Do animals have souls? Since i last wrote to you I have done some research on this subject.  Although I don’t know any Hebrew scholars personally, I do have several books in which they have made contributions, also a copy of Vine’s expository dictionary of Bible words. What my research revealed is that the word ‘soul’, Nephesh in Hebrew, and Psykhe in Greek occurs over 800 time in the Bible, and is used in the Hebrew text 16 times in connection with animals. (Gen.1:20,21,24,30; 2:19; 9:10,12,15,16; Lev.11:10,46; 24:18; Num.31:28; Job 41:21; Ezek.47:9) So why doesn’t the word ‘soul’ appear in all Bible versions at these verses? I can only think that translators being human sometimes allow their existing beliefs influence the way they translate, in this case maybe the belief that animals don’t have souls, they perhaps avoid using the word ‘soul’ in connection with animals even though it does appear in the Hebrew text at the above verses? The point I was trying to make at Eccl. 3:19, was that if man had an immortal soul, and animals did not, then man would have superiority over the animals in death, but according to this verse "they have but one spirit, so there is no superiority of man over the beast," which supports what it says at Ezek.18:4, that the human soul, like the animals, is not immortal, but dies. However Christians do have the hope of living again at the resurrection. – John 5:28, 29; 11:25. Would you say that ‘spirit’ and ‘soul’ are one and the same?  So to sum up then it would seem that in the Bible the word ‘soul’ basically refers to. Peolple, animals, and the life they both have.


In my opinion you are making the mistake of assuming that a particular word in Hebrew (or Greek or English) always has the same meaning, no matter the context (forgive me for exaggerating here). Let me use an English example. 500 souls perished in the fire last month. In this context the word souls means people. You need to repent and be baptized so that your soul can be saved. In this case, the word soul is not equal to person, but is the more traditional "soul" which is something we have with which we are commanded to love God in Luke 17.

For the word nephesh to be used in Hebrew of animals does not imply that animals have souls is the sense that people have a soul. This is a grammatical error. Bible translators will translate nephesh as soul in some contexts and as something else in another context. This is not because of false doctrine or a bias, but because translators use different English words for the same Greek or Hebrew word when the context implies a different meaning. The reason the translators do not use "soul" for nephesh when used of animals in Genesis is that the context implies a different translation.

You say: they perhaps avoid using the word ‘soul’ in connection with animals even though it does appear in the Hebrew text at the above verses. This is not a correct statement. The word nephesh (not the word soul!) appears in these passages. The question the translator must ask is what it the meaning of the Hebrew word in this context and what is the best translation. If the context does not demand the English word soul, then the translator should not use this word when nephesh is used.

Another example. I love my dog. I love pizza and I also love my wife. If these three statements were translated into Greek or Hebrew, different words would be used. This is not because of a bias or a refusal to be honest with the meaning. It is because the word love has a rather broad range of meanings. The meaning is implied by the context.

Ecclesiastes 3:19 is not intended to be a doctrinal statement about the immortal soul. You should be careful when reading poetry such as Ecclesiastes not to read it the same as you would read a doctrinal book such as Ephesians. What the writer of Ecclesiastes is saying in this passage (given the context) is that both animals and human beings die physical death. We face the same physical conclusion to our lives. Our bodies will suffer the same fate as our bodies are mortal. Solomon is not denying the existence of a soul in Ecclesiastes 3:19.

I hate to pile on here, but I am afraid that you are also misinterpreting Ezekiel 18. The "soul" which "dies" in Ezekiel is a reference to the punishment that our living souls will experience in hell if we do not repent of our sins. The eternal punishment which those who rebel against God are subject to is called "the second death" in Revelation 20. We can be dead when we are alive (for example the Bible says of us that before we are in Christ, we are dead in our sins). I know this can be confusing, but we need to learn to read the scripture carefully.

Now, I will admit that I am using some presuppositions in my interpretations. You do that as well when you interpret my three statements that I love pizza, my dog and my wife. We should always be careful about our presuppositions. You have every right to question the presuppositions I am using. I am assuming that human beings have a soul with is eternal. This is implied by literally hundreds of passages. I am also assuming that my physical body, like that of animals, will die. This is confirmed by dozens of passages and by experience. For this reason, I believe Solomon in Ecclesiastes 3:19 is talking about our common physical death, while Ezekiel is talking about spiritual death/hell which only applies to humans. Animals do not have souls!

Of course, you should decide for yourself what you believe about these things, but you asked my my thoughts and that is how I see the use of nephesh for animals, and the use of soul in Ezekiel 18.

Spirit and soul are not the same thing. Hebrew 3:12-13 makes this clear! However, the word nephesh in Hebrew may well be translated as either soul or spirit, depending on the context. Let us be honest about this. There may be some ambiguity. It is possible that some may translate it one way and some another. The Hebrew may not be sufficiently clear, even with the context, to decide for sure which is implied. In fact, Hebrews 3:12-13 implies that these two–soul and spirit– are hard to distinguish. If you look at my web site, there is a Q & A in which it give what I believe is a pretty good definition of the difference between soul and spirit (do a search for soul and for spirit).

One more thing. You say: So to sum up then it would seem that in the Bible the word ‘soul’ basically refers to. People, animals, and the life they both have. I agree with this to some extent, but I would change it a bit. So, to sum it up, it would seem that the Bible word nephesh can mean, depending on the context, people, animals, the life they both have, or a person’s soul or a person’s spirit. The word "soul" is not a biblical word simply because it is an English word.

John Oakes

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