Lutheran Beliefs on Animal Souls
29 SEP 2017
Lutheran beliefs about animal souls -- whether animals have them and if animals go to heaven -- range from "no" to a cautious "maybe." Many people wonder if their pets will join them in the afterlife. According to the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, "It is natural to grieve the loss of a dear pet, but we have no reason to believe there will be a resurrection for animals as for people. Since our eternal home is a new heavens and a new earth, it is possible that there will be animals there."
1 Biblical Interpretations
A Biblical passage that supports the idea of animals having an afterlife is Isaiah 11:6-9 (NIV). "The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them." This image conjures a harmonious accord between all God's creatures, human and animals. The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) does not commit to an explanation of whether this passage is literal or figurative. WELS further extends the debate: "Romans 8:19-22 says the whole creation will be redeemed from bondage. There is, however, nothing in Scripture that leads us to expect a resurrection for specific animals."
2 Martin Luther
Martin Luther (1483-1586), the great Bible scholar, Protestant reformer, and founder of the Lutheran Church, was fond of animals. His writings frequently refer to his own dog, to whom he purportedly said, "Be thou comforted, little dog, thou too in Resurrection shall have a little golden tail." David Clough examines Luther's attitude towards animals in "The Anxiety of the Human Animal: Luther on Animality and the Image of God." While he stresses that Luther clearly feels humans are superior to animals, he also notes that Luther more than once mentions animals in reference to eternal life. For instance, says Clough, in Luther's comments on 1 Corinthians:15, he describes playing with the "'sun, moon, and all other creatures,'" and looks forward to a "new essence 'not only in us human beings but in all other creatures.'"
3 Animals As Companions
In an interview on Pet Life Radio with host Amy Shojai, Pastor Craig M. Sturm of Trinity Lutheran Church in Texas addresses the questions of whether animals have souls or go to heaven. Sturm notes that, in the Bible, animals and humans were created on the same day as companions for one another, and that they lived in perfect harmony. Sturm describes Martin Luther's belief in the Resurrection that "one day, that harmony will be restored." This means, says Sturm, that a very close kinship between animals and humans was intended by God, and there is a possibility that the kinship will be extended in heaven.
4 Animal Souls
Pastor Sturm explains that in the Bible and in religious studies, the term "soul" has different meanings. It can refer to anything that has life and breath, which would, of course, include animals and humans. The word "soul" can also refer to a being which has the possibility of immortality, which would include humans. Most scholars agree, says Sturm, that animals do not have souls in the latter, immortal sense. However, he states, even though animals may not attain spiritual immortality, it does not necessarily follow that they are excluded from biblical messages about heaven. Lutheran clergy and religious scholars will not affirm that animals have souls; however, they will not rule out the possibility that animals might exist in heaven.
- 1 Clough, David. "The anxiety of the human animal: Martin Luther on non-human animals and human animality." in Creaturely Theology: On God, Humans and Other Animals. Edited by Celia Deane-Drummond and David Clough. London: SCM Press, 2009, 41-60.
- 2 Bible Gateway.com
- 3 Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod: Questions and Answers