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  • Writer's pictureChapman Chen

Animals Have a Soul (Nephesh) and a Spirit (Ruach). Go Vegan! By Chapman Chen, HKBNews

Summary: The Biblical Hebrew word, נֶ֫פֶשׁ‎ nephesh (soul) is translated "life" or "creature" in most English versions of the Bible when applied to animals, e.g., Genesis 1:20, 1:21, 1:24, 1:30 KJV. Whereas it is often translated accurately when applied to humans, e.g., Genesis 2:7 KJV (cf. Antipas. Org. 2014). The same with רוּחַ‎ ruach (spirit), e.g., "For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts... they have all one breath [ר֫וּחַ ruach (spirit)]; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast" (Ecclesiastes 3:19 KJV). The significance of animals having a soul and a spirit lies in its implication that humans and animals are equal before the Creator, that animals are our neighbors; and we are supposed to follow Jesus' commandment and love them (Matthew 22:39), instead of abusing and devouring them.


1. The First Four Occurrences in Genesis of the Biblical Hebrew Word " הַֽחַיָּ֣ה Nephesh" (Soul) Relate Exclusively to Animals

Genesis 1:20 KJV: And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly THE MOVING CREATURES THAT HATH LIFE [חַיָּ֑ה chayyah (living) נֶ֣פֶשׁ nephesh (soul)], and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.

Genesis 1:21 KJV: And God created great whales, and every LIVING CREATURE [הַֽחַיָּ֣ה living נֶ֣פֶשׁ soul] that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

Genesis 1:24 KJV: And God said, Let the earth bring forth the LIVING CREATURE [הַֽחַיָּ֣ה living נֶ֣פֶשׁ soul] after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.

Genesis 1:30 KJV: And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is LIFE [הַֽחַיָּ֣ה living נֶ֣פֶשׁ soul], I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.

Not only King James' Version, but also most other mainstream English translations of the Bible render "הַֽחַיָּ֣ה living נֶ֣פֶשׁ soul" as life or creature when it comes to the animals, e.g., New International Version, New Living Translation, New American Standard Bible, Berean Study Bible, English Standard Version, Christian Standard Bible, Amplified Bible, International Standard Version, Aramaic Bible in Plain English... The only exceptions are Catholic Public Domain Version (surprisingly!),Smith's Literal Translation, Peshitta Holy Bible Translated, and Darby Bible Translation.

2. The Fifth Occurrence in Genesis of הַֽחַיָּ֣ה Nephesh (Soul)

The Bible's next use of "הַֽחַיָּ֣ה Nephesh" is in the narration of the creation of humankind -- 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 [הַֽחַיָּ֣ה living נֶ֣פֶשׁ soul].

This time the translation is accurate, probably for the sake of extolling human beings.

3. Application to Humans and Animals Together

We have surveyed the first five occurrences. Of the next eight, six are applied to animals. There are 7 places where the word is applied to humans and animals jointly sans discrimination. An intriguing instance is Numbers 31:28 KJV:

"Levy a SOUL [נֶ֔פֶשׁ nephesh] of 500, both of the persons, of the beeves, of the asses..."

One more classic verse of the employment of soul for creatures before we move on, Prov. 12:10 KJV:

"A righteous man regardeth the life [נֶ֔פֶשׁ nephesh--SOUL] of his beast; but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel."

4. Men and Beasts All Have the Same Spirit (Ecc. 3:19)!

At this juncture, the common retort from the enduring "human soul defender" is to shift the subject to the word spirit, and forsake the reasoning established on soul (cf. Haynes Jr. 2021; Antipas 2014). Solomon, however, stresses, "men and...beasts...all have the same SPIRIT (ר֫וּחַ ruach);, and there is no superiority of a son of man compared to beasts" (Ecclesiastes 3:19 Peshitta Holy Bible Translated). Again, mainstream English versions of the Bible manipulatively render "ר֫וּחַ ruach (spirit)" as "breath", e.g., "For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts... they have all one BREATH [ר֫וּחַ ruach]; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast" (Ecclesiastes 3:19 KJV).

Interestingly, two verses later, the Biblical Hebrew word for spirit "ר֫וּחַ ruach" is finally translated correct -- "Who knoweth the spirit (ר֫וּחַ ruach) of man that goeth upward, and the spirit (ר֫וּחַ ruach) of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?" (Ecclesiastes 3:21 KJV), probably because of the parallel structure, which leaves the translator with no alternative.

To quote Antipas (2014), "In applying both these words, soul AND spirit, to animals as well as to men, the Scriptures seem to be taking especial care to protect us from erroneous conceptions, if only we will heed and accept its divine guidance."

5. Manipulation out of Anthropocentrism

According to the late translation theorist André Lefevere (1992), translation is manipulation and rewriting. Probably out of anthropocentrism or humanocentricity, i.e., human supremacy over other species (Singer 1975), mainstream translators of the Bible manipulate "הַֽחַיָּ֣ה Nephesh (soul)" and "ר֫וּחַ ruach (spirit)". In this way, animals are deprived of their God-given soul and spirit so that human animals are justified to abuse, slaughter, consume and exploit non-human animals (cf. Linzey 2007:24; Clough 2011:88).

6. "Love thy Neighbour as thyself"! Go Vegan!

Since it is now crystal clear that animals do have a soul and a spirit like us human beings, they are our neighbors, not our slaves. Instead of oppressing, torturing and killing them, treating them as if they were inanimate objects, we are supposed to love them, to care for them and even to serve them. For Jesus commands, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Mattew 22:39). Further, "the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve" (Matthew 20:28 NIV).

Moreover, Jesus cared for "the least of these" (Matthew 25:40). "The least of all" in the modern world is of course animals, trillions of whom are maltreated, sexually abused, exploited, murdered, and chewed by humans every year.

To go vegan is the primary step towards loving your neighbors -- non-human sentient beings.

7. Bibliography

Antipas.Org. (2014). "The Bible Meaning of Soul"., 24 Nov. (

Chen, Chapman (2022). "Jesus did NOT Eat Meat. Go VEGAN!" HKBNews, 15 Mar. (

Chen, Chapman (2021a). "The Forbidden Fruit of Eden is Meat. Go Vegan!" HKBNews, Aug. 18 (

Chen, Chapman (2021b). "Does Dominion in Genesis Mean Stewardship or Despotism?" HKBNews, July 12 (

Chen, Chapman (2021c). ”Jesus Asks us to Serve the Animals. Go Vegan!" HKBNews, July 10 (

Chen, Chapman (2021d). "Does Genesis Prescribe a Vegan Diet or a Meat Diet?" HKBNews, June 17 ( )

Chen, Chapman (2021e). "Follow Christ's Words n Love your Neighbors, includ. Animals." HKBNews, June 15 ( )

Clough, David L. (2011). On Animals, Volume I: Systematic Theology. London: T&T Clark.

Dixon, Brad (2018). "Was Jesus a Vegetarian?" Everfit, Apr. 11. (

Haynes Jr., Clarence L. (2021). "Do Animals Have Souls?" BibleStudyTools, 30 Jun. (

Jones-Hunt, Jackie. (2014). Proof Animals Have Souls. Edinburgh: House of Light Publishers Limited.

Linzey, Andrew (2007). Creatures of the Same God: Explorations in Animal Theology. Winchester: Winchester University Press, 2007

Singer, Peter (1975). Animal Liberation. New York: HarperCollins.

Pic credit: Bible App for Kids

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