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. Sarah

    I would love to hear the scripture references that state that God's covenant is with animals too, and that animals glorify God. I feel fairly confident that this is not a Biblical truth, but if anyone can show me where it is true (in context!), I will gladly eat my words with the same vengeance I attack my steak.

    March 24, 2011 at 12:32 am |
  2. Hardpill

    I like a good laugh before going to bed. Thank you PETA. M o r o n s.

    March 24, 2011 at 12:31 am |
    • deter

      Yes, i'm going to dream of chicken. Thank you PETA!!!

      March 24, 2011 at 12:34 am |
  3. Faithful

    Oh for God's sake, it's hard enough following all the pronouns in the Bible, let's not muddy the water any more than it already is. And in the context of the Bible, animals are definitely an "it." Sure, they glorified God... you know how? By being butchered, burned and eaten by the THOUSANDS. God LOVES a good BBQ! And there were rivers of blood to prove it. What was the first thing God did after Adam & Eve ate the apple? He - as in "God" - killed an animal so they'd have something to wear besides a fig leaf. So, the precedent was set pretty early on.

    March 24, 2011 at 12:31 am |
  4. Enegue

    This is pretty dumb...
    If anything, the Bible needs a more people-friendly update

    March 24, 2011 at 12:30 am |
    • deter

      Before you post something as ignorant as this about any book, read it first.

      March 24, 2011 at 12:33 am |
  5. Daveid Johnson

    They are idiots.

    March 24, 2011 at 12:30 am |
  6. Rich

    All I have to say is eat more meat.....Oh by the way PETA did you forget fruits and veggies have feelings also.....Well time to go hunting for meat on the table.

    March 24, 2011 at 12:29 am |
    • Daveid Johnson


      March 24, 2011 at 12:31 am |
  7. yoyo1198

    What a useless, useless waste of time and money while the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

    March 24, 2011 at 12:27 am |
  8. Q

    The only time I pay attention to anything coming from PETA is when it involves naked super models...

    March 24, 2011 at 12:25 am |
    • Q

      Now that I think about it, same goes for the bible...

      March 24, 2011 at 12:26 am |
  9. ealcala

    I'm a vegetarian and think this idea is ridiculous... there are worse things to worry about PETA!

    March 24, 2011 at 12:25 am |
  10. LCG

    Hahahahahahaha...at first I couldn't figure out why CNN would want to report something so ridiculous as news, until I realized how hard it made me laugh. Apparently the network is trying to add some humor to boost readership! Good thinking

    March 24, 2011 at 12:23 am |
  11. Rob

    Mmmmm. Animals are good.

    March 24, 2011 at 12:23 am |
  12. Dude

    I've been a vegetarian for decades and I just like to say, "PETA, shut up!".

    March 24, 2011 at 12:22 am |
  13. Joe Schmoe

    I love it. The two most ridiculous things i can think of are in conflict.

    March 24, 2011 at 12:17 am |
    • Secular Nation

      Kudos to you Joe Schmoe. It's a rather hilarious article. Two insane ideologies battling each other...

      March 24, 2011 at 12:41 am |
  14. Stevie

    I'm all for animal rights and everything, but yeah, this is kind of laughable.

    March 24, 2011 at 12:16 am |
  15. jugatech

    Heres my translation. WEIRDOS!!!!!

    March 24, 2011 at 12:15 am |
  16. Weep4America

    I find it amusing that, in an article talking about the Bible, that someone's panties got in a bunch and they reported my post for moderation because I quoted a verse of the Bible. LOL

    March 24, 2011 at 12:14 am |
    • Q

      CNN has an "auto-moderator" which flags posts containing any number of no-no words. For example "t-it" and all words which contain "t-it" like "const-itution", "ent-itlement", "ent-ity". Interesting is that some words which might normally be no-no words are perfectly fine, like ass, penis, etc....

      March 24, 2011 at 12:24 am |
  17. Jenna

    Thou shall not kill, except when it applies to animals. Hypocrites.

    March 24, 2011 at 12:14 am |
    • Raevyn

      Jenna, you're making me crave a burger. A big, rare, bloody burger....with chicken wings and pulled pork on the side. Om nom nom nom.

      March 24, 2011 at 12:29 am |
    • deter

      We believe that animals were given to us to be used as food.

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

      Actually, it's more like "thou shalt not kill in anger," or "thou shalt not murder." Otherwise, killing seemed to be going on pretty much all the time in the Bible, alot of it directed by God Himself, through wars, death penalties, plagues, etc., and oh yeah, all those sacrifices that He demanded.

      March 24, 2011 at 12:41 am |
    • Gunny D

      Thou shalt not kill except when it comes to unborn humans, then?

      March 24, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  18. andy666

    Great idea. I assume that includes worms, beetles, ants and spiders as well. They are all he or she, and should never be killed (or eaten). Shame on anyone from PETA stepping on a spider !

    March 24, 2011 at 12:12 am |
    • deter

      I don't think worms even have a gender 😀

      March 24, 2011 at 12:36 am |
  19. Fuyuko

    Kind of out there, even for peta.

    March 24, 2011 at 12:10 am |
  20. Lapinski

    they are talking but all I hear is "Boohoohoo pay attention to us"

    March 24, 2011 at 12:09 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.