Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Dogma

When was the soul created and joined to the body?

References taken from the Old Testament

and the views of the Holy Fathers

By Demetrios Xesfyggis

Source:  “The clauses of the Sacred Canons regarding Abortions and the teaching of the Church regarding the time of creation of the soul”

The point in Time that the soul was created and when it was joined to the body is a chapter that has puzzled and will continue to puzzle mankind.  On this specific matter we do not have a God-given revelation (that is, a dogma); only theological opinions and theories.

1. The time that the soul was created – per the Old Testament - and the views of the Fathers

Beginning with the Holy Bible and specifically the chapter that narrates the creation of man (Gen.1:26): “Let us make man according to our image and according to our likeness”, we immediately notice there is no reference here to body and soul separately.  By basing ourselves on this verse, it is possible to reach a safe conclusion that in the specific narration, the dual composition of man (1)  is highlighted, as a psychosomatic entity. Therefore we have a simultaneous creation of body and soul.

Further along, (Gen.2:7) reference is again made to the creation of man, except with more detail: “And God fashioned man from the dust of the earth and He blew into his countenance the breath of life, and man became a living soul”.  At first glance, it seems as though man’s body was created first and the soul afterwards.  But in actual fact, these were not two, separate energies of God, because that would be demoting the soul as something inferior to the body, because it was supposedly made “after”.  As such, the “fashioning” and the “blowing” are two, simultaneous energies of God. (2)  

With the teaching of Saint Gregory of Nyssa in mind – and specifically his work regarding the making of man – we note that he also analyzes the aforementioned verse, stating that soul and body come into existence simultaneously, because if the one of the two components preceded the other, it would demote the Creator’s power as deficient, inasmuch as He would appear as unable to create the two elements - body and soul – simultaneously.

In the Old Testament we encounter another verse – which we had mentioned earlier – when interpreting the 2nd Canon of Basil the Great.  It is Exodus 21:22-25, by which it is easy for us to be led to erroneous conclusions. 

“22 Now if two men fight and strike a pregnant woman and her child comes forth not fully formed, he shall be punished with a fine. Accordingly as the husband of the woman might impose, he shall pay with judicial assessment. 23 But if it is fully formed, he shall pay life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”

According to this excerpt, the unborn child is referred to as “not fully formed” and “fully formed”.  By means of a simplistic reasoning, we could say that the “fully formed” child has a soul, and the “not fully formed” child does not.  But even thus, we are again led into an impasse, since we can’t determine the time of the soul’s creation.  This view was supported by Tertullian and Augustine – but was not accepted by Basil the Great in his 2nd Canon.

2. The theories regarding the creation of the soul throughout the ages

As mentioned in our introductory note, we do not have a dogma pertaining to the creation of the soul, but various opinions and theories. Those theories are as follows:

a) Theory regarding the pre-existence of souls.

According to this theory – which had been embraced by Plato, Philo, Origen and others – souls had been created before all the ages, but for reasons of their moral decay, they were somehow imprisoned in a body.

This theory of pre-existence of souls collapsed with the teaching of Gregory of Nyssa, and was validated by the 5th Ecumenical Synod, in the cadre of its condemnation of Origen’s cacodoxies.

b) Theory regarding the creation of souls.

According to this theory, souls are created immediately by God, during the conception of man. It is difficult to accept this theory, because it presumes that God continues to be Creator, whereas the Holy Bible says that “He ceased from all His works, on the seventh day”.

Another significant problem in accepting this theory is that God perpetuates the Original Sin in mankind – a theory that is encountered mainly among Westerners and is in fact accepted by the Roman Catholic “church”, because it favours their dogma of “immaculate conception” by the Theotokos.  One of the major adherents of this theory was also Pope Pius XII.

c) Theory regarding the “transplanting” of souls.

According to this theory, souls are “sown” into the offspring - based on inherited succession, but also with God’s blessings – in accordance with the words in Genesis “increase and multiply”.  This is the predominant theory to this day, which is also accepted by Saint Gregory of Nyssa. (3)  


1) On the dual composition of man, see the work by N.Mitsopoulos “Themes of Orthodox Dogmatic Theology”, University Lectures on Dogmatics, Athens 2012, pp.180-182.

2) As above, pp.183-184.

3) As above, pp.189-191.


Translation :  Ê.Í.

Article published in English on: 26-3-2018.

Last update: 2-6-2021.