Part Eight: “Animals Have Souls—but Are They Immortal Souls?”
We saw in the previous blog article that at least sentient animals have souls (animals that are able to feel and perceive things). Although most theologians agree with this, many assume that animal souls, unlike human souls, are mortal—they are extinguished when the animal dies. In order to discern which view is correct, that is, whether or not animals have immortal souls, can be determined to a large degree on the meaning of two Hebrew words: nephesh (soul) and ruach (spirit). So the task at hand is to flesh out their meanings within the context of how they are used in passages relating to animals. If these two words describe human souls and spirits (which we know are immortal) and also refer to animal souls, it’s reasonable to conclude they too are immortal.
Nephesh: The Hebrew word nephesh is translated soul 238 times—more than a hundred times its second most common usage (life). Nephesh, when translated as “soul,” refers to our immaterial self, that part of our being that continues to exist once it’s released from our bodies upon physical death. Does this mean the word nephesh, when speaking of animals, indicates that they have souls? The following passages suggest that it does. (Scripture quotes from the New American Standard Bible.)
Genesis 1:20: “Let the waters team with swarms of living creatures” (nephesh—souls).
Genesis 1:24: “Then God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures (nephesh--souls) after their kind. . . .’”
Genesis 1:30: “. . . and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life” (nephesh--soul).
Genesis 2:19: “. . . and whatever [Adam] called a living creature (nephesh--soul), that was its name.”
Job 12:10: “In whose [God’s] hand is the life (nephesh—soul) of every living thing. . . .
Proverbs 12:10: “The righteous man has regard for the life (nephesh--soul) of his animal.”
Some skeptics argue that in the above passages soul is referring to an animating “life force,” not an immortal soul. In the following passages, however, spirit is also applied to animals. So even if soul (nephesh) means an animating life force, spirit (ruach) would still imply immortality of animal souls—given soul and spirit are synonymous in animals. The following passages illustrate this.
Ruach: The Hebrew word ruach is translated breath, wind, or spirit. However, it’s used 203 times for spirit—more than twice it’s next most common usage (wind). The following passages show that the Hebrew word translated spirit, just like the Hebrew word translated soul, is ascribed to both humans and animals:
Genesis 6:17: “Behold, I, even I am bringing the flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh [human and animal] in which is the breath [ruach—spirit] of life.”
Genesis 7:15: So they went into the ark to Noah, by twos of all flesh in which there was the breath [ruach—spirit] of life.
Genesis 7:22: . . . of all that was on the dry land, all in which nostrils was the breath of the spirit [ruach] of life, died.
Psalm 104: 29: You hide Your face, they [the animals] are dismayed; You take away their spirit [ruach] they expire and return to their dust.
Ecclesiastes 3:19: For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies, so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath [ruach—spirit] and there is no advantage for man over beast.”
This brief word study shows that the Hebrew words translated soul and spirit are applied to both humans and animals. In light of this, if human souls are immortal it seems reasonable and probable that animal souls are also immortal—especially since nothing in the Bible tells us that animal souls are extinguished upon physical death. Still, this alone may not convince some skeptics. They typically raise several objections. We’ll examine them in the next couple blog articles.
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