Revelation 16:3 “and every living SOUL died in the sea.”
Some have criticized the King James Bible for saying “soul” here because they think that fish, whales and other ocean creatures either are not or do not have souls.
The Greek text reads: “και πασα ψυχη ζωσα απεθανεν εν τη θαλασση”. A literal translation would be “and every living SOUL (ψυχη) died in the sea.”
Not only does the King James Bible read “every living SOUL” but so do the following Bible translations - Douay Rheims 1582, Mace N.T. 1729, Wesley’s N.T. 1755, Whiston’s N.T. 1745, Worsley N.T. 1770, Webster’s translation 1833, Living Oracles 1835, Darby 1890, Young’s literal 1898 - “and every living soul died in the sea.”, Revised Version 1881 “every living SOUL”, ASV 1901, Rotherham’s Emphasized bible 1902, N.T. from Sinaitic Manuscript 1902, Godbey’s N.T. 1902, the Etheridge 1849, Murdock’s 1852 and Lamsa’s 1933 translations of the Syriac Peshitta “every living SOUL died”, Julia Smith Translation 1855, Emphatic Dioglott New Testament 1864, the KJV 21st Century 1994, Analytical Literal Translation (Gary Zeolla)1999, Jubilee Bible 2000 - “every living SOUL died.”, Updated Bible Version 2004, A Conservative Version 2005, Sawyer N.T. 2008, Concordant Literal Version 2009 -“And every living SOUL died which is in the sea.”, J.P. Green’s literal Translation 2008 - “and every SOUL of life died in the sea.”
Those that do NOT give us a literal translation are the NKJV, NET, Jehovah Witness New World Translation 2013 - “every LIVING CREATURE”, NIV, ESV, ISV, NASB “every LIVING THING”, Holman “ALL LIFE in the sea died.” Footnote Literally “every soul”.
None of these translations are correct. The word ψυχη (psukee) does NOT mean "creature". There is a word that means "creature" -η κτισις - (ktisis), but it is not used here. And the word certainly does not mean "thing", and the Holman's "ALL LIFE" completely omits the word "living" - ζωσα -, and is a poor paraphrase.
The NASB complete concordance shows that they have translated the Greek word ψυχη (psukee) as "soul" 47 times and as "thing" only once, and that is here in Revelation 16:3. It does NOT mean "thing". Likewise the NIV 1982 complete concordance shows that they have translated this word as "soul" 25 times and as "life" 32 times, but as "thing" only once, and that is here.
The King James Bible got it right, as always.
The Catholic Connection
The Douay-Rheims 1582 translated literally what the Greek text says "and every living SOUL died in the sea." But then the 1950 Douay changed this to "every LIVE THING in the sea died." This was followed by the 1968 Jerusalem bible and 1985 New Jerusalem that say: "every LIVING CREATURE that was in the sea died." Then the 1970 St. Joseph NAB has: "every CREATURE living in the sea died."
Among foreign language Bibles that also read “every living SOUL” are the Latin Vulgate and Vulgate Clementine - “mortui et omnis ANIMA VIVENS (living SOUL) mortua est in mari”, Luther’s German Bible 1545 “und alle lebendigen Seelen starben in dem Meer.” - “every living SOUL died”, the Spanish Sagradas Escrituras 1569, Cipriano de Valera 1602, Reina Valera 1909, Spanish Jubilee Bible 2010 - “y TODA ALMA viviente fué muerta en el mar.”, the French Martin 1744 “ et toute âme qui vivait dans la mer, mourut.”, the Italian Diodati 1649 -“ed ogni ANIMA vivente morì nel mare.” = “every living SOUL died”, the Portuguese A Biblia Sagrada and Almeida Corregida E Fiel - "e morreu no mar toda a ALMA vivente.", the Dutch Staten Vertaling bible - “en alle levende ziel is gestorven in de zee.” = “every living SOUL”, the Russian Synodal Version - “и все одушевленное умерло в море.” = “every living SOUL died”, Hungarian Karoli Bible -“ és minden élõ állat meghala a tengerben.” the Romanian Fidela Bible 2009 - “şi fiecare suflet viu a murit în mare.” = “every living SOUL died”, the Czech BKR Bible - " a všeliká duše živá v moři umřela." and the Tagalog Ang Dating Biblia 1905 -"at bawa't kaluluwang may buhay, sa makatuwid ay ang nangasa dagat ay nangamatay." = "every living SOUL died" and the Modern Hebrew Bible - וישפך השני את קערתו על הים ויהי לדם כדם חלל ותמת כל נפש חיה אשר בים׃ = And the second poured his bowl on the sea and there was blood in the blood space and every LIVING SOUL died in the sea"
The Bible itself is the best commentary. Do animals have souls? God says they do. In Genesis 1:30 we read: "And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is LIFE, I have given every green herb for meat; and it was so." You will notice the marginal note for the word LIFE. It says Hebrew - a living SOUL. Then it refers you to Genesis 2:7 where God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life "and man became a living SOUL." If a creature, whether man or animal has the breath of life given to them by God, then they are a living SOUL.
Compare also Ecclesiastes 3:19 - "For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, THEY ALL HAVE ONE BREATH; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity."
What is the "breath of life" that makes a living creature "a SOUL"? It seems to be oxygen. All living creatures breathe oxygen in one form or another, whether through their lungs or gills. No oxygen = no life.
In the New Testament the word ψυχη most commonly means "soul" and "life". It does NOT mean "creature" or "thing" as the false modern versions have it.
It is also used in Revelation 8:9 "And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had LIFE (ψυχη), died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed." The creatures in the sea Have life (ψυχη). But in Revelation 16:3 it says "and every LIVING SOUL died in the sea." It would not make much sense to say "and every LIVING LIFE died". If it is alive, then it is obviously living. But a living SOUL is a creature made by God and given the breath of life. It is therefore a soul.
John Wesley Commentary on Revelation 16:3 - " And every living soul - Men, beasts, and fishes, whether on or in the sea, died."
Pulpit Commentary - "and every living soul died in the sea - not merely human life."
Whedon's Commentary on the Bible -"Living soul—Literally, every soul of life; that is, the animal soul, in which the vitality is inherent."
People's New Testament Commentary - "Then the waters become red as blood and in the great mortality that follows it seems to John as if every soul in the sea was dead."
Vincent's Word Studies - "Living soul (ψυχὴ ζῶσα)"
Adam Clarke - " every living soul died in the sea.
Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges - πᾶσα ψυχὴ ζωῆς. Cf. ὅ ἔχει ψυχὴν ζωῆς, Genesis 1:30.
Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament - "Every living soul (πασα πσυχη ζωης — pāsa psuchē zōēs). “Every soul of life” (Hebraism, Genesis 1:21, marked by life).
William Newell's Commentary on Revelation - "And the second poured out his bowl into the sea; and it became blood as of a dead man; and EVERY LIVING SOUL died, even the things that were in the sea." So the billions, trillions, shoals, of sea-creatures die; and come floating to the surface in horrible, rotting witness of the wickedness of men! There is no escaping these words of God: “every living soul died.” What a frightful stench! What fearful possibilities of disease! "
If God gave the breath of life to animal or man, they are both of them living souls. But only man is capable of knowing the God who created him.
Notice these words taken from Romans Chapter 8:19-21 - "For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. 20 For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope,21 Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God."
The King James Bible is right, as always.