Finding Hope Ministries

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The Concept of Personhood

One of the great truths of the Christian faith that we see at work all around us is that ideas have consequences, and ideas are not something that humans lack. They can actually be taken as a proof of the fact that humans are created in God’s image, being very inventive, always trying to create new things. Unfortunately, man’s mind tainted by sin, comes up with ideas that are not always great. As Christianity fades away from our culture, the ideas are getting worse and worse but no matter what, ideas have a knack for making their way from mind to culture. Ironically, when people who see themselves as the center of the universe create ideas that reach the culture, the consequences prove to be disastrous for humanity itself, and at the same time dishonoring to God.
I firmly believe that consequences we see manifested today, such as abortion, euthanasia, or experimenting with human embryos, are all coming out of a wrong understanding of the human personhood. In this position paper I will argue the fact that every human being, regardless of their state of development, their capacity to survive or their usefulness to society, is a person created in the image of God, having a body and a soul which they “inherited” from their parents at the moment of conception. This view is classically known as Traducianism. I will argue this view by way of exegesis in key biblical passages and by discussing and showing the fallacies of other views such as the naturalistic view of the human personhood, the pre-existentianism of the soul, and the creationist view.
Positions on the issue
Probably the most damaging view to the dignity of the human personhood is the naturalistic view of the human being, namely the concept that man is a monistic being that only has a body, nothing more than a glorified animal.
According to this view, man was not created with a specific purpose by a divine creator in his own image, but his existence is owed entirely to chance. Scientists that promote this view tell us that the world came into existence approximately 14 billion years ago through a big explosion otherwise known as the Big Bang. After a few billion years, the earth started to form, and after some more time passed the first living cell had come into existence, formed out of the dust of the earth under conditions that made it possible . This first living cell survived by being able to reproduce itself and through random changes, the DNA of later forms has increased leading it to various species, and eventually, after millions of years the first man was fully evolved, again, with the capacity to reproduce and survive.
Speaking of human beings, Lawrence Kraus, an atheist professor of physics said that
The amazing thing is that every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: You are all stardust. You couldn’t be here if stars hadn’t exploded, because the elements – the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron, all the things that matter for evolution – weren’t created at the beginning of time. They were created in the nuclear furnaces of stars, and the only way they could get into your body is if those stars were kind enough to explode. So, forget Jesus. The stars died so that you could be here today.
Being only dust that has taken a specific shape – even the best shape out of all – through random chances, we can see how the value of the human life all of a sudden has no meaning. If there is no soul there, no eternal part, even our emotions and our deepest longings are reduced to nothing more than simple chemical reactions that could just as well not happen, or could be changed through other chemicals. When it comes to euthanasia, this view has no consistent reason for why we should not be stopping some chemical reactions from happening. The only difference between a living body and a dead one is the fact that these reactions are happening in one and not in the other. But chemical reactions are also happening in test tubes, so if we want to just entertain ourselves by them this might be a cheaper way to do it.
The same reasoning applies when it comes to testing on human embryos, or even adult humans for that matter. What is the problem with reshaping this star dust a little? After all, a little creativity has hurt no one, and since the survival of the fittest has brought us here, we might want to just learn how to become even fitter. Abortion is also the product of the same reasoning. Everyday people are throwing out trash that is made out of start dust, trash that would otherwise become very inconvenient. Thinking this way offers no reason for not disposing of those embryos as well, and the fact that there is no eternal soul to any of these nicely shaped packages of star dust, there should be no regrets when we are disposing of them either, they are just going back into nothingness.
A different view on the transmission of the souls has started with the ancient philosopher Plato, and it is called pre-existentianism. The conclusions that Plato drew without having God’s revelation are simply astounding. From his discussion about the world of the forms, to the knowledge innate to us from birth, to the reward in the afterlife, all lead us to conclude that he was a very thoughtful man that understood a lot of things rightly (or at least partially). Plato also argued for the immortality of the soul, but unfortunately he put it in the context of reincarnation, setting a doctrine that has been followed by many after him. Talking about this through the voice of Socrates in his Republic, he said that “the souls must always be the same, for if none be destroyed they will not diminish in number. Neither will they increase, for the increase of the immortal natures must come from something mortal, and all things would thus end in immortality.” To further argue this he used the analogy of sleep, saying that just as sleep comes after being awake and being awake comes after being asleep, so does death comes after being alive and life comes after being dead.
The eastern monistic pantheism worldview has developed along similar thought patterns, adding the fact that whatever state one is in is a matter of his karma. This is probably the most dangerous kind of thinking when it comes to the value of the human life from the perspective of reincarnation. Since one’s karma dictates what he will be in this life based on the good he has done in the previous one, there is no desire of others to change someone current state of living, no matter how bad it might be. One must suffer through that life in order to have a better one in the future. The only thing that makes this thinking better than the naturalist’s is that this one does not usually advocate for euthanasia or abortion, although when this happens they do not condemn it harshly (like when some Hindu wives are killed at the husbands funeral).
Furthermore, Mormons believe in pre-existentianism as well. Preaching about this subject, Joseph Smith said that “there never was a time when there were not spirits; for they are co-equal with our Father in heaven.” However, when it comes to issues of euthanasia or abortion, Mormons see life as a precious gift from God that cannot be taken by us, but must be preserved and defended. Still, I do not believe that their theology provides a good basis for defending life because it does not see it as the only and crucial chance to make matters right with God by trusting in Jesus while here on earth.
Whatever the case might be, I think we can clearly perceive that once we leave this door open and we think that the life we live on earth is not the first nor the last one here, then life on earth all of a sudden becomes something significantly less valuable than it is from the Christian worldview perspective. If you have endless chances to make things right, endless chances to live the best life possible, if the life a person lives here on earth is not the only chance he gets to meet with God and find salvation, why would it matter if any of those lives are cut short by euthanasia or abortion? Even more, why would we not abort a child or kill a person if their future does not look very bright? In fact, we can argue that we actually help that baby by giving its soul the chance to be born into a richer family with better chances for success. We are actually helping that dying old man by releasing him from that body and giving his soul the chance to inhabit a new one.
As the final opposing view to consider in this portion of the paper, Roman Catholicism presents the soul’s transmission in terms of creationism. Although it is called Roman Catholic, this view is nonetheless held by many orthodox Christians and it has a very strong scriptural support.
What this view basically suggests is that God creates each individual soul at the moment of conception of each first human cell and unites that soul with that first cell. A very strong scriptural support for this opinion comes from verses like Ecclesiastes 12:7 or Isaiah 42:5, verses that clearly affirm the fact that God gave the spirit to the body. This debate is actually an in-house debate between genuine Christians with slightly different views, and proponents of creationism fight just as ardently against the evils of abortion, euthanasia and experimenting with human genomes as any other Christians who understand what is at stake. Seeing a person as purposefully designed and created by God in His providence in His own image definitely helps when trying to establish the value of a person. Whether it would be by this model that souls are created or by the model that I am proposing, when we see God in His infinite wisdom as the one working to form a person, then we dare not tamper with his doing. This is the reason why Catholics, although they are so different from us on important issues related to soteriology, are still willing to be engaged in the same anti-abortion war that we are fighting in as well.
What this view cannot account for is the way sin is inherited by that soul. If God created the soul at conception and God only creates good things, how does sin taint that soul? We rightly believe that the soul is the moral part of a person that does the sinning even when it is helped by the body, but if the soul starts as being good, then we should credit the inheriting of a sinful nature to the body. In this case, we risk falling into other ancient heresies that equate the body as evil and the soul as good . For further consideration, I think we can find a better model in Scripture that accounts for the transmission of the soul, and we will turn to it next.
Support for my position
As previously mentioned, the position I will be supporting in this paper is known as Traducianism. The etymology of this word is from the Latin traduco, a word that means to pass, or to transfer. Thus, what this word implies when it comes to our conversation is the fact that the human soul is passed or transferred, inherited from the parents of one person. The soul did not preexist in eternity past; it did not inhabit a different body previously; it was not created by God at the moment of conception, but rather, God created human beings in such a way that they are able to produce new souls along with the bodies of new persons. They are able to be “fruitful and multiply” after their “own kind”. These new souls are thus transferred from the parents (both bringing their equal share) to the children.
Genesis 2:7 presents God creating man in His own image by breathing “into his nostrils the breath of life”. The Bible does not record this sort of activity happening anywhere else but here. Actually, after God created everything (including man), He finished. His creation was over and He rested from His work. The activity that took place in the six days of creation was unique, never to happen the same way again. God was done creating a “very good” creation (Genesis 1:31), and He is now in the business of sustaining it “by the Word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3).
Wayne Grudem argues that the likeness of God in which man is created could include, among others, the ability to create other human beings like him. Since we are all made in the image of our ancestors (Genesis 5:3) who go all the way back to Adam who was made in the image of God, we ourselves can still claim that we are created in the image of God. We are “God’s offspring” as Paul famously argued with the Athenians (Acts 17:29). This makes us no less valuable in God’s sight than Adam himself.
Another good argument for this view comes from Psalm 51, a psalm that talks about the way people inherit sin. David argues here that he was a sinner at birth, indeed, even conceived in sin. These verses could only make sense if David inherited the sin nature from his parents. Consider this. If God only creates good things, then the newly created soul must be inherently good. If David originally had a “clean slate”, if he was an immaculate new soul which God only counts as guilty by imputing to it Adam’s sin, why would David say then that he was conceived in sin? He said it because he knew that he did not only inherit guilt from Adam, but that “even from the womb” people “go astray” (Psalm 58:3). He inherited Adam’s sinful nature. If people were merely guilty, as the creationist view seems to imply, there would be no explanation for the sin that happens so early in a child’s life. This could make sense though if the child possesses a sin nature, a nature that loves to sin, a nature inherited from the fallen Adam. Again, as argued in the first sections of this paper, if we want to account sin to the body only, then this would lead us back into old heresies that considered the body as evil and the soul as good. We do not want to go there! The Bible clearly states that the soul is the morally accountable part of a person. The souls of sinful people are now punished in Hell for sins. The body might facilitate our sin, but it is not the one responsible for it.
The Traducianist view on the transmission of the soul also makes sense when we think of the different passages in the Bible that tell us about a descendant that was present in his ancestor at a specific point in time when he was not yet conceived. This does not mean that he preexisted, but that the makings of him were present there. For example, in Hebrews 7:9-10 we find Levi was “in the loins” of his ancestor Abraham paying tithes to Melchizedek. Levi was the great grandson of Abraham, but he was not born yet when Abraham payed these tithes. In fact, not even Abraham’s son Isaac was born at this time. Yet they were present there because the one whom they would inherit, in whose likeness they would eventually be made was there. We might not know exactly how this functions, but we do have to believe it is so since the Bible affirms it.
Furthermore, we find in Scripture the fact that God “visits” the sins of the parents on the children for a few generations (Number 14:18). This cannot mean that God is punishing the children for the sins of the parents of which they themselves are not responsible. In other places, the Bible clearly teaches that “the soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20). God is committed to justice and does not punish a person for another one’s sin. Yet, we do see here that children inherit so much of the character of their parents that many times they fall into the exact same sins, sins that “run in the family”. At any point in time, these children can repent and stop this chain, but by seeing the matter from this perspective, we can better understand how God can visit the sins of the parents on the children.
Traducianism is also evident with other character traits that are not necessarily sinful, but that cannot be accounted to the physiological DNA only. Things like someone’s temper, attitudes, sense of humor, fears, joys, etc., can all traced back to their parents even when someone has never met them or lived with them. Indeed, these things happen even when someone deliberately tries to avoid being like his parents.
The model of Traducianism summarizes all of these biblical and non-biblical evidences that point to the theory that souls are created and passed along rather than created. God designed things in such a way that a person inherits his body along with his soul from his parents. Understanding all of these evidences, we return to our discussion about the evils of euthanasia, abortion and experimenting with human genomes. I believe we can clearly see that Traducianism provides the best arguments against such evils. Firstly, we can understand that we are made in the image of God. When we tamper with that image, we are tampering with the glory of God. There is no escape from this reality. This is the reason why God demanded someone’s life in murder cases. Life is sacred not because of its usefulness, not because of its beauty, not because of its timelessness, not because of some kind of social construct, but because it is made in the image of God.
Secondly, when we understand that every soul has potential to generate more souls and still we decide to kill it, then we are interrupting a long series of potential human beings who could have lived their God-given life to bring Him glory.
Finally, knowing that God is the sustainer of all life, then again, what need have we to tamper with the way life is supposed to work? By experimenting with human beings and changing their basic structure, we border rebellion against God’s design. Every human being, from conception to the moment God decides it is over for them, has the God-given right to live. We as Christians should hope and pray that every one of these image-bearing souls would live their life in such a way that it would bring glory to God and that one day they will come to the saving knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Objection to my position
The strongest objection against my position can only come from a one that tries to find its arguments in Scripture, and that would be the creationist view. Particularly, as I have briefly mentioned in the first part, that God creates each individual soul at the moment of conception, and then it imputes to that soul the guilt of Adam’s sin. Thus, humanity’s guilt is not an inherited one, but it is one imputed by God as he looks at Adam as our representative and forerunner. Furthermore, this view would argue that there should not be a problem accepting this imputation since we do not have a problem when we argue that Christ imputes us with his righteousness, and that Christ is another one of our representatives. The problem for my view would then be that I am willing to accept one imputation as a valid means of being justified before God but not the other as a valid means of being found guilty. As support, promoters of this view would quote Romans 5:12 and 18, verses that states that just as death came through Adam, life comes through Jesus. Although these people would try to equate the two scenarios and say they both refer to some kind of imputation, I do not believe that these verses are telling us about the way death came to us through Adam. It merely states that it did, and that life comes from Jesus.
Thus, I would agree that Adam was our representative, but the way we inherit his guilt is by inheriting his nature. Otherwise, as I have argued before, our sinful nature would not make sense. If we did not inherit his nature, then we would not be sinful, just guilty. Inheriting his nature gives an answer for our guilt as well as our sinful nature.
Another objection to my position would come from naturalism. This worldview would argue that because we do not see anything except for the body and because no one has ever seen a soul apart from the body, then people do not have a soul. They have chemical reactions happening in them. As simple as it sounds, this argument can actually be a very powerful one. We would think that if the soul was really there, then we should be able to find some kind of method of testing its presence. Since no one has ever empirically proven the presence of the soul, the conclusion should be obvious. Against such views, I could argue by appealing to the conscience that every person has and that makes him feel guilty and morally accountable for his actions. This conscience cannot be explained away by any chemical or physiological theory. Exploited more, this argument can even eventually lead to a conversation with that person about the Gospel of Jesus, the only One who can take away the guilt, the One who died for our sins and who will one day receive our redeemed souls and eventually give us a glorified body to go with them.
In summary, souls must find their original creation in the breath of life given to Adam. All other theories leave us without the clearly expressed image of God and void of the sinful natures so obviously present within us.

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