Ecclesiastes 3:21
Parallel Verses
New International Version
Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?"

New Living Translation
For who can prove that the human spirit goes up and the spirit of animals goes down into the earth?

English Standard Version
Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth?

New American Standard Bible
Who knows that the breath of man ascends upward and the breath of the beast descends downward to the earth?

King James Bible
Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?

Holman Christian Standard Bible
Who knows if the spirit of people rises upward and the spirit of animals goes downward to the earth?

International Standard Version
Who knows whether the spirit of human beings ascends, and whether the spirit of animals descends to the earth?

NET Bible
Who really knows if the human spirit ascends upward, and the animal's spirit descends into the earth?

GOD'S WORD® Translation
Who knows whether a human spirit goes upward or whether an animal spirit goes downward to the earth?

Jubilee Bible 2000
Who knows that the spirit of the sons of men goes upward and that the spirit of the beast goes downward to the earth?

King James 2000 Bible
Who knows the spirit of man that goes upward, and the spirit of the beast that goes downward to the earth?

American King James Version
Who knows the spirit of man that goes upward, and the spirit of the beast that goes downward to the earth?

American Standard Version
Who knoweth the spirit of man, whether it goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast, whether it goeth downward to the earth?

Douay-Rheims Bible
Who knoweth if the spirit of the children of Adam ascend upward, and if the spirit of the beasts descend downward?

Darby Bible Translation
Who knoweth the spirit of the children of men? Doth it go upwards? and the spirit of the beasts, doth it go downwards to the earth?

English Revised Version
Who knoweth the spirit of man whether it goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast whether it goeth downward to the earth?

Webster's Bible Translation
Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?

World English Bible
Who knows the spirit of man, whether it goes upward, and the spirit of the animal, whether it goes downward to the earth?"

Young's Literal Translation
Who knoweth the spirit of the sons of man that is going up on high, and the spirit of the beast that is going down below to the earth?
Parallel Commentaries
Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary

3:16-22 Without the fear of the Lord, man is but vanity; set that aside, and judges will not use their power well. And there is another Judge that stands before the door. With God there is a time for the redressing of grievances, though as yet we see it not. Solomon seems to express his wish that men might perceive, that by choosing this world as their portion, they brought themselves to a level with the beasts, without being free, as they are, from present vexations and a future account. Both return to the dust from whence they were taken. What little reason have we to be proud of our bodies, or bodily accomplishments! But as none can fully comprehend, so few consider properly, the difference between the rational soul of man, and the spirit or life of the beast. The spirit of man goes upward, to be judged, and is then fixed in an unchangeable state of happiness or misery. It is as certain that the spirit of the beast goes downward to the earth; it perishes at death. Surely their case is lamentable, the height of whose hopes and wishes is, that they may die like beasts. Let our inquiry be, how an eternity of existence may be to us an eternity of enjoyment? To answer this, is the grand design of revelation. Jesus is revealed as the Son of God, and the Hope of sinners.

Pulpit Commentary

Verse 21. - Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth? The statement is here too categorically rendered, though, for dogmatical purposes, the Masorites seem to have punctuated the text with a view to such interpretation. But, as Wright and others point out, the analogy of two other passages (Ecclesiastes 2:19 and Ecclesiastes 6:12), where "who knoweth" occurs, intimates that the phrases which follow are interrogative. So the translation should be, "Who knoweth as regards the spirit (ruach) of the sons of men whether it goeth upward, and as regards the spirit (ruach) of the beast whether it goeth downward under the earth?" Vulgate, Quis novit si spiritus, etc.? Septuagint, Τίς εῖδε πνεῦμα υἱῶν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου εἰ ἀναβαίνει αὐτὸ ἄνω; "Who ever saw the spirit of the sons of man, whether it goeth upward?" The Authorized Version, which gives the Masoretic reading, is supposed to harmonize better with the assertion at the end of the book (Ecclesiastes 12:7), that the spirit returns to the God who gave it. But there is no formal denial of the immortality of the soul in the present passage as we render it. The question, indeed, is not touched. The author is confirming his previous assertion that, in one point of view, man is not superior to brute. Now he says, looking at the matter merely externally, and taking not into consideration any higher notion, no one knows the destiny of the living powers, whether God deals differently with the spirit of man and of beast. Phenomenally, the principle of life in both is identical, and its cessation is identical; and what becomes of the spirit in either case neither eye nor mind can discover. The distinction which reason or religion assumes, viz. that man's spirit goes upward and the brute's downward, is incapable of proof, is quite beyond experience. What is meant by "upward" and "downward" may be seen by reference to the gnome in Proverbs 15:24, "To the wise the way of life goeth upward, that he may depart from Sheol beneath." The contrast shows that Sheol is regarded as a place of punishment or annihilation; this is further confirmed by Psalm 49:14, 15, "They are appointed as a flock for Sheol: death shall be their shepherd... their beauty shall be for Sheol to consume But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol; for he shall receive me." Koheleth neither denies nor affirms in this passage the immortality of the soul; that he believed in it we learn from other expressions; but he is not concerned with parading it here. Commentators quote Lucretius' sceptical thought ('De Rer. Nat.,' 1:113-116) -

"Ignoratur enim quae sit natura animal,
Nata sit, an contra nascentibus insinuetur,
Et simul interest nobiscum, morte dimenta,
An tenebras Orci visat vastasque lacunas."


"We know not what the nature of the soul,
Born in the womb, or at the birth infused,
Whether it dies with us, or wings its way
Unto the gloomy pools of Orcus vast."
But Koheleth's inquiry suggests the possibility of a different destiny for the spirits of man and brute, though he does not at this moment make any definite assertion on the subject. Later on he explains the view taken by the believer in Divine revelation (Ecclesiastes 12:7).

Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible

Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward?.... There is indeed a difference between a man and a beast; though they have one breath, they have not one spirit or soul; man has a rational and immortal soul, which, when he dies, goes upwards to God that gave it; to be judged by him, and disposed of by him, in its proper apartment, until the day of the resurrection of the body;

and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth? when the beast dies, its spirit goes down to the earth, from whence it came, and is resolved into it, and is no more. But who is it that sees, or can see and know with the eyes of his body, the difference of these two spirits, or the ascent of the one, and the descent of the other?, Or who knows by the dint of reason, by the strength of his own understanding, without a divine revelation, that man has an immortal soul which goes upwards at death, when that of a beast goes downwards? No man, clearly and fully, as appears from the doubts and half faith of the wisest Heathens concerning it: or rather who knows and considers this difference between the spirit of a man and the spirit of a beast, and thinks within himself what a precious and immortal soul he has, and is concerned for the salvation of it? Very few; and hence it is they live and die like beasts, as they do. The Midrash interprets this of the souls of the righteous that go up to heaven, and of the souls of the wicked that go down to hell.

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary

21. Who knoweth—Not doubt of the destination of man's spirit (Ec 12:7); but "how few, by reason of the outward mortality to which man is as liable as the beast and which is the ground of the skeptic's argument, comprehend the wide difference between man and the beast" (Isa 53:1). The Hebrew expresses the difference strongly, "The spirit of man that ascends, it belongeth to on high; but the spirit of the beast that descends, it belongeth to below, even to the earth." Their destinations and proper element differ utterly [Weiss].

Ecclesiastes 3:21 Additional Commentaries
Context
From Dust to Dust
20All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust. 21Who knows that the breath of man ascends upward and the breath of the beast descends downward to the earth? 22I have seen that nothing is better than that man should be happy in his activities, for that is his lot. For who will bring him to see what will occur after him?
Cross References
Deuteronomy 28:13
The LORD will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the LORD your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom.

Ecclesiastes 12:7
and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
Treasury of Scripture

Who knows the spirit of man that goes upward, and the spirit of the beast that goes downward to the earth?

knoweth

Ecclesiastes 12:7 Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit …

Luke 16:22,23 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the …

John 14:3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive …

Acts 1:25 That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which …

2 Corinthians 5:1,8 For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, …

Philippians 1:23 For I am in a strait between two, having a desire to depart, and …

of man that goeth upwards

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