Do Animals Have Eternal Souls?
Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? – Ecclesiastes 3:21
Man and Animals Are Not The Same
Animals do not have souls such as we have. Because animals have a consciousness which makes them different from plants, and because the Hebrew word nephesh in the Old Testament is used sometimes in reference to this characteristic of animals, some people would say that animals have souls. This would lead to the belief that killing an animal for meat would be murder.
However, this is not so. They have a consciousness which makes them different from plants, but they do not have souls like human beings, which go to Heaven or Hell when they die. When animals are buried, that is the end of their life. When man is buried, this is not the case.
The Bible teaches the three parts of man – body, spirit and soul – in 1 Thessalonians 5:28. Man is the only creature or creation of God which has the ability to be saved if he will turn to the Lord Jesus. Animals do not have the moral conscience which tells them they are sinners in need of forgiveness.
The Bible on occasion pictures animals as possessing souls. The Hebrew word nephesh is translated by the word “soul” 428 times in the Bible; but on two occasions it is rendered “beast” (Leviticus 24:28 and Genesis 2:19). For this reason, we need to define the nature of man and the nature of animals.
Man was created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 2:26-27). Therefore, man is triune in nature–he possesses spirit, soul and body. He is a trichotomous being. On the other hand, animals possess body and soul, but not spirit. This would make them dichotomous beings.
Being dichotomous in nature, an animal would have no sense of right or wrong–no conscience. Therefore, even though he loves his master, and is loved by his master, and even though he may learn to “obey” his master, he would not be held accountable by God for his actions. The Lord gave man “dominion” over all animal life (Genesis 1:26-28).
However, the Lord made provision for the care of animals (Genesis 9:9-10; Psalm 36:6-1 Deuteronomy 25:4; Psalm 104). Even though animals are without a soul and we do have “dominion” over them, this doesn’t mean we should ever be intentionally abusive to animals.
What the Bible Say About Animals and Eternity
The best reference to the final destiny of animals would be the passage found in Ecclesiastes 3. Notice the reference to “beasts” (Animals – all forms of animals) found in verses 18-22, and particularly verse 21:
I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts. For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?
There has been much debate through the years over this verse. The most natural understanding of this verse is as a statement concerning how man and animals differ–in soul or spirit, as discussed above.
The word translated “spirit” is the same Hebrew word ruach that is translated “breath” in verse 29. Solomon, in these verses, rightly identifies the essential difference between the human soul and the soul of an animal. He is saying in these verses that the soul of man returns to God when the breath of life (spirit of life) ceases. However, the animal was made to derive its happiness and fulfillment from the world.
In summary, considering the above, an animal would simply perish when it dies–and the spirit of the beast… “goes down into the earth” (Ecclesiastes 3:21).
Man has that third element of a trichotomous being discussed above–spirit. At his death, his spirit returns to God (Ecclesiastes 12:7). For man, it is either Heaven or Hell, depending on his own free choice to accept or reject the Lord. For animals, it is simply a case of them returning to dust (12:7).