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Ecclesiastes 3:21

    Ecclesiastes 3:21 Translations

    King James Version (KJV)

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

    American King James Version (AKJV)

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

    American Standard Version (ASV)

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

    Basic English Translation (BBE)

    Who is certain that the spirit of the sons of men goes up to heaven, or that the spirit of the beasts goes down to the earth?

    Webster's Revision

    Who knoweth the spirit of man, whether it goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast, whether it 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?"

    English Revised Version (ERV)

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

    Clarke's Commentary on Ecclesiastes 3:21

    Who knoweth the spirit of man - I think the meaning of this important verse is well taken by the above able writer: -

    The nobler part of man, 'tis true, survives

    The frail corporeal frame: but who regards

    The difference? Those who live like beasts, as such

    Would die, and be no more, if their own fate

    Depended on themselves. Who once reflects,

    Amidst his revels, that the human soul,

    Of origin celestial, mounts aloft,

    While that of brutes to earth shall downward go?"

    The word רוח ruach, which is used in this and the nineteenth verse, has two significations, breath and spirit. It signifies spirit, or an incorporeal substance, as distinguished from flesh, or a corporeal one, 1 Kings 22:21, 1 Kings 22:22, and Isaiah 31:3. And it signifies the spirit or soul of man, Psalm 31:6; Isaiah 57:16, and in this book, Ecclesiastes 12:7, and in many other places. In this book it is used also to signify the breath, spirit, or soul of a beast. While it was said in verse 19, they have all one breath, i.e., the man and the beast live the same kind of animal life; in this verse, a proper distinction is made between the רוח ruach, or soul of man, and the רוח ruach, or soul of the beast: the one goeth upwards, the other goeth downwards. The literal translation of these important words is this: "Who considereth the רוח ruach) immortal spirit of the sons of Adam, which ascendeth? it is from above; (היא למעלה hi lemalah); and the spirit or breath of the cattle which descendeth? it is downwards unto the earth," i.e., it tends to the earth only. This place gives no countenance to the materiality of the soul; and yet it is the strongest hold to which the cold and fruitless materialist can resort.

    Solomon most evidently makes an essential difference between the human soul and that of brutes. Both have souls, but of different natures: the soul of man was made for God, and to God it shall return: God is its portion, and when a holy soul leaves the body, it goes to paradise. The soul of the beast was made to derive its happiness from this lower world. Brutes shall have a resurrection, and have an endless enjoyment in a new earth. The body of man shall arise, and join his soul that is already above; and both enjoy final blessedness in the fruition of God. That Solomon did not believe they had the same kind of spirit, and the same final lot, as some materialists and infidels say, is evident from Ecclesiastes 12:7 : "The spirit shall return unto God who gave it."

    Barnes' Notes on Ecclesiastes 3:21

    The King James Version of this verse is the only rendering which the Hebrew text, as now pointed, allows. It is in accordance with the best Jewish and many modern interpreters. A slightly different pointing would be requisite to authorize the translation, "Who knows the spirit of the sons of man whether it goes above, and, the spirit of the beast whether it goes down below?" etc., which, though it seems neither necessary nor suitable, is sanctioned by the Septuagint and other versions and by some modern interpreters.

    Who knoweth - This expression (used also in Ecclesiastes 2:19; Ecclesiastes 6:12) does not necessarily imply complete and absolute ignorance. In Psalm 90:11, it is applied to what is partially understood: compare similar forms of expression in Proverbs 31:10; Psalm 94:16; Isaiah 53:1. Moreover, it is evident from marginal references that Solomon did not doubt the future existence and destination of the soul. This verse can only be construed as a confession of much ignorance on the subject.

    Wesley's Notes on Ecclesiastes 3:21

    3:21 Who knoweth? - True it is, there is a difference, which is known by good men; but the generality of mankind never mind it: their hearts are wholly set on present and sensible things, and take no thought for the things of the future and invisible world.