Traducianism is the belief that at conception both the child’s body and soul or spirit are passed on to the child from the parents. In other words, the child inherits both the material and immaterial aspects of his being from his biological parents.
A differing view is creationism, which holds that God creates a new soul ex nihilo for each child conceived. Both traducianism and creationism have their strengths and weaknesses, and both have been held by various theologians of the past. There is a third view, not supported by the Bible at all, which sets forth the theory that God created all human souls at the same time, prior to Adam in Genesis 1. At the time of conception, God attaches a soul to the child’s body.
Some find biblical support for traducianism in the creation narrative. Genesis 2:7 says that “the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into Adam the breath of life; and man became a living being.” This tells us that Adam was not just a physical being, with a body, but he also had an immaterial part made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27)—he had a spirit and personality. The Scripture nowhere records God doing this again. In fact Genesis 2:2–3 indicates that God ceased His creative work. Later, Adam “had a son in his own likeness, in his own image” (Genesis 5:3)—the wording is similar to that used of Adam’s creation in Genesis 1:26. And, just like Adam, Seth had a body and a soul.
Psalm 51:5 says, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” From the moment of conception, David had a sinful nature. Note the words I and me; these indicate that David considered himself a whole person (body and spirit) at conception. Traducianism helps explain how David could have possessed a sin nature at conception—his spirit/soul was inherited from his father, who had inherited his spirit/soul from his father, and so on, all the way back to sinful Adam.
Another passage used to support traducianism is Hebrews 7:9–10, which reads, “One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor.” Levi is considered to be “in the body” of his ancestor, even before conception. In this way, Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek through his grandfather Abraham.
It’s usually easy to trace red hair or freckles through one parent or the other. Physical characteristics may skip a generation, but they eventually show up. We speak in the same way of personality traits: “Oh, no, he has my temper”; “She has her father’s disposition”; “He has his mother’s love of animals.” There is no gene we can point to that would explain the soul, yet we commonly see evidence of personality inherited from parents. Could this be the result of the parents’ passing on the soul as well as the body at conception? Scripture does not clearly affirm or deny traducianism.