Biology 101

But man in his splendor will not endure; he is like the animals that perish.  Psalm 49:12  NASB

Animals – Do dogs go to heaven?  What about cats?  Do animals have a “soul”?  At one point in human history, such questions caused considerable debate.  However, it seems that the Bible makes a significant distinction between animals and humans—except in this case.  Death.

Even though we are biologically equivalent when it comes to the termination of living, there is an important but rather hidden distinction in the creation of these two classes of living things.  We find that distinction by comparing Genesis 2:7 with Genesis 2:19.

The Bible explicitly states that the body of mankind was formed from the dust of the ground.  The Hebrew word for man, adam, derives directly from the Hebrew word adamah, meaning ground or soil: “and the Lord God formed the adam dust from the adamah . . .” (Gen. 2:19).  The Bible also explicitly states that the bodies of animals were formed from the same material as Adam, the ground: “And the Lord God formed from the adamah all the animals  . . .” (Gen. 2:19).  There is, however, a crucial difference in the original Hebrew between these two verses.  The Hebrew word for formed, ya-tsar, when used for the forming of mankind, is spelled with two Hebrew letters yud.  Although the structure and grammar are the same in verses 7 and 19, when used for the formation of the animals, ya-tsar is spelled with one yud.  Every Torah scroll, whether from Yemen, Jerusalem, or Venice, California, is written this way.

Yud is the abbreviation of God’s explicit name, best translated as the Eternal.  As the ancient commentors, Rashi, Maimonides, and Nahmanides explain this verse, by doubling the yud for mankind, the Bible is telling us that although mankind and animals may share a common physical origin, there is an extra spiritual input in humanity.  The neshama, the spiritual soul of humankind, is the factor distinguishing man from beast.[1]

The sons of Korah are correct.  All living things die.  This psalm uses the Hebrew דָּמָה (dāmâ).  It’s important to notice that this word which means “to cease, to be cut off, to destroy” and “to perish” is precisely the same as the word דָּמָה (dāmâ) which means “to be like, to resemble,” a crucial word in the creation of man and woman in Genesis 1:26-27.  Man and woman are created in God’s “likeness,” but they share in the dāmâ of all biological entities.  What matters isn’t the biology.  It’s the connection, the resemblance with the Creator.  Focusing on the biology to the exclusion of the connection, either because we fear death or because we think we are able to control it, is disastrous.  The biology will prevail regardless of the second use of dāmâ, but since there is a second use, that is the focal point.  The rest is just peripheral.

Topical Index: dāmâ, perish, likeness, death, biology, animals, Psalm 49:12

[1] Dr. Gerald Schroeder in The Science of God.  See Today’s Word, April 9, 2009.

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Richard Bridgan

“…because we are not looking at what is seen, but what is not seen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is not seen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18)