Death of Animals and Man - Ecclesiastes 3:19

Question
Are there any differences in the death of animals and humans? Ecclesiastes 3:19
Answer
Ecclesiastes 3:19 Mans fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless.

Yes there are some similarities and differences. As the writer of Ecclesiastes reveals, in both humans and animals, death is certain; their bodies die and return to dust.

However, the writer also says they are different, saying of mankind, "And the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it" (Eccl. 12:7). Animals do not have immortal souls (Eccl. 3:21), which will be judged (Eccl. 11:9). The Bible does not mention a hell for animals. Scripture does not say of animals to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). Nor does it speak of their resurrection (John 5:28-29; Rev. 20:4-6) or new bodies. So, there are some substantial differences between humans and animals.

The verses above taken in their fuller context mean:

The text makes four assertions: (1) God desires people to see that they are in some sense like animals; (2) people and animals share the same fate in that both return to the dust; (3) nobody knows if the spirit of a human rises at death while that of an animal descends to the earth; and (4) we ought to enjoy the life we have. While these verses may appear to be a categorical denial of afterlife, such an interpretation would miss the mark.

Once again Ecclesiastes asserts that humans are mortal; it is in that sense that they are like the animals. If anything, these verses may be taken as a challenge to the idea that humans possess an innate immortality, but they are not an assertion that no form of afterlife whatsoever is possible for humans.

In biblical Christianity, however, death is consistently described as a curse and an enemy (1 Cor. 15:26, 54-55; Rev 20:14). The resurrection of Christ, moreover, has conquered death and has opened the way for the resurrection. The whole person, body and soul, enters immortality. This immortality, however, is dependent on the power of God and the resurrection.

Ecclesiastes does not deny afterlife, but does force the reader to take death seriously. In this, the book echoes the psalmists prayer that he be taught to number his days (Ps 90:10-12). It is not the biblical believer who denies the power of death, but the unbeliever.

Since humans are truly mortal, two conclusions follow: First, neither possessions nor accomplishments are eternal, and we should properly use and enjoy them while we still see the light of day. Second, because we are by nature dependent and contingent, our hope of eternal life must be founded in God and not ourselves (Eccl 12:7, 13-14). For the Christian this means that immortality is in the risen Christ (1 Cor 15:12-19).

Garrett, D. A. (2001). Vol. 14: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (304-305). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).