Reading Oliver Crisp’s “Pulling traducianism out of the Shedd” where he unpacks the views of William Greenough Thayer Shedd defending traducianism (which means the human soul is passed on to the child by the parents). While I’m familiar with the two positions on the origins of the soul (creationism versus traducianism), I’ve never thought about this topic at any length and in light of how the sin nature is inherited from Adam. Crisp nicely summarizes the problem for those not holding to some kind of traducianism.

Creationism posits the creation of each new soul by God for each individual human being. But, Shedd says, this means that only the physical part of a human being is passed from one generation to the next through procreation. How then can we explain the transmission of original sin from one generation to the next? Not according to creationism, says Shedd, because on the creationist view, original sin cannot be transmitted from one soul to the next in the same way as genes are passed from one generation to the next. The soul of each individual is created ex nihilo; the parents of each individual do not transmit it. But then, Adam’s fall has no bearing on my own sinfulness because his sin and my sin are distinct.

If traducianism is false, then by what means is the sin nature transferred to human offspring? It cannot be that God creates the soul ex nihilo but then adds to it the property of the sin nature. Perhaps there is some kind of fusion going on whereby when the two substances (body and soul) are united into one human person, what emerges is some kind of sinful being (in body and in soul). Questions remain.


  1. Paul, I lean toward traducianism myself, but I think it is problematic to tie the origin of the soul to the transmission of original sin. It raises difficulties in terms of our righteousness in the second Adam, to whom we have no genetic connection. (I think it was Carl Henry who critiqued A. H. Strong on this, warning of a sort of pantheism resulting.) A covenantal/ federal/representational view of our solidarity with Adam in his sin and guilt, and Christ in his obedience and righteousness, is much better, I think. Sin is not transmitted like DNA, which a connection of it to traducianism implies.

  2. Very interesting, Terry! Thanks for commenting. I’ll take a look at Henry on this. Much to learn on this topic.

  3. I’ve written several articles over the years about the teaching of inherited sin, though I didn’t want to put links here because that tends to send comments to moderation. The debate over traducianism vs. creationism becomes moot if sin cannot be inherited, so it would seem that determining if this is so would need to be done before the debate can begin. I personally have come to the conclusion that sin is not inherited, any more than righteousness is inherited.

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