Friday, March 21, 2014

Will Our Pets (and Other Animals) Greet Us in Heaven? *

Steve McSparran photograph

 Part Seven:   “Do Animals Have Souls?

There seems to be two reasons why Christians assume that animals do not have souls.  Some reject the idea because the Bible only speaks about people going to heaven. It doesn’t provide straightforward information on the eternal destiny of animals—so it’s assumed they do not possess souls. Other Christians acknowledge that at least sentient animals do possess souls, in terms of some kind of animating life force. But they assume that God did not intend for animals to survive physical death. Therefore, their souls are extinguished when life ends.

I reject both views. I believe a compelling biblical case can be made that animals not only possess souls, but also their souls will continue to exist after physical death. Demonstrating this is the goal of the present and following blog article. After this, I’ll address the common arguments against such a conclusion.

What Does the Bible Say?

Theological studies on whether or not animals have souls, especially immortal souls, have not been high on the church’s agenda. Nevertheless, theologians who have commented on the subject seem to agree that animals do have souls. Gary Habermas and J.P Moreland point out that “throughout the history of the church, the classic understanding of living things has included the doctrine that animals, as well as humans, have souls. Christians have maintained this because the Bible teaches that animals have souls” (Habermas and Moreland, Immortality; The Other Side of Death,
p. 51). Even so, many theologians down through the ages have maintained that animal souls are different from human souls in that animal souls are not immortal. Habermas and Moreland continue: “Even though the church has been quite clear about the existence of animal souls, there has been no consensus about the existence of animals in the afterlife, some Christians favoring the idea, some arguing against it, some remaining agnostic” (Ibid.). So the crux of the argument is not whether animals have souls, but whether their souls are immortal or whether they become extinguished at physical death. 

For Christians, whether or not animals have immortal souls depends on what the Bible has to say on the subject. This in turn hinges, to a large degree, on the definition and application of two Hebrew words translated in the Old Testament as “soul” and “spirit.”

Soul versus Spirit

Before we examine these two Hebrew words, something should be said about the disagreement among Christians on whether “soul” and “spirit” are synonymous or whether they are two distinct components of a human’s immaterial dimension. Some take the position that in the Bible the words for soul and spirit are used interchangeably, and therefore people are comprised of two parts: body and soul/spirit. There is biblical justification for this view, which is called bipartite.  For example, in John 12:27 Jesus said, “My soul has become troubled;” while in John 13:21 “He became troubled in spirit” (see also Gen. 41:8; Ps. 42:6; Matt. 27:50; Heb. 12:23; Rev. 6:9). In these cases, spirit and soul seem to be used interchangeably.      

Other Christians are tripartite and believe that the Bible teaches that people are composed of three distinct parts: body, soul, and spirit. These people view the body as the physical part of our being, the soul is associated with the immaterial “mind” (the seat of emotions, cognition, and will), and the spirit is that part of our being that relates specifically to the spiritual realm:  a Christian’s personal connectedness with God.  In support of the tripartite view, the Bible sometimes uses soul and spirit in the same verse, implying a clear distinction. For example, Job 7:11 say: “Therefore I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit [ruach], I will complain in the bitterness of my soul [nephesh].  Later he writes,  “In his hand is the life [nephesh—soul] of every creature and the breath [ruach—spirit] of all mankind (12:10). The New Testament makes it even clearer. The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, “May your whole spirit [pneuma], soul [psyche] and body [soma] be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Likewise the author of Hebrews wrote, “The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul [psyche] and spirit [pneuma]” (4:12).

The question is, if human souls are eternal, why wouldn’t animal souls be eternal? I believe they are. In Matthew 10:28, Jesus warned us not to “be afraid of those who kill the body [soma] but cannot kill the soul [psyche].” This clearly implies that the soul can exist without the body. So again, why would this not also be true of animal souls? If the same Greek word for soul is used for both humans and animals, it seems to me that animal souls, like human souls, will likewise survive physical death.

Although the Hebrew word for spirit (ruach) is sometimes applied to animals, as we’ll see in the next blog article, I’m choosing to use the word “soul” rather than “spirit” to describe an animal’s immaterial dimension. This avoids the risk of implying that animals have a “spirit” in the tripartite sense of a special connectedness with God, which only humans enjoy. I find no biblical evidence that animals have a spirit distinct from their souls. Thus, in the case of animals, the bipartite view seems correct.

With this said, we can now examine the Hebrew words for soul and spirit and see how they apply to sentient non-human life. This will be the topic of my next blog article.

*  The blog articles in this series are adapted from copyrighted material and may not  be reproduced in book or article form, either electronically or in print, without my written permission. But feel free to send links to these articles, with a brief introduction, to your personal email list, Facebook friends and groups, or other people who may enjoy them. Or post a link on your own website. If you would like to be added to my personal blog email list (people who receive an email notice whenever I post a new blog article), contact me through my website:

Friday, March 14, 2014

Will Our Pets (and Other Animals) Greet Us in Heaven?

Dan Story photograph

Part Six:   “Was Jesus Indifferent to Animals?”

One of the common criticisms hurled at Christianity by secular animal rights advocates is that the Bible is indifferent to the welfare animals. In particular, critics claim that Jesus showed little concern for animal life. Well-known radical animal rights advocate, Peter Singer, is an example. He writes, “The New Testament is completely lacking in any injunction against cruelty to animals, or any recommendations to consider their interests. Jesus himself showed indifference to the fate of non-  humans when he induced two thousand swine to hurl themselves into the sea" (Animal Liberation: A New Ethic for Our Treatment of Animals, p. 209). 

In previous blog articles, I have already refuted the unwarranted allegation that the Bible is unconcerned or apathetic to the welfare of animals. Scripture teaches that God created non-human life. All animals belong to Him; He watchers over them; He enjoys them; He provides for their well-being. God desires that all animal life fulfill the purpose for which He created them. In light of this, it would be theologically impossible for Jesus to have an indifferent attitude toward animals. Why? As the second member of the triune Godhead, Jesus could not be apathetic toward wild and domestic animals because God the Father is passionately concerned for their welfare and survival. In other words, as the incarnate Son of God, Jesus would have shared the Father’s love and concern for animal life.

The primary purpose of Jesus’ incarnation was to open the door to human reconciliation with God through His sacrificial death on the cross for our sins. His Second Advent will include the removal of nature’s curse (Rom. 8:20-32; Rev. 22:3; cf. Gen. 3:17-19); the establishment of a new heaven and earth (Isa. 65:17; Rev. 21:1); and the redemption of all creation alongside His people—which of course will include animal life (Rom. 8:19-23). Nevertheless, even when Jesus walked this earth he still demonstrated an appreciation and concern for animals. He told His disciples that not a single sparrow “is forgotten by God” (Luke 12:6). He pointed out that God provides animals their food (Matt. 6:26; Luke 12:24) and is concerned for their welfare (Luke 12:6).

As far as the allegation that Jesus “showed indifference to the fate of nonhumans when he induced two thousand swine to hurl themselves into the sea,” it was not Jesus but the demons that drove the pigs into the sea (see Matt. 8:30–32). To claim otherwise is to read meaning into the passage that flies in the face of the actual narrative—as well as the whole Scriptural teachings on God and non-human life. However, this raises another issue that needs to be addressed before moving on.

What about Animal Sacrifices in the Old Testament?
Many Christians struggle over harmonizing God’s love for animals with His instructions in Leviticus and elsewhere to include animal sacrifices in religious activities. This is a fair concern, but an adequate response is beyond the scope of this study. But I can at least say this. Animal sacrifices—the shedding of innocent blood—vividly depicts the gravity of sin and the heartbreaking cost of redemption. In God’s revelatory plan for human salvation, animal sacrifices in the Old Testament point directly to the ultimate, once-and-for all sacrifice of Jesus Christ on behalf of rebellious sinners. I can see no more powerful or effective way for God to illustrate this crucial message. But animal sacrifices do not lesson God’s love for animals and should not distract us from this fact. Moreover, slaughtering animals for sacrificial purposes was done quickly and humanely; it was no different than butchering animals for human consumption today. In fact much of the edible portions of sacrificial animals were used for food. More importantly, it was Jesus who abolished animal sacrifices. And of course if earth-bound animals are privileged to enter heaven, the “sting” of death (1 Cor. 15:55) is removed for sacrificial as well as all other earth-bound animals.

Animals Respond to God

In response to God’s love and provision, through beautiful poetic language, all creation—including wild animals—is portrayed worshiping and praising the Creator. Palm 148 speaks of angels and other “heavenly hosts” praising God alongside “sea creatures” and “wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds” (148: 7,10). Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God says “The animals of the field will honor me, jackals and ostriches, because I provide water in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert” (Isa. 43:20). The last verse in the last Psalm concludes: “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD” (Ps. 150:6; also see Ps. 65:12–13; 96:11–12; 98:4–8). At the end of this present age, explains Revelation, “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them [will sing] ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praised and honor and glory and power, for every and ever’” (5:13)!

In terms of here on earth, in this present age, such passages should probably be seen as mostly metaphorical. Nevertheless, they point to the reality that all creatures bringing glory and enjoyment to God simply by fulfilling the purpose of their creation—a purpose that will continue on and reach perfection in the Peaceable Kingdom.
This and the previous blog articles have shown that animals enjoy a wonderful—and dependent—relationship with their Creator. Standing alone, the data in these articles do not necessarily translate into earth-bound animals existing after physical death. But they do provide the foundation for a compelling theological case that God has more in mind for animals than their short sojourn here on this earth. There are many other evidences I’ll add to support this. The most crucial is the evidence that animals possess souls. If they do, there is no legitimate biblical reason to deny them a future abode in Heaven. This watershed issue will be the subject of my next one or two blog articles.

*  The blog articles in this series are adapted from copyrighted material and may not  be reproduced in book or article form, either electronically or in print, without my written permission. But feel free to send links to these articles, with a brief introduction, to your personal email list, Facebook friends and groups, or other people who may enjoy them. Or post a link on your own website. If you would like to be added to my personal blog email list (people who receive an email notice whenever I post a new blog article), contact me through my website:

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Will Pets (and Other Animals) Greet Us in Heaven?

Dan Story photograph

Part Five:  
 “If God Is Only Concerned about Humans, Why Does He Give Animals So Much Attention in the Bible?”

Someone recently told me that the Bible doesn’t say much about animals, so maybe we shouldn’t either. Is this true? Does God have little to say about animal life? In this and the following blog article (and previously in blog three), I’ll demonstrate that the Bible has a lot to say about animals. Together, these articles present the first Scriptural evidence I’ll present for why I believe we can be fairly certain that today’s earthbound, sentient animals will inhabit the new heaven and earth prophesized in both the Old and New Testaments (Isa. 65:17, 25; Rev. 21:1). In other words, if God created, loves, provides for, and has immense joy in the animals He created, there is every reason to believe He will redeem them along with His people at the end of this present age (Rom. 8:19-23).

So, how does God demonstrates His love, provision, and joy in animal life? To begin with, there are numerous passages in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, that describe how God made specific provisions for the survival and propagation of animals. It begins as early as Genesis chapter one. The creation story relates that God designed the earth from the beginning to support animal life. Before the first creatures were spoken into existence, He created vegetation to produce “plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds” to be food for both humans and animals (Gen. 1:12, 29-30). Thus, food and shelter were available when wildlife began to inhabit the earth—and there was no predation among animals. Moreover, God instructed Adam to name the animals (Gen 2:19). By assigning him this duty, God showed a personal attentiveness for individual species of animals, not just the broad categories of created “kinds.” 

Nowhere is God’s providential care for animals portrayed more dramatically and personally than His protection of wild and domestic animals during the sin-cleansing, worldwide Flood. God made sure that a genetic stock of every kind of animal was preserved on Noah’s ark to later repopulate the earth (Gen. 6:19-7:3). This command was not qualified. It included what many people consider “vermin” as well as animals that would eventually become dangerous predators. God did not save just the animals that were profitable to people.

After the flood waters receded and the wild animals were released to repopulate the earth (Gen. 8:17–18), God made a covenant with the human race that included animal life. It was an unconditional, permanent covenant, and it continued to reveal God’s providential care for animals (Gen. 9:8–11). In the eschatological future, God will set forth another covenant that will include animal life: “In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the creatures that move along the ground. Bow and sword and battle I will abolish from the land, so that all may lie down in safety” (Hos. 2:18).

 This same concern for the welfare of non-human life continued with the emerging Jewish nation. God commanded the Israelites to adhere to specific stewardship guidelines that included provisions for wild animals. For example, in the Sabbath year instructions God told the Israelites:

For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what they leave. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove. (Exod. 23:10–11; also  Lev. 25:1–7, emphasis added)

God has equal concern for the humane treatment of domestic animals. This is expressed in Proverbs 12:10: “A righteous man cares for the need of his animal,” and in God’s instructions on the care of farm animals (e.g. Deut. 22:1-4). Moses directed the Israelites to work only six days so that on the seventh day their oxen and donkeys may rest (Exod. 23:12). He instructed them not to “muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” apparently so it may feed on what drops to the ground (Deut. 25:4). God’s command to protect domestic animals also included an enemy’s livestock (Exod. 23:4–5).

Animals Have Value to God Independent of People

Nowhere does the Bible communicate God’s love and joy for animals, independent of His even greater love and joy for people, more clearly than in Job 38 and 39 (the longest passage in the Bible that focuses on non-human creation) and Psalm 104 (the most descriptive passage of God preparing  nature to support animal life). These passages mention specific animals and specific habitats, which God prepared for individual varieties of animals. The wild donkey was given “the wasteland as a home, the salt flats as his habitat” (Job 39:6). The Ostrich “lays her eggs on the ground and lets them warm in the sand” (13-14). The eagle builds “his nest on high” and “dwells on a cliff . . . a rocky crag is his stronghold” (27-28). God “makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains” to give  “water to all the beasts of the field.” There “the wild donkeys quench their thirst” (Ps. 104:10-11). God waters the trees He created, and there “the birds make their nests; the stork has its home in the pine trees. The high mountains belong to the wild goats; the crags are a refuge for the coneys” (17-18). God “provides food for the raven (Job 38:41) and the lions “seek their food from God” (Ps. 104:21). Indeed, all animals, the Psalmist declares, look to God “to give them their food at the proper time” (v. 27), and He sends His “Spirit” to give animals life (v. 30).

There are two significant things we can learn from these passages. First, God provides food, shelter, and habitats for wild animals apart from human considerations. Second, only God is present and observes much of what happens in nature. In many of His reflections on wild nature, humans are totally absent. God causes rain to “water a land where no man lives, a desert with no one in it (Job 38:26). He asked Job. “Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn? Do you count the months till they bear? Do you know the time they give birth?” (39:1-2).  The self-evident answer to these rhetorical questions is that only God observes these events and is present when they occur.

In sum, God not only created animals and gives them life by His Spirit (Ps. 104:30), but He continues His care by establishing their habitats, providing their shelter, and giving them their daily food. Animals have intrinsic worth and value to God because He created and values them. So, does the Bible say much about animals? It says a lot, and I’ve given you just a sample. You might also like to read Job 38:41; Ps.136: 25; 145:15-16; 147:9; Joel 1:19-20; 2:21- 22; Luke 12:24 and many other passages. In next week’s blog article we’ll look at Jesus’ attitude toward animals.

*  The blog articles in this series are adapted from copyrighted material and may not  be reproduced in book or article form, either electronically or in print, without my written permission. But feel free to send links to these articles, with a brief introduction, to your personal email list, Facebook friends and groups, or other people who may enjoy them. Or post a link on your own website. If you would like to be added to my personal blog email list (people who receive an email notice whenever I post a new blog article), contact me through my website: