How does each newborn infant acquire a human soul as opposed to a merely creaturely soul? Medieval theologians alternated between two views on this question. "Tra-ducionists" held that the soul originated in the act of conception. A "soul seed" (in contrast to a "body seed") detached from the soul of the parents to become the independent soul of the child. "Creationists," on the other hand, held that each person's "soul" was implanted at the moment of conception by a divine act, an immediate creation ex nihilo (Ray S. Anderson 1982:42f). Through the sexual act, the parents create the proper physiological conditions for the existence of a human being, but they are only secondary agents in the process. Regarding this debate, Barth (1960:573) has suggested that none of these theories lead us one step forward with regard to the origin of the human.
The most that we can say is that a human person begins as any other creature, in a biological process which entails fertilization and cell division. However, even in that process, the resulting life form carries the form of the human, even in its prenatal stage. Once conceived in a human womb, the embryo is essentially human, dependent only upon sufficient bio-chemical support to come to birth as a human person. At the same time, biological life is a necessary but insufficient condition to be human. The human self is contingent upon something more than biological life (bios) in order to have vital human life (zoe). In the New Testament, zoe refers to a person's life made abundantly full, and this life is inseparable from Jesus Christ as the source of life (cf. John 10:10; I Timothy 6:11, 12, 19).
From this brief discussion we can conclude that the biblical terms soul and spirit are primarily functional rather than denoting discrete substances or entities. As such, while there are some distinctive patterns of use, the words used by the Bible to denote aspects of human life are not analytical and precise in a philosophical or semantic sense. Nonetheless, without the use of the word "soul" as a deep metaphor of that which makes each human life personal and unique, we would lose semantic contact with the essence of what it is to be a person created in the divine image and likeness.
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