Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Where Do Babies Come From?

It is the simple question of a child that can provoke feelings of nervousness and fear in the hearts of most parents. The answer we give obviously differs depending upon the maturity of the person asking. I assume that most of us know by now where the bodies of babies come from but what about the rest of them? As Christians we understand that human beings are more than simply the result of biological processes and babies are more than the sum of their genes. Science has been able to describe a great deal of what happens when human bodies are formed (though many mysteries remain); however, science is incapable of explaining the development or creation of the other essential element required for a human being to exist, namely the soul.

Throughout church history there have been two main explanations for the origin of the soul. There have been a few people who have argued for a third view that God originally created all of the souls that will exist and when a new body is formed God attaches one of those pre-existing souls to it. This view, however, has no clear biblical support and is generally considered to be unorthodox. Of the two orthodox views the most prominent has been the Creationist view. This view is that God specially creates each new soul ex nihilo and attaches that soul to the body at some point, usually conception. The second orthodox view, known as Traducianism, is that human beings proceed as whole beings with both body and spirit deriving from the parents.

Both views have some compelling arguments as well as weaknesses. The Creationist view is supported by scriptural passages that seem to indicate that the soul has a separate origin from the body (Zechariah 12:1, Ecclesiastes 12:7) as well its logical support for the distinction between body and soul. The major weakness of the Creationist view is its implications for the doctrine of original sin and total depravity. If God creates a new soul each time a person is conceived then either He is creating a sinful soul (which is problematic for various reasons) or He must create a “good” soul and then impute it with sin prior to or along with attaching it to a body. For that reason it is virtually always the case that those who hold to a Creationist view of the soul also hold to a Federal Headship view of sin. Other minor complications involve the fact that many Christians hold to a view that God ceased direct creation activity on the sixth day. Most Catholic and Reformed theologians hold to the Creationist view although there have been notable exceptions on both sides.

The Traducian view, which derives its name from the Latin verb traduco (to transmit), is supported by scriptural passages that seem to indicate that children are in some sense within the loins of their forefathers (Hebrews 7:10), and the fact that God breathed life into Adam but all his progeny came forth alive and in his likeness (after his kind) without such special activity on the part of God (Genesis 4). Those who hold to a Traducian view claim that if the soul itself is derived from the souls of the parents then doctrines such as total depravity are easier to understand because the sin nature would be the result of spiritual inheritance going back to Adam. Some who hold this view postulate that this progression of the sin nature comes through the line of the father thus explaining how Jesus could be wholly human (seed of Mary) and yet sinless (no sinful inheritance from a human father). The Traducian view therefore tends to fit well with a “realism” view of the transmission of sin. The major weakness of the Traducian view seems to be finding a biblically consistent explanation of how a new human soul can be derived from the souls of other humans. Lutherans, Eastern Orthodox, and certain Baptist Christians have typically supported the Traducian view.

This is one of those theological positions that I am reconsidering. I have historically held to the Creationist view mostly as a result of the fact that it was what I had been taught. As I grow in my reading and study of the Word there are a number of doctrinal assumptions that I find I have to reconsider. This seems to be an example of one of those things worthy of more attention. I am not sure I will change my mind just yet but it certainly deserves more study. It turns out that even now I cannot confidently answer the question “where do babies come from?”

1 comment:

  1. Something more to think about on top of everything else. Good article.