Part Nine: “Animals Don’t Have Immortal Souls!”—Objections Overruled!
In this and the following blog article, I’ll examine the major arguments raised by skeptics who reject the idea of animal’s possessing immortal souls. In this article I’ll focus on the three Bible passages skeptics most frequently quote to support this claim. As you read them, notice that the first two do not even speak to the issue of animals souls. (All Scripture from the New International Version.)
The first passage is Psalm 49:10-20, in particular verses 15 and 20: “But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself….A man who has riches without understanding is like the beast that perishes.” At first glance this passage may seem to imply that godly men will be rescued from the grave (resurrected) but animals will perish. Why this interpretation? Because skeptics assume the passage is focusing on spiritual death. Thus, since animals allegedly lack eternal souls, at death they decay in the grave (14) while humans, who do have eternal souls, eventually rise from the grave (15). But is this what the passages is concerned about? Not at all. It explains that both humans and animals die physically (12); the fate of our bodies is no different than theirs—we all return to dust.
Besides the mistaken assumption that the passage is focusing on spiritual death—which it’s not—this interpretation is grossly out of context. The passage says nothing about the eternal state of animals. It’s speaking about the fate of a godless rich man (represented as sheep—v. 14) who “will take nothing with him when he dies” (17). In other words, just as animals have no material possessions to carry to the grave, neither do humans. When a person dies, regardless of the riches or honor he or she enjoyed in this life, they take nothing with them to the grave—just like animals. The passage says nothing about animal souls or their eternal destiny.
The second passage that skeptics believe refutes the notion of animals possessing immortal souls is Matthew 25:31-46, especially verse 46: “Then they [the unrighteous] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” But read the entire passage. It’s not talking about animals at all. Jesus is distinguishing righteous people (represented by the sheep on His right) from unrighteous people (the goats on His left—v. 32). The passage is saying nothing whatsoever about whether or not animals (i.e. the sheep and goats) possess souls. Indeed, if it were speaking about the destiny of animal souls, at least some (the sheep) would “go away . . . to eternal life” (v. 46).
Probably the most common passage used to discredit the immortality of animal souls is Ecclesiastes 3:19-21:
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, for all is vanity. All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust [i.e. their physical bodies]. Who knows that the breath (ruach--spirit) of the beast descends downward to the earth?”
Skeptics interpret this passage to mean that while the bodies of people and animals both decay (turn to dust), human immortal spirits go to Heaven but animal spirits (souls) do not. Again, this is an assumption. The author points out that human and animal bodies “all go to the same place.” Then he asks a question (not make a statement): “Who knows” if the breath (i.e. ruach—spirit) of animals “descends downward to the earth?” The most obvious interpretation of this passage would seem to be the opposite of the skeptic’s. If the “fate” of human and animal bodies is the same, that is, “all go to the same place” (physical death—dust), the author may well have assumed that the spirits of humans and animals also go to the same place. But perhaps he wasn’t absolutely certain about it (just like many Christians), so he asked the question: “Who knows that the breath (ruach--spirit) of the beast descends downward to the earth?”
Some skeptics have attempted to support their interpretation by arguing that verse 12:7 clarifies the issue. When the teacher says, “and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it,” they assume that the dust returning to the ground is the animal’s spirit in verse 3:21. Thus, animal spirits are extinguished at death while human spirits ascend to God. This is pure speculation. In context of all chapter twelve, verse 12:7 is obviously referring to just people. It’s saying that people’s spirits go to God while their physical bodies return to dust. It says nothing about animal spirits (souls).
As these three examples illustrate, the passages skeptics rely on to justify their belief that animals do not possess immortal souls, in reality, say no such thing. To conclude otherwise requires the skeptic to read his or her own presumptions back into the text.
Is There a More Fundamental Reason People reject the Immortality of Animals Souls?
It’s true that animals do not possess spirits in the tripartite sense of a unique spiritual connection with God, which only humans enjoy by virtue of being created in His image (see part seven). But this is no reason to conclude that their souls are merely corporeal and without God-given eternal qualities. The fact is nothing in Scripture speaks about the annihilation of animal souls. Thus, if animals do have souls, it seems reasonable they would be immortal—just as in humans.
I believe that the reason many people reject the immortality of animal souls is not for biblical reasons, but for philosophical reasons. They worry that if we admit animal souls are eternal, we are elevating animals to human status or are acquiescing to some kind of pagan, earth-based religion where there is no value distinction between people and animals. There is no reason to have this concern. Animals were not created the same as humans (1 Cor. 15:39), nor do animals have the same value to God as people (Matt. 6:26). In the future new heaven and earth, we can expect these distinctions to remain. (We’ll look at this in detail later.) Just because animals have souls that survive physical death does not change their status in the hear-and-now nor in the age to come. Animals in heaven will still be just 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: www.danstory.net.