Many of the articles I write come from questions I have been asked. The topic of this discourse was made possible by a woman who asked me: “Will my pet go to heaven, too?” Obviously she expected to get to that heavenly paradise and really wanted to meet her pet when the inevitable happened. She said that over the years, she had asked other religious leaders that question, but got varying answers, ranging from ‘yes’ to ‘no’ and everything in between. “So,” she asked, “what do you think?”
I can understand that she got varying answers. Even the Vatican can’t seem to give a straight answer. Pope Benedict XVI insisted animals did not go to heaven, whereas Pope Paul VI said they did, stating that “paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.”1 I finally answered her and explained my own biblical opinions, but it took a while. The following thoughts, based upon research, are what I said, but hopefully better organized now, than when she asked that question and caught me off guard. Since some think God’s coming paradise is not in heaven, but here on a renewed earth2 where they will spend an everlasting life, maybe that question would be better restated as, “Will animals have a chance for everlasting life, like we do?”
Some people may be coming to this article because they have lost an animal to death and are looking for comfort. As a Christian, people want to believe they will see their beloved pet again, when they get to heaven, or wherever they will be. This is a common reaction to a Christian’s loss of a pet and the question they ask is an appropriate one, but the answer is not an easy one to give.
I have grieved over several deaths of pets throughout my life and know that this grief is the same as that felt for any loved one whose life has ended. If you are grieving over the death of a pet, too, the last part of this discourse is especially for you. I have counseled many who have lost their animal companions and was once a member of an organization dedicated to pet loss and bereavement issues, so I am unlikely to dismiss the subject lightly. But I will tell the biblical truth and not twist scripture just to tell someone only what they wish to hear.
People love their pets and want them present in any new life they, themselves, may have after death. But this question opens up a ‘can of worms’3 as we say in the United States. In other words, the question is complicated and demands that many other wiggly questions be answered before we come to a conclusion. The various other questions Christians tend to ask are: “Were animals created the same as humans?”, “Do animals have souls?”, “What prerequisites are needed for animals to gain everlasting life?”. We must answer all these to get a complete understanding.
If someone is looking for an article featuring rainbows and glitter, or they want cute and whimsical answers, it is best to go somewhere else. To the best of my ability, I will be truthful and accurate, rather than saying something just to please someone. I’ve been fighting that problem in churches for a long time. That is why our ‘catch phrase’ at The Outlaw Bible Student is: “We are committed to writing about what God wants you to know – not what some churches only want you to hear.” Anyway, let’s get started.
Were animals created the same as humans?
God made the swimming creatures and the flying creatures on the fifth day (period, age, time) of creation (Genesis 1:20-23). And on the sixth day, God created the earth’s land animals. Beasts and livestock first (Genesis 1:24-25), and then humans. “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’” (Genesis 1:26, ESV).
God’s purpose in creating human life in his image was functional, for man was to rule or have dominion; humans were to be God’s representatives.4 This establishes that humans were created to be a higher form of life than the other animals and have dominance over them. They were commanded to multiply and subdue the earth. The Hebrew word for ‘subdue’ (kâbash) means to conquer or bring into subjection.5 This would imply that, if not semi-gods of the earth, humans would, at least, act as loving supervisors of the domain. We were to be considered at the top of God’s hierarchical system of life upon the whole planet, taking orders only from him.
As we all know, things, kind of, went wrong with this plan when Adam and Eve sinned and got kicked-out of the Garden of Eden. But, since then the whole Bible points to a time of restitution, when this messed-up world will be restored to its original pristine condition. Then once again, we will be given dominion over earth, under Jesus’ leadership.
So, what does all of this mean? It means that we were created differently from the animals. But more information can be gleaned from the details given in Genesis, chapter 2. There it tells us that to create the human, God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” (Genesis 2:7b, ESV). He did not do this with any other creature.
Biblical scholar Robert Beren gives more meaning to this scripture. He wrote “the Bible makes it very clear that people are more than just material beings. It was only when God breathed into the man’s nostrils the breath of life that Adam became alive. God is Spirit (John 4:24); thus, when God breathed into him, Adam and all later humans became a unique mix of the physical and the spiritual.”6
This is the main difference between humans and other animals; we have God’s spirit within us, but animals do not. Charles Darwin7 may have been partly correct when he stated that behavior is adaptive through natural selection, but that does not account for ethics. What he missed was that human ability aims to produce moral beliefs that are as true as they would be if designed within the very fabric of society.8 In short, Darwin’s theory does not explain ethics, which can be said to have been embedded within our DNA9 by God.
Do animals have souls?
The answer to whether animals have a soul is yes, but only because of a technicality. All living humans and animals have a soul, although it isn’t what most people think it means. There is a difference between the soul and the spirit and since most don’t understand what that difference is, they get the two confused. There are many philosophical descriptions of the soul, both from ancient literature and from new-age books, but what we need to know is what does God’s word, the Bible, tell us.
The two words translated as ‘soul’ in the Bible are the Hebrew nephesh and the Greek psuchē and they can refer to people, animals, or the lives of people and animals.10 Basically, the Israelites’ view of life and soul was merged and anything after death was rather indistinct, because they had a difficult time understanding how a person could exist without a body. “In the Old Testament the soul signifies that which is vital to man in the broadest sense.”11
A scholar writing in A Dictionary of the Bible said that throughout the Bible, ‘soul’ is “simply the equivalent of ‘life’ embodied in living creatures. In the earlier usage of the OT it has no reference to the later philosophical meaning, the animating principle, and still less to the idea of an ‘immaterial nature’ which will survive the body. ‘A living soul’ in Genesis and other records is simply an ‘animated being,’ and the word is applied equally to the lower animals and to man.”12
The Bible also tells us the soul dies, so it isn’t some wisp of smoke-like material that floats off to heaven or anywhere else after death. During Ezekiel’s time, many believed they were not suffering for their own sins, but for their parent’s sins and were blaming God for punishing them unjustly. God reasserts the truth of the matter, that all souls belong to him and all who are guilty will receive their deserved punishment.13 So he states, “Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine; the soul who sins shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:4, ESV). We are all sinners and God says that we all die; in God’s own words, the soul dies, it cannot go anywhere after death.
If the soul dies, why do so many Christian sects imply that it doesn’t? Could it be, that “soul” sometimes gets confused with “spirit?” Yes, the Bible says the soul dies with its human body, but it also says that upon death “then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7, NKJV). This does suggest that the soul and spirit are two different things.
Scholar Carl Schultz wrote, “Man returns to the ground from whence he came. While the body returns to dust, the spirit returns to God . . . Note that man has no control over the departure of the spirit. God gave and he has the power to remove the spirit . . . While the body is mortal, the spirit is immortal.”14
In the Garden of Eden, God made the animals, but when he made humans, he gave them two special attributes not given to the animals. First, he made humans in his own image: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them.” (Genesis 1:27, NRSV). Second, he gave them his spirit: “Then the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath [spirit] of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.” (Genesis 2:7, NLT). This word breath, in this case, means spirit.15
What prerequisites are needed to gain everlasting life?
The New Testament is filled with this subject matter, but there are three scripture selections useful to express a short answer of what we need before receiving everlasting life. The first one is from John 3 and it is in Jesus’ own words when he spoke to Nicodemus. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NRSV).
The second selection, written by the apostle Paul, is from his letter to the Romans, in chapter 6. “Now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:22-23, NRSV).
And the third, also from Romans, is “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9, NRSV). The only way to gain eternal life in a restored paradise, whether in heaven or upon the earth, is through Jesus Christ.
We have the attributes of God, but the animals don’t, therefore, animals have a life that, when it ends, it dies forever. They weren’t created in God’s image, nor do they have an immortal spirit that has any possibility for eternal life. When an animal dies, it is the end of their existence. So animals were not created the same as humans.
Animals do not have the spirit of God. They have an animated life (soul), but not an immortal spirit that returns to God upon death. Adam and Eve were originally created to have eternal life, but animals were not. Humans sin and die; animals do not sin, but they die just the same, so they weren’t created to live forever. If someone, in error, uses the term soul instead of spirit, then the answer is they do not have an immortal soul, as used in that respect.
And animals are not capable of believing in and accepting Jesus as their savior from a life of inherited sin. And Jesus, in fact, never once mentioned any statement about animals being saved from death. So, as much as many would prefer a more pleasing answer to the question of “will animals have a chance for everlasting life?”, the answer is no, they will not.
What about those Animal verses in Isaiah?
In speaking about a new covenant in a future world with a restored Israel, the writer of Isaiah mentions animals and humans living peacefully together. “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together, and a little child shall lead them.” Isaiah 11:6, ESV). And there is more, read also Isaiah 11:7-9. Also, see Isaiah 65:25.
These verses certainly describe the righteous kingdom by which the Messiah will establish. “The curse will be lifted, peace and harmony will be present, and wild animals will again be tame and harmless to domesticated animals and humans.”16 Realize that this full Isaiah scripture, taken as a whole, does not say that this will be in heaven, nor that those animals are living an eternal life. People only assume that is what it means, and then wrongly imply the Bible states animals will go to heaven.
What it does mean is that during the Millennium, after Jesus returns, people everywhere will live according to God’s principles and original intentions, including the animals, as they did in the Garden of Eden. Remember it is the earth that will be full of the knowledge of the LORD (Isaiah 11:9). For a full study of a new paradise on earth instead of in heaven, read “Our Future After Death — Resurrection on Earth or Life in Heaven?” listed at the end of this article under References & Notes.17
Doesn’t God Care about our Animals and Pets?
Kindness to animals is demanded in the Bible. The word ‘pet’ cannot be found in scripture, because it only came into use within the Old Northern England and Scottish languages. It began as a term for a favored domesticated animal treated with indulgence or fondness or both.18 But sentiment for an animal kept as a pet is recognized in the Bible, as well as grief for losing one.
A close, friendly, and loving relationship with animals is acceptable with God. There is a story, an analogy, worth reading that expresses God’s love for animals as companions to people. Read 2 Samuel 12:1-6, about a man and his children, who were heartbroken, because they had their pet taken away for slaughter.
In another story, when a Gentile woman asked Jesus for help, the term ‘feeding of dogs’ was used as an analogy (Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:26-30). Some believe that Jesus was commenting about vile, scavenger dogs, when he was actually referring to pets inside the home. An interesting study has been published titled “Did Jesus really call that Canaanite woman a dog?” which explains the story in detail. See References & Notes at the end of this article for a link.19
In the beginning of our world, when life was first created, God didn’t give us animals to feed upon; he gave us every green plant for food (Genesis 1:29-30). We were instructed to take care of the animals, not kill them. It wasn’t until after the flood that he made the animals afraid of humans (Genesis 9:1-2) and allowed the eating of them for food (Genesis 9:2-4). Why?
Some suggestions I’ve heard, about why God changed his mind, mention a lack of agriculture available for a while after the flood, or the implication that the pre-flood world was so sinful that they were already eating animals. However reasonable those suggestions may be, they are still only suggestions. What we do know is that the new decree provided a new food source (minus its blood). But God never changed his mind about his love of animals, throughout the Bible.
In the Old Testament, it states, “For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine.” (Psalm 50:10-11, ESV). And in the New Testament, “Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them.” (Luke 12:24a, ESV).
And as far as taking care of the animals, God provided rules for their well-being. Deuteronomy 5:13-14 shows they need rest, just as do humans. Exodus 23:4-5 tells us that if we find a lost animal, we need to return it to the owner. Proverbs 12:10 tells us that we need concern for animals’ welfare. We can learn from them (Job 12:7-10), we are held accountable for them (Exodus 21:28-30), and we must be careful breeding them (Leviticus 19:19).
This study may not have answered everyone’s questions about life after death of animals, but surely provides ‘food for thought’ and plenty of biblical and other references about our pets and other animals. Is it enough for you to make up your own mind? I hope so. “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32, NLT).
My music video pick for this article is directed to those who may have once lost a beloved pet and grieved. If this describes you, or someone you know, take a look. If you were to hear this on the radio, you may not know it is about pet loss, but it is. This excellent song is dedicated to anyone who has lost an animal companion and grieved in silence. This song, “Without Words”, was recorded in Canada; be aware it may bring on a tear or two. Selected lyrics are below; see the link in References & Notes.20
You taught me to feel
You showed me what’s real
You helped me to heal,
Who’s gonna heal me now?
I gotta move on but I don’t know how
I wish you were still around
Copyright © 2020, Dr. Ray Hermann
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Reference & Notes
- NOTE: the story of pets going to heaven was originally inaccurately attributed to Pope Francis in news stories during 2014, but corrected later to Pope Paul VI.
Gibson, David, “Sorry, Fido. Pope Francis did NOT say our pets are going to heaven”, (Religion News Service, 12 December 2014), https://religionnews.com/2014/12/12/sorry-fido-pope-francis-not-say-pets-going-heaven/
- Hermann, Ray, “Our Future After Death — Resurrection on Earth or Life in Heaven?” (The Outlaw Bible Student, OBS, 20 January 2020), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/our-future-after-death-resurrection-on-earth-or-life-in-heaven/
- open a can of worms: Metaphorically speaking, to open a can of worms is to examine or attempt to solve some problem, only to inadvertently complicate it and create even more trouble. Literally speaking, opening a can of worms, as most fishermen can attest, can also mean more trouble than you bargained for.
Soniak, Matt, “How Did the Term ‘Open a Can of Worms’ Originate?” (Mental Floss, 28 June 2012), https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/31039/how-did-term-open-can-worms-originate
- Ross, Allen P. “Genesis,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, (Eds.) J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), vol. 1, p. 29.
- Strong’s Hebrew #3533: כָּבַש, kâbash; a prim. root; to tread down; hence, neg. to disregard; pos. to conquer, subjugate, violate:— bring into bondage, force, keep under, subdue, bring into subjection.
Strong, James, The New Strong’s Dictionary of Hebrew and Greek Words, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996).
- Bergen, Robert D. “Genesis,” in CSB Study Bible: Notes, (Eds.) Edwin A. Blum and Trevin Wax, (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), p. 7.
- Charles Robert Darwin, (born February 12, 1809 in England—died April 19, 1882), English naturalist whose scientific theory of evolution by natural selection became the foundation of modern evolutionary studies.
Desmond, Adrian J., “Charles Darwin”, (Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 15 April 2020), https://www.britannica.com/biography/Charles-Darwin
- Mathews, Kenneth A., and Luter, A. Boyd, Jr., “Genesis,” in CSB Apologetics Study Bible, (Ed.) Ted Cabal (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), pp. 5-6.
- DNA: Deoxyribonucleic acid is a molecule carrying genetic instructions for the development, functioning, growth and reproduction of all known organisms.
“DNA”, (Wikipedia, Wikipedia Foundation Inc., 16 May 2020), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DNA
- A) nephesh – life, being
Durst, Dennis, “Soul,” John D. Barry et al., (Ed.) The Lexham Bible Dictionary, (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).
B) psuchē (Greek #5590) – the animal sentient, life
Strong, James, The New Strong’s Dictionary of Hebrew and Greek Words, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996).
Note: In the New Testament often translated as “life” in some translations (Mark 10:45; Acts 20:24; Rev 12:11); in the Old Testament major usages communicate: 1) indicate meanings of desire (Ps 25:1; 42:2), 2) personal or individual being (Gen 12:5; Lev 2:1), 3) a conscious self (Lev 11:44–45), 4) emotional state (Gen 26:35; Job 21:4; Eccl 7:9).
- Elwell, Walter A. and Beitzel, Barry J., “Soul,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), vol. 2, pp. 1987-1988.
- Laidlaw, John, “SOUL,” (Ed.) James Hastings, A Dictionary of the Bible: Dealing with Its Language, Literature, and Contents Including the Biblical Theology, (New York; Edinburgh: Charles Scribner’s Sons; T. & T. Clark, 1911–1912), p. 608.
- Dyer, Charles H., “Ezekiel,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, (Eds.) J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), vol. 1, p. 1260.
- Schultz, Carl, “Ecclesiastes,” in Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, Baker Reference Library, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995), vol. 3, pp. 450–451.
- Strong’s Greek #5397, נְשָׁמָה, neshâmâh; divine inspiration, intellect, spirit.
Strong, James, The New Strong’s Dictionary of Hebrew and Greek Words, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996).
- Martin, John A., “Isaiah,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, (Eds.) J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), vol. 1, p. 1057.
- Hermann, Ray, “Our Future After Death — Resurrection on Earth or Life in Heaven?”, (see Reference #1, above).
- Sife, Wallace, The Loss of a Pet, (New York: Howell Book House, 1998), p. 3.
- Hermann, Ray, “Did Jesus really call that Canaanite woman a dog?”, (The Outlaw Bible Student, OBS, 20 January 2019), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/did-jesus-really-call-that-canaanite-woman-a-dog/
- “Without Words,” Artist: Spectra 2014 Singers; Authors: Mark Zubek, Ralph Hamelmann, Paul Bellini; Availability: streaming and download only – MP3, FLAC; (Ontario SPCA, Rainbow Association of Canadian Artists, uploaded 21 June 2014) – MUSIC VIDEO, https://youtu.be/vjw_HnDlPmA