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SmashTheState's avatar

Christian theologians: Do twins have one spirit or two? Did "vanishing twins" have two spirits or one?

Asked by SmashTheState (12772points) January 26th, 2011

I should preface this by saying that I am an atheist, although I am not a materialist. So while I discount the existence of a god or gods, I am open to the possibility of, for example, spirits. (I use Gnostic terminology here and in the question; we have a spirit, we ARE a soul. In Gnostic theology, the soul is the combination of body and spirit—that is, soma and pneuma.)

I am curious, therefore, about the theological implications of the christian doctrine that human life begins at conception. There are a number of cases I’d like to put to the various flavours of christians here to get your take on the theology of it, and what biblical supports you can provide for your view.

(1) Identical twins start out as one cell at conception. At some point, they develop into two zygotes from a single cell ancestor. If we accept that “human life” (ie/ the inception of a spirit) occurs at the moment of conception, does this mean that identical twins have only a single spirit between them? If not, what determines which is the “original” spirit, and where did the other spirit originate?

(2) In the case of a “vanished twin” (known medically as foetal resorption), one twin absorbs the other in the womb. If in answer to the first question we say that each twin has its own spirit, what happens to the spirit of the absorbed foetus? And does the resulting baby have one spirit or two?

(3) Chimeras are the result of a similar phenomenon to foetal resorption, except that rather than a twin which is re-absorbed, it is two genetically-different entities which cooperate to form a single entity. For example, two fertilized eggs may collaborate with each other to form a single entity, half of whose cells carry one genetic legacy and half the other. This is extremely rare, but it is possible and has occured. Again, if spirits originate at the moment of conception—and here we have undeniable evidence that there were two discrete individuals—which of the two spirits does the single entity have? Or does the chimera have two spirits in one body?

Please provide scriptural support for your view.

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16 Answers

Summum's avatar

I can give you the answers but cannot support them from scriptures only through my interpretation of the scriptures. It really is quite simple but I will keep this and watch to see what others answer. I would be interested in watching this. Thanks

snowberry's avatar

Each living human being has one spirit. Likewise twins have two. Co-joined twins still have two.

ragingloli's avatar

There are those whose dogma says the “soul” “enters” the body at conception. Therefore they would have to have ½ “soul” each.

Aqua's avatar

As far as I know there’s no direct revelation on when the spirit enters the body.
One spirit can’t be in two places at once though.

Summum's avatar

You are talking about an imperfect world and a basic 3 dimensional one at that. Anyone that thinks that God is in control of what takes place when a person becomes pregnant and then decides to cause/give the imperfections that this world has needs to look harder. This world was organized as all are with Universal laws that have always been. Those laws govern the planets, stars, life and the entire Universe. There is not any being out there that has control of that, it is what it is and how it always has been. The instance of bad births and all that happens has nothing to do with God it is a natural result from the Universal laws that govern this world. When a being becomes a living soul it is when the spirit enters to body to begin life. And it is called the breath of life. I have seen it many times and I have also seen the spirit leave the mortal body with that breath of death. So to answer your question every single thing that lives has a spirit that is theirs alone. This includes plants, animals, planets, stars and who knows what else there is. There is so much more to life than mere physical understanding and substance.

ragingloli's avatar

11 dimensional, actually.

starsofeight's avatar

Some years ago, I came across, in my reading, a school of thought that held that the soul, or spirit entered the body at around age three. That, I believe, was in response to some other school of thought on the matter.

Personally, I think ‘spirit’ is something that is bound to its machinery – in the case of man, that would be the brain, via the mind. I think both ends of that spectrum are affected as much as they affect.

I visualize this in the image of light bulbs. All bulbs use the same electricity, and emit the same product. However, the course of that power, and its outcome is filtered by the tint of the bulb ( or lack of tint ) and the compositional integrity of the filament.

Good question. I hope someone will be able to provide you with references.

Buttonstc's avatar

I am not a theologian but have had a rather broad experential exposure to various groups of Christian thought so I’ll give it a shot.

But first there needs to be a more precise clarification of terminology. I understand what you are saying about the Gnostic way of thinking which you expressed. However, this differs from the viewpoint of mainstream Christianity which sees mankind as having three distinct parts in one. Body, soul and spirit.

Body is obvious. Soul is regarded as basically the combination of mind, emotions (psyche) and the will (volition). The essence of ones personality which makes them separate and distinct from anyone else. Even identical twins have totally distinct personalities, one from the other.

In my years of teaching Elementary, I’ve encountered several sets of twins and even if they look exactly alike, physically speaking, it doesn’t take more than a few days to be able to differentiate them based upon their personality and manner of interaction with you.

Unless a teacher has very little interaction with them (as in college lecture halls) the idea of them being able to exchange between themselves and fool someone is ridiculous.

Perhaps for 5mins or so but that’s it unless the person dealing with either one is an oblivious dunderhead. Two distinct souls regardless of the identical DNA. definitely not identical personalities.

That leaves the spirit which is both the initial breath of God and the ongoing force which males it possible to commune with, and eventually unite with Him in a spiritual dimension which is on a higher level and more profound than the mere mind or emotions.

That’s nothing new. It’s fairly straightforward standard theology common to most mainstream Christian groups.

There are numerous Biblical references which form the core of that framework. Far too many for me to enumerate.

However, if you’d really like it further elucidated, there’s a fairly short book, THE RELEASE OF THE SPIRIT written by Watchman Nee which gives a pretty clear breakdown of each of those terms along with plenty of scriptural references.

He was a highly respected Bible teacher and house-church planter in China. The rise of numerous local house churches kept Christianity alive and even thriving during the worst of the Communist repression.

Or you can go to the following website which outlines a lot of the same ideas.

You’ll find more scripture references than you could ever hope for if you are truly interested in the subject in depth.

For the second part of your question, in which I’m assuming you’re throwing down the gauntlet by presentimg these examples of fairly rare anomalous circumstances, there really isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” answer.

The primary reason being that you are making the assumption (wrongly) that all Christian theology holds that life (and the combination of spirit/soul) begins at conception.

That is primarily the viewpoint held by the RC Church and most members of the ardently militant “right to life” groups. One of their favorite verses is from the Old Testament, and to paraphrase from memory “when you were formed in the womb, I knew you” (I’ll include the specific chapter and verse at the end of this post when I have the chance to find it)

However, that position about a specific life (identity) beginning (and being a completed soul/spirit) at the exact moment of conception is not a position universally held by every Christian group.

Most have a much more nuanced approach. Some hold that it’s at the moment when the child is born, takes its first breath (the breath of life given by God, etc.)

Others just state that it may be anywhere between conception to the first trimester to seconds before or after birth. We just cant know for certain They feel that there is not enough Biblical clarity to make a definitive pronouncement.

Their basic position on this issue (as well as a number of other issues) is that where the Scriptures do not speak clearly, we dare not insist upon substituting our own ideas.

To me, personally, that’s a far more intellectually (and spiritually) honest position to take, even tho it leaves lovers of dogma dissatisfied.

To state flatly that at the moment of conception, when as little as two cells are connected, that its a life with a complete soul and is pretty untenable to support with the type of certainty proclaimed by some groups.

If you really want to know from which specific Bible verses they draw their conclusions (and aren’t just looking to start an argument in order to prove the intellectual superiority of Atheism) you can go to any of the numerous right to life groups or RC dogma pages.

I have a general overview of their viewpoint but would make for a very poor apologist for their position since I don’t agree with their interpretation of whatever verses they use.

But since all Christians don’t think alike on this complex subject, the whole issue of resorbed twins and Chimeras (so extremely rare) are basically moot as far as I’m concerned.

If the spirit does not enter until actual birth, then what happened prior doesn’t really factor in. And even the Chimera is basically a non-issue since it’s manifestation of conflict is physical and any problems with it limited to the medical field (not the mind, emotions, will, or psychiatry or spiritual life).

Chimera is a body issue, not a spirit or soul issue. Otherwise we could drag this out to asking if MPD (multiple personality disorder) or Schizophrenia produces more than one spirit.

So this could get as ridiculous as one cares to make it. Might as well argue about how many angels can fit on the head of a pin or try to figure out if God could make a rock so heavy that even He can’t move it. I’m sure you’re aware that these and other circular arguments have been discussed to no avail.

I’m pretty sure that those who hold to the dogma about the spirit beginning at the moment of conception would be little swayed by the distractions of resorbed twins and Chimeras even if they knew what that meant. They would simply declare it a “mystery” and that would be the end of the discussion.

The scriptures upon which their assertions are based are easily found on any number of sites for anyone genuinely interested.

Buttonstc's avatar

In his letter to the Thesealonian church, Paul offers this closing phrase which is indicative of the three parts of mankind created by God.

I Thess. 5:23

May the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.


Following are two translations of one of the verses frequently used by those seeking to outlaw abortion. There are others as well but this one keeps cropping up. Personally, the logic of their interpretation of it is confusing, to say the least. If anything, it could also be interpreted as a veiled reference to the possibility of reincarnation since it starts off referring to PRE-conception. Now there’s an interesting thought.

Jeremiah 1:5 (NIV) New Int. Version

“Before you were in the womb, I knew you; before you were born, I set you apart. I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

Douay Rheims (Roman Catholic translation) version of same verse.

“Before I formed thee in the bowels of thy mother, I knew thee and before thou camest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee…...”

Summum's avatar


The verses are easy to understand knowing that we have always been. Not as mortal men but as beings that do exist and live.

ragingloli's avatar

The problem is that these verses refer to one specific person who was to become a prophet, and thus can not be seen as a general statement regarding the the infection by souls.

Summum's avatar

@ragingloli I see no problem or infection?

Buttonstc's avatar


Your interpretation of the Jeremiah verses is shared by a not insignificant portion of Christian theologians who feel that it’s stretching a point beyond credibility to assert that these have anything to do with the anti-abortion position at all. They are clearly in reference to one particular OT prophet.

The context makes that quite obvious. And it really does not address in the slightest their assertion that life begins at the exact moment of conception.

That’s just not provable from any scriptures at all, but that doesn’t stop them from quoting this verse over and over.

And the fact that it’s only one of many scriptures that references the possibility of reincarnation just seems to sail over their heads entirely.

The RC church vigorously attempted to expurgate all references to reincarnation but they didn’t get them all :)

Of course, for those with an atheistic way of viewing all of this, that’s a moot point indeed.

But it just happens to be a pet peeve of mine when various groups twist scripture like this just to bolster their particular favorite dogma because it tends to give the impression that all Christians are absent any intellectual or analytical abilities whatsoever. That’s obviously not the case but idealogues who twist things arpund like this do nothing to dispel that impression.

Summum's avatar

How many people are there on this planet and then you will know how many views there are of this scripture. Some might agree with others but that doesn’t make it true. If it were true everyone would see it and it would be so. And it isn’t false because there are some that view it as the truth. So it is what it is not true or false it just is. There is no judgement to attach to the verse just a view of what it means for you.

Nullo's avatar

@ragingloli I see no reason why God, being omniscient and omnipotent, wouldn’t be able to pack in an extra soul at conception in the case of identical twins.

Savannah_888's avatar

I identify as being two-spirited. I have felt my entire life as if there are two distinctly different spirits, or people, living in my body. To complicate it further, one is male, the other is female.

My mother was told she was having twins, but by the second trimester, there was only one foetus.

I cannot prove this of course, and I have experienced some people thinking I’m crazy or simply seeking attention, which is, quite frankly, the last thing I wish.

I’m simply trying to make contact and connect with others who feel similarly.

My view is that the spirit enters the body at conception. If twins are developing, one boy and one girl, and then the girl baby is absorbed by the boy (medically recognized and known as vanishing twin syndrome) then what happens to the girl baby’s spirit. In my personal experience, I believe it is also absorbed by the male baby.

If the two babies were boys, then growing up, the child may well not recognize any difference. But if e children are different genders, then it becomes far more obvious.

I have a distinct male personality that is completely heterosexual, and an alpha male personality who has been a business entrepreneur, a husband, a father, been in the army, loved sport, etc.

However, I’ve also lived as a woman, as my female spirit has had to express herself. She identifies and has been diagnosed as classic transexual. She is sexually attracted to both men and women, and wishes to live full time as a woman.

To say it’s been a challenging life would be an understatement, but I have also loved experiencing two lives from either side of the gender divide.

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