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PETA: Don't call animals 'it' in the Bible
PETA wants Bible translators to consider using more animal friendly terms in the Bible
March 23rd, 2011
05:35 PM ET

PETA: Don't call animals 'it' in the Bible

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is calling for a more animal-friendly update to the Bible.

The group is asking translators of the New International Version (NIV) to remove what it calls "speciesist" language and refer to animals as "he" or "she" instead of "it."

The NIV is a popular translation of the Christian Bible. An updated translation was released this month. The translators said 95% of the 1984 translation remains the same. But the committee of scholars made a move to be more gender-inclusive in their translation into English from the original Hebrew and Greek texts. According to the Committee on Bible Translation's website:

In general, much more often than not ... "People” and "humans” (and "human beings”) were widely used for Greek and Hebrew masculine forms referring to both men and women. ... "Ancestors” was regularly preferred to "forefathers” unless a specific, limited reference to the patriarchs or to another all-male group is intended.

PETA is hoping the move toward greater gender inclusiveness will continue toward animals as well.

“When the Bible moves toward inclusively in one area ... it wasn’t much of a stretch to suggest they move toward inclusively in this area," Bruce Friedrich, PETA's vice president for policy, told CNN.

Friedrich, a practicing Roman Catholic, said, "Language matters. Calling an animal 'it' denies them something. They are beloved by God. They glorify God."

“God’s covenant is with humans and animals. God cares about animals," Friedrich said. "I would think that’s a rather unanimous opinion among biblical scholars today, where that might not have been the case 200 years ago.”

Friedrich, who is also a vegan and suggests the Bible promotes vegetarianism, puts a religious face on PETA's ethical arguments.

“What happens in slaughterhouses mocks God,” he said. People know intuitively that "animals are 'who' not 'what.' ... Acknowledging it would better align our practices with our beliefs.”

David Berger, the dean of Yeshiva University’s Bernard Revel graduate school of Jewish studies, said  making the shift in English PETA is requesting would be difficult given the nature of ancient Hebrew.

“In Hebrew all nouns are gender-specific. So the noun for chair is masculine and the noun for earth is feminine. There’s simply no such thing as a neutral noun," Berger told CNN. “It’s unusual to have a noun that would indicate the sex of the animal.”

“In Proverbs it says, 'Look at the ant oh lazy person. See its ways,' " Berger said, quoting the English transition from the book of Proverbs. "In Hebrew it’s 'see her ways.' That's because the word for ant in Hebrew happens to be female. It’s not intended to exclude male ants as far as I know. It’s just an accident the Hebrew word happens to be feminine.”

He said that verse and many others are not intended to single out one sex or the other of the animals.

"It’s a little bit misleading given the fact in English the gender of the pronoun means something. It refers to the masculinity of the person or the animal that’s being referred to. In Hebrew in most cases its just sort of an accident of the masculine or feminine of the pronoun to which it referred," Berger said.

David Lyle Jeffrey, a distinguished professor of literature and the humanities at Baylor University, teaches about ancient texts and the Bible's relationship to literature and the arts.

“I agree with their contention that God cares for all of creation," Jeffrey said. "It is true that we have a responsibility to reflect that affection.

"In gender-inclusive Bible translation the generic terms for humankind, let's say, are then replaced with an emphasis on he or she. Instead of the generic he, you say he and she. I don’t quite see how that would work with animals," Jeffery said.

"Do we need to know the gender of the lion Samson slew? What would it give us there?" he said. "You could try to specify that, but you would be doing so entirely inventively if you did. It's not in the original language. ... Nothing is made of it in the story."

Jeffery said he sympathizes and agrees with PETA's position that God calls for humans to care for animals, but he said, "When you get to the point when you say, 'Don’t say it, say he or she' when the text doesn’t, you’re both screwing up the text and missing the main point you addressed."

PETA's Friedrich said his group's position has been bolstered by the creation care movement, in which many evangelicals are becoming more conscience about the environment.

"The creation care movement is certainly helpful,” he said.

Whether their arguments will be enough to sway the translators is yet to be seen. Friedrich said he has yet to hear back from the Committee on Bible Translation.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Christianity

soundoff (495 Responses)
  1. Maria

    We do it all the time in Spanish. Calling things he and she. It's normal. Like if the computer breaks down,my husband will say "she's broken" instead of "it's broken". Just because it's common sense that computadora is feminine. Yes, English is not this way. But that is what makes Spanish and other Romance languages.... so beautiful. And it makes English seem so...well, plain and impersonal.

    March 24, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
  2. Chad

    Is this plagiarized from The Onion?

    March 24, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
  3. Mudfoot

    peta.......every time they make a statement, they lose credibility. Are they run by morons? It's as though they have no brains!!! peta is why lobotomies should still exist!!!

    March 24, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
  4. joey

    LOL people are losing their minds

    March 24, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
  5. Aristocles

    The Bible was written in a certain way for a reason. Changing the very words to mean what they do not and cannot mean does a disservice to not only the religion, but whoever originally wrote the words.

    March 24, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
  6. bobby

    I'm undecided on this, but I'm pretty certain Victoria Jackson is an 'it.'

    March 24, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
    • Nyarlathotep

      Dunno, Bobby: I'm pretty sure cows are female.

      March 24, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
  7. Brooklyn Cravens

    This is just a bit too far. Animals can't even read. I don't think they care.

    March 24, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • Nyarlathotep

      My sentiments exactly, Brooklyn. If a cow, after reading the Bible and taking offense at being called "it", can then contract the services of a lawyer and argue its "Animal Rights" in a court of law, I might find merit to this. Until that day, a cow is food ... tasty, tasty food.

      March 24, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
  8. AnarchistScholar

    Some time ago, humans everywhere had to be careful about venturing into the woods, due to danger of becoming foods themselves. And what the issue is generally about is that 'dominion' doesn't mean that animals are 'for-pleasure-toys', something which is probably natural to you personally, but unfortunately not to many others.

    March 24, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • AnarchistScholar

      ^in response to KJ

      March 24, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
  9. KJ

    I am an American Farmer and I love my job. I loving getting the chance to raise animals to provide a safe and healthy meal for my family and the world. I don't appreciate you judging my farm off news media. God put us in dominion over all animals.

    March 24, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • Julieveggie

      As Christians, we are called to serve God, which means that we must be mindful of how our choices affect God and God’s Creation. The Bible relates that God gave humanity “dominion” over creation (Genesis 1:26), this as a sacred responsibility, not a license to ruin the environment and torment God’s creatures. Indeed, many of the world’s problems are due to human heartlessness and self-indulgence. Moving toward a plant-based diet is a responsible, effective, and faithful way to serve God and to protect God’s Creation: http://www.all-creatures.org/cva/honoring.htm

      March 24, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • Paul

      Ah yes, the old God and Dominion trick. Dominion can be read to be "lording it over" or "taking care of". And nowhere do I see the term "dominion" include acts of brutality, or the eating of meat. Killing is wrong, plain and simple.

      March 24, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • Nyarlathotep

      I eat whatever I want, and neither sanctimonious vegans nor imaginary desert gods and their edicts will stop me.

      March 24, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
    • Chris

      From Merriam-Webster Dictionary

      domain
      1: supreme authority : sovereignty
      2: plural : an order of angels — see celestial hierarchy
      3: often capitalized : a self-governing nation of the Commonwealth of Nations other than the United Kingdom that acknowledges the British monarch as chief of state
      4: absolute ownership

      Paul, please see 4. Absolute. That includes the right of life and death.

      March 24, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
  10. Julieveggie

    10 BILLION 'food' animals are brutally tortured & killed each year in the US. Christians Thank 'God' for this before they eat. Most Christians seem to be so CALLOUS to the suffering of God's animals that are used for food, but they treat their pets like spoiled children.

    Jesus did NOT eat animal products that came from INTENSIVE FACTORY FARMS where they keep animals so confined that they can't even move around. Jesus would NOT have approved of this type of cruelty that happens to God's animals. God created animals with needs, wants, feelings, and species-specific behaviors which factory farms completely deny them of. It is an abomination against God how animals are treated on factory farms. Do you approve: http://www.meatvideo.com Great Christian insight on how God wants us to treat animal: http://www.all-creatures.org/cva/honoring.htm

    March 24, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • Reality

      Actually, Jesus was a bit "touched". After all he thought he spoke to Satan, thought he changed water into wine, thought he raised Lazarus from the dead etc. In today's world, said Jesus would be declared legally insane.

      Or did P, M, M, L and J simply make him into a first century magic-man via their epistles and gospels of semi-fiction? Most contemporary NT experts after thorough analyses of all the scriptures go with the latter magic-man conclusion with J's gospels being mostly fiction.

      Obviously, today's followers of Paul et al's "magic-man" are also a bit on the odd side believing in all the Christian mumbo jumbo about bodies resurrecting, and exorcisms, and miracles, and "magic-man atonement, and infallible, old, European, white men, and 24/7 body/blood sacrifices followed by consumption of said sacrifices. Yummy!!!!

      So why do we really care what a first century CE, illiterate, long-dead, preacher man would like or dislike?

      March 24, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • AnarchistScholar

      @poster Reality – You could have spent the time you used posting your comments here to read at least the 1st 4 books of the NT, and you might have realized that you don't realize.

      March 24, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • AnarchistScholar

      "After all he thought he spoke to Satan,"
      It's the other way around actually. If you are in need of a simple rational explanation, some modern-day-classified mental diseases offer clues.

      "thought he changed water into wine,"
      That's you making stuff up (again).

      "thought he raised Lazarus from the dead"
      Rational simplified, guess what (para-)medics generally all over the planet are doing every day and night?

      March 24, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • Nyarlathotep

      A chicken will never paint the Sistine chapel; a cow will never write Crime & Punishment and a mouse will never cure cancer (except as a test subject). We are the dominant species. I will eat whatever animals I want and not feel an iota of guilt.

      March 24, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
    • Reality

      Jesus was an illiterate Jewish peasant/carpenter/simple preacher man who suffered from hallucinations and who has been characterized anywhere from the Messiah from Nazareth to a mythical character from mythical Nazareth to a ma-mzer from Nazareth (Professor Bruce Chilton, in his book Rabbi Jesus). An-alyses of Jesus’ life by many contemporary NT scholars (e.g. Professors Crossan, Borg and Fredriksen, ) via the NT and related doc-uments have concluded that only about 30% of Jesus' sayings and ways noted in the NT were authentic. The rest being embellishments (e.g. miracles)/hallucinations made/had by the NT authors to impress various Christian, Jewish and Pagan sects.

      The 30% of the NT that is "authentic Jesus" like everything in life was borrowed/plagiarized and/or improved from those who came before. In Jesus' case, it was the ways and sayings of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Hitt-ites, Canaanites, OT, John the Baptizer and possibly the ways and sayings of traveling Greek Cynics.
      earlychristianwritings.com/theories.html

      For added "pizz-azz", Catholic theologians divided god the singularity into three persons and invented atonement as an added guilt trip for the "pew people" to go along with this trinity of overseers. By doing so, they made god the padre into god the "filicider".

      Current RCC problems:

      Pedophiliac priests, an all-male, mostly white hierarchy, atonement theology and original sin!!!!

      Luther, Calvin, Joe Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley, Roger Williams, the Great “Babs” et al, founders of Christian-based religions or combination religions also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of "pretty wingie thingie" visits and "prophecies" for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immacu-late co-nceptions).

      Current problems:

      Adulterous preachers, "propheteering/ profiteering" evangelicals and atonement theology,

      March 25, 2011 at 12:35 am |
  11. BC

    Deuteronomy 5:8-10 focus on 9
    8. You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 9. you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 10. but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

    March 24, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  12. Paul

    "He went over and took the ram and sacrificed him as a burnt offering instead of his son."

    March 24, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
  13. Wow

    "Friedrich, who is also a vegan and suggests the Bible promotes vegetarianism..." Are fish vegetables now?

    Mark 8:
    "7 They had a few small fish as well; [Jesus] gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them. 8 The people ate and were satisfied."

    March 24, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • Julieveggie

      Jesus did NOT eat animal products that came from INTENSIVE FACTORY FARMS where they keep animals so confined that they can't even move around. Jesus would NOT have approved of this type of cruelty that happens to God's animals. God created animals with needs, wants, feelings, and species-specific behaviors which factory farms completely deny them of. It is an abomination against God how animals are treated on factory farms: http://www.meatvideo.com Great Christian insight how we should treat animals: http://www.all-creatures.org/cva/honoring.htm

      March 24, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • Nyarlathotep

      As an atheist, I've never been able to understand why all-powerful gods would even care what lowly mortals eat, wear on their heads or do in bed. These concerns seem petty and remarkably human.

      March 24, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
  14. Gaylan Mathiesen

    This report raises interest on a number of fronts, but it is not about whether its OK to abuse animals or whether Abraham really existed or not; it's really about the specialized and delicate process of translating ancient text, and an affiliated question that arises is whether its OK to subject ancient texts to the whims of political movements. The Bible has been subjected to an unusually high level of textual analysis and is supported by hundreds of very early text fragments and collections. The reason for this is that it is a text that generations of believers have held as sacred revelation. For that reason, there has most often been a broad spectrum of the church represented in any major translation projects in an effort to be as faithful to the original Greek and Hebrew texts as possible. If we go out and make a PETA Bible, a Vegan Bible a Liberal Democrat Bible and a Tea Party Bible, we undermine what this text has stood for since the time of Moses. It is a book through which God claims to reveal Himself. For that reason, scholars want to get translation as accurate in the sense of the original texts as possible. PETA seems to be ignoring that point, and simply wants to enforce their political agenda on the translation on behalf of their cause. As Professor Jeffrey pointed out, to say that a Hebrew or Greek passage says "he" or "she" when it doesn't is to violate the integrity of the text.

    March 24, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
  15. Sharon V

    I guess the Bible should be changed when the animals can read it and they get offended....Until then, they are an it..and it tastes good!!

    March 24, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • Kelly

      The point, Sharon, is that using "it" to refer to an animal is incorrect. The oriignal text (in Hebrew, then Greek) used male and female pronouns to refer to animals. By not doing the same, modern Biblical translators are perverting the original text. And you are supporting that perversion ot the Word.

      March 24, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • Steven

      Sorry Sharon Kelly didn't have a reply button so I'm going to use yours.

      Kelly, are we to call everything a "he" and a "she" now? Yes Greek, Hebrew, and other languages use masculine and feminine, but that doesn't necessarily make the object something other than an "it". If we were to use your argument than "la silla" (the chair) in Spanish – is now a she, and "el cuerpo" (the body) – is now a he. Do you really believe this reasoning?

      And Julie I agree that the video on animal cruelty is rough and terrible stuff. Tell me something though, do you feel just as passionate about what they do to human fetuses when doctors abort a child? Or do you have a problem eating those tomatoes that were picked in slavery?

      curious on your thoughts...

      March 24, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
  16. Aimee

    Where does Friedrich get vegetarianism from the Bible? Just to list one out of a million examples, God gives the Israelites manna and quail. No way do I condone the mistreatment of animals in slaughterhouses, but that does not mean we can misinterpret the bible any way we want in order to make it fit what we believe is right. Absolutely nothing should be taken out of context.

    March 24, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • Julieveggie

      The Bible depicts vegetarianism as God’s ideal, and the diet conforms to the central biblical principle of steward-ship. In Eden, all creatures lived peacefully, and God told both humans and animals to consume only plant foods (Gen. 1:29–31). Several prophecies, such as Isaiah 11:6–9, foresee a return to this vegetarian world, where the wolf, lamb, lion, cow, bear, snake, and little child all coexist peacefully. Christian vegetarians, while acknowledging human sinfulness, believe we should strive toward the harmonious world Isaiah envisioned—to try to live in accordance with the prayer that Jesus taught us, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).

      March 24, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • JeffBibleBeliever

      While I would agree that Eden was a vegatarian society and the the Eternal Heaven will be vegetarian I do not believe that we are required or even suggested to make that part of our diet today. For example during the story of the prodigal son, when the son comes home his father want a fatten calf to be killed, and example of what the people of that day may do for a extremely happy party. But I think the biggest example of meat being eaten was the resurrected Jesus ate fish. This was the glorified Jesus eating meat. If God wanted us to not eat meat why would Jesus be eating boiled fish?

      March 24, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • Julieveggie

      @JEFF Jesus did NOT eat animal products that came from INTENSIVE FACTORY FARMS where they keep animals so confined that they can't even move around. Jesus would NOT have approved of this type of cruelty that happens to God's animals. God created animals with needs, wants, feelings, and species-specific behaviors which factory farms completely deny them of. It is an abomination against God how animals are treated on factory farms. Do you approve: http://www.meatvideo.com Great Christian insight on how God wants us to treat animal: http://www.all-creatures.org/cva/honoring.htm

      March 24, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
  17. Vince

    One cannot be a Roman Catholic and vegan, despite Friedrich's claims. It's a logical contradiction. Just ask him about transubstantiation and then press him on whether he's REALLY a vegan.

    March 24, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  18. Doug Jones

    Rocks glorify God but should we not call them it?

    rocks and chickens are not made IN THE IMAGE OF GOD. they are not loved in the same way people are. just like lost people are not loved in the same way the children of God are just in the same way that a father does not love his enemies the say way he loves his kids.

    March 24, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • Amused

      You are correct that rocks and chickens were not "made in the image of God" because "God" was invented by man in the image of Man. That is why the first three of the ten comandments deal exclusively with God's ego and vanity. Think about it... Why would an all-knowing all-seeing enlightened being be so worried about whether man "worships him exclusively and completely"? It is MAN that has the ego problem! And since the books of the bible were written by MEN (or possibly women) they reflect the ego and fears of MEN. Hence God was created in the image of MAN...

      March 24, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  19. Reality

    The Conservative Jews are way past the concerns of the pronouns used for animals in the bible:

    To wit: (a review worth "thum-ping")

    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482

    "New Torah For Modern Minds

    Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

    Such startling propositions – the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years – have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity – until now.

    The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument. "

    :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

    March 24, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  20. Kyanwan

    Julieveggie:

    So it's ok to chainsaw down a 200 year old tree – that's probably 10x older than you are, simply because it lacks a central nervous system – and doesn't thrash in pain while you cut it? ( I'm going on a limb here with your age – you seem so naive, I'm assuming I'm right )

    Promote vegetarianism, it's noble, however do it under a different banner ... not the one of hypocrisy: PETA. Also, you'll never stop people from eating meat altogether. However, you can stop people from supporting cruelty in meat production -which- is a cause I support wholeheartedly.

    March 24, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • Chris

      I agree, Kynwan. I just refuse to support PETA on one reason alone. They financially fund the ALF (Animal Liberation Front). They declared so on their taxes. The ALF is considered a domestic terrorism group by both the United States and Britain.

      March 24, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.