Table of Contents
Part I: Embodiment and The
How Did I Come to be Me?
The Origin of the Human Spirit
We know that
we receive our body from our parents by an act of procreation:
but whence comes the other half, the spirit.
There are really only four views:
(1) by Reincarnation, (2) by direct Creation, (3) by inheritance
from our parents much as we receive our bodies, termed Traducianism,
and (4) by Evolution. We will examine each of these very briefly
noting something of what is the meaning and evidence for each,
of the problems each view creates.
By REINCARNATION. Broadly speaking, reincarnation means that
a soul passes through a succession of bodies, each of which becomes
a temporary means for the expression of its condition until perfection
is reached by experience. At this point the soul either passes
into the total rest of immersion in the
sum of "cosmic consciousness" and is finally freed
from the burden of personal identity, or becomes one with God
perhaps without loss of that personal identity. Many people
find the cost of individualism is too high and prefer to be "lost
crowd." Final absorption
in something much bigger than self seems a very happy solution
to such people.
The Jewish people gave considerable
thought to the idea of reincarnation and crystallized their ideas
about it during the Middle Ages in a work referred to as The
Cabala or Kabbala. Their thinking was strongly influenced
by gnosticism which viewed embodiment as degrading to the spirit
In this view, all souls were created
at the beginning and perfectly content without bodies. Such souls
were androgynous by nature. When subsequently, as a punishment,
souls were embodied, each was divided into male or female so
that they now seek reunification with themselves by marriage.
(68) Since embodiment
was a penalty, a strong leaning towards asceticism naturally
Nicodemus probably had in the back
of his mind some kind of reincarnation when he asked the Lord
whether a man could enter into his mother's womb a second time
and be re-born (John 3:4).
The possibility that John the Baptist
was a reincarnation of Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the prophets
(Matthew 16:14) is another illustration that the idea was quite
familiar to them, though not yet logically formulated.
Later, Origen (185254) was
to develop the concept much more fully and subsequently to be
roundly condemned as a heretic for his pains by the Western Church. (69) However, he still continued
to be recognized as the first of the systematic theologians and
as an intensely creative writer. His works became a
veritable watershed of original ideas.
As to the evidence, it was then
what it still is, anecdotal in nature. It is a common experience
for many people at one time or another to come upon a scene or
to meet a stranger, and experience a strong but odd feeling of
having been there before (deja vu) or having met previously.
There are a few cases on
record of individuals who described a place in great detail as
though it were quite familiar which they had not however actually
visited: and their description
68. See The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia
of Religious Knowledge, edited by Samuel M. Jackson, Grand
Rapids, Baker reprint, 1949, vol.II, p.328.
69. Origen: condemned particularly for 2 works on reincarnation,
Symposium and De Resurrectione [in his De Principiis,
Book 4, chapter I, 23 in Fathers of the Third Century:
Tertullian, Cleveland Coxe, in Ante-Nicene Fathers,
edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, New York, Charles
Scribner's Sons, vol. IV, p.372f.]. See also New International
Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by J. D. Douglas,
Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1974, under Origenism, p.734.
has proved to be remarkably
Those within the framework of Judaeo-Christian
philosophy, have limited reincarnation to the human spirit. Other
religious communities outside of this tradition have been quite
willing to concede that man might in the next reincarnation be
an animal or an insect or even a plant, and correspondingly any
animal might be reincarnated as a human being. Origen felt that
the problem of man's sinful nature was best explained by some
prior existence in a less than perfect state.
The concept of reincarnation really
provides no solution to the origin of the soul or spirit. It
merely proposes a history of what happens to the soul once created.
We are still left with the problem of where the soul originated
and in what form.
Is there some kind of reservoir
which, like water, can be fragmented into droplets and allowed
to fall into bodies as they are appropriated? Or is there a store
of individually created souls predestined to fit each body when
the time is ripe? And in that case, in view of the steady increase
in the world's population and the number of bodies needing ensoulment,
are there multitudes of souls on a kind of waiting list? Or are
they created as needed?
Granted that with each death there
is a soul free to serve somewhere else, the fact remains that
births exceed deaths so that there are always more new vessels
to be filled than old ones just vacated.
It seems that by and large the
biblical data do not support the concept of reincarnation, especially
since, for the redeemed at least, death does not leave a soul
homeless but frees it for immediate union with its newly resurrected
By Direct CREATION. This is the belief that the soul is, in each
individual case, a direct work of God.
Many passages of Scripture can
hardly be understood
in any other way. We
have already referred to some of them in another context. It
will not be amiss
to repeat a few here to complete the record in this new context.
The spirit is given by God, not derived from man
The spirit is formed
within the individual by God
The spirit (or soul) is made by God (Heb. 'asah)
God is the Father of all spirits Hebrews
If it is God
who has designed and created our spirit, suiting it to our body
(whether male or female, introvert or extrovert, practical or
philosophical, artistic or unimaginative, creative or merely
appreciative, etc.), it is quite natural that it should return
to Him when it leaves this body. Here in God's hands it is
preserved in its identity, to be infused into the new resurrected
body which we receive at the instant of our relinquishing the
present one. This resurrected body will match the character of
its perfected spirit, thus entirely reconstituting a soul.
The spirit is only one half of
our personal identity, and because it is of divine origin, the
dissolution of the body which houses it in no way signifies that
the spirit ceases to exist. It is a creation of God designed
to last for ever, not an accidental and temporary by-product
of a blind evolutionary process. God is able to reconstitute
the whole man by the resurrection of his body in some identifiable
form and by the re-infusion of the spirit into it. Such a destiny
for man is entirely outside the purview or competence of evolutionary
Logically, the evolutionists must
of necessity reject any concept of direct creation of any essential
component of man's constitution, such as his spirit: and especially
any concept which demands continuous creation upon billions of
occasions to meet the requirements of an ever growing world population.
By TRADUCIANISM. This is the belief that the soul or spirit is
procreated by the parents, along with
the body. The word Traducianism
is derived from a Latin verb traducere which means "to
transmit." The term was originated to convey the idea that
in Adam and Eve a soul was directly created to form an inexhaustible
reservoir of soul-stuff for their children. Derivation of all
future souls did not diminish theirs, any more than the lighting
of a second candle or a hundred candles from a first one diminishes
the prime source. All "soul substance" was invested
by one act of creation in Adam and Eve. Our souls are derived
from that investment.
The great advantage of this concept
is that it so nicely accounts for our inheritance of Adam's acquired
sinful nature and guilt. There are some problems which this
otherwise attractive thesis raises.
First, there is no unequivocal
biblical evidence for such an origin of the human soul or spirit.
The only passage which might seem to qualify as such is John
3:6, "That which is born of flesh is flesh and that which
is born of Spirit (or spirit?) is spirit."
If we use a lower case letter for
Spirit to make it read as "that which is born of
spirit is spirit," we might seem to have a strong basis
for Traducianism. But the context clearly indicates that the
word 'Spirit' has reference to the Holy Spirit and that the birth
spoken of is a re-birth. "Marvel not that I said, You must
be born again."
This has been recognized tacitly
in the great majority of modern versions, including the RV, RSV,
NASB, TEV, NIV, NKJV, Berkeley, Young, Williams, Jerusalem, Wuest,
New American (RC), Fenton, Smith and Goodspeed, Rieu, and the
Vulgate. Very few have used the lower case 's' (i.e., spirit).
include NEB, Rotherham, Barclay, and Phillips. Admittedly, majority
opinion does not settle such matters, but it is noteworthy that
when Adam first set eyes on Eve he did not exclaim, "This
is now soul of my soul and flesh of my flesh" but "This
is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh" (Genesis 2:23).
There is no
suggestion in this that
Eve derived her soul or spirit from Adam as well as her body.
Again, while God Himself is spoken
of as "the Father of spirits" (Hebrews 12:9), Adam
is never so described. Yet certainly such a title would have
been particularly appropriate in his case if Traducianism had
There is one further reason for
rejecting the Traducianist position, namely, that it had found
its way into the Early Church as a result of the influence of
early Greek philosophers, chiefly Zeno (c. 450 BC) and Cleanthes
(301252 BC), both of the School of Stoics. (70) Such a source for the
not commend itself to most students of Scripture since Greek
philosophy is hardly a promising basis for a biblical theology.
Nevertheless, there were a number
among the Early Church Fathers who did adopt it simply because
it explained so nicely how one man's sinful nature could become
universal by propagation, and not by example as Pelagius had
argued. Tertullian was strongly in favour of it. (71) To quote his words: "Our
first parent contained within himself the undeveloped germ of
all mankind, and his soul was the fountainhead of all souls;
all varieties of individual human nature are but different modifications
of that one spiritual essence. Therefore the whole of nature
became corrupt in the original father of the race and so sinfulness
is propagated together with souls." It is an attractive
alternative, but not a biblical one. (72)
However, if Traducianism is true
and we assume our soul as having been received jointly from both
parents, then the Lord's soul was not a creation but was received
from both parents, the two parents being the Holy Spirit and
Mary. Thus, half of the Lord's soul is traceable to Mary, and
though the other half
is traceable to the Holy Spirit, the Marian half is corrupted.
This half would corrupt the whole, and thus the absolute sinlessness
of the Lord's spirit must be called in question unless
we accept the Roman Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception
70. Zeno & Cleanthes: see Tertullian,
De Anima, in Latin Christianity, edited by Cleveland
Coxe in Ante-Nicene fathers, edited by Alexander Roberts
and James Donaldson, New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1918,
vol. III, p.185, col. a.
71. Tertullian: F. R. Tennant, The Sources of the Doctrines
of the Fall and Original Sin, New York, Schocken Books, 1968,
72. A fact admitted by the Traducinists themselves. See The New
Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, edited
by Samuel M. Jackson, Grand Rapids, Baker reprint, 1950, vol.XI,
to deal with this very
It has been suggested that Luther
adopted Traducianism in order to place his position at one further
remove from Roman Catholic doctrine. But the evidence seems to
show that, like Augustine (who greatly influenced his thinking),
even Luther himself was never completely settled in his own mind
matter, wavering back and forth between Traducianism and Creationism.
Those who followed him were clear enough and came out on the
side of Traducianism, but Luther himself remained equivocal.
It is not unnatural that Christians
who favour the evolution of man's body and therefore see no discontinuities
in the processes of nature, tend to find Traducianism more acceptable
since it, too, avoids even the discontinuity that direct creation
of the spirit introduces.
By EVOLUTION. Such a view cannot be reconciled with the introduction
of anything metaphysical. Creationism is accordingly ruled out
because it is a metaphysical, not a scientific, concept. Even
Traducianism is ruled out for the same reason since, although
once introduced it could conceivably fit into an evolutionary
pattern, creation ex nihilo is still required to start
the process off.
Thus mind or will or consciousness
is viewed as a misinterpretation of the evidence. These things
do not exist in their own right but are merely a spin-off from
electrochemical processes. Behaviourism is really the only acceptable
form of psychology for the strictly scientific mind. J. B. Watson,
the founder of the Behaviourist School, long ago said that the
time had come to eliminate consciousness altogether from the
vocabulary of the psychologist! (74)
The present trend is thus to convert
the responding person into a mere reacting thing, and so to categorize
all behaviour as reflex. Man has to all intents and purposes
been annihilated. Soul or spirit simply do not exist as separate
Bruno Bettelheim has recently published
a book dealing
73. Luther: see Paul Althaus, The Theology
of Martin Luther, Philadelphi, Fortress Press, 1975, p.160.
74. Watson, J. B., Psychological Review, vol. 20, 1913,
with the concept of soul
in Freud's psychology. * He shows
that while Freud unashamedly employed the word for soul
(die seele) throughout his works, his American translators
avoided the word soul like a plague, using circumlocutions
such as "mental personality." Bettelheim suggests the
reason for this was that the psychologists felt Freud's ideas
would be more readily accepted within the scientific community
if the concept of soul was entirely eliminated! (75)
We are, in their view, merely a
piece of biological machinery. If the reactions of the machinery
of the body can be called 'soul,' then soul is nothing more than
an epiphenomenon, a secondary effect which has no existence in
its own right and exerts no influence on the object which gives
rise to it, any more
than the babbling of the brook influences the movement of the
water which babbles. . . . There is no ghost in the machine.
The strictly logical evolutionist
must either adopt panpsychism, the doctrine that consciousness
was a characteristic of matter from the start so that there is
no such thing as unconscious or inanimate matter; or he must
admit it suddenly emerged out of the blue without antecedents,
thereby creating a discontinuity in nature.** Neither position
is felt to be tenable, so the "horns" of this dilemma
are simply swept under the carpet and no longer discussed.
It is interesting to note that
the idea that all matter must be considered as already animated
was favoured by Zeno who wrote in his work Concerning the
Nature of the Gods, "Nothing that is without a soul
and reason can generate of itself anything endowed with life
and reason; the world however generates
beings with soul and reason; therefore the world is itself living
and possessed of mind." (76)
* Bettelheim, Bruno, Freud and Man's Soul,
Knopf, New York, 1983.
75. Review of Bettelheim's book by William A. Henry, Discover,
vol.4, February, 1983, p.105.
discussion of this question in the light of modern research will
be found in the author's The Mysterious Matter of Mind,
written for Probe Ministries, Dallas, and published by Zondervan,
Grand Rapids, 1980.
76. Zeno: De Nature Deorum, Bk. 2, ch. 22, edited by A.
S. Pease, II, Harvard University Press, 1958, p.601, 602.
This was written nearly 400 years BC! In man's way
of reasoning little has changed since then. The July issue of
Science Digest (1981) has an article entitled "Is
the Cosmos Alive?" Both are really inspired by the same
problem: Whence came man's soul? Where did consciousness come
from? The evolutionary concept of gradualism without any discontinuities
seems to demand that consciousness is a property of all matter
and has co-existed with it from the very first.
But this alternative, that matter
generated consciousness, really does not solve the problem. It
merely shifts it one step further back, since matter itself has
to be accounted for, and the eternity of matter is no more conceivable
than that it had a beginning at some point in time. Carl von
Weiszacker tried to resolve the difficulty by arguing that matter
and spirit are really one and the same thing. (77) The Christian who believes that God created both
matter and spirit really has no problem with this concept, because
matter simply becomes an epiphenomenon of spirit rather than
the reverse! As Hebrews 11:3 puts it, "By faith we understand
that the . . . things which are seen were not made of things
which do appear." For the fact is that both visible and
invisible things are made by God who Himself is invisible (Colossians
So we have these
four alternatives with regard to the origin of the soul in each
individual. First, it is a reincarnation of a soul already in
existence. The soul has thus passed from life to life in a process
of purification and ultimate absorption into some state of rest
which relieves it of further embodiment. This is
really not an account of its origin but only of its subsequent
history. Secondly, that each soul is a separate creation of God,
infused into the procreated body at some appropriate instant.
Thirdly, that it is generated by the parents as the body is generated,
each parent contributing their soul-stuff. Lastly, that it is
a kind of "static noise" emanating from the electrochemical
77. Weizsacker, Carl F. von, in Beyond
Reductionism, edited by Arthur Koestler & J. R. Smythies,
London, Hutclin'son, 1969, p. 434.
activities of the brain
and has therefore no separate existence.
no problems of origin but only suggests a destiny. "Creation"
creates problems for anyone who cannot accept the concept of
discontinuity but demands an unbroken "great chain of being."
"Traducianism" still leaves the matter of the origin
of soul-stuff unanswered.
has to deny that my self has any real existence. I may
deny this for others: to deny it for oneself seems to me to be
virtually impossible in a normal mind. Descartes' "proof"
is pretty compelling. Translated freely, he argued thus: "If
I doubt, then I must exist just to entertain such
a doubt"! Therefore my personal existence cannot be called
The best that Julian Huxley could do
was to admit frankly that the origin of mindedness is a "glorious
and since it can hardly be denied, it serves only to prove how
marvellous the evolutionary process really is because it can
do such incredible things! One cannot rationally come to grips
circular reasoning such as this. . . .
If the law of parsimony is allowed
to govern our thinking in the matter, we ought perhaps to admit
that direct creation is the simplest explanation and has greater
explicit support from the New Testament than any other alternative.
The evolutionary concept leaves
us on the horns of a dilemma. Either soul-stuff belongs to all
matter or it appeared suddenly and thus forms a discontinuity
in the scheme of things. While panpsychism seems absurd, any
discontinuity is equally unacceptable. One has to make a choice
between two unallowables!
78. Huxley, Julian, quoted by Douglas Dewar,
"Dr. Julian Huxley's 'Glorious Paradox,'" from Huxley's
article on "Natural Selection" in The Rationalist
Annual, 1946, p.87.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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