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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. Ichi

    typing this with one hand because my other hand has a hamburger in it sorry

    March 23, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
  2. Ken

    Wait & see what happens when PETA reads the account of the demons being cast out of a person...and in to a herd of pigs....but wait, there's more! After that happens, the pigs run to the sea.... and are drowned! Yikes!

    March 23, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
  3. Richard

    No way! How ridiculous. The Bible is not a PETA friendly message, so changing the mere language is rather unimportant. I would think PETA would be critiquing the whole(people are above animals) part of the Bible, but no....apparently nicer pronouns are their aim...
    Furthermore...people have souls, animals don't. I do not feel bad calling animals "it"

    March 23, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
    • Person of Faith

      In Germany, a child is "das kind," which is neither masculine nor feminine.

      March 24, 2011 at 1:11 am |
  4. facepalm

    PETA, why don't you worry about chickens so pumped full of hormones that their delicious meaty breasts get so large they can't stand up, and how they're pumped full of antibiotics so they can be farmed with four chickens per sq. ft. That seems more relevant than editing a 2,000 year old storybook.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
  5. Mark

    I'm sick of hearing about the damn BIBLE on CNN every bloody day. Give it a rest for the love of GOD!!!!!!

    Peta just figured they'd say something about the bible and get some cheap publicity and you know what IT WORKED LIKE A CHARM!. WHO CARES??????????
    The bible is not copyrighted is it? They can make their own damn bible. Who are they saying this too???????

    March 23, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
    • Person of Faith

      Most modern versions of the Bible are copyrighted.

      March 24, 2011 at 1:06 am |
  6. Hawke

    Really?

    Calling other species by the term "it" is the most offensive thing in the Bible?

    March 23, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
    • Jamie

      LOL! Exactly, I think they need to read the rest of the book....

      April 5, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  7. terry

    Why do they need to force their beliefs down our necks. God gave us dominion over the animals. These are the same people that don't like hooks with barbs for fishing and I for one am sick of their complaining and carrying on like they are holier than thou. lol.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
  8. Pooky22

    This is by far the dumbest thing i have ever heard

    March 23, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
  9. Bruce

    PETA make themselves look worse and worse with every cheap stunt they pull.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
  10. Colonel Sanders

    I'll take a triple with a side of chicken tenders, and throw in a slab of veal for dessert.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
  11. Corey

    haha, I mean....hehe...snort...lol...lamfo...tear dripping down face. Thanks for the laugh Eric. Nice to read absurdist material at the end of a long day.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
  12. Mark

    Is anyone else sick of hearing from IDIOTS constantly while the country is completely going down the tubes financially and politically?
    I'm all for the respectful treatment of animals WITHIN REASON but reading this with all that's going on in the world just makes me want to rip a bunny in half with my bare hands and send it to PETA in the mail.

    I could do with never hearing from PETA, Glenn Beck, religious officials, anti-religion liberals, Sarah Palin, pro gays, anti gays, and anyone else that somehow makes the front page of CNN ever again for the rest of my life!!!!

    There are CHILDREN starving to death in the world right now!!!!!!!!!!

    March 23, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
  13. Andrew

    Pretty ridiculous

    March 23, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
  14. dan

    JUST GOES TO SHOW YOU HOW FAR GONE THE USA REALLY IS , WHEN WE GIVE THE PETA THE RIGHT TO OMITT WORDS FROM THE BIBLE !! SOMEONE SHOULD LOOK INTO THIS GROUP AND SEE WHAT THEY ARE REALLY UP TO

    March 23, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
    • Observer

      PETA is perfectly willing to leave in all the accounts showing how inhumanely the Bible regards animals.

      March 23, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
  15. James

    Can we jst get rid of PETA?

    without them I'm sure better reform will be passed.

    Also they are not people for the ethical treatment of animals, they are People for the EQUAL Treatment of Animals.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
  16. Selmers

    Seriously.. these morons make me want to harm animals just out of spite!

    March 23, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
  17. yum

    Fine, go ahead, change the damn reference.....I'm still gonna eat those tasty lil critters!!!!

    March 23, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
    • DP

      I'll one up you by referring to my next burger as "he".

      March 23, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
  18. Robert Kent

    Peta is a terrorist organization.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
  19. Brandon

    These guys hurt their cause more than they help most of the time. How can you take these guys seriously when they do stunts like this.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
  20. justsayinnnn

    This is the dumbest thing I've ever heard. Shall we edit every book in the Library of Congress to include these changes while we're at it? Why single out the Bible.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
    • Yabba

      True. But I don't know what is dumber: PETA or the bible. The combination of the 2 is dizzying.

      March 23, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
    • Selmers

      Good call, Yabba! I say we get rid of them both! 🙂

      March 23, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
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About this blog

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.