Abortion and the Origin of the Human Soul
The Bible contains two facts that bear significantly upon the issue of when the fetus is a complete human being possessing a human soul. The first fact is that man is created in the image of God, an issue that was considered in the previous article. The second is the origin of the human soul, which will be examined in this article.
The previous article established the fact that it is wrong to murder a human being because of the presence of the human soul. In light of that fact, the real issue related to abortion is this: At what point does the fetus possess a soul? If the soul is present at the moment of conception, then the fetus is a complete human being at the moment of conception, and abortion at any time from conception on involves the taking of a complete life and is murder. By contrast, if the soul is not present until some time after conception, then the fetus is not a complete being until that time after conception when the soul is present, and abortion before that point of time does not involve the taking of a complete life and is not murder.
At what point does the fetus possess a human soul? The answer to this question is dependent upon the answer to another question: What is the origin of each soul? Historically there have been at least three major views concerning the origin of individual souls.
The Preexistence Theory
Proponents of the preexistence theory assert that there is a community of bodyless souls existing somewhere in the universe prior to the entering of each soul into a body. Some proponents of this theory believe that these bodyless souls have existed eternally. Other advocates claim that these souls were all created at one time. Still others propose that originally souls were not separate from each other but were all part of one universal world soul.
All proponents of the preexistence theory claim that each soul leaves the community of bodyless souls and enters a body either at the time of conception or birth.
The preexistence theory of the origin of the human soul is a pagan theory. It has been advocated by Hinduism and other Eastern mystical philosophies and religions, by proponents of reincarnation, and by some secular philosophers and psychologists.
There are at least two reasons why the preexistence theory must be rejected by those who hold to the authority of God’s biblical revelation. First, this theory has no biblical support.
Second, this theory is contrary to the biblical teaching that all human beings sinned in the first man, Adam. According to Romans 5:12–19, sin entered the world through the first man’s original sin; physical death came to mankind as a result of that original sin; all people are condemned to die, not because of individual acts of sin which they commit after birth, but because all people sinned the original sin when the first man committed that original sin (in Rom. 5:12 the active voice of the verb “sinned” in the expression “for all have sinned” indicates that somehow all of Adam’s descendants participate in his original sin). The same truth is indicated in 1 Corinthians 15:21–22, which declares that death came by man and that all human beings die “in Adam.”
Although sin has a negative effect upon the body, it is related primarily to the realm of the soul. It was in the realm of his soul, where his mind and will resided and functioned, that Adam made his decision to sin against God. All decisions to sin are made in the realm of the soul, because decisions are functions of the mind and will, and the mind and will are aspects of the soul.
Since sin is related primarily to the realm of the soul, the only way that all people could have sinned in Adam is if their souls are related to or derived from Adam. If, as the preexistence theory asserts, individual souls exist somewhere in the universe before the conception of each body, then each soul is not related to Adam, although each body is derived ultimately from Adam by virtue of procreation or reproduction.
The Creation Theory
Proponents of the creation theory assert that each body is procreated by parents, but each soul is created directly and individually by God and is embodied by Him in the fetus either at conception, at birth, or at some time between conception and birth. According to this theory, the creation and embodiment of each soul take place at the same time, and each body is derived ultimately from Adam through parents, but the same is not true of the soul.
The creation theory of the soul is considerably better than the preexistence theory. It has been proposed by several secular philosophers, and, since it asserts that souls come into being by creative acts of God, it has been advocated by many fine Christians.
The creation theory has several problems, however. First, it does not explain the biblical teaching that all people sinned in Adam. Since sin is related primarily to the realm of the soul, how could all people have participated in Adam’s original sin if each of their souls was created directly and individually by God sometime after that original sin?
Second, the creation theory does not explain the sinful nature of all people from the time of conception on. The Scriptures teach that all are sinful by nature and that all have sinned against the holy God (Rom. 3:9–19, 23; 5:19; Eph. 2:1–3). They also indicate that each person is in this state of sin from the time of conception (Ps. 51:5). Since sin is related primarily to the realm of the soul, the fact that all people are sinful by nature from the time of conception indicates that each soul is in a state of sin from the time of its beginning. How can the creation theory explain the fact that each soul is in a state of sin from the time of its beginning if, as that theory asserts, God creates each soul individually and directly? Does the holy God create sinful souls? Certainly that cannot be true. It was noted earlier that the source of man’s sinfulness is man himself, not God.
Third, the creation theory finds it difficult to explain the fact that children often inherit the qualities of intellect and character of their parents. If God creates each soul directly and individually, why do children often resemble their parents in these qualities, which belong to the realm of the soul, not to the realm of the body?
It is the conviction of this writer that problems such as these rule out the validity of the creation theory of the origin of the soul.
The Traducian Theory
Proponents of the traducian theory assert that each soul is procreated by parents. The individual soul is brought into existence at the time of conception through the union of the male sperm with the female egg. Thus, entire persons, not just bodies, are propagated by parents. This theory has also been advocated by many fine Christians.
There are several significant biblical evidences for the traducian theory. First, certain Scripture passages strongly imply this theory. Genesis 46:26 states, “All the souls that came with Jacob into Egypt, who came out of his loins, . . . all the souls were threescore and six.” The Hebrew word translated “souls” in this passage is the same word used in Genesis 35:18 and 1 Kings 17:21–22 for the immaterial aspect of a human being which departs from the physical body at death. Thus, the statement in Genesis 46:26 that 66 souls came out of Jacob’s loins indicates that it was more than physical bodies that came out of Jacob’s loins. The implication is that Jacob played a significant role in procreating total people—souls and bodies, not just bodies—and, therefore, souls are procreated by parents.
Another passage that implies the same thing is Hebrews 7:9–10, which declares that there is a sense in which Levi the great-grandson of Abraham, paid tithes to Melchizedek “in Abraham,” when Abraham paid those tithes to Melchizedek, even though Abraham paid the tithes years before Levi was conceived. How could Levi have participated in this action of his ancestor before he was conceived? Hebrews 7:10 provides the answer: “For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchizedek met him” (the Jews used the term father for any male ancestor). This implies that Levi was present in seminal form in Abraham’s loins, and, therefore, there was a seminal participation by Levi in Abraham’s act of paying the tithes.
Two things imply that more than an impersonal body was present in seminal form in Abraham’s loins. First, how could an impersonal body perform the act of paying tithes? Second, the passage indicates that it was Levi a person, not just Levi’s body, who was present in seminal form in his ancestor’s loins. The implication of Hebrews 7:10 is that souls as well as bodies are passed on in seminal form from generation to generation through ancestral lines until procreated by parents at the moment of conception.
A second line of biblical evidence for the traducian theory is the fact that it is the only theory that comfortably fits the biblical teaching that all people sinned in Adam (Rom. 5:12–19; 1 Cor. 15:21–22). Since sin is related primarily to the realm of the soul, the only way all people could have sinned in Adam is if their souls are related to or derived from him. According to the traducian theory, each soul is related to Adam in the same way that Levi’s soul was related to Abraham. Just as Levi’s soul was present in seminal form in Abraham’s loins when Abraham paid tithes, so every soul procreated was present in seminal form in Adam’s loins when he sinned his original sin. Thus, just as there was a seminal participation by Levi in Abraham’s act of paying tithes, so there was a seminal participation by all people procreated in Adam’s original sin. In this way, all souls are related to or derived from Adam.
The third line of evidence for the traducian theory is the fact that it is the theory that most comfortably fits the biblical teaching that all people are in a state of sin with a sin nature from the moment of conception. In Psalm 51:5 David declared, “Behold, I was shaped in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Two significant things should be noted about David’s statement. First, according to Franz Delitzsch, an outstanding Old Testament scholar, the meaning of David’s statement is “that his parents were sinful human beings, and that this sinful state (habitue) has operated upon his birth and even his conception, and from this point has passed over to him.”1 In other words, each person inherits his sinful state with a sin nature from his parents through procreation at the moment of conception. As noted earlier, sin is related primarily to the realm of the soul, and each person inherits his sinful state from his parents through procreation at the moment of conception; therefore, it can be concluded that each person derives his soul from his parents through procreation at the moment of conception. This conclusion agrees with the traducian theory.
Second, in Psalm 51:5 David used the personal pronoun me when referring to his conception within his mother. He thereby indicated that his mother conceived a total person, including a soul, not just a body. This indication of the procreation of the soul by parents substantiates the traducian theory.
These biblical evidences attest to the validity of the traducian theory of the origin of each soul.
The fact that the divinely inspired Scriptures substantiate the validity of the traducian theory prompts several important conclusions. First, as noted in the previous article, it was God who created man in the beginning, and He, therefore, is the ultimate authority and source of knowledge concerning when the fetus is a complete being possessing a soul; He has revealed in the Scriptures that each soul is procreated by parents at the moment of conception. It can be concluded, therefore, that the fetus is a complete person with a soul from the moment of conception. The fetus does not become a complete person at some time after conception. Thus, divine revelation does answer the real issue related to abortion.
Second, since the fetus is a complete person possessing a soul from the moment of conception, it can be concluded that abortion from the time of conception on involves the destruction of a complete life and, therefore, is immoral. From God’s perspective, there is no difference between the deliberate killing of a complete life between conception and birth or after birth. It is the same act of murder. It strikes the image of God in that life, and God regards that as a very serious offense (Gen. 9:5–6).
Third, since God, the Creator and Judge of man, is opposed to abortion and has given authoritative biblical revelation relating to this issue, all people should oppose abortion. Why, then, do many favor abortion, and why has abortion on demand been legalized by society? The answer to this question is twofold. First, over the last 150 years there has been a persistent, systematic, growing rejection of God’s authoritative biblical revelation within society. Abortion is one of the tragic consequences of that rejection. In Romans 1:18–32 God revealed that when man willfully rejects divine revelation, abuse of human life, including murder, results. The second and ultimate reason society favors and has legalized abortion is man’s inherent spirit of rebellion against God and His rule. In Romans 8:7 God revealed that unsaved man has a self-centered mind-set that makes him hostile toward God and that refuses to submit to God’s rule. As a result of this mind-set, unsaved man thinks that he exists for his own benefit, happiness, convenience, and pleasure; wants to go his own way and rule his own life; and rejects God’s moral absolutes, ways, and authority. Abortion is a symptom of this sinful disease of rebellion.
Fourth, since God is opposed to abortion, Christians should not practice, condone, or encourage it. Instead, they should oppose it by communicating their opposition and concerns through legitimate, peaceful means to individuals and proper government officials and by supporting qualified agencies that meet the needs of unwed mothers and other mothers who decide not to have an abortion. Christians should not use violence or threats to combat abortion. This writer is convinced of this for two reasons. First, Jesus never advocated or condoned the use of violence or threats by His followers to do His work. Second, the only effective way to eliminate a symptom is to cure the disease causing that symptom. Abortion is a symptom of the sinful disease of rebellion against God and His authority, and the only effective way to stop abortion is to cure its ultimate cause, the disease of rebellion against God and His authority.
Violence, threats, and demonstrations do not cure the ultimate cause of abortion; they only attack the symptom. The only cure for the sinful disease that causes abortion is the spiritual salvation of those who practice and favor abortion—spiritual salvation that comes only through faith in Jesus Christ, who died for the sins of all people and who rose again from the dead. In light of this, it is the conviction of this writer that the most effective way for Christians to combat abortion is to invest their time, resources, and energies in fulfilling the Lord’s commission to evangelize the unsaved with the gospel of Jesus Christ, rather than participating in such activities as violence, threats, and demonstrations against abortion.
Fifth, since Jesus Christ died for all the sins of all people (1 Cor. 15:14; Gal. 1:4; 1 Pet. 2:24; 3:18; 1 Jn. 2:2; 3:5; 4:10), it can be concluded that people can be delivered from the guilt and penalty of the sin of abortion by trusting Him alone to save them from that and all other sins (Jn. 3:16; Acts 16:30–31; Eph. 2:8–9).
- Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Psalms, Vol. II, trans. by Francis Bolton (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1959), 137.