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. potatoheadmary

    I thought they were going to say how cruel it was to cram a bunch of animals in to a single ship that floated around for 40 days or maybe the animal sacrifices. These people are whacked out!

    March 24, 2011 at 9:36 am |
    • AnarchistScholar

      "bunch of animals in to a single ship that floated around for 40 days"

      Still beats many of modern animal transports and 'storaging'.

      March 24, 2011 at 10:30 am |
  2. McDermA

    I think you mean, "this just confirms HER." Mel.

    March 24, 2011 at 9:33 am |
  3. melvisbass

    I always thought PETA was a useless organization, this just confirms it!

    March 24, 2011 at 9:29 am |
    • Prasoon

      Yep, this is a publicity stunt. Like thrinowg blood on furs or running around without their clothes. They keep getting weirder and weirder though. I think they jumped the shark this time myself though. One would think women's groups would be against them for this.

      November 8, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  4. nicole

    If I ever do meet the PETA folks, I'll be sure to refer to my hot dog and a she as I eat it.

    March 24, 2011 at 9:25 am |
  5. McDermA

    You said OOC, "Speaking for myself, after a steak dinner when asked how the meal was, I don't want to have to say, "He tasted great.""

    March 24, 2011 at 9:18 am |
  6. David Johnson

    @Doc Vestibule

    Yep, as usual you are right. If we stopped eating our fellow animals, no one would want to feed them...


    March 24, 2011 at 9:04 am |
    • veganman

      Yeah, and hows that working out for everyone?

      March 24, 2011 at 9:11 am |
  7. Thomas

    Acts 10:9-15 (NIV, 2011) "About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

    Enough said.

    March 24, 2011 at 8:58 am |
    • AnarchistScholar

      Did he go and kill? If the same Spirit told him to not hesitate going with the men, why did he start out the next day with them and not right away?

      March 24, 2011 at 9:26 am |
  8. Doc Vestibule

    One of our primary survival advantages is that we are omnivores.
    Take a moment and run your tongue along your teeth – Those sharp ones near the front aren't for grinding leaves, I'm afraid.
    Life feeds on life.

    March 24, 2011 at 8:51 am |
  9. NoniNemo

    So, I just lost all respect I had for PETA. They would actually alter the wording that was directly inspired and preserved to date to suit their purpose rather than leave the original wording?! How do you think the Bible survived all the centuries intact despite intense, severe opposition from some religious organizations (so-called Christian at that) to keep it out of the hands of the common person? No one can stop misguided–or intentionally manipulative–individuals from altering the 'script' but the real meaning and intent becomes self-evident with time and that timeline is tied to what was written under divine guidance. Now I realize that is a point of view and that not everyone has the same one; however, humans are not in charge of the outcome any more than they are in control of their own DNA.

    March 24, 2011 at 8:47 am |
    • David Johnson


      You said: "How do you think the Bible survived all the centuries intact despite intense, severe opposition from some religious organizations (so-called Christian at that) to keep it out of the hands of the common person? No one can stop misguided–or intentionally manipulative–individuals from altering the 'script' but the real meaning and intent becomes self-evident with time and that timeline is tied to what was written under divine guidance."

      Allowing Sola Scriptura, as Luther proclaimed, has led to there being ~38,000 Protestant denominations. Looks like a case could be made, for not allowing the unwashed to interpret scripture.


      March 24, 2011 at 9:18 am |
  10. 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 24, 2011 at 8:21 am |
  11. Doc Vestibule

    PETA should just re-write the bible to remove the speciesist language in the same way the Schlafly re-wrote the KJV to remove it's "liberal bias".

    March 24, 2011 at 8:18 am |
  12. Consider

    "IT" is my understanding that the real issue at hand here is what has authority. If the Bible has authourity, than "IT" is to be followed. If the Bible does not have authority, than "IT" is just another book amoung many. You must choose for yourself.

    March 24, 2011 at 5:59 am |
    • AnarchistScholar

      Aside from the issue of translations, the meanings, respectivly the perceptions/interpretations, of words can/do change over time.

      March 24, 2011 at 7:34 am |
  13. TampaMel

    This is NOT about the Bible. This is NOT about the ethical treatment of animals. If PETA is saying this then they have lost the message. Does PETA actually think that changing the use of 'it' to 'he' or 'she' brings their message forward then they need to rethink their message. If PETA is against animal cruelty how is it they think using a gender specific pronoun when referring to an animal will change any of that? PETA people are making themselves into a joke.

    March 24, 2011 at 3:38 am |
  14. PC

    What was their request to the Jewish and Muslim communities and how did that go??

    March 24, 2011 at 3:18 am |
  15. Felicia

    i think that PETA didn't take into account the fact that animals were slaughtered in sacrifice to God.

    March 24, 2011 at 3:15 am |
    • David Johnson


      You said: "i think that PETA didn't take into account the fact that animals were slaughtered in sacrifice to God."

      As apparently, were people.

      I think the founder of Peta (Ingrid Newkirk) is an atheist.


      March 24, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  16. Joan

    I love animals and i have supported Peta on and off through the years . Since this subject is about them wanting to change the Bible that they clearly dont understand. There are so many loving scriptures about animals and even Jesus speaks about them ,also wasnt the animals first in the Garden then Adam was placed in the garden who knows for how long before he had his mate, watching these loving creatures , undoubtably learning from them , i tend to be more and more a vegan from vegetarianism , i do cheat and eat chicken but the more i think of there horrible treatment i get sick it never was the way we were to eat . we dont know whats comming why are we still torturing animals , or eating them ,many great men were vegetarians and said , that because of this torturing of the animals we ourselves cant have peace.

    March 24, 2011 at 2:55 am |
  17. Joan

    Frederica i so agree with you!

    March 24, 2011 at 2:42 am |
  18. Varangian

    PETA believes that animals deserve more rights and humanity as a whole should treat them with the kindness and generosity we afford each other, all the while pushing for animal sterilization, despite the clear lack of input from the participants. I just don't understand.

    March 24, 2011 at 2:37 am |
    • Aloha611

      Animals... humanity....hmmmm. Does it makes sense to you?

      March 24, 2011 at 5:26 am |
  19. Joan Colby

    I have no problem with the beatifull way things are frazed in the Bible, Men call there ships, she "maybe we should change that. just kiidding. Any way i doubt if PETA ever read the Bible other than looking for errors , Politically correct people and the ACLU dont want us to think for ourselves anymore of course they are trying to keep them selves going as long as they can and make there living off there foolish ideas and lies. Back to the Bible, If they would give it a chance they would see it never was intended to do anything but reveal human nature, they even might find themselves in that book it covers every area of fanastasim, and human nature . and the wisdom that comes from God who himself talks about animals too, if we listen to him woops i mean her or it or gosh Politically correct what a mess doesnt sound like freedom of speech to me.

    March 24, 2011 at 2:35 am |
  20. Frederica

    What a waste of time. They should be reading an existing Bible or rescuing abused animals than doing this business at all.

    March 24, 2011 at 2:25 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.