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. Observer

    So PETA has no problem with God's total disregard for the humane treatment of animals, but gripes about the gender words?

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

      It is not natural to mistreat animals, or humans, nor to enjoy mistreating either.

      March 24, 2011 at 5:21 am |
  2. leebo

    But what of the hermaphrididic dog that dragged Jesus from the burning chariot in that horrible downtown jerusalem wreck? After saving the savior must "it" be a "he" or "she" as well?

    March 23, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
  3. Arnkel

    Animals have no rights. Thats not an excuse for excessive creulty.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
  4. dan


    March 23, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
  5. John


    March 23, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
  6. T-party

    American nativs did fine with nature and animals until my w-hite los-er bi-ble thum-ping anc-estors came here and st-unk up America

    March 23, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
  7. T-party

    I am agnostic used to hunt for good and game. I love and respect animals. Have dogs son has pet reptiles. feed wild birds,squirrels,and deer. Nothing wrong with hunting fishing for food or game. Peta needs to realize how rough the wild life is and people are carnivorous just like many mammals,reptiles,birds and fish.

    March 23, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
  8. blessedgeek

    I am a practicing Jewish Chocolic. Yeech, I hate carob.
    Are there any practicing Roman Chocolics/Chocoholics?

    Some people say chocoholic, but doesn't that synthetically mean addicted to chocolate + alcohol?

    March 23, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
  9. path matters

    Uh, does PETA want all the mention of animal sacrifice to be removed from the Bible as well?

    March 23, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
    • AnarchistScholar

      I don't think so. Changing the perception/interpretation of what animal sacrifice was, and de facto is, about wouldn't be bad though.

      March 23, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
  10. Enoch Mailangi http://twitter.com/#!/AwkwardLantern

    Im all for P.E.T.A but theres a line where you have to stop and let things be. Changing something that has been around for almost 2000 years is just.... stupid. Sorry P.E.T.A but i'm not for you on this one. Maybe you should try not to be involved in everything and try to stop other things from happening.

    March 23, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Many groups trying to change long-held beliefs and practices resort to extreme tactics and rhetoric to gain public attention. PETA is no different. Get over yourselves and realize that abolitionists and suffragettes did very similar things to startle the complacent and stimulate discussion and thought.

      Stop imagining that you are unique.

      March 23, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
  11. Stephen

    P.E.T.A.. P= people, E= Eating, T= Tasty, A= Animals.

    March 23, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Gee, no one has EVER seen that before!!! How clever! How original!

      Good Lord. Get a clue.

      March 23, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
    • John

      @Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son – You're just annoyed you didn't post it...

      March 23, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  12. PETA PETA Pumpkin Eata

    Eds: CNN makes money. Can't you PLEASE find people who can actually write and spell to author these articles? It makes my head hurt to read them sometimes:

    “"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." Did he really say this, or do you mean inclusiveness? If he really said it, add (sic) so I know it's not you, it's him.

    "...many evangelicals are becoming more conscience about the environment." Do you mean "conscious?"

    March 23, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
  13. AnarchistScholar

    Personally, I refer even to one child generally as 'it', in the sense of 'living being'. When the talk is about a particular child, or animal (mammal), I use 'he' or 'she'. For humans in overall can the distinction of gender of non-mammal animals (and plants for that matter) be a lot more difficult than recognizing the gender of individual mammals – eg. observing a fe/male pair of ducks on a river, visual difference between a female and a male is easily observable, but difficult to tell from that momentary observation who/which is male and who/which is female, isn't it?
    So, it comes somewhat down to what verse in particular the talk is about. Eg. the mentioned she-ant, well, ants (/various species of insects) are said to have a hive-mind, with the queen being 'in charge', so talking about an ant/s as being 'she' makes more sense than 'he', 'they' or as mentioned 'it'.

    Similarly, G-d and nature could 'both' 'each' be referred to as 'it', since 'both' exceed our perception of biological genders. Nevertheless, referring to G-d as He and to Nature as She is somewhat reflecting the relation, albeit it would be confusing to explain this 'relation', or 'each' just based on the he/she differentiation.

    By the way, the commandment "don't kill" doesn't explicitly just mention human beings, albeit letting children starve to death is a form of killing too, so I wouldn't equal killing a human and killing an animal, and many human bodies are accustomed to take their regular nutrients from meat, so over-the-night-vegetarianism/veganism might be harming to health, but it is indeed sad nevertheless that animals are being treated in many/most cases as 'things' incl. such issues as cows being impregnated as often as possible around the year (and calves taken away early on) to make them give as much milk as possible (despite us being able to make and preserve a range of dairy products which are able to endure months).

    March 23, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
  14. Maria

    PETA are a bunch of wingnuts. They want to call fish "sea kittens" too. Stupid. I support PETA "People Eating Tasty Animals" LOL

    March 23, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
  15. manda

    So what do they have to say about God giving adam and eve animals skins to wear???? and all the animal sacrifices??

    March 23, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
    • AnarchistScholar

      Ever wondered why 'sacrifice' is called 'sacrifice'?

      March 23, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
    • Matt B


      March 23, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
  16. Harry Ball

    Funny how 90% of idiotic headlines you see in the news now a days somehow involve PETA.

    March 23, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
    • ScottK

      Thats alot, I did not know that Charlie Sheens headlines included PETA, but i guess it makes sense with all his "I have Tiger blood" comments. And Knut the polar bear dying, must have been PETA during a rescue attempt, and Lindsay Lohan, I heard her mother is a cougar, and I wonder how many Arabian Eagles are left in Libya...

      Something tells me you might have made up the 90%...

      March 23, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
  17. I love to go swimmin' with bowlegged wimmen!

    I enjoy the mostly nekkid wimmen of PETA, but that's about it.

    March 23, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
    • Ryan

      LoL ^agreed

      September 25, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
  18. 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")


    "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 23, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
    • HeavenSent


      Isaiah 66:24 And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.

      You should change your handle to wormfood.


      March 23, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      And you should change yours to "Head Hypocrite."

      March 23, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      By the way, dumbazz, what are "carcases"?

      March 23, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
  19. chief

    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.

    WHAT AN IDIOT... Gods covenant is with humans and animals? HA CRACK POT

    March 23, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • Rich

      There is no such thing as god. I am embarrassed at having to even say these words. Grow up.

      March 24, 2011 at 1:22 am |
  20. ScottK

    They may want to take a look at the collected works of Dr. Seuss as well... A lot of Sneeches on Beaches and an It here and there, might never be born if PETA should care...

    Why stop at the bible when making fiction politically correct...

    March 23, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
    • PETA PETA Pumpkin Eata

      I just wish these PETA idjits would shut their pie holes and concentrate on things that really matter to animal welfare! Really? The use of pronouns in a bible translation bothers them? Throwing paint isn't enough; now they're into arguing over semantics? Really?! Get over it! Jeez! Don't they think that there are things they could be doing that will actually save animals?? Where is PETA when animals are abused? I have never once seen a news report where animals have been hoarded 50 to a home, or mistreated or starved, and a responsible member of PETA has been there to provide a well-thought-out commentary and to promote the PETA cause in a rational manner. Not once. Yes, PETA, you are getting everyone's attention, but no one is taking you very seriously because of your stupid antics. I submit to PETA that you are all missing the boat. Oh, speaking of boats: sea kittens? Bahahahahahahahahahahaha!

      March 23, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
    • AnarchistScholar

      "Where is PETA when animals are abused?"

      Obviously, PETA members are not the ones doing the animal abuse, are they?

      March 23, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
    • PETA PETA Pumpkin Eata

      @AnarchistScholar: Anarchist, I believe, but Scholar...not so much.

      The point I was making, which you missed, is that PETA could use these obviously reprehensible acts of cruelty to bring attention to their cause, and that it would lend a credibility and legitimacy that PETA sorely needs. I think that protesting stupid stuff like what we call fish and what pronouns we use to refer to animals in the Bible, when there are clearly more pressing issues with which PETA could associate itself is dumb and makes them look like crackpots. You, too, latched onto one thing I said and, ignoring the rest, overreacted and blasted away!

      I love animals and think they (and babies) are the purest souls on this Earth. I also believe in most of what PETA is trying to do (the cause, NOT the patently dumb stuff), but not how they get their message across. That needs work.

      March 23, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
    • AnarchistScholar

      Oh please, 'blasting away' is an over-statement. 🙂

      What I was trying to, insufficiently, point out is that PETA can't be realistically there everywhere where humans and animals are 'together'. And it is not like PETA is doing nothing but calling for not calling animals 'it' in translations of the Bible, is it? You are certainly right though that 'animal rights' barely get any media coverage, something which has probably to do with the perception of animals being 'property'.

      Btw, http://www.peta.org/ 'top story' there right now "support prosecution for hoarder" about hoarder and hundreds of cats.

      March 23, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
    • Tracy

      Seriously! I understand being for animal rights for some people but changing the bible! THAT IS GODS WORDS!!! Get real and realize that it is the nature of things. People eat animals, animals eat other animals and so on...Honestly most pets and livestock are treated better than if they were left in the wild to fend for themselves.


      March 23, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
    • Josh

      Its funny how this article is not talking about changing language and you take a shot at the Bible. I am tired of people bashing my beliefs all the time. If you don't believe thats fine. If you think that you know all there is to know about the world to know for sure that the Bible is fake that is fine with me. But keep your judgments to yourself. And as for PETA you can't change the living world of God. Even if it does not fit their agenda.

      March 23, 2011 at 11:04 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.