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. Kyanwan

    PETA is actively killing animals. Want to turn a blind eye, or want to visit petakillsanimals – just look it up in google, very easy to find. Ingrid Newkirk is a hypocrite – if you support her and her hypocrite organization, you are one too.

    I prefer the ASPCA & Humane Society. Not insane, and they do real good. Not like this PETA puke bucket led by that insane wench Newkirk. They'd help an animal – send it to a vet rather than doing the "humane" killing thing. PETA kills instead of helps – Newkirk thinks killing is humane & loving – is that a normal person's thoughts?

    When I see PETA trying to say something good about animals – my stomach turns. Everyone else's should as well. PETA sucks. PETA's not about animals – it's about paychecks for the sick lunatics running the organization.

    March 24, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • AnarchistScholar

      One more reason to make animal welfare again/a-proper matter of state?

      Can't tell personally what is going on in various shacks, but you do know that instances of very sick animals in misery exist, where death is more or less a relief to those animals? Eg. if I would come across an animal which is suffering in pains, unable to move, or similar, I would kill it and not write a philosophical treaty about it. Nevertheless, if we equal humans and animals, when we talk about mercy-killings, where would the difference be between killing a human or an animal 'out of mercy'?

      March 24, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • Lynda

      Yes MANY other organizations to support that really help animals by providing food, spay and neuter programs etc. PETA are a bunch of activists with an agenda that is not really for the animals at all!
      That being said, there ARE some instances where a suffering animal needs to be humanely put out of it's (oops his or her! ) misery. If they cannot get well, and are in extreme pain, then its time to help ease their suffering. I am NOT talking about an animal that has just outlived its usefulness to man, such as racehorses that can no longer race because of a broken leg.. etc. I mean animals that are truly SUFFERING and can not get better.

      March 24, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  2. Nick

    What PETA proposes changes the meaning of the Bible–if what they suggest weren't a change, there'd be no reason to suggest the different wording. Who gave PETA the authority to interpret scripture? Not God, the author of the Bible.

    "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation." (2 Peter 1:20)

    There is only one legitimate means for interpreting messages from God and that is through His prophets.

    "And they said unto him, We have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter of it. And Joseph said unto them, Do not interpretations belong to God? tell me them, I pray you." (Genesis 40:8)

    Until a prophet of God says that the Bible is incorrect, it is correct as written.

    March 24, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
  3. Lynda

    Are you kidding me??? PETA has nothing better to do with their money than worry about the Bible referring to animals as he or she? Oh please! I love and respect animals of all species, but this is just silly! I guess PETA is one animal organization I will NOT be wasting my money on! I will find a group that will actually help animals! Ridiculous!

    March 24, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
    • Julieveggie

      Christians make up 76% of Americans that think animals are here for our use only even though the Bible states something different. It could be a huge compassionate cultural shift if PETA could convince Christians that God is against animal cruelty. Great Christian insight how animals are suppose to be treated: http://www.all-creatures.org/cva/honoring.htm

      March 24, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • Lynda

      Julie my dear, PETA is talking about re writing the Bible to call animals as he or she. I repeat, a waste of money that could be better spent on really doing something to help the animals.They should NOT be wasting their money on this hype! You can quote all the scripture you want but it doesn't change that fact. And, Christs sacrifice did away with the need to sacrifice, but NOwhere does it say we cannot use animals for food. His coming did away with the old covenant and the old Levitical LAW. And yes, because it is 2000 years and billions of people later, the way we produce our food has changed. Not saying it is okay to treat animals inhumanely, not at all. But your speil about living peaceffully with the animals is something that will not come about until the new heaven and new earth! Its a fallen world and Christ came to save mankind but we will not live in peace with all His creatures until THIS age is over. If you choose to be vegetarIan, good for you but don't impose your rigid beliefs on the rest of us. Just saying......

      March 24, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
  4. Chris

    Sometimes I wish I could take a bunch of these PETA activists and throw them in a room full of hungry lions....have fun telling the lions its "speciesist" of them to eat you alive. Everything in nature exists at the peril of something else. Even plants, with the exception of fruit bearing plants which use animals to assist in their reproduction, would undoubtly prefer not being eaten if they could voice such an opinion.

    March 24, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • Lynda

      I wonder of the PETA people would want to know if the lions eating them were male or female? haha :-))

      March 24, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  5. AR15

    What is PETA's stance on all the animal sacrifice in the old testament? Didnt OT law require the slaughter of animals as an offering to GOD for the forgiveness of sins? I clearly remember reading that the preists collected the blood and sprinkled it on the altar as a sign of the Messiahs coming sacrifice.

    March 24, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • Julieveggie

      @ AR15 The Bible relates that God accepted animal sacrifices. However, several later prophets objected to sacrifice, emphasizing that God prefers righteousness. Animal sacrifices are not required or even desired now, for at least two reasons. First, Paul encouraged self-sacrifice, writing, “[P]resent your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1). Second, traditional interpretations of Jesus’ death affirm that, because of him, animal sacrifice is no longer necessary. Christians, being new creations in Christ, may model Christ by choosing a loving relationship with all Creation. Indeed, Jesus twice quoted Hosea (6:6), saying, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13, 12:7).


      March 24, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  6. Bill

    I just had Lamb for lunch.

    March 24, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • Lynda


      March 25, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
  7. animal lover/PETA Hater

    P.E.T.A. = People Eating Tasy Animals

    March 24, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
  8. tbang

    PETA wouldn't dare go after changing such wording in the Qur'an. Christians are an easy scapegoat for left-leaning organizations like PETA. For PETA, it's not about equality, it's about PETA.

    March 24, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  9. Chris

    The Bible is a Holy Book, designed for one thing. It is meant to instruct Christians. That's it. It bears no fruit to edit the Bible to give masculine and feminine pronouns to animals. How will that help anyone grow spiritually? It's nonsense.

    As for the Bible promoting veganism, it actually does not. Specifically, Mark 7:17-19 "After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.”"

    There it is, folks. You can eat anything you want. There are many people with an agenda (i.e. PETA) who try to make the Bible say what they want it to.

    March 24, 2011 at 12:34 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. Do you approve: http://www.meatvideo.com Great Christian insight how animals are suppose to be treated: http://www.all-creatures.org/cva/honoring.htm

      March 24, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
    • Julieveggie

      @ Chris 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 3:15 pm |
    • Julieveggie

      @ Chris Whatever one eats does not defile him (Mark 7:18-19)
      This passage reads, “And he [Jesus] said to them, ‘Do you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach and so passes on?’ (Thus he declared all foods clean.)” This section actually relates to eating with unwashed “defiled” hands (Mark 7:1-5). Jesus then explained that the Pharisees were only concerned with what went into their mouths, but what really defiles a person are evil thoughts from the heart within.


      March 24, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  10. Lanfear

    I am not religous and I don't believe in Jesus or the bible. However, I see no harm in what PETA is asking for. Considering how many people live by the bible and look up to it for teachings, how could this be such a bad thing? Be careful, we might actually TEACH people to respect animals! Oh noes!
    Or, you can be like me and just live by your conscience, treat animals with respect simply because it's simply the right thing to do.

    March 24, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  11. Julieveggie

    Agree with Bruce "What happens in slaughterhouses mocks God"

    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: http://www.all-creatures.org/cva/honoring.htm

    March 24, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Dog Lover

      Try feeding 350M people. Also God created the people that created the slaughterhouse; therefore, God is a fault.

      March 24, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • Julieveggie

      Only a fraction of what chickens, pigs, and other animals eat makes them grow edible flesh—most is needed to simply keep them alive or to grow body parts that people don’t eat. Consequently, farmed animals consume much more food than they produce. Converting plant foods to meat wastes 67–90 percent of the protein, up to 96 percent of the calories, and all of the fiber. Because land, water, and other resources are limited, the world can support many more vegetarians than meat eaters. As worldwide demand for meat has grown, the net effect is that the world’s poor have become increasingly unable to afford food of any kind.

      March 24, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • SeanNJ

      @Julieveggie: I would argue that you and I consume much more than we ever return in value to anyone else. So what? Don't eat steak. Good for you.

      March 24, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • fewveggie

      Where in the Bible does it say animals have feelings? God provided vegetables and meat for food. Our slaughter houses are a result of not only trying to meet the demands of a growing population but also society trying to be more humane. We complain about slitting their throats, shooting them or even breaking their necks. How is death humane?
      Can we do better ...yes. Just keep in mind God killed the first animal because of sin.
      Fight against cruel people who abuse animals but to say killing a food animal is wrong goes against the Bible and what He provided for us.

      March 24, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
    • Lanfear

      I eat every meat in the book, and I'm a huge animal advocate. What matters to me is that animals are treated with respect during their life – whether they wind up on my plate or as someones pet.
      That's why I am a big fan of hunting... I would rather shoot a deer that's had a long, natural life in the wild, and feed my family with that. Rather than eating meats from the supermarket – where we have no idea how those animals were treated (probably BADLY).

      March 24, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • Chris

      "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."

      Here is the problem with your argument. There were no factory farms when Jesus was around. He was alive around 2000 years ago. However, he did instruct others to do sacrifices and certainly did not argue against the killing of animals.

      For instance, Luke 22:7-8 "Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover." We see here that Jesus knew that a lamb was to be sacrificed, and not only did he condone the sacrifice, he instructed others to make preparations for it.

      One could also argue that the Internet is evil, telephones are evil, televisions are evil, cars are evil, because Jesus didn't use them either. It's not logic that works well when you are comparing a practice going on today with something going on 2000 years ago.

      March 24, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • AnarchistScholar

      350million – with the body-mass of nearly 1milliard, and 'without clothing, houses and heating to protect from cold winters'?

      @Lanfear – How did human flesh, a.k.a. meat, taste to you? Just kiddin'. Yeah, I agree that hunting, a la eg. Native American style, is at least fair play (certainly more fair play than force feeding, killing for pleasure and such) and the animal did enjoy some time in the wild and generally used to be healthier. Obviously these days though, bringing back many more herds of animals into the wild is in many places not that realistic (cities, roads).

      Not saying everyone should stop eating meat. but eating meat every day (and that several times a day) isn't even healthy.

      March 24, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • AnarchistScholar

      Btw, anyone noticed that the time of Christian (meat)fasting before Easter happens to coincide with the time many animals are being born in the wild?

      March 24, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
  12. jason

    God gave man charge over creation, man's sin subjected the earth to futility, animals suffer because of the sin of men and women. Animals and Man are created different, peta has an agenda, everyone has an agenda. Biblical Christianity should steward the environment.

    March 24, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • Kyanwan

      People like you are the kind of people who would be poaching our striped bass. ( And other gamefish & animals ... which I care less about, but are equally important. )

      Man, I may be 99% conservative – but I'm glad we have government to keep loons like you from eating everything on this planet. I suggest you rethink your stance on the bible gives you license to do what you will with every living creature on this planet. Being a "steward" or "in charge" includes being responsible – and forward looking, which apparently you seem to forget.

      March 24, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
  13. Gary

    What about Plants, PETA People? Don't plants have rights? Don't they feel pain? Don't they have emotions? I'm sure you say 'Yes' to these questions. You should consider the ethical treatment of plants.

    Then you will have NOTHING to eat and will not be around long to bother the sane people of the world.

    March 24, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • Jujubeans

      right on gary!

      March 24, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • Julieveggie

      You’ve got to be kidding me, right? You honestly equate the anguished thrashings of a cow hanging on the slaughter line with that of a stalk of corn ready to be gathered? I would have to disagree with your statement because plants lack a central nervous system and a brain, both of which are necessary in order to register pain. As you know, a painful response can be indicated by both its physical and emotional manifestation.

      March 24, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • Sharon V

      I swear...people have no sense of humor...Gary, I understand. We could all take a page from Mark Wahlberg's wonderful perfomance in The Happening...

      March 24, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  14. LeeLoo

    I'm not too keen on PETA, but I do get their point to an extent. Every pet I've had in my life has been a companion and a joy to have... they've been family. Each had their distinct personalities. I always referred to them as "he" or "she" because they're not "it" to me at all. So I see their point, but yeah... waste of time.

    March 24, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • Dog Lover

      The difference is that you did not create an organization of crackpots who are trying to rewrite history based on your beliefs.

      March 24, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  15. jaypenn

    Will PETA stop at nothing to get media attention? Surely they have more important things to do...

    March 24, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • Kati

      This will never happen. They will spend decades bickering over hes or shes. Maybe an ant is feminine in Hebrew, but what would you say it is in English? Then the women rights organizations will join in and request that God be called a She.. Where does it stop?

      March 24, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  16. MeatEater140IQ

    I would hope that PETA reads these comments because I'm cracking up. Rather than focus any attention towards the protection of animals - which they were organized together for - they would rather take up trivial conquests by altering the Bible. Why? How much do they plan to spend towards meeting this goal? Where could that money be better focused? Will they plan organized Bible-burnings now if this revision does not take place?

    March 24, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • Lynda

      Yep, I for one will be sure to donate my hard earned $$$ to an organization that will actually HELP the animals not waste money on this ridiculous agenda!!!

      March 24, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
  17. Enough

    To everyone blasting each other over vegan/nonvegan - check out this morning's article on NoShmeat.com - it's exactly about this, the pointless bickering.

    March 24, 2011 at 11:05 am |
  18. Lennyd

    And people wonder why most everyone hates on PETA? Buncha' fruits. Get involved in something that matters, and leave this stoopid &*%$ alone.

    March 24, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  19. Sybaris

    Stop writing in caps grampaw

    March 24, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  20. PoodleSweat

    I think Ray Finkle's mother said it best..."Ingrid Newkirk should die of gonorrhea and rot in hell"

    March 24, 2011 at 10:57 am |
    • goveg.com

      Wow Poodle Sweat, what a bunch of hate your spewing! PETA nor Ingrid are always right BUT what have you done to save animals lives? Ingrid has built one of the largest and best animals rights organizations in the world and while she may not always be right she and others like her have changed and continue to change the world for animals for the better. Until you have built an animal saving world empire maybe you should keep you hateful speech to yourself.

      March 24, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • Bobby

      Is this the stuff you worry about if you don't have kids?

      March 24, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • Sharon V

      Ok..so I have to admit I am a Ace fan and so I completely get your quote...lol!! I also understand that it was meant to be funny and not hateful b/c of where the quote came from.

      March 24, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • Zombie Jesus

      Interesting Peta wasting their time trying to change a fictional book

      March 24, 2011 at 12:33 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.