Is Genesis 1:28 a blessing or command?

Is Genesis 1:28 a blessing or command?

Question

Is Genesis 1:28 a blessing or command? Does this verse, especially the first part ("Be fruitful and increase in number"), apply to Christians today? The language also appears in Genesis 9 with Noah and in Genesis 17 with Abraham. How should we apply this teaching to our daily life? Is there another teaching or command that balances this command (e.g., stewardship)?

Answer

Genesis 1:28 is both a blessing and a command. Along with the surrounding verses in Genesis 1, it explains the purpose for which man was created, and the obligations that man has because of that purpose. Specifically, God intended to establish his kingdom on the earth, just as it already existed in heaven.

Human beings were created in order to be the rulers and administrators of that kingdom (Gen. 1:26), as well as to minister to God as his priests (cf. Ex. 19:6; Rev. 1:6). This is a huge job that requires many, many people. In fact, this is part of the reason that God created Eve. Adam could not multiply on his own, so Eve was created partly to make multiplication possible (Gen. 2:18-24). Eve was also created to rule and to minister just as Adam was (Gen. 1:26-28).

Man and woman were also created in order to be God's "image" or "likeness" (Gen. 1:26-27). False religions often used idols and images in their worship in order to honor their gods. God, however, did not want to be represented by carved or molded objects. Instead, he created the human race to be his images. The more human beings that populate the earth, the more images of God there are to honor him.

So, the human race as a whole has an obligation to populate the earth with God's images, and to rule over the earth, properly administering it according to God's design. We are also universally obligated to minister to God as his priests. In some senses, the human race has done this successfully: we have fairly well populated the world, and we rule over it. However, we have also been extremely unsuccessfully in other ways: we do not rule and administer God's kingdom as he commanded, and we do no minister to him properly.

Moreover, because of mankind's great rebellion against God, there is a sense in which our expansion to the ends of the earth has not fulfilled God's design for expansion. Specifically, God wanted to extend his kingdom, not just mankind's habitat. Insofar as mankind's expansion is not Christian, it is not an expansion of God's kingdom.

In any event, it is also important to remember that God's purpose in creation was to make a paradise in which man and God would dwell together (Gen. 2; John 17:21-23). God's commands to mankind were the means by which mankind was to expand and maintain that paradise, meaning that the commands were means of blessing mankind.

Moreover, the Bible specifically states in many places that children are blessings from God (e.g., Gen. 17:6; 22:17; Deut. 7:14; 1 Sam. 2:20; Ps. 127:3). In other words, the rule is that children are a blessing from God. As Christians, we should be eager to receive all of God's blessings, including children.

At the same time, the Bible also indicates that sometimes there are exceptions to rules. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 7:25-27 Paul indicated that it would be wise for engaged couples not to consummate their marriages until after the "present crisis" had passed. Whatever that crisis was, it seems to have warranted a temporary preference for singleness over marriage. Still, Paul also suggested that older brides might be more justified in marrying, perhaps because they were less likely to be able to have children at all if they delayed (1 Cor. 7:36). Moreover, Paul was clear that married couples were to have regular sex lives (1 Cor. 7:1-5). So, the suggestion was not that married couples refrain from sex, but that singles and unmarried couples should not marry, which I believe to have been for the purpose of limiting children during the crisis. (See Should Christians Marry for further details on 1 Corinthians 7.)

It is also worth remembering that Jesus was not married and had no children. Therefore, the command to multiply physically is not universally and absolutely applicable.

So, the general rule is that human race is commanded to marry and to multiply, and to live faithfully before God. But this does not mean that every person in creation is specifically obligated to do these things. Rather, every person in creation is obligated to support the role of the human race in doing these things. And insofar as supporting the work of the human race implies marriage and children for specific individuals, and insofar as particular Christians may be those individuals, we are obligated to marry and to have children. In other words, the command is first and foremost a corporate one given to the human race, and secondarily a command to individuals to participate in fulfilling the corporate command. But there are exceptions, such as those listed above.

Besides this, it is always important for people to use wisdom in planning their families. Paul indicated that hardship and crisis are legitimate reasons to alter what we normally do, even with regard to having children (1 Cor. 7). So, if having more children would cause undue hardship to particular families, they may be wise to limit the growth of their families.

But again, our preference should be to have children because they are blessings from God. And our obligation is to multiply faithful images to God in the world. We can do this in part by converting the lost. But raising Christian children has historically been even more successful than evangelism in expanding and maintaining the numbers of faithful worshipers of God.

With regard to the fact that the commands to multiply come mainly in the Old Testament, the Old Testament laws are still binding today (see Laws in Effect Today).

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.