Legal Personhood

Personhood is defined as "the state or fact of being a person."

The word “person” has five contextual definitions: political, economic, social, legal, and religious. 

By defining what the Bible has to say about who qualifies as a person, we can fulfill the religious definition. This religious sense could then be applied to the legal definition of personhood.

The Bible has a definition of personhood. In Genesis 2:7, God breathed life into Adam. The New Living Translation (NLT) and the North American Standard Bible (NASB) both state that Adam became “a living person.” The English word “person” is derived from the Hebrew word “nephesh.” Nephesh is used to describe the aspects of sentience and personality. As we all know, humans have these qualities and are thus considered “persons.”

Importantly, animals are also designated “nephesh.” This moniker of personhood is described for fish (Genesis 1:20), great sea creatures (Genesis 1:21), farm animals, small vertebrates, large mammals (Genesis 1:24), and birds (Genesis 1:30). However, the animals are not translated to “persons” like the human is in Genesis 2:7. We cannot say exactly why the translations are different across species. Perhaps the translators sought to exclude animals out of pride, culture, or arrogance. Regardless, animals also have “nephesh,” a designation of biblical personhood. This is confirmed with scientific evidence, as over 2500 studies show that animals are sentient. Countless studies also prove that animals have their own individual personalities.

Nephesh fulfills the religious definition of personhood. Since animals are nephesh, we seek for society to acknowledge that animals are persons too. The most important is in the legal sense. The Legal Information Institute defines a natural person as “A living human being.” Animals cannot be considered natural persons based on this definition. However, animals can be regarded as legal persons. The Legal Information Institute defines a legal person as “a human or non-human entity that is treated as a person for limited legal purposes.” Thus, based on nephesh, we advocate for animals to have legal personhood. Since our ministry recognizes the personhood of animals, we advocate they should be treated as individuals, not property, in the court of law.