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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. Jennifer

    PETA really needs to choose their battles better.

    March 24, 2011 at 1:01 am |
  2. Jon

    really?

    March 24, 2011 at 12:59 am |
  3. Tim

    "Just wondering. . . do PETA members fight so vocally for unborn babies in the womb? If they do not, then their position about animals is nothing less that hypocrisy."

    So, one has to fight for both, else one is a hypocrite? By that logic, if pro-lifers do not equally fight for the rights of animals, then they, too, suffer from this hypocrisy. So, how many pro-lifers fight for the rights of animals?

    Wanna dance some more, or stick to the issue at hand?

    March 24, 2011 at 12:55 am |
    • Gunny D

      "So, one has to fight for both, else one is a hypocrite? By that logic, if pro-lifers do not equally fight for the rights of animals, then they, too, suffer from this hypocrisy. So, how many pro-lifers fight for the rights of animals?

      Wanna dance some more, or stick to the issue at hand?"

      I think Weary's point was that if the lives of animals are so important to PETA, why aren't the lives of unborn humans as important. That argument cannot reciprocate. If a PETA member is pro-choice in regards to human life, they should also be pro-choice in regards to animal life. Just because a christian is willing to kill and eat an animal doesn't mean that they must be willing to kill a human.

      March 24, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  4. Joe

    I really doubt animals care. I'd ask my cat but he's illiterate.

    March 24, 2011 at 12:53 am |
    • Evan Benz

      Everyone deserves an education.

      March 24, 2011 at 2:33 am |
  5. Hardpill

    KFC Waiter: Hey, Whenever you're ready

    Customer: I'll take the 3 peice, 2 dark....

    PETA Supermodel: STFU. Who do you think you are? Have some respect. Make it HIS thighs and HER breast with mashed potatoes with gravy on the side. Please.

    March 24, 2011 at 12:52 am |
  6. Evan Benz

    Maybe if the Chickens spoke out on Abortions and AIDs they finally get the respect they deserve in the bible.

    Personally, I think PETA and the Poultry are fighting an uphill battle. People like holding back the animals.
    If they ran for office and said all the politically right things . . . at the end of the day, people would still fry them up and eat them.

    March 24, 2011 at 12:52 am |
  7. Robear

    What a waste of time and money... why change the Bible?
    Gender inclusive, gender specific, or gender neutral, it's all irrelevant.
    Those guys at PETA should get a life!

    March 24, 2011 at 12:52 am |
  8. Dan

    PETA members have read the Bible?

    March 24, 2011 at 12:51 am |
  9. Use-To-Be-A-PETA-Fan

    I think that I have a solution. We could combine the feminine, masculine, and nondescript into one word! ...Something like "S(he)" and "It" that runs together. It becomes particularly useful in their slaughterhouse argument because people commonly relate it to bulls.

    We live in a world with ongoing wars, disease, and the devastating impacts of natural disasters. PETA is actually devoting funding to this argument? Sounds like the org needs to fund a REALITY CHECK and readdress its priorities!

    March 24, 2011 at 12:51 am |
  10. Hardpill

    KFC Waiter: Hey, Whenever your' ready

    Customer: I'll take the 3 peice, 2 dark....

    PETA Supermodel: STFU. Who do you think you are? Make it HIS thighs and HER breast with mashed potatoes with gravy on the side. Please.

    March 24, 2011 at 12:47 am |
  11. larry

    Check out this stupid video PETA made: http://meat.org

    March 24, 2011 at 12:47 am |
  12. Jonathan

    Just because you have daddy-issues doesn't mean you have to force your opinions on everyone. I love animals but hate animal freaks.

    March 24, 2011 at 12:47 am |
  13. Priyath

    I love my dog. She is so wonderful.

    March 24, 2011 at 12:47 am |
  14. Squarejp

    This is ridiculous! Humans are considered explicitly that we are above all animals and we have to love and take care of them. Change the Bible in translation? What a bunch of ignorant insulting human beings! These extremist shouldn't be in any governing bodies.

    March 24, 2011 at 12:44 am |
  15. Deter

    Well, I wish them luck on changing the bible. This change wouldn't really change the meanings of the scripture, but would still be hard to get through the churches.

    March 24, 2011 at 12:43 am |
  16. dontnomuch

    Is straining at gnats and swallowing camels abuse?

    March 24, 2011 at 12:39 am |
  17. LJ

    These people (PETA) are idiots!!

    March 24, 2011 at 12:38 am |
  18. Robin

    Hi im a Hindu Vegetarian and you knwo what? I never cared about people killing animals, its sad, but people have their beliefs. Karma is there for a reason. PETA is fine but i dont believe in it. they are like the 'terrorists' of this field, using aggression against non-vegetarians and in the process giving us a bad name.

    March 24, 2011 at 12:33 am |
    • Deter

      yep, welcome to American politics!

      March 24, 2011 at 12:40 am |
    • Natraj

      The reason why Hindus don't eat meat, especially the Brahmins, is not because of the their love of animals. The reason is rooted in the caste based descrimination. If there could be humans of lower caste can be untouchables, image the status of animals. That's why they don't eat meat – they don't want to touch anything inferior to them!

      March 24, 2011 at 1:05 am |
  19. Juan

    I call em chicken! Finger lickin good!

    March 24, 2011 at 12:32 am |
    • Deter

      I'm going to mcdonalds now...

      March 24, 2011 at 12:40 am |
    • Jam

      how dare you commit cannibalism.

      March 24, 2011 at 12:50 am |
  20. Weary of PC

    Just wondering. . . do PETA members fight so vocally for unborn babies in the womb? If they do not, then their position about animals is nothing less that hypocrisy.

    March 24, 2011 at 12:32 am |
    • Margaret

      You are very right.

      March 24, 2011 at 12:40 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.