Do animals have spirits?

Does Ecclesiastes 3:21 teach that animals have spirits?

Ecclesiastes is inspired, but records the thoughts of men "under the sun," ideas derived without the benefit of divine revelation. For instance, "the earth abideth for ever" (1:4) is deemed true only when the scriptures are ignored. We cannot, therefore, base doctrine on the statements of Ecclesiastes. Furthermore, the varied translations of this verse, "Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?" leave some questions as to its meaning. These statements may be merely what was commonly accepted in Solomon’s day. Five of the first six times "living soul" is used in Genesis 1 and 2, it refers to animals ("living creatures," 1:20, 21, 24, 30; 2:19; see also Job 12:10). What distinguishes men, though, is that the Lord God "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (2:7) Adam was formed uniquely by God, Who is spirit and directly "breathed" life into him. God’s creative purpose was to make man capable of relating to Himself (1:26; 3:8). This requires that man be a spirit being, for "God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit..." (John 4:24). The creation, until what is introduced in Genesis 2:7, was material. This indicates that animals are totally material, their body and soul being no different. The soul gives individuality; for man, that involves a spiritual and eternal identity, but only a material and temporal identity for animals. Paul’s statement that our bodies - without our soul and spirit - are "soulish" (literally "natural," I Corinthians 15:44) may support this.

As to an animal’s "spirit," the word is often translated "breath." Its context determines its meaning. "The breath of life" is used of both man (Genesis 2:7) and animals (6:17; 7:15, 22), but the first is from God and is therefore spiritual, imparting life; the second is physical, indicating what has breathe and is therefore living. This is likely the best way to understand any thought of "spirit" in the animal creation.

D. Oliver