God Is Moral Part Ten
In the previous article we saw that the real issue in the heated debate concerning the morality of abortion is this: At what point does the human offspring have a human soul and, therefore, become a personal human being?
If the soul is present at conception, then the offspring is a personal human being at that moment and is not merely impersonal tissue; abortion after conception would terminate a personal human life and would be murder.
But if the soul is not present until after conception, then the human offspring is merely impersonal tissue until the soul is present; abortion before that point would not involve the taking of a personal human life and would not constitute murder.
To resolve this critical issue, we must determine the source or origin of each individual human soul. The previous article examined the preexistence and creation theories of the origin of the human soul and the biblical problems with those views. Now we will examine a third theory.
The Origin of the Human Soul
The Traducian Theory. The word traducian is derived from the Latin verb traduco, which means, “bring across, lead over, transport across; transfer.”1 Thus the traducian theory asserts that each human soul is brought across, transported across, or transferred to offspring by parents through procreation. The individual soul is brought into existence at the time of conception through the union of the male sperm with the female egg. Consequently, parents propagate entire persons, not merely bodies. Many fine Christians advocate this theory.
Significant biblical evidence exists for the traducian theory. For example, Genesis 46:26 states, “All the persons who went with Jacob to Egypt, who came from his body, besides Jacob’s sons’ wives, were sixty-six persons in all.” The Hebrew word translated “body” refers to Jacob’s “loins, as seat of procreative power.”2
The word translated “persons” is the same word Genesis 35:18 and 1 Kings 17:21–22 use for the human soul—the immaterial aspect of a human being, which departs from the physical body at death. Genesis 35:18 states that Rachel’s “soul was departing (for she died).” 1 Kings 17:21–22 records the following incident: Elijah “cried out to the Lᴏʀᴅ and said, ‘O Lᴏʀᴅ my God, I pray, let this child’s soul come back to him.’ Then the Lᴏʀᴅ heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came back to him, and he revived.”
Thus the statement in Genesis 46:26 that 66 people came from Jacob indicates that more than mere physical entities came from his body. It implies that Jacob played a significant role in procreating total human beings—souls and bodies, not bodies only. Therefore, souls are procreated by parents.
Hebrews 7:9–10 is another passage that implies this same concept. Verse 9 states, “Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak.” There was a sense in which Levi, Abraham’s great-grandson, paid tithes to Melchizedek “through” his great-grandfather when Abraham paid those tithes years before Levi was conceived.
How could Levi, prior to his conception, have participated in this action of his ancestor? Verse 10 provides the answer: “for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him” (Jewish people used the term father for any male ancestor). The Greek word translated “loins” refers to “the place of the reproductive organs.”3 The language of Hebrews 7 insinuates that Levi was present in seminal form in his ancestor Abraham’s loins when Abraham paid the tithes to Melchizedek. Therefore, there was a seminal participation by Levi in Abraham’s act of paying the tithes.
The text implies 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. Thus Hebrews 7:10 implies 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 support for the traducian theory is the fact that it is the only theory that comfortably fits the biblical teaching that all human beings sinned in Adam and die as a result. Romans 5:12–19 contains the following statements:
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned. By the one man’s offense many died. The judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation,…by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one,…through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation,…by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners (vv. 12, 15–19).
And 1 Corinthians 15:22 declares, “in Adam all die.”
These statements indicate that, in some sense, all human beings procreated through normal means sinned the original sin when the first man, Adam, committed that sin. The active voice of the verb translated “all sinned” (Rom. 5:12) indicates participation in that sin. And the fact that all people are subject to physical death as a result of that original sin implies that all share the guilt of that sin.
Since sin is related primarily to the realm of the soul, the only way that all humans could have sinned in Adam when he committed the original sin 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 to Melchizedek, so every human soul was present in seminal form in Adam’s loins when he sinned the 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 in Adam’s original sin by all people procreated by normal means. In this way, all human souls are related to or derived from Adam.
A third line of support for the traducian theory is that the theory most comfortably fits the biblical teaching that all human beings pro-created by normal means are in a state of sin, having a sin nature from the moment of conception. In Psalm 51:5 David declared, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity.” The word translated “brought forth” means “to be born,”4 and the word translated “iniquity” involves the concepts of “guilt” and “punishment.”5 Thus David indicated that at the time of his birth, he was already bearing the guilt of iniquity and deserved divine punishment.
David further stated, “And in sin my mother conceived me.” He thereby signified that his relationship with sin began before his birth. The word translated “sin” means “to miss a mark or a way.”6 Thus David declared that he was conceived in a state of sin, with a sin nature that missed the mark of the absolute righteousness God requires for acceptance with Him.
According to Franz Delitzsch, an outstanding Old Testament scholar, David’s statements mean the following:
that his parents were sinful human beings, and that this sinful state (habitus) has operated upon his birth and even his conception, and from this point has passed over to him….He is sinful, an unclean one springing from an unclean, flesh born of flesh. That man from his first beginning onwards, and that this beginning itself, is tainted with sin; that the proneness to sin with its guilt and its corruption is propagated from parents to their children.7
In other words, human beings inherit the sinful state, with a sin nature, from parents through procreation at conception. Consequently, people do not become sinners as a result of sins committed after birth. Instead, people commit sins as a result of already being sinners with sin natures from the moment they are conceived. (See Psalm 58:3; Isaiah 48:8.)
Since sin is related primarily to the realm of the soul, and since human beings inherit the sinful state and sin nature from parents through procreation at conception, it can be concluded that each human soul is derived from parents through procreation at the moment of conception. This conclusion agrees with the traducian theory concerning the source or origin of each human soul.
A fourth line of evidence for the traducian theory is the biblical use of the personal pronouns me, them, and he, and other words—a male child, children, son, and daughter—in conjunction with conception. David said, “My mother conceived me.” The Shulamite spoke of her mother as “her who conceived me” (Song 3:4). Hosea 2:4–5 refers to a mother of children “who conceived them.” Luke 2:21, with reference to Jesus, states, “He was conceived in the womb.”
Job 3:3 refers to the conception of “a male child.” An angel announced that Elizabeth had “conceived a son” (Lk. 1:36). Numerous Scriptures refer to men begetting children, sons, and daughters. (A few are Genesis 5:3–4; Ecclesiastes 5:14; 6:3; Jeremiah 16:3.)
Begetting takes place when the male sperm fertilizes the female egg at conception. The use of these personal pronouns and other words in conjunction with conception indicates that a total person—including a soul, not merely an impersonal body—comes into existence at the moment of conception.
The next article will explore other concepts related to the issue of abortion.
- A. Kidd, “traduco,” Collins Latin Gem Dictionary (London and Glasgow: Collins, 1957), 339.
- A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, “yarek” (based on the lexicon of William Gesenius, trans. Edward Robinson, ed. Francis Brown, with the cooperation of S. R. Driver and Charles A. Briggs; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), 438.
- William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, “osphus,” A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (1952: translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der ubrigen urchristlichen Literatur, 4th ed.; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 591.
- Andrew Bowling, ”hul,” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 1:271.
- Carl Schultz, “awon,” in Harris et al., 2:650.
- Herbert Livingston, “het,” in Harris et al., 1:277.
- Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Psalms, Francis Bolton (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959), 2:137.