generates a man, so a sinner can generate no other than a sinner).

This “common law” cannot apply to the soul, which is, in Turretin’s view, specially created by God, in the same way that applies to the body (and to other species). Spiritually, man does not generate a man, but God generates the offspring out of nothing. There is no communication of spiritual essence, and therefore, no communication of qualities and accidents (such as moral corruption) is possible. Turretin’s reliance on this common law to support his view of propagated sin is another example of leaning on traducianism. (§ XIX):

Although sin is pardoned in the parents, still nonetheless it can be transmitted to their posterity because the guilt being remitted, the taint always remains; if not wholly, at least in part. Hence as a circumcised person begets an uncircumcised, so a believer and renewed man begets a corrupt and unrenewed. He does not generate by grace, but by nature (as from a grain cleared of chaff is produced a grain with the chaff).

(§§XXII and XXIII):

In the propagation of sin, an accident does not pass over from subject to subject. The immediate subject of sin is not the person, but human nature vitiated by the actual transgression of the person which, being communicated to posterity, this inherent corruption in it is also communicated. Therefore, as in Adam, the person corrupted the nature; so in his posterity, the nature corrupts the person.
Although the mode of the propagation of sin is obscure and difficult to explain, the propagation itself (which Scripture so clearly asserts and experience confirms) is not on that account to be denied.

Through what medium is this moral corruption and taint “transmitted” and “communicated?” It cannot be “transmitted” or “communicated” through the spiritual nature, since there is no continuity of substance between parent and child—the transmission would be broken. In the creationist system, the spiritual traits, qualities and accidents are transmitted (communicated) through God’s mind alone as the medium between parent and child. To transmit or communicate properly means to pass something through substantial reality. God’s mind is not a medium through which to transmit—His supernatural creative power is not an involuntary function or reflex. As such, the terms transmit and communicate are misappropriated, being used to lean on what is actually denied. If God chooses to create the soul of the child with the moral corruption of the parents (or of Adam), this is not transmission or communication, but rather, it is the exercise of the sovereign will of God to create in this way.

Even with these inconsistencies and misappropriated terms, creationists such as Turretin encounter great difficulty in explaining how moral corruption can be propagated. To attribute moral corruption to the body would be Gnostic error, as mere matter can have no moral taint. However, it would be just as unsatisfactory to hold that God specially creates these souls with moral corruption coming from God’s own creative hand.

Obfuscation by the Co-opting of Terms
Many terms and even ideas that were realistic in origin seem to have been co-opted (and redefined) by representationists. For example, John Murray asserts what seems to be agreement with the realists, in an effort to parry certain points of argument, claiming that representationists do not deny “community of nature” in Adam, that “natural union is involved in natural headship,” that “[…] this human nature which became corrupt in Adam is transmitted to posterity by natural generation.”[45] However, what he means by natural generation involves the whole of human propagation, which, to representationists, incorporates the divine creation ex nihilo of the immaterial side of that nature. So then, his ostensible agreement with the realists that human nature (with only the immaterial side in dispute) “is transmitted to posterity by natural generation,” sounds well and good, but it is really no agreement at all, since that aspect of the human nature that is at issue is not, in the representative scheme, naturally generated, but is supernaturally generated as a subsumed part of the “natural generation” process. Furthermore, the supposed “community of nature,” as it respects the immaterial side, exists (in the representative view) nowhere other than in the mind of God, even though it is called a union “in Adam.” On the other hand, the realists locate the union of nature literally within the man, Adam—the terms, “in Adam,” mean exactly that. And as for transmission of a corrupt nature to posterity, through what medium is it “transmitted?” If God creates the immaterial nature out of nothing, then there is no unbroken medium between generations through which to “transmit.” Again, the representationists have agreed to a realistic-sounding proposition only by depleting the proper substance from the meaning of its terms. They put much effort into shoring up their weak points by implicitly leaning on what is explicitly denied, adhering to the form of realistic language found in Reformed confessions while overlooking the substance.[46]


[23] Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver and Charles Augustus Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1906).
[24] Robert Culver, Systematic Theology, (Great Britain: Christian Focus, 2006), p. 278.
[25] William G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, pp. 441-442.
[26] Augustine agrees: Phillip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1886), Series I Vol. 1, (St. Augustine, Letter CLXVI to Jerome), p. 531

…Nay, it rather favours those who think that all souls are derived from one; for they say that, as the dust returns to the earth as it was, and yet the body of which this is said returns not to the man from whom it was derived, but to the earth from which the first man was made, the spirit in like manner, though derived from the spirit of the first man, does not return to him but to the Lord, by whom it was given to our first parent.

[27] Shedd, Ibid., p. 444.
[28] Schaff, p. 531, reports Augustine saying:

Let it not be said to me that we ought to receive as supporting this opinion the words of Scripture in Zechariah, “He formeth the spirit of man within him,” and in the book of Psalms, “He formeth their hearts severally.” We must seek for the strongest and most indisputable proof, that we may not be compelled to believe that God is a judge who condemns any soul which has no fault. For to create signifies either as much or, probably, more than to form [fingere]; nevertheless it is written, “Create in me a clean heart, O God,” and yet it cannot be supposed that a soul here expresses a desire to be made before it has begun to exist. Therefore, as it is a soul already existing which is created by being renewed in righteousness, so it is a soul already existing which is formed by the moulding power of doctrine.

[29] Shedd, p. 441.
[30] Gordon H. Clark, The Atonement (Jefferson: Trinity Foundation, 1987), p. 121.
[31] Samuel J. Baird, The First Adam and the Second: The Elohim Revealed in the Creation and Redemption of Man, (Phila.: Parry & McMillan, 1860), p. 354.
[32] Ibid., p. 384.
[33] Ibid., p. 346, 350.
[34] James p. Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology, chap. XX, sect. IV, http://www.reformedreader.org/rbb/boyce/aos/chapter20.htm
[35] Ibid.
[36] Shedd, pp. 477-478.
[37] Baird, p. 378.
[38] Shedd, p. 442.
[39] Hodge, Vol. II, p. 69.
[40] Clark, p. 116.
[41] Hodge, Vol. II. p. 76.
[42] Ibid., pp. 74-75.
[43] Clark, p. 120.
[44] Shedd, p. 478
[45] John Murray, The Imputation of Adam’s Sin, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959), pp. 26-27.
[46] Much of this post (Part 7) was adapted from my article, “Origin of the Soul: A Defense of Paternal Traducianism,” accessed at https://kenhamrick.com/2014/10/11/origin-of-the-soul-a-defense-of-paternal-traducianism/

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