Animals have “soul” (Heb. nephesh ). Like Adam, they are living souls, self-animated breathers. Occasionally, Scripture speaks of animals as “spirits” or as having “spirit” ( ruach ; land animals in Genesis 7:22; “spirits of all flesh” in Numbers 27:16). All animated things are animated by the Spirit of God, and have in some fashion a “spirit” of their own.

What makes human beings different, it seems, is the unique combination of word with spirit. Animals have/are souls and spirits, but, apart from a miraculous work of God (Balaam’s ass), they cannot speak. Animals breath and make noise. They do not breathe out words.

And this combination of word and spirit gives human beings a unique power of self-reflection. Who knows the man except the spirit of the man that is in him? Paul asks, and his argument in context has to do with the Spirit’s knowledge of the deepest things of God. Animals may possess a degree of self-reflectiveness, but human beings can (to a limited degree, to be sure) fulfill the ancient demand to “know yourself” in a way that animals cannot.

We can do this not because they have spirits or minds, but because they have the power of word. In language, we are able to make give our spirits flesh, to make our thoughts, desires, dreams, passions objects to ourselves, public objects that might be examined and evaluated by other humans. By word and spirit, we are rational beings. Because we have spirit and language we are the true social animals, creatures made in the image of the divine society.

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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