One of the most interesting statements made in the 1968 saga “The Planet of The Apes” was the proposition that humans did not have souls.
According to most religious traditions, the soul is the indivisible and spiritual part of every human being. The Bible refers to the soul as the mind and the heart of a person.
The Bhagavad Gita (Ancient Hindu Text) says the following regarding the spirit-soul in chapter 2.17 “Know that which pervades the entire body is indestructible. No one is able to destroy the imperishable soul.”
Although most ancient religions have no problem with believing that animals have spirit-souls, the Judeo-Christian devotees have had difficulty in accepting this fact. The reason for this is not that the Judeo-Christian Scriptures teach that animals do not have souls. On the contrary…they do.
According to the Biblical account, God created the land animals and the human prototype on the sixth day. The main difference between the creation of the animals and the human was that the former were created by means of the spoken Word of God, while the Man was formed from the ground as a visible image and likeness of the Creator. In other words, the main God-given vocation for human beings is to be the “image of God,” not only in their personal and communal relationship with God, but also as the “image of God” for all sentient animals and the rest of creation. (see Genesis 1:26-28)
In the second creation account, the Bible says the following in Genesis 2:7 (KJV)- “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.“ Many modern Bible translations exchange the word “soul” for either “living creature” or “living being.” The reason for the change of terms in modern translations is because the original Hebrew text is clear: animals also have souls.
When God breathed the “breath of life” into the clay mold of a man, the Bible says that he became a “living soul.” The Hebrew word for “soul” is the feminine noun: “nephesh.” The soul is intrinsically linked with the “breath” of living beings, which is why the Ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament (Septuagint) translates “nephesh” into the feminine noun: “psyche” (ψυχή), from which we also get the English word “psyche.”
When God gave the sacrificial system to the Israelites, he did not do so out of disdain for animals or because he was blood-thirsty. In fact, God commands Isaiah to tell the Jews to stop their “shedding of innocent blood.” (Isaiah 1:11-17) The main point of the sacrificial system (which most people missed) was to teach people that “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)
Psalm 49:7-8 (NIV) says: “No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him- the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough…”
The death penalty in the Law of Moses was a deterrent against “fist-lifted” sins of intentional rebellion (see Deuteronomy 21:18-22; Numbers 15:27-31) In the same way, the killing of innocent, sacrificial animals were supposed to serve as deterrents for sin, based on compassion. The point of animal sacrifices was to teach us that sin does not only offend God and affect us personally, but that it also affects the innocent parties around us. (see Exodus 20:5; et. al)
While it is true that Leviticus 17:11 says that the blood of sacrificial animals made “atonement” for a person’s sins, it was not the blood itself that made the atonement, but the innocent soul that suffered the wage and consequence of our sin. Sin always has an effect, whether intentional or unintentional.
It is important to note that neither in the Old Testament nor in the New Testament, is there “atonement” nor forgiveness for intentional sins. (see Numbers 15:27-31; Hebrews 6:4-8; 1 John 5:16-17) Christ died once for intentional sins, which is why in the first few centuries of the Christian Church, many people put off getting baptized until they were close to the point of death.
Leviticus 17:11 (KJV) says:
For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.
The word that is translated as “life” is the Hebrew word “nephesh,” which means soul. This means, that Leviticus 17:11 should be translated: “For the SOUL of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your SOULS: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the SOUL.”
After the world deluge, God allowed for Noah and his descendants to eat the flesh-meat of animals as a necessary concession for survival in a world that had essentially drowned to death. But even so, God still regulated this concession, by prescribing that they not eat the flesh with it’s “life-blood.” In other words, that they should at least have compassion enough to not fall into the sin of cannibalism. (Genesis 9:4. “Life-blood” is a translation from the Hebrew word “nephesh,”which means soul.)
We oftentimes think of the “Last Judgement” as only for human beings…but the fact is that God will hold animals accountable for their sins- especially the sin of murdering human beings, who are the image of God. Genesis 9:5 says:
“And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.”
Human beings are supposed to be the “image and likeness” of God for all creation. Most animals fear and avoid human beings because their body language (standing and walking erect) is a sign of superiority in the animal kingdom. But when humans act worse than animals (who do not usually kill unless it is for survival) God instigates them to harass and even kill us (Leviticus 26:21-22).
Do animals have souls? Yes… The Bible says so. We are to love animals and respect them as living souls that will unequivocally have to give God an accounting for their actions…
When Jonah expected for God to destroy Nineveh, he sat down at some distance from the city in “holy” protest for God’s grace and compassion. God made a vine grow over Jonah in order to give him shade- but overnight, the vine died. Jonah became very angry and began to complain… so God responded by saying:
Jonah 4:11 (ESV) “And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”
Imagine what God feels about slaughter houses… But that’s for a different article.