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Ecclesiastes 3:19 NASB

For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for men over beast, for all is vanity.

What does it mean for man to have no advantage over beast? In the physical sense, yes, but how does this align with the rest of Scripture in the spiritual sense? Is the writer simply philosophizing rather than speaking definite truth (inspired by God)? I have trouble understanding Ecclesiastes for this reason: I’m not sure whether to interpret it as man’s thoughts versus God shedding light on truth through this poet (if the latter, do we take everything that’s written here as true?).

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    "What does it mean for man to have no advantage over beast?" Qoheleth tells you himself; "as one dies, so dies the other." Man has no advantage over animals with regards to lifespan/mortality; all are mortal and have a limited lifespan. Qoheleth didn't say, "there is no advantage for men over beast in all possible regards." There's no warrant for going beyond what the author says. The author simply says that all are equally mortal; all die. Simple as that. And this is an unequivocal truth that no one can dispute. Every single man that has ever lived has died, and so has every animal.
    – Rajesh
    Apr 6, 2022 at 17:21

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The key verse to understanding Ecclesiastes is

  • 1 : 3end - 'under the sun' [most versions].

The majority of the thoughts put forward are from an earthly (the fallen world) not a heavenly perspective. How else could 1:2 be read?

  • "Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” [NIV; BibleHub]

The original was certainly totally inspired by God in the sense that it was written exactly as He wished. But it puts forward, as you say, the thoughts of a (reasoning) man not relating at most points to God. Why did God sanction its inclusion in the canon? To help those who find themselves wallowing in the same mental swamp the author (very likely Solomon) did. But it is vital to read the book in context.

As 2 Peter 1:20 Berean Literal Version; BibleHub says:

  • knowing this first, that any prophecy of Scripture is not of its own interpretation.

While this verse itself is interpreted in various ways(!), a valid one is:

'Don't base a doctrine on a single verse, and don't skew the context.'

Philip Yancey, in 'The Bible Jesus Read', addresses the concepts here very eloquently (though there may be no quick way out of the sense of futility described).

There are some gems, intense rays of light, hidden among the Godless views taking up most of the book.

As for the worth of a man: God's view is spelled out in Matthew 26ff, and no more powerfully addressed than in Father sacrificing his own Son for all mankind.

You can find verses showing that (non-nasty) animals will still exist in the New Earth, when New Heaven and New Earth are in sync. But note that 'bara', the Hebrew for create (as opposed to [then go on to] mould), is used 3 times in Genesis I:

  • Space / time / matter (verse 1)
  • Sentient life forms not including man (verse 21) (possessing souls: intelligence; emotions)
  • Spiritual life on Earth (vv 26-7) (Adam and Eve) (capable of relating to God)

Man is not a highly-evolved animal.

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  • You quote 2 Peter 1:20, but you yourself don't even follow its advice. It's your own interpretation that "under the sun" denotes "thoughts put forward from an earthly (fallen world) not a heavenly perspective." Also, your interpretation of "inspiration" is your own one as well. Something is "inspired" in the sense that it was written exactly as [God] wished". That's a definition of inspiration (I think) I've never heard before(of course, that doesn't mean it's not correct). Your answer is highly interpretive, despite your quote from 2 Peter 1:20.
    – Rajesh
    Apr 6, 2022 at 17:29
  • Have you heard of Arthur Wallis (re this interpretation of 2 Peter 1:20) and David Emmett (the overall tenor of Ecclesiastes)? Bryn Jones (inspiration: original version edited by God)? Yes, they're interpretive. But then if we insist on 'indisputable' language, we're back at the two philosophers' meeting: 'Hello.' ... 'Define your terms.' // Recognising the point where literal explanation should be ditched is expected of maturing believers (Matthew 16:5ff). And we're (inclusive we? exclusive we?) expected to be able to interpret metaphor (Mark 4:13). Apr 6, 2022 at 20:02
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    Very very helpful, Edwin, thank you!!!! Will read the rest of the book in this context. Thank you for articulating what I felt vaguely in my heart but couldn’t put in words. Apr 7, 2022 at 0:00
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    Hi Edwin, welcome to the site. Please be sure to take the site tour, and thanks for contributing! Apr 9, 2022 at 19:26
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Eccl 3:19, unfortunately, states a bald truth that leaves certain other facts out of the picture. In modern terminology, Solomon might have said something like this:

  • Both humans and animals share the same molecular composition, and both respire (Gen 1:30, 2:7, 6:17, 7:15, 22, Josh 10:40, Job 34:14, etc); as their cells decay and their vital functions fail, both will eventually cease to respire and die - man has no physical advantage over animals.

Note that I have replaced "under the sun" with "biological". While this statement is true, it ignores the spiritual dimension completely. Animals, spiritually, are vastly different from humans in the following ways:

  • Humans have the power of complex speech and reasoning (see the story of Balaam when God worked a miracle to try to penetrate a dulled mind)
  • Humans can make moral choices
  • Humans have the capacity for "faith, hope and love" in the highest sense (1 Cor 13:13)
  • Humans can "know and understand God", Heb 8:10-12, Jer 31:31-34
  • Humans are held responsible for sin and making poor moral choices
  • Only humans were made in the image of God, Gen 1:26-28 with the above spiritual advantages - see appendix below.

Thus, the point is clear - physically, as Solomon says in Eccl 3:19, humans have no advantage over animals; morally and spiritually, the two are vastly different.

APPENDIX - The "Image of God"

Many have often asked what it means for humans to be made in the image of God. Certainty, whatever that image was, it was deeply marred by sin. It is one of the purposes of salvation to restore the image of God in humans as is made clear in the NT teaching:

  • Made like God. Gen 1:26, 27, 5:1, 9:6, Eph 4:20-24, 1 John 3:2.
  • Walk as Jesus walked. 1 John 2:6.
  • Jesus was led by the Spirit Matt 4:1. The Christian must be born of the Spirit (John 3:5) by receiving the gift of the Spirit (Acts 2:38) and walk by the Spirit (Gal 5:25, John 6:63, Phil 3:3, John 4:24). In fact, the whole life of Christian is to put aside the “psychical” mind and live by the Spirit (1 Cor 2:14, 1 Cor 15:44-46, Gal 5:17, Jude 19, John 6:63, 1 Peter 3:18).
  • Love as Jesus loved. John 13:34, 35, 15:12, 1 John 4:8, 11, 19, Eph 5:1, 2.
  • Lay down life for friends. John 15:13, Eph 5:2.
  • Conformed to the likeness of the Son. Rom 8:29.
  • Transforming our will and bodies to conform to God’s will. Rom 12:1, 2.
  • Forgive as Jesus forgave. Matt 6:12, 14, 15, 18:35, Eph 4:32, Col 3:13.
  • Be imitators of God. Eph 5:1.
  • Be holy as Jesus is holy. Lev 11:44, 45, 1 Peter 1:15, 16.
  • Be pure as He is pure. 1 John 3:3.
  • Partakers of the divine nature. 2 Peter 1:4.
  • We are being changed into Christ’s glory (= reputation). 2 Cor 3:18.
  • Pray as Jesus prayed. Luke 11:1.
  • We are to have the mind of Christ. Phil 2:5, 1 Cor 2:16.
  • Be kind because God is kind. Luke 6:34, 35.
  • Be merciful because God is merciful. Luke 6:36.
  • Be servants to others as Jesus was. John 13:15-17, 1 Peter 4:11b, Matt 20:24-28.
  • Be patient as Jesus was patient. 1 Tim 1:16.
  • Talk/speak as Jesus speaks. 1 Peter 4:11a.
  • Be “perfect” (= mature and generous to enemies) as the Father is. Matt 5:48.
  • Husbands should love their wives as Christ loved His people and gave Himself for her. Eph 5:25.
  • Keep the commandments as Jesus kept the commandments. John 14:15, 15:10.
  • Abide in Christ as Christ abides in us. John 15:4.
  • Jesus is the “beginning and the end” (Rev 22:13) and Jesus is the beginning and end of our faith (Heb 12:2).
  • We are co-heirs with Christ of glory. Rom 8:17.
  • Jesus gave his all and we must give up all things for Him. Rom 8:32.

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