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:

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