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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. 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 12:04 am |
  2. jayn

    Of all the ridiculous things in the bible, this is what they have beef with?

    March 24, 2011 at 12:03 am |
  3. Eric

    I will call "it" my dinner and will enjoy "it" even more because PETA says otherwise!

    March 24, 2011 at 12:03 am |
    • Touch

      As long as it is dead, then it is an it, formerly a he or she. Show some decency and respect for those who are sacrificed for your sustenance. If you insist on being callous that says more about you than anything, and it isn't good.

      March 24, 2011 at 12:07 am |
  4. Alex

    let the animals decide for themselves. so, seriously, do you think animals really care? I didnt think so.

    March 24, 2011 at 12:03 am |
    • Touch

      Words influence change in people. It's to help inspire people to care, but then you knew that, didn't you.

      March 24, 2011 at 12:04 am |
  5. anonya

    These people have really, for certain, lost their minds now.

    March 24, 2011 at 12:01 am |
  6. hehe

    Peta is the biggest waste of funds since the bush war.. I am going to eat a steak and shoot birds off my porch just because they are upset.. in fact every time I hear Peta in the news... im going to eat steak and shoot birds... that's for you peta..

    March 24, 2011 at 12:00 am |
  7. mcdonald79

    I think insted of calling them he or she instead of "It", we should call them fried chicken, porkchops, and hamburgers!

    March 23, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
  8. big moe

    oh wow. i can't believe i even bothered reading the first paragraph of this nonsense. These people seriously have too much time on their hands.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
  9. LouAZ

    PETA ? Chickens ? Who is protecting the fish ?
    Two things in the world smell like fish . . . and one of them is fish !

    March 23, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
  10. JAdams1776

    Out of a morbid sense of curiosity, how can "revisions" in the bible, prompted by man (since the Council of Nicaea) be the word of God?

    March 23, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
  11. Touch

    Bravo! I'm tired of people treating co-earthlings as just inanimate–and unfeeling–things. Good for PeTA on this one, I'm all for it. Heaven without animals is not heaven. For you religious sort, you really think God is not going to judge you on how you treated, or mistreated, his other creations whom he made sentient too? Unto the least of these and all that.... hello?

    March 23, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
  12. Weep4America

    Perhaps PETA should stop worshipping animals.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
  13. Pastor Mike Palevo

    People Eating Tasty Animals (Peta). This organization is a big Hypocrite. They kill 1000's of animals every year. Some animal protection right Org.????

    March 23, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
    • Touch

      Pastor, compared to the staggering MILLIONS of co-earthlings that humans slaughter with reckless abandon, accusing PeTA of being hypocrites is laughable. No, people who do little to zero to at least provide humane living conditions for the poor beasts destined to give their all for our nourishment (eating animals is not an issue to me, but how they're treated while alive is) are the true hypocrites when they claim to be emulating Christ, the master of compassion.

      March 23, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
    • Weep4America

      Touch, (and I believe you really are 'touched') Co-earthlings? Seriously? Is the word "animals" too derogatory for you now? You're animal worship is disturbing. And the way you group all people into one of two categories (1. PETA and 2. Animal abusers) is also disturbing, not to mention ridiculously untrue.

      March 24, 2011 at 12:07 am |
  14. farmergirl

    I am a farmer and do my own slaughtering/butchering (don't like it but do it) so I am no bleeding heart.... I always maintain that you need extremists on both ends so the end result is temperance.....One extreme allows me to continue to farm and the other requires me to give the animals under my stewardship a specific standard of treatment.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
    • Weep4America

      That's part of the problem with the world today. Extremists telling everyone what to do and how to do it. You mean to say that you wouldn't know what to do, how to farm or how to treat animals without extremists? Don't you have any common sense of your own?

      March 24, 2011 at 12:03 am |
  15. brad

    the bible does suggest that God provided all man needed in the plant kingdom. but of course we metaphorically left that Garden of Eden. If the original text suggest a translation that gives animals more respect I'd be for the new english translations to reflect this. just like they should say Jesus was most likely married since he was referred to as Rabbi. PETA could do great things they just waste it on college girl antics.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
  16. David

    99% of the people making irrational/naive statements on here have muffin tops. The remaining 1% is nonetheless white trash, but kicked a few lbs after picking up meth. Statistics measured by my experience as a grad student working in a midwestern grocery store.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
    • jayn

      awesome!

      March 23, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
    • muffin top

      Suck it peta

      March 23, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
    • Patrick

      Mentally ill much?

      March 24, 2011 at 12:23 am |
  17. Heath

    CNN...please stop giving a platform to useless organizations like PETA. As for PETA, your humanizing of animals is not inspired by God...so keep your opinions out of the Bible. Try 'The Word on the Street' or 'The Message'.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
  18. waynowayno

    IT doesn't know what IT is talking about!!!

    March 23, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
  19. Kelly

    HAHAHAHA keep dreaming!! I'd like the Bible to go back to using the proper names of the Father and Son too, but I don't see that happening. Only the Catholic Church has the "right" to alter the Word of God, don't you know? lol

    March 23, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
  20. James

    Okay. Man has three members. A body, a soul, and a spirit. 3! Okay. An animal. Has only a body and a soul. An animal cannot glorify God. An animal cannot pray, give praise to God, read God's word, nor know if we call the animal it, he, or she. C'mon. They are obviously missing the point. The point of the Bible is to show mankind that sin is in our heart and we all need a Savior which is Jesus Christ. Ask Jesus to come into your heart. Repent of your sins (DAILY!). Read God's word because we cannot live on bread alone, only by every word that comes from the mouth of God(The Bible). And see how blessed your LIFE WILL BECOME. ! May God Shine his face upon you!. Those who have ears to hear. Let HIM HEAR!

    March 23, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
    • Moa

      Do you mean? If you don't glorify god, praise him(it), and read his(its) alleged words you are an animal!
      Since animals don't paise god, he doesn't give a damn about them.

      Because if you do? You are delusional and need help.

      March 23, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
    • A god fearing Muslim Woman

      Who are you to determine an animal has a spirit or not?

      Are you saying mentally challenged people can't have a soul? cause they can't glorify god?

      March 23, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
    • Touch

      Religious fundamentalist judgmental blowhards are the first to drive me away from their religion rather than attract me to it.

      March 24, 2011 at 12:03 am |
    • nickhb90

      the bible is joke any way..who knows what is true in it anymore..my science book is way more important ..so go ahead and think u know something about god..when u dont have a f'n clue..nobody does..just have morals, and manners..and worry about death when u die...duh..losers

      March 24, 2011 at 12:06 am |
    • Patrick

      Humans are animals. We are made from the same substances, our biological processes are the same, our behavior patterns are easily recognized in other species. We do however have the most advanced intellect of course. To see your self as different from all other species is incredibly self important and deluded. Ironically, it's this delusion that most effectively points out how animal you are. You are selfish, imperfect and bent on survival just like any other creature. Once you see yourself as just another animal and just as much a part of nature as other species you then can begin to live a truly REAL life. You are no more or less special because you are an animal. You are still an amazing and beautiful thing. Slaughter houses are an affront to all that is decent in this world. It's sick how we have turned creatures into products and factory farm and process them. If you want to eat meat hunt it or raise it yourself. Be a part of nature and be grateful for the fellow creature you have decided to eat. That animal wanted to survive just as you do. Show it the proper respect if you chose to use it to sustain you. I've lived 20 years with out meat and I look and feel far younger than other 40 year old people by a long shot so it's not even required to eat meat if you don't want too. It's also far less destructive to the world to be a vegetarian from an enviornmental point of view.

      March 24, 2011 at 12:22 am |
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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.