The source of the soul in the process of ordinary generation is far from a hot-button topic. There is no great deal of available material on the subject, no classic books (to my limited knowledge) dealing with the topic alone.
As a subject of study, theories regarding the soul’s origin will impact the Christian doctrines of original sin and Christology, pedagogic philosophies such as Tabula Rasa, and anthropological theories regarding environmentalism and positivism.
In the course of this short work it is the intent to comment briefly on the relation between specific theories of the soul’s generation and the relevant Christian dogmas but to pursue it’s outworking’s no further than a small excursion into these, the most nearly related of subjects.
Let us now meet the contestants. There are two competing doctrines as to the origin of the soul in ordinary generation (I use the lengthy phrase “origin of the soul in ordinary generation” because cases of unusual generation such as Adam, Christ, and perhaps Eve are exempted from falling under any doctrinal conclusions reached): Creationism and Traducianism.
Creationism teaches that in the process of generation the flesh of man is created by the successful implanting of the male sperm in the female egg and God then immediately (directly) creates the soul which is joined to the flesh of the newly conceived child.
Traducianism holds that conception is the direct origin of both the body and the soul; God choosing to create both mediately through the natural generation of the parents.
As is the case with many Bible dogmas there are no passages to which one can turn and find a single verse conclusion to this debate. However, once searched thoroughly, there does appear a large amount of relative material which it is my belief can decisively settle the argument.
The creation of the first man was a direct act of God. God fashioned Adam’s body from the earth and breathed a rational soul into him (Gen. 2:7). Naturally Adam’s generation would fall under the Creationist theory, his origin being the immediate work of God for both body and soul. The next created person was the woman, Eve. Here the Scripture relates Eve’s flesh as being taken out of Adam but it is silent regarding the origin of her soul. Of course there is no normal process of generation here at work, but the cautious reader must maintain a ready ear and open eye in places where the Scripture is silent.
Regardless of whether God immediately created Adam and Eve or only Adam the fact is that, Christ alone excepted, theirs is the only case of exemption from the ordinary laws of generation. That is to say that neither Adam nor Eve were conceived through carnal relations. Also bearing on the subject is that the first couple were made upright, in the freedom of a will untainted by sin, and under no condemnation of God.
The first instance of natural generation was the birth of Cain. The Bible does not give a direct testimony regarding the origin of Cain’s soul. Was it a direct creation of God or was it’s origin in accord with the natural conception realized in Adam’s knowing his wife?
Perhaps a definitive answer is beyond our grasp but a well constructed approximation can here be advanced.
Upon completion of His creative work God declared all that He had made “very good.” But in between this pronouncement of goodness upon the creation and the generation of Cain a radical change occurred. Sin entered the world and man in particular was affected. Man was no longer “very good” but was now corrupted in both soul and flesh. Ecclesiastes 7:29 says “God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.” If man’s soul was now really and actually corrupt then this would lend great credence to the soul of Cain being of mediate origin through the act of conception. Would God create a soul that was evil and depraved? The source of Cain’s wickedness was clearly his parental descent. Was this inheritance of wickedness merely fleshly or did it pertain to his heart as well?
Jeremiah 17:9, using the term “heart” as a substitute for soul, says “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know. it?” Cain was undoubtedly created with a wicked heart (soul) seeking out many inventions. The question is, did God directly create this wicked soul? There is further Scriptural material which can supply an answer to this question.
Speaking with Nicodemus in regards the spiritual regeneration of the new birth Christ says in John 3:6: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” To be born of the flesh as Christ means it is to be born of woman, inclusive of flesh and spirit. The carnal mind (spirit or soul) is enmity with God (Rom. 8:7) and is so from conception. David testifies to this in the 51st Psalm: “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” If the natural process of generation produces a body and a soul that are enmity with God then the strong inference would be that the body and the soul are not the direct or immediate creation of God. They are both mediately derived from the parents through the process of conception.
This line of thinking would establish Traduction as the suggested theory of the origin of the soul. Other Scriptural passages use language which would reinforce this assumption. Genesis 46:26, speaking of Jacob’s descent into Egypt, says “All the souls that came with Jacob into Egypt, which came out of his loins…”. To speak of the souls of Jacob’s children as coming from his loins is indicative of the fact that Moses assumed that the body and the soul alike of said children found their genesis in Jacob.
Back to the case of Eve, Paul speaks of her generation in I Corinthians 11:8 saying “For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man.” It is possible that Paul may here be speaking of Eve in regards to the origin of her flesh only but it is not likely. Consider: the context of this passage is that man is federal head to woman (certainly a dogma which incorporates the soul) in the same way that Christ is federal head to man. The specific topics are conduct in the worship of God and prayer (spiritual topics). The tenor and scope of this passage would indicate that Paul assumed Eve was drawn from Adam in both body and flesh. Adding further bearing on this topic the passage continues in vs 12: “For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.” Man is by woman in the same way that woman is of man, and all are of God. If it is Paul’s assumption that Eve was of Adam in both body and soul and the allusion between her creation and the subsequent process of natural generation is to hold then it must also be his assumption that the soul and body are “by woman.” Of course both body and soul are the mediate creation of God; conception being the ordained secondary means employed.
In conclusion of the Biblical arguments it is necessary to observe the doctrine of secondary means. Back to the starting point of creation, we read in Genesis 2:2-3 “And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.” The stated doctrine here is that God completed His creative work in six days and from thenceforward did “in his ordinary providence, maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at His pleasure (Westminster Confession v. 3). The working without, above, and against secondary causes which the confession here has in mind are extraordinary miraculous works such as talking donkeys, floating axe heads, and the sun standing still in the heavens. The scriptural footnotes attached reveal that nothing so commonplace as natural generation was viewed by the Westminster Assembly as under God’s immediate works. Of course the hand of God in conception and generation are not to be denied. He is the first cause of all things and yet “by the same providence, He ordereth them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes… (Westminster Confession v. 2).
This received doctrine of causation, combined with the Bible’s testimony of God’s resting from His immediate acts of creation, would seem to put the scales firmly in a balance which favors Traducianism over Creationism. That is to say that the available Scriptural evidence indicates that both the body and the soul are derived from the process of natural generation.