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. Yum...

    that chicken looks delicious.

    I COULD EAT OVER 9000!!!!!

    March 23, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
  2. LouAZ

    Duh, just where are these "original Hebrew and Greek texts" that these "scholars" living right now reviewed for any
    "translation" ? Can anyone else see them, or are they reserved for "biblical scholars" ? ORIGINAL Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible ? I'd really like to see those, and some independant authentication of their "originality". This is like asking Republicans to explain your rights as a union member, or how much money was spent on the Bush Afghan and Iraq wars.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
    • Isaac


      March 29, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
  3. Brandy

    Seriously? I didnt know that PETA followers also didnt believe in God. Strange.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
  4. catsrulz

    thoses chickens in the pic Soon to be in a KFC bucket near you

    March 23, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
    • someoneelse

      Are you sure KFC still uses real chickens?

      March 23, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
  5. Grass Fed Animals

    Just found a nice place here in Ohio that raises grass few beef, lamb, pigs and chickens.
    I just can't wait to sink my teeth into some of IT!

    March 23, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
  6. someoneelse

    The only thing worse than religious people are PETA members. I can get along with religious people, even though they are no different to me than a kid who believes in the tooth fairy (and actually, there is more literature and physical proof of the tooth fairy, ie the money, than what the bible says). But PETA members (and their ilk) are loonies and have never, not even once in my dealings with them, shown one member to be of average intelligence let alone more.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
    • Person of Faith

      More literature and proof for the tooth fairy than the Bible? Come on, the Bible is the most widely sold and distributed book in the history of the world. People have tried to destroy the Bible, but they will never succeed. William Tyndale was burned at the stake for translating the Bible into English. His last words were, "Lord, open the king of England's eyes." This prayer was answered three years later, in the publication of King Henry VIII’s 1539 English “Great Bible”.

      March 24, 2011 at 1:33 am |
  7. Mark

    Why dosn't the Westboro Baptist Church picket PETA for being so gay? That's something I can get on board with. Let these freakshows fight each other.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • Brandy

      This is really funny 🙂

      March 23, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
  8. Carnivore

    If God didn't want us to eat animals, He wouldn't have made them out of meat.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
    • David Stein

      You do realize humans are likewise made out of "meat."

      March 23, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
    • Yum...

      Yes, and people do eat other people as a result. Get in the loop, my friend.

      March 23, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
  9. Hazard

    speciesist.. lol.. really???

    March 23, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
  10. Randy

    PETA is such a trash organization.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
  11. Dave

    "IT" is a dang Chicken, horse, dog or whatever. "IT" is an animal. How are translators supposed to know if "IT" is a male or female animal? PETA needs to concentrate on more important animal issues. Things like this is why people hate PETA.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
  12. Kyle

    Yes, because the god that orders animal burnt offerings is SUCH a fan of P.E.T.A. Because kosher slaughter is so much kinder then other forms of killing. Because every celebration in the Bible involved killing a fatted something or another.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
  13. Inciteful

    Earthquakes. Tsunamis. Nuclear reactor meltdowns. 3 wars. Budget deficits. Unemployment. Starvation. Genocide. Gang wars on U.S. city streets. It's good to know that at least some people have their priorities straight and are demanding respect for chickens. Thanks PETA.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
    • Jordan

      Well, since the animal industry is a horribly inefficient way to create food, eating less meat actually could have the potential of helping with AT LEAST starvation in the world, not to mention the environment.

      March 23, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
  14. MadJerry

    They are definitely not helping their cause with garbage like this. None of them seem to understand the order of things. Animals need other animals to survive. True natural existence is far from the pure paradise that these people seem to think nature is all about. It is brutal. It is ugly. But, it is the way of things.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
  15. nick

    This is making me hungry for some lip smacking......... mouth watering....... o so delicious....... ANIMAL MEAT!!!!!

    March 23, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
  16. Rick

    That's interesting. Yes, God cares about animals, and usually judgement affects animals as well.

    It's time for us to fear God and do what He says. And whatever He says is for our own benefit, but some prefer to rebel against God (His Word) and end up neglecting their only scape from a GREAT JUDGEMENT, His special Son who died for all of us.

    It's interesting, God gave His best, and part of humanity still choose their ways instead of God's ways.

    Oh God, please have mercy on me, my family etc... I'm a sinner and I confess your name before men, I'm not ashamed of you.

    Please, remember me when my time comes.

    Ricardo Rajar Nogueira

    March 23, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
    • Dave

      And that has what to do with this story???

      March 23, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
  17. Ian

    Meat is murder.......

    .......Tasty, tasty murder.....

    March 23, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
    • Justin


      Oh yeah.

      March 23, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
  18. Mark

    Stop giving these idiots the time of day. They're no differen't then the Westboro Baptist Church morons. Just stop talking about them.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
  19. Josh

    I love PETA. Every time they've been in the news lately, they've been proving how useless and out of touch their organization is.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
  20. mibinohio

    P.E.T.A.= People Eating Tasty Animals mmm...mmm....Good! I like my steak medium RARE, please. 🙂

    March 23, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
    • Vegetarian hominids died-out!

      The vegetarian hominids that came before us? Where are they?
      Oh, thats right, they never ate meat, so their brains lacked the protein to grow and learn.
      So they went EXTINCT!
      Maybe PETA wants all of us to turn back time and die-out?

      March 23, 2011 at 11:41 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.