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Shedding traducianism: Oliver Crisp’s analysis of William Shedd’s traducianism in light of Herman Bavinck’s creationism

Submitted to Professor John W. Cooper for Body, Soul & the Monism-Dualism Debate (995BPA)

By Laurence R. O’Donnell III (Mailbox 157) Calvin Theological Seminary 6 July 2011


CONTENTS I. Introduction............................................................................................................................... 1 II. Bavinck on creationism and traducianism.......................................................................... 6 A. The vantage point: one blood and one head.................................................................6 B. The debate: preexistence, creationism, and traducianism...........................................9 1. Preexistence................................................................................................................. 9 2. Traducianism............................................................................................................... 9 3. Creationism (with a traducian twist).....................................................................12 4. Creationism (mostly) contra traducianism........................................................... 15 5. Summary....................................................................................................................17 III. Shedd’s traducianism in light of Bavinck’s creationism................................................ 17 A. Imago Dei: diminution vs. development...................................................................... 18 B. Sin: physical inheritance vs. moral imputation...........................................................19 C. Soul: divisibility vs. indivisibility................................................................................. 21 IV. Conclusions........................................................................................................................... 22 V. Bibliography........................................................................................................................... 24


I. Introduction The creationism-traducianism debate has received scant attention in contemporary Reformed theology, and the little attention is has received is more dismissive than explicative. Recent treatments of the debate appear to follow, albeit implicitly, Karl Barth’s outright dismissal of the question as an outmoded, abstruse, and misguided concern of Protestant scholasticism.1 For example, although Gerrit Berkouwer devotes a lengthy chapter to the debate, he concludes, like Barth, with both an outright rejection of the dilemma and a persnickety insistence upon an explicitly Christocentric perspective on humanity’s origin.2 More recently, John Frame dismisses the debate in one place by presenting it as an example of a misguided language game wherein different theologians slice the same linguistic pie idiosyncratically and subsequently interpret their formal differences as if they are material differences; 3 in another place he remarks in passing that Scripture does not answer the question. 4 Wayne Grudem 1. After his brief historical excursus on creationism and traducinianism, Barth remarks: “We may have various reasons for refusing to enter into this strange discussion about the date of the inception of human life. In any case, however, none of the various attempted solutions, each of which outdoes the other in abstruseness, leads us even the slightest step forward from where we stand, i.e., face to face with the fact that, if we exclude the pantheistic solution, we are bound to reckon with a beginning of human life, and therefore with a time when we were not, which was not yet ours.” See § 47.4, “Beginning Time” in Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, ed. G.W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance, trans. G. W. Bromiley (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 2004), 3/2:572 ff.; quote at 574; creationism-traducianism excursus at 573–74. 2. See “Creationism and Traducianism” in G. C. Berkouwer, Man: The Image of God, trans. Dirk W. Jellema, Studies in Dogmatics (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1962), ch. 8; he rejects the dilemma at 307. Berkouwer’s Barthian-Christocentric insistence is as follows: “There is no science, and no theology, which can unveil for us this mystery of man. This does not mean an underevaluation of science and theology, but rather an understanding of their meaning and their limits. Man, who no longer understands himself, can again understand this mystery only from the viewpoint of the divine revelation in Jesus Christ” (309). Cf. Barth, Church Dogmatics, 3/2:583 ff. 3. “But frequently the fact that two theologians cut the cake differently will lead to misunderstandings and even to hostility between them. In such cases, loving counsel and careful analysis are needed. I think that that kind of misunderstanding lies behind some of the important theological controversies in church history: the supralapsarian-infralapsarian dispute, the common grace debate, the creationism-traducianism controversy.” John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1987), 223–24. 4. “Creationists claim to do more justice to individual responsibility, while traducianists claim to do more justice to our solidarity in Adam. Myself, I don’t think that Scripture clearly supports one view or the other.” John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2006), 93.


O’Donnell 2 devotes a little over two pages to his mild advocacy of creationism.5 Robert Reymond devotes barely a page and a half to summarizing the debate, defending traducianism as the better option, and rejecting Berkouwer’s “reductionist” assessment of the debate. 6 Van Genderen and Velema assert the opposite of Reymond: using barely a full page they support both Berkouwer’s rejection of the debate and his emphasis upon biblical, anthropological holism.7 Most recently, Michael Horton relegates the debate to a passing footnote and dismisses the question nonchalantly.8 These contemporary dismissals of the debate are not necessarily dismissive; for, like Augustine, one might legitimately argue that, due to Scripture’s relative silence on such an obscure matter, “nec tunc sciebam, nec nunc scio.” 9 Furthermore, exceptions to these

5. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 484–86. 6. Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of The Christian Faith, 2nd ed. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 424–25. Robert Duncan Culver concurs with Reymond’s assessment: “G. C. H. Berkouwer's treatment [of the creationism-traducianism debate] . . . comprises a lengthy chapter. He concludes that we should simply reject the dilemma. I finished this part of his book, Man in the Image of God, with disgust and I wrote, ‘This chapter as many previous in this book leads nowhere. Problems are stated, views presented, some biblical evidence set forth but no attempts at a synthesis. Shall we just give up on theology and write mystery or enigma after the title to each division? The mind of thoughtful people will not rest where Berkouwer leaves them.’” Systematic Theology: Biblical & Historical (Ross-shire, Great Britain: Mentor Imprint by Christian Focus Publications, 2005), 281. 7. See § 25.1.5 in J. van Genderen and W. H. Velema, Concise Reformed Dogmatics, trans. Gerrit Bilkes and Ed M. van der Maas (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2008), 356–57. 8. “These are interesting questions with valuable theological implications but are unlikely to be settled conclusively on exegetical grounds.” Michael S. Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 377n11. 9. Augustine, Retractationes, 1,1,3, cited in Gerard J. P. O’Daly, “Augustine on the Origin of Souls,” in Platonismus und Christentum, ed. Hosrt-Dieter Blume and Friedhelm Mann (Münster Westfallen, Germany: Aschendorff, 1983), 191n42. O’Daly emphasizes the fact that Augustine considered the question primarily exegetically and that he classified the question under the category of obscura quaestione; see the sources cited in O’Daly, “Augustine on the Origin of Souls,” 184nn3–4. Cf. Berkouwer’s appeal to Augustine in the conclusion of his chapter: “And we need not be surprised that in the measure that the Scriptural witness regarding the origin of the whole man is appreciated, the importance of the apparent dilemma seems to fade, and that consciousness of the whole man in his mysterious relationship to God opens the way for us to rise above this historic dilemma. In this light the continuing hesitation of Augustine becomes a meaningful sign in the history of Christian thought” (Man, 307). Also cf. Charles Hodge’s reserved concluding remark: “The object of this discussion is not to arrive at certainty as to what is not clearly revealed in Scripture, nor to explain what is, on all sides, admitted to be inscrutable, but to guard against the adoption of principles which are in opposition to plain and important doctrines of the word of God.” Systematic Theology (New York: Scribner, Armstrong, and Co., 1873), 2:75.


O’Donnell 3 trite treatments can be found. 10 Nevertheless, viewed against the backdrop of robust treatments such as Francis Turretin’s (1623–1687) 11 or Augustus Strong’s (1836–1921),12 or even viewed in light of early twentieth-century Dutch Reformed debates, 13 it is hard to avoid the impression that in recent Reformed theology the debate is not only dead but also that it is dismissed dismissively. Despite the current blithe attitude toward this once perennial debate, Oliver Crisp’s recent study on the theology of William Greenough Thayer Shedd (1820–1894), the eminent American Presbyterian theologian whose most renowned contribution to nineteenth-century Reformed theology is his robust defense of traducianism, revisits the topic.14 Insofar as Crisp’s analysis of Shedd’s formulation of traducianism is comprised mostly of thought experiments that are loosely based upon themes arising from Shedd’s thought rather than contextualized analyses of Shedd’s formulations, his treatment is not entirely free from anachronism and historical abstraction. 15 Nevertheless, he raises 10. E.g., Otto Weber’s analysis, though concise, is deft and astute, especially regarding the Protestant scholastic heritage; see Foundations of Dogmatics, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1981), 476–78. See also “The Origin of the Soul” in Culver, Systematic Theology, ch. 6. 11. See “The Origin of the Soul” in Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James T. Dennison, Jr., trans. George Musgrave Giger (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1992), 5.13 (pp. 1:477–82). 12. See “Origin of the Soul” in Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology: A Compendium and Commonplace Book Designed for the use of Theological Students (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1907), 2:488–97. 13. See Anthonie Gerrit Honig, Creationisme of traducianisme (Generatianisme)?: rede bij de overdracht van het rectoraat aan de Theoloische School te Kampen op 6 December 1906 (Kampen: J. H. Bos, 1906); Jan Waterink, De oorsprong en het wezen van de ziel (Wageningen: Zomer & Keuning, 1930); Hendrik Steen, Persoon geest en ziel (Utrecht: H. de Vroede, 1935). 14. See “In Defense of Traducianism” in Oliver D. Crisp, An American Augustinian: Sin and Salvation in the Dogmatic Theology of William G. T. Shedd (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2007), ch. 1; a revised republication of Oliver D. Crisp, “Pulling Traducianism Out of the Shedd,” Ars disputandi 6 (January 2006). 15. E.g., Crisp uses the philosophical problem of identity through time that besets traducianism as a foil for sketching his own alternative theory of identity based upon so-called ontological “four dimensionalism,” a contemporary topic that most definitely never crossed Shedd’s nineteenth-century mind. Crisp, An American Augustinian, 30-33. Furthermore, most of the sources Crisp cites throughout the chapter are twenty-first century philosophical studies. This fact does not mean that his analysis is altogether wrongheaded; rather, it is merely to highlight the methodological fact that Crisp abstracts motifs from Shedd’s thought in order to use them as foils for his own formulations rather than elucidates


O’Donnell 4 several important philosophical questions regarding whether traducianism is better suited than creationism to serve as Reformed theology’s theory of human propagation. I wish to analyze these questions using Herman Bavinck (1854–1921), the eminent Dutch dogmatician, as a foil. This method is appropriate for at least three reasons. First, in the introduction to his analysis of Shedd’s formulation of traducianism, Crisp references Bavinck in support of the point that the traducian-creationism debate is a perennially disputed question in Christian theology and that “some [theologians], like Augustine, were unable to decide which view of this matter is the correct one. 16 He remarks in the accompanying footnote: As Bavinck points out, “the argument between traducianism and creationism remained undecided in Christian theology.” Moreover, “in the strength of their arguments traducianism and creationism are almost equal” (pp. 580–81). 17 Second, Crisp leaves Bavinck tucked neatly way in this footnote and proceeds immediately to assert that “[w]hat makes Shedd’s contribution important is the clarity and rigour of his defense of traducianism, rather than any particular originality in his argument.”18 The oddity of this abrupt transition is that Crisp leaves the reader with the dual impression that Bavinck was as ambivalent as Augustine on the topic and that he had nothing to say about Shedd’s formulation. However, in the very section referenced Shedd’s formulations with an eye to Shedd’s own historical context and theological interlocutors. The latter goal is the aim of the present study with respect to Herman Bavinck’s analysis of Shedd’s position. 16. Crisp, An American Augustinian, 13. Given the title of the book, it is slightly odd that Crisp omits any references to Augustine’s works throughout ch. 1, including the relevant extracts cited in the editor’s supplements to Shedd’s Dogmatic. The editor introduces these extracts intriguingly: “The following series of extracts presents Augustine’s traducianism. Notwithstanding his refusal to declare positively for either theory, no such series in favor of creationism can be found in his works.” See supplement 4.1.2 in William Greenough Thayer Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, ed. Alan W. Gomes, 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2003), 483–86; quote at p. 483. For a succinct summary of Augustine’s various formulations regarding creationism and traducianism throughout his vast corpus, see O’Daly, “Augustine on the Origin of Souls.” 17. Crisp, An American Augustinian, 13n6; quotations from Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2, God and Creation, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004). 18. Crisp, An American Augustinian, 13.


O’Donnell 5 by Crisp, Bavinck comes down decidedly in favor of creationism, albeit with an intriguing twist that we will analyze below.19 Third, throughout his Dogmatiek, especially in volume 3, Bavinck not only evinces intimate familiarity with Shedd’s Dogmatic Theology, but also he explicitly rejects Shedd’s realism. “The so-called realism, say of Shedd,” writes Bavinck, “is inadequate both as an explanation of Adam’s sin and as an explanation of righteousness by faith in Christ” (RD 2:586). In another place he contrasts Shedd and Charles Hodge as follows: One of the youngest representatives of the Old School [Presbyterianism] is W. G. T. Shedd, emeritus professor since 1890 at Union Seminary, New York, and author of the two-volume Dogmatic Theology. However, between Hodge and Shedd there is a remarkable difference. The former is a federalist and creationist, the latter a realist and traducianist. (RD, 1:202–03) Given both his familiarity with Shedd’s work and his defense of creationism, it is inadequate to pass by Bavinck’s position as if it is nothing more than an ambivalent Augustinian fence-sitting. I will argue accordingly that Bavinck’s creationist position, when read as a counterpoint to Shedd, offers a colorful both-and alternative to what Crisp portrays as an either-or debate. Also, I will demonstrate that, rather than abstracting Shedd’s motifs for the purpose of proposing philosophical thought experiments in conversation with contemporary ontological theories, a more fruitful and historically accurate way to analyze Shedd is to read in him the context of his theological interlocutors such as Bavinck. 19. For Bavinck’s treatment of the creationism-traducianism debate, see Reformed Dogmatics, 4 vols., ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003–2008), 2:579–88 (# 299); hereafter cited as RD. The following remark adumbrates Bavinck’s view and evinces his preference for creationism: “So there has to be a moment in which the fetus becomes a human being who will have his or her own independent and continuing existence. When this happens or how this happens is a mystery. Science has no idea when or how this happens, and theology with its conjecture of the fortieth or sixtieth day is only guessing. Creationism can no more explain this mystery than traducianism. But it has the advantage over the latter theory in that it is prepared respectfully to leave this mystery alone and not to subject it to a spurious explanation. The latter is the danger to which traducianism exposes itself” (ibid., 583).


O’Donnell 6 II. Bavinck on creationism and traducianism “From this vantage point fresh light falls on the question of the propagation of the human race.”20 So Bavinck begins his explication of humanity’s propagation, and so must we begin our analysis of Bavinck’s view by asking: from what theological vantage point does he view humanity’s propagation? A. The vantage point: one blood and one head21 According to Bavinck, the fact that God not only created Adam and Eve but also immediately blessed them with the gift (gabe) and mandate (aufgabe) of procreation is of paramount ethical importance; for, this fact reveals that humanity—the imago Dei— is neither “a heap of souls on a tract of land” nor “a loose aggregate of individuals” but “an organism that, precisely as such, is finally the only fully developed image of God”; indeed, this developed imago is comprised of “billions of members” (RD 2:577; emphases added). Thus neither Adam alone nor Adam and Eve together can comprise the imago Dei in toto. Only humanity in its entirety—as one complete organism, summed up under a single head, spread out over the whole earth, as prophet proclaiming the truth of God, as priest dedicating itself to God, as ruler controlling the earth and the whole of creation—only it is the fully finished image, the most telling and striking likeness of God. (RD 2:577) That Bavinck conceives of humanity as an organism—“as having been created out of one blood” (RD 2:577)—and emphasizes the crucial concomitant of the imago Dei’s organic development clearly implies an affirmation that should pique the interest of 20. Bavinck, RD, 2:579. 21. See “Human Destiny in Community” in RD 2:576–79 (# 298). The entirety of this subparagraph comprises the vantage point from which Bavinck views the traducianism-creationism debate. What follows is a brief summary of the main points.


O’Donnell 7 traducianists, namely, that humanity is a physical unity, a true organism. Nevertheless, he insists—appealing primarily to the Apostle Paul’s usages of the Adam-Christ parallel (Rom. 5:12–21, 1 Cor. 15:22, 44–49)—that before one can properly analyze humanity’s propagation, one must also apprehend humanity’s ethical unity: The human race is not only physically of one blood (Acts 17:26), for that would not be enough for humanity. The same thing is true, after all, of all the animal species created in the beginning. Furthermore, Christ, the antitype of Adam, is not our ancestor; we did not physically descend from him. He himself is a descendant of Adam according to the flesh. In this respect Adam and Christ are not alike. But the similarity consists in the fact that in a juridical and ethical sense humanity stands in the same relation to Adam as to Christ. Just as Christ is the cause of our righteousness and our life, so Adam is the cause of our sin and our death. God considers and judges the whole human race in one person. (RD 2:578; emphasis added) Thus to humanity’s physical unity (one blood) Bavinck adds a juridical-ethical unity (one head—in both its prototypical and antitypical forms—Adam). The crucial implication here for the creationism-traducianism debate is that Bavinck concludes that God’s general and special revelation present humanity’s organic unity as both physical and ethical.22 Bavinck demonstrates the necessity of this ethical unity with two classic proofs derived from the Apostle Paul’s Adam-Christ parallels. “If we could not be subjected to condemnation in Adam without our knowledge,” he argues on the one hand, “neither could we have been accepted unto grace in Christ without our participation” (RD 2:579). On the other hand, he avers that if humanity’s unity were merely physical, then fallen humanity could not be redeemed by Christ since he is “not our ancestor” (RD 2:578). Additionally, he argues the following point from general revelation: 22. This point is not original to Bavinck. Cf. Turretin’s formulation of a dual physical-and-ethical unity: “Adam was the germ, root and head of the human race, not only in a physical sense and seminally, but morally and in a representative sense.” Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 9.9.23 (p. 1:623). Shedd disputes such formulations; see Crisp, An American Augustinian, 16–17.


O’Donnell 8 Generally speaking, the law of architectonics everywhere requires the monarchical system. A work of art must be controlled by a single thought; a sermon must have a single theme; a church comes to completeness in a steeple; the man is the head of the family; in a kingdom the king [or queen] is the bearer of authority; as an organic whole, an ethical community, the human race is not conceivable without a head. (RD 2:578) In sum, for Bavinck, God’s gift-mandate of procreation implies that humanity is not a mechanical aggregate but an organism that, like all other organisms, is subject to the law of organic development (including propagation). Hence the imago Dei is not exhaustively represented by the first man but comes into its own only in the fully developed imago Dei that includes billions of people. Also implied in the conception of humanity as a developing organism is the idea of federal headship. Thus, based upon Paul’s AdamChrist parallels, Bavinck insists: Humanity cannot be conceived as a completed organism unless it is united and epitomized in one head. In the covenant of grace Christ has that position, and he is the head of the church; in the covenant of works that position is occupied by Adam. (RD 2:578; emphasis added). For all of these reasons Bavinck argues that it is inadequate to posit that humanity’s unity is merely physical. Just as a kingdom requires a king, so also humanity’s physical unity (one blood) requires its ethical unity (one head). Bavinck therefore concludes this section by stating the all-important vantage point from which Reformed theology views the question of humanity’s propagation: On the basis of a common physical descent an ethical unity has been built that causes humanity—in keeping with its nature—to manifest itself as one organism and to unite its members in the closest possible way, not only by ties of blood but also by common participation in blessing and curse, sin and righteousness, death and life. (RD 2:579) B. The debate: preexistence, creationism, and traducianism With his vantage point established, Bavinck begins his analysis of humanity’s


O’Donnell 9 propagation with brief historical surveys of the three main views that have been discussed in the Christian church: preexistence, creationism, and traducianism. 1. Preexistence “At all times,” he notes at the outset of his survey, “opinions have been divided on this issue.” Nevertheless, until recently, he adds, the church has rejected the theory of preexistence almost unanimously. Bavinck attributes the recent rise of “many strong advocates” for preexistence theory to the influences of Buddhism and evolutionism: Just as Haeckel, for want of an explanation via the theory of evolution, made matter and energy, movement and life, consciousness and feeling eternal, so in the same way others draw the conclusion that the souls of humans at no time originated but have always existed in the cosmos. (RD 2:579) Bavinck interprets preexistence theory as an undermining of the very heart of theism, namely, “the confession of God’s personal existence and creative activity.” Christianity thus “has no room for this doctrine of the eternal preexistence of souls” (RD 2:579). Moreover, he offers several philosophical criticisms of the theory: (1) human souls are not conscious of their own preexistence; (2) humans fear rather than welcome death and hence they fear rather than welcome alleged salvation via disembodiment; (3) the theory presupposes a spirit-matter dualism; (4) the theory cannot explain the unity of the human race; (5) nor can it distinguish humans from angels (RD 2:57–80). 2. Traducianism In contrast to the catholic church’s universal repudiation of preexistence theory, “the argument between traducianism and creationism remained undecided in Christian theology,” remarks Bavinck. Both sides can appeal to many ancient witnesses. In the period of the Reformation, the Lutherans preferred traducianism while the Reformed


O’Donnell 10 preferred creationism (RD 2:580). “Indeed,” continues Bavinck, in the strength of their arguments traducianism and creationism are almost equal” (RD 2:581; emphasis added). Pace Crisp, the keyword here is almost; for, after briefly collating the biblical texts upon which both sides argue their cases and remarking that “just as both traducianism and creationism advance weighty arguments for their respective positions, so both are incapable of solving the difficulties present in this area” (RD 2:581), Bavinck levels several criticisms against traducianism. In the first place, he argues that traducianism cannot account for the souls’ origin in Christian terms; for, the logic of this theory leads necessarily either to one of two nonChristian presuppositions or to a relapse of creationism: either the soul of the infant preexists in its parents and ancestors (hence the theory presupposes metaphysical preexistence); or the infant’s soul is present in potentia within the biological reproductive capacities of the father or mother (hence the theory presupposes materialistic preexistence); or, if traducianism attempts to steer clear of these non-Christian presuppositions, it is forced to sneak creationism in the back door with the assertion that the parents somehow create the child’s soul. In the latter case the parents assume the place held by God in creationism. In the second place, he argues that traducianism cannot account for the hereditary transmission of sin; for, “sin is not material, not a substance, but a moral quality, moral guilt, and moral corruption” (RD 2:581). The implied crux is this: how can an immaterial moral quality be transmitted through physical heredity?23 To further explicate both of these inadequacies, Bavinck introduces the traducian 23. Bavinck refers here to the anti-traducian arguments alleged by Honig, Creationisme of traducianisme.


O’Donnell 11 formulation of F. E. Daubanton (1853–1920).24 According to Bavinck, Daubanton posits a two-dimensional procreation process based upon the supposition that the physical reproductive components are ensouled: just as the physical contact of ovum and sperm yields a new physical body, so also the metaphysical contact of these ensouled components yields a new psychic life—a pneumatic human soul (RD 2:581–82). For reasons that will become apparent below, Bavinck intriguingly admits that Daubanton’s view contains much truth. Nevertheless, he levels weighty criticisms against it. For instance, he challenges the nature of the ensoulment purported by Daubanton’s theory: if the egg and the sperm each contain immortal spiritual souls, then not only does the theory lapse into preexistence, but also every human would contain innumerable souls and souls would die each time a sperm or an egg decomposes. Bavinck presumes that Daubanton does not defend these absurdities but rather that he holds only that the propagation of a person is two-dimensional: just as the sperm and ovum are both physically alive and spiritually ensouled (i.e., animated by the soul), so also the zygote receives the capacity to produce a living and ensouled fetus (i.e., a fetus with psychic and pneumatic life). “But then the same question recurs,” objects Bavinck, “namely, what is the nature of the life that the fetus possess in its initial stages?” He presents several possible answers with corresponding criticisms. (1) The fetus is ensouled in the sense of an individual, immortal, spiritual soul. But then the question remains: whence this soul? For such a soul is present neither in the sperm nor in the egg. (2) God gives the reproductive components the capacity to produce, upon being 24. Bavinck refers to F. E. Daubanton, Het Voortbestaan van het Menschelijk Geslacht (Utrecht: Kemink, 1902).


O’Donnell 12 united, an immortal, spiritual soul with the fetus. But then the theory devolves into creationism insofar as the sperm and egg are endowed with the power to create what is not present in either of them before their union, namely, an immortal, spiritual soul. (3) The fetus receives from the sperm and egg the capacity to be ensouled (with an immortal, spiritual soul) at a subsequent time. But this solution merely puts off answering the questions that follow inevitably: “when and how psychic life becomes pneumatic life.” Moreover, if one answers these questions along the lines of evolutionary theory, then “something vanishes—the essential difference between the psychic and the pneumatic life, between the vital soul and the immortal spiritual soul, between animal and man.” Alternatively, if one answers that the power to raise the life of the fetus from psychic to pneumatic life resides in the fetus itself, then the theory lapses once again into creationism with the fetus taking the place that God holds in creationism (RD 2:582). For all of these reasons Bavinck concludes that traducianism cannot support its own theoretical weight: “When traducianism pursues its own logic it either lapses into materialism or again smuggles creationism into its tent under another label” (RD 2:583). 3. Creationism (with a traducian twist) In addition to traducianism’s penchant for lapsing into materialism or cryptocreationism, a third and decisive criticism for Bavinck relates to traducianism’s response to the mystery that is admitted on both sides of the debate, namely, the when and how of the transformation from fetus to human being. Science has no idea when or how this happens, and theology with its conjecture of the fortieth or sixtieth day is only guessing. Creationism can no more explain this mystery than traducianism. But it has the advantage over the latter theory in that it is prepared respectfully to leave this mystery alone and not to subject it to a


O’Donnell 13 spurious explanation. The latter is the danger to which traducianism exposes itself. (RD 2:583; emphasis added) Bavinck argues that traducianism is caught in the horns of a dilemma: if it successfully avoids the pitfall of crypto-creationism on the one hand, it is forced to posit the materialistic premise that that animal life can, on its own power, develop somehow into human life. “But,” Bavinck rejoins, “evolutionary theory here, as in many other cases, is totally unable to explain the phenomena” (RD 2:583). To put it in contemporary terms, Bavinck implies that there is no justification for the supposition that the soul supervenes upon or emerges from the body; for, as is evident in chemistry, for example, new properties that arise from chemical aggregations are not necessarily inherent in the individual components that comprise the aggregate. Also, the appearance of geniuses such as Goethe cannot be explained merely by genetics (RD 2:583–84). Enter the twist: No one taking account of the uniqueness of the human soul and its frequently unique and outstanding gifts will therefore be able to avoid acknowledging—in addition to and in connection with the truth of traducianism—an important creationist component in the formation of the soul. This creative activity of God which, although we do not know it, undoubtedly makes its power felt in various other areas of nature and history as well, surely ties in as intimately as possible with what is given in the tradition: “by creating,” said Lombard already, “God infuses them, and by infusing he creates.” 25 Now we see the reason why he acknowledges that Daubanton’s traducian theory is partially correct—his own creationist theory incorporates it (in a sense)! Yet it does so

25. Bavinck, RD, 2:584 (emended and emphasis added); cf. Bavinck’s original wording: “creando, zeide reeds Lombardus, infundit eas Deus et infundendo creat.” Peter Lombard, Libri Quattuor Sententiarum II, dist. 17, cited in Herman Bavinck, Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, 7th ed. (Kampen: Kok, 1998), 2:546. The dictum that Bavinck attributes to Lombard is more commonly attributed to Augustine as is evident, e.g., in John Owen’s formulation: “as Austin speaks well of the original of the soul, ‘Creando infunditur, et infundendo creatur.’ God doth not first create a soul, giving it an existence of its own, without union with the body, but creates it in and by its infusion.” An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews with Preliminary Exercitations, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 4 (Edinburgh: Johnstone & Hunter, 1854), 147. Cf. also Turretin’s similar, albeit shortened, formulation: “[Creationism] holds all souls to have been immediately created by God and by creating infused. . . .” Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 5.13.1 (p. 1:477; emphasis added).


O’Donnell 14 only with a major creationist emendation: contra Daubanton, Bavinck locates the power to elevate psychic life to pneumatic life neither within the fetus itself nor within any physical phenomena but only from without, namely, in God’s supernatural, immediate creative act. The bit that makes Bavinck’s formulation unique—his historical twist—is the fact that, even after demonstrating the inadequacy of traducianism, he willingly attempts to incorporate what he terms “the truth of traducianism” into his creationist formulation rather than rejecting traducianism outright. 26 Therefore, although he follows the same reductio-ad-absurdum polemic against traducianism as can be seen in Turretin, he transforms the conclusion from an outright repudiation to a more palpable invitation as if to say: “Dear traducianists, creationism can accomplish what you are trying to achieve but failing to attain with your traducianism, namely, to account for humanity’s origin and propagation.” Though he does not explicitly demarcate what traducianism’s truth is, it is reasonable to infer that his immediately subsequent statement is an epexegesis of this truth. In this statement he highlights the fact that, although God creates souls from nothing, he does not create them from nowhere: He does not first create a soul apart from the body in order then to introduce it into the body from without, but at the proper time and in a manner incomprehensible to us he elevates the existing psychic life to the level of a higher human spiritual life. (RD 2:584) Although this point regarding the simultaneity of soul-body creation is of long standing in the Christian tradition, it is an important and perhaps under-appreciated provision of

26. Contrast Turretin’s outright rejection: “Since, therefore, the opinion of propagation [i.e., traducianism] labors under inextricable difficulties, and no reason drawn from any other source forces us to admit it, we deservedly embrace the option of creation as more consistent with Scripture and right reason.” Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 5.13.10 (p. 1:481).


O’Donnell 15 the creationist view.27 Bavinck likely recapitulates this classical point here in order to appeal to traducianism’s aversion toward the imposition of a soul upon a body by showing that creationism shares this aversion too, albeit in its own way. Such a view carries implications for the imputation of sin. It is not the case, argues Bavinck, that God creates a pure soul and imposes it upon an impure body; for, this view erroneously supposes that sin is a substance. “It is rather to be understood,” he writes, by the idea that the soul, though called into being as a rational spiritual entity by a creative activity of God, was nevertheless preformed in the psychic life of the fetus, that is, in the life of parents and ancestors, and thus receives its being, not from above or outside but under the conditions of, and amid, the sin-nexus that oppresses the human race. (RD 2:584) 4. Creationism (mostly) contra traducianism In his closing section28 Bavinck continues to play with this “truth of traducianism” motif. He also recapitulates herein the underlying tension we noted earlier: on the one hand he reasserts that “creationism and traducianism both face insoluble difficulties” (RD 2:584); yet on the other he proffers three arguments that affirm creationism over against traducianism, especially in its Lutheran form. In the first place, whereas Lutheran theology views the imago Dei as merely a set of moral qualities and hence related only to humanity’s moral and religious relationships, Reformed theology views the imago as inextricably linked with all aspects of humanity’s cosmic existence and hence with the counsel of God. For this reason, argues Bavinck, Lutheranism views fallen Adam (i.e., Adam without the imago Dei) as no different per 27. See the earlier note regarding the Augustinian creation-infusion dictum. Cf. also “Whether the human soul was produced before the body?” in Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I, q. 90, a. 4. 28. See RD, 2:584–88 (# 300).


O’Donnell 16 essentia than angels and animals whereas Reformed theology insists that “[b]efore and after the fall, in the state of integrity and that of corruption, in the state of grace and that of glory—human beings always are and always remain essentially distinct from the angels and the animals.” Also, humanity’s unique essence implies a unique origin: Adam’s creation was different from that of the animals and also different from that of the angels. Creationism alone sufficiently maintains the specific uniqueness of humanity since it fends off both pantheism and materialism and respects the boundaries between humanity and animals. (RD 2:585) In the second place, a concomitant of Lutheranism’s view of the imago Dei is its view regarding the unity of the human race: physical unity trumps ethical unity. This is necessary insofar as, according to Lutheranism, Adam lost the entire imago when he sinned. Thus the only way to maintain the unity of humanity and the propagation of original sin is via physical descent. Things are different, however, in Reformed theology. If physical descent provided a basis for humanity’s unity, then the animals, which also share one blood, would be a corpus morale; yet they are not. Similarly, if virtue were a sufficient basis for humanity’s unity, then the angels would share in this unity and hence human essence would be no different than angel essence. Yet angels do not share one blood as do humans. Therefore, compared with animals and angeles, humanity’s essence is entirely sui generis. Humanity’s unique essence calls for a unique unity: a physical and ethical unity. Enter another creationism formulation with a traducian twist: Now on the basis of a physical unity an ethical unity has to be constructed. Adam as our ancestor is not enough: he must also be the covenant head of the human race, just as Christ, though he is not our common ancestor in a physical sense, is still able, as covenant head, to bestow righteousness and blessedness upon his church. Now this moral unity of the human race can only be maintained on the basis of creationism, for it has a character of its own, is distinct from that of animals as well as that of the angels, and therefore also comes into being in its own


O’Donnell 17 way, both by physical descent and by a creative act of God, the two of them in conjunction with each other. (RD 2:586; emphasis added) For this reason Bavinck also rejects Shedd’s realism, as noted above. In the third place, the Lutheran view of the imago Dei with its underlying traducianism does not allow human freedom to come into its own but devolves into fatalism: Physical descent alone would have resulted in a situation where the sin we received from Adam would be a deterministic fate, a process of nature, a sickness that had nothing to do with our will and hence did not imply any guilt on our part. That is not what sin is. Nor is the righteousness that Christ as the last Adam confers on us of that nature. Both the sin and the righteousness presuppose a federal relation between humanity as a whole and its heads. (RD 2:587) With its unity grounded in both a physical and ethical unity, creationism much more than traducianism allows for both the mystery of individual personality and the magnificence of the imago Dei in its fully-developed destiny. The world, the earth, humanity are one organic whole. They stand, they fall, they are raised up together. The traces of God (vestigia Dei) in creation and the image of God in humanity may be mangled and mutilated by the sin of the first Adam; but by the last Adam and his re-creating grace they are all the more resplendently restored to their destiny. (RD 2:588). III. Shedd’s traducianism in light of Bavinck’s creationism When we read Crisp’s analysis of Shedd’s traducianism in light of Bavinck’s formulation of creationism, several sharp contrasts appear between the two positions. 29

29. For Shedd’s full formulation, see “Man’s Creation” in William Greenough Thayer Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, ed. Alan W. Gomes, 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2003), 429–93. Given Shedd’s lengthy treatment, it should be noted that the following analysis—like Crisp’s—is highly selective and that it focuses more upon issues raised by Crisp than upon Shedd’s formulation itself; cf. Crisp’s caveat in An American Augustinian, 13n8.


O’Donnell 18 A. Imago Dei: diminution vs. development According to Shedd, Adam and Eve alone, as the sole created paragons and progenitors of the human species, were invested with human nature in toto. All subsequent humans receive a diminished portion of human nature insofar as, according to traducianism, human nature must divide in order to propagate, and as it subdivides, it diminishes. Just as a lump of clay diminishes as pieces are torn off to form individual shapes, so also Adam and Eve’s paradigmatic human nature diminishes as it subdivides in order to individuate new members of the human species. 30 Bavinck’s line of thinking leads in the opposite direction: rather than diminishing, the imago Dei develops. It becomes more glorious in the same way that adding more candles makes a brighter light. The distinction implied in Bavinck’s formulation of humanity’s development is that Adam and Eve were endowed with a human nature that was perfect in its parts but not yet perfected in degree—a distinction that comes to expression—in contradistinction with both Lutheran theology and traducianism’s realism—in the Reformed doctrine of the covenant of works. 31 According to Bavinck, in its prelapsarian estate the imago Dei must attain perfection through both physical multiplication and moral obedience. In its postlapsarian estate the imago Dei attains its moral perfection exclusively via the Second Adam’s obedience. This moral perfection attained by the Second Adam—the new moral-federal head of humanity—comes to its full expression only in the future estate of glory wherein it is matched by a perfection of

30. See Crisp, An American Augustinian, 14–16. 31. It should be noted that traducianism does allow for the covenant of works. For Shedd’s formulation in this regard, see Dogmatic Theology, 450–51. Bavinck would dispute Shedd’s conflation of natural and federal union; nevertheless, his own formulation is not far off: upon the basis of a natural union, a federal union is built. The difference here, though slight, is significant. Bavinck maintains a distinction between the natural order and the moral order whereas Shedd conflates the two.


O’Donnell 19 multiplication (i.e., billions of people). Eschatological development is therefore a—if not the—major theme undergirding Bavinck’s analysis of the creationism-traducianism debate. In sum, whereas for Shedd the imago Dei shrinks as it subdivides, for Bavinck it grows brighter by the billions. Also, whereas Shedd’s Adam contains the whole imago Dei (i.e., perfection in parts and in degree), Bavinck’s Adam, though perfect in parts, awaits perfection in degree via multiplication and obedience; hence the true—the eschatological—imago Dei comes into its own only in the estate of glory. B. Sin: physical inheritance vs. moral imputation Unlike Bavinck (and Turretin), Shedd does not distinguish the questions of the soul’s generation and the imputation of original sin—topics that are normally discussed under dogmatic loci of creation and redemption respectively; rather, he treats the soul’s creation in the context of the imputation of original sin.32 It is likely the case that this formal difference has to do with a material one, namely, traducianism’s conflation of the natural and moral orders and creationism’s distinction of the two. Whether this is the true cause of the difference, it is important to note that this formal difference produces an unavoidable apples-and-oranges comparison between the material content of the two positions insofar as these positions proceed upon differing premises. Thus the only way progress beyond mere formal analysis here is to analyze the principles

32. Although, as we noted above, Bavinck offers a brief remark about the implications of his creationism formulation for the transmission of original sin (RD 2:584), he discusses the latter fully under the locus on soteriology; see “The Spread of Sin” in RD, vol. 3, ch. 2. Similarly, although Turretin briefly mentions original sin in his treatment of the soul’s origin (which itself appears under the locus of creation), he handles the topic of original sin’s propagation elsewhere; see Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 5.13.17 and 9.12 respectively. Shedd sets up his discussion of the creationism-traducian debate with a section entitled “General Approaches to the Doctrine of Original Sin” in Dogmatic Theology, 434–38.


O’Donnell 20 undergirding the positions. According to Shedd, traducianism provides a coherent account of the transmission of sin whereas creationism does not. The crux of Shedd’s argument is this: in creationism there is no ground for the culpability of Adam’s progeny; however, traducianism provides such a ground via its Augustinian realism according to which “my sin real is Adam’s sin because my human nature, that is, my human body and soul, are generated from the same human nature that originated with Adam and Eve, our first parents.”33 Crisp puts his finger on a real problem with the Augustianian realist premise of Shedd’s criticism: “Shedd’s argument against creationism relies on each newly created soul having no metaphysical connection with other souls going back to Adam.”34 The problem is personal identity: If humanity’s unity is rooted in a numerically-single metaphysical essence, then how is it possible to maintain personal identity when this single substance is subdivided in order to instantiate new members of the species? In other words, if human essence is numerically one, how does traducianism account for the personal identity of the many members of its species? 35 Without a satisfactory solution to this problem it is difficult for traducianism to ward of Bavinck’s criticism regarding traducianism’s penchant for determinism insofar as culpability presupposes personal identity through time. 33. Crisp, An American Augustinian, 17. Cf. Crisps’ summary of the crux elsewhere: “Shedd argues that if God creates souls out of nothing for each new human person, then, according to a traditional account of original sin, you and I are punishable for a sin we are not guilty of. And this seems unjust” (p. 33). 34. Crisp, An American Augustinian, 35. 35. See Crisp’s explication of this problem in An American Augustinian, 31–32. After noting that Shedd does not address this problem regardind his own view, Crisp analyzes the problem by positing a somewhat obscure (and absurd) thought experiment wherein a creationist version of Augustinian realism allegedly can be maintained upon the basis of a “perduring space-time worm” (p. 35).


O’Donnell 21 In contrast Bavinck argues that both the unity and distinction of humanity are able to be harmonized only on the basis of creationism. “Human beings are not specimens,” he writes, not numbers of a kind, nor are they detached individuals like the angels. They are both parts of a whole and individuals: living stones of the temple of God. . . . Every human being, while a member of the body of humanity as a whole, is at the same time a unique idea of God, with a significance and destiny that is eternal! Every human being is himself or herself an image of God, yet that image is only fully unfolded in humanity as a whole! (RD 2:587). Thus Bavinck’s formulation heads in the opposite direction of Shedd’s, which presents humanity’s unity as rooted in a metaphysical species and individual humans as instantiations of a this numerically-singular species. C. Soul: divisibility vs. indivisibility Another major difference between Shedd’s and Bavinck’s formulations relates to whether the soul is simple and hence indivisible. Traditionally, the simplicity of the soul is viewed as an essential property: all immaterial substances are simple insofar as they are not composed of parts and hence are not capable of decomposition. Yet, as Crisp admits frustratingly, Shedd assumes that immaterial souls are fissile without offering any account for how this is possible.36 Bavinck does not address the topic other than in a passing comment in his historical survey of creationism’s standard arguments against traducianism. “Creationism . . . derives its support . . . above all from the simple, indivisible, immortal, spiritual nature of the soul” (RD 2:581).37 This statement is merely historical and does not represent a 36. Crisp, An American Augustinian, 21. Cf. also his full explication of the simplicity question at pp. 17–21, 25–33. 37. Cf. Bavinck’s brief remarks regarding the soul’s simplicity within his discussion of the classical proofs for the immortality of the soul in RD 4:594 ff.


O’Donnell 22 positive construction of his own view. Such a construction regarding simplicity is nowhere to be found, at least explicitly. Nevertheless, given his criticisms of Daubanton’s traducian theory—which criticisms bear a striking resemblance to Turretin’s philosophical objections to soul fission—there is every reason to assume that Bavinck would strongly object to the divisibility premise undergirding traducianism. 38 IV. Conclusions The creationism-traducianism debate has all but disappeared in recent statements of Reformed theology. Many modern Reformed theologians have followed Karl Barth’s example in dismissing the question as an outmoded concern. The topic has not received a major treatment in decades, and the most recent Reformed systematic theologies treat the debate somewhat dismissively. Given that within contemporary evangelical theology fundamental anthropological topics such as the nature of man are being radically reassessed in light of advancements in modern science, it would seem that, if contemporary Reformed theology wishes to engage this debate meaningfully, it must first discover the reasons why it has let the creationism-traducianism debate go the way of the bored man’s yawn. Related to this, the fact that Bavinck, no mean Reformed thinker, analyzes the debate robustly and discusses it within the context of early twentieth-century scientific and philosophic advancements (especially evolutionism) ought to give contemporary Reformed theologians pause to ask whether trite treatments of the debate are somehow missing important issues. Crisp’s analysis of Shedd’s formulation of traducianism, though colorful and

38. For Turretin’s philosophical objections to soul propagation via division, see Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 5.13.7–9 (pp. 1:479–81).


O’Donnell 23 creative, lacks historical perspective, is given over to a penchant for contemporary thought experiments, and struggles to offer the reader a well-rounded understanding of Shedd’s views. Thus his chapter does not provide the final word on Shedd’s formulation nor on traducianism in general. Additionally, pace Crisp, Bavinck’s position on the creationism-traducianism debate is much more that a mere Augustinian ambivalence. He strongly supports creationism over against traducianism. Nevertheless, he not only admits that both sides of the debate face unsolvable questions, but also he attempts to incorporate some aspects of traducianism into his formulation of creationism. The latter is his twentieth-century twist on Reformed orthodox formulations such as Turretin’s—a twist that creates a tension with his outright rejections of traducianism. Overall, Bavinck comes down clearly in favor of creationism. At several salient points his formulation even appears to be the antipode of Shedd’s: whereas Shedd asserts human nature’s diminution, Bavinck asserts development; whereas Shedd asserts physical inheritance of sin, Bavinck asserts federal imputation; whereas Shedd implies soul composition and fissiparousness, Bavinck implies soul simplicity and indivisibility; whereas Shedd grounds humanity’s unity exclusively in a metaphysical unity, Bavinck grounds the unity two-dimensionally in humanity’s one blood and one federal head.


O’Donnell 24

V. Bibliography Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics. Edited by G.W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance. Translated by G. W. Bromiley. 14 vols. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 2004. Bavinck, Herman. Gereformeerde Dogmatiek. 4 vols. 7th ed. Kampen: Kok, 1998. ———. Reformed Dogmatics. Edited by John Bolt. Translated by John Vriend. 4 vols. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003–2008. Berkouwer, G. C. Man: The Image of God. Translated by Dirk W. Jellema. Studies in Dogmatics. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1962. Crisp, Oliver D. An American Augustinian: Sin and Salvation in the Dogmatic Theology of William G. T. Shedd. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2007. ———. “Pulling Traducianism Out of the Shedd.” Ars disputandi 6 (January 2006). Culver, Robert Duncan. Systematic Theology: Biblical & Historical. Ross-shire, Great Britain: Mentor Imprint by Christian Focus Publications, 2005. Frame, John M. Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2006. ———. The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1987. Genderen, J. van, and W. H. Velema. Concise Reformed Dogmatics. Translated by Gerrit Bilkes and Ed M. van der Maas. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2008. Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994. Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology. 3 vols. New York: Scribner, Armstrong, and Co., 1873. Honig, Anthonie Gerrit. Creationisme of traducianisme (Generatianisme)?: rede bij de overdracht van het rectoraat aan de Theoloische School te Kampen op 6 December 1906. Kampen: J. H. Bos, 1906. Horton, Michael S. The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. O’Daly, Gerard J. P. “Augustine on the Origin of Souls.” In Platonismus und Christentum, edited by Hosrt-Dieter Blume and Friedhelm Mann, 184–91. Münster Westfallen, Germany: Aschendorff, 1983. Owen, John. An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews with Preliminary Exercitations. Edited by William H. Goold. Vol. 4. Edinburgh: Johnstone & Hunter, 1854. Reymond, Robert L. A New Systematic Theology of The Christian Faith. 2nd ed. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1998.


O’Donnell 25 Shedd, William Greenough Thayer. Dogmatic Theology. Edited by Alan W. Gomes. 3rd ed. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2003. Steen, Hendrik. Persoon geest en ziel. Utrecht: H. de Vroede, 1935. Strong, Augustus Hopkins. Systematic Theology: A Compendium and Commonplace Book Designed for the use of Theological Students. 3 vols. Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1907. Turretin, Francis. Institutes of Elenctic Theology. Edited by James T. Dennison, Jr. Translated by George Musgrave Giger. 3 vols. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1992. Waterink, Jan. De oorsprong en het wezen van de ziel. Wageningen: Zomer & Keuning, 1930. Weber, Otto. Foundations of Dogmatics. Translated by Darrell L. Guder. Vol. 1. 2 vols. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1981.


William Shedd and Herman Bavinck on the traducianism-creationism debate