What Does It Mean to Be Fruitful and Multiply?
Answer: God had just finished all His creation, ending with His masterpieces, the very first man and woman, when He told them to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28). The world was now fully created with days and nights, seasons and years, plants and animals, and Adam and Eve; and God set in motion His plan to fill the world He created with people (Isaiah 45:18). The world was Adam and Eve’s inheritance to fill, and, as stated in the beginning of Genesis 1:28, it was God’s blessing for Adam and Eve to have children and work the earth. Commentator Matthew Henry wrote that God blessed the first couple with “a numerous lasting family, to enjoy this inheritance . . . in virtue of which their posterity should extend to the utmost corners of the earth and continue to the utmost period of time.”
Simply, God desired for Adam and Eve to have many children and for their children to have many children. But fruitfulness also denotes much more. God didn’t intend Adam and Eve to have children just to have children. In the remainder of Genesis 1:28, we see a useful and desired result: to “fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Was the blessing bestowed upon Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply also a command for us today? Some take this view and refuse all forms of birth control. But if Genesis 1:28 is in fact a command to us as individuals rather than a blessing upon mankind in general, we run into a few problems, especially when looking to the New Testament.
First, Jesus walked the earth for 33 years having no wife to bear children. As a Jew, Jesus was raised according to Jewish laws and customs (Galatians 4:4), and He fulfilled the Law of God perfectly (Matthew 5:17). However, Jesus was not physically “fruitful,” nor did He “multiply,” indicating that Genesis 1:28 is not a command for every person to obey. In addition, Jesus said that celibacy is a personal choice, neither condemning it nor praising it above marriage and childbearing (Matthew 19:12).
Second, the apostle Paul encourages Christians that it is better to stay single than be married (1 Corinthians 7:38) so that individuals can place their entire focus on serving God (verses 32–35). Paul affirms that being married is a good thing, but he insists that being single is better in certain circumstances. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the apostle would not encourage us against bearing fruit and multiplying if that were one of God’s direct commands.
Finally, if being fruitful and multiplying is an express command for all couples to bear children, we run into the problem of infertility. While the Bible does say that children are a blessing from the Lord (Psalm 127:3–5), nowhere in Scripture is infertility condemned as a sin or a curse from God.
Bearing children is certainly a blessing to be enjoyed and carefully nurtured, but being fruitful and multiplying is not necessarily about bearing children. Adam and Eve, and even Noah and his wife, were the forebears of all humanity, and that’s why God blessed them with the ability to be fruitful and multiply. But there are other types of “children.” Jesus spoke of bearing fruit apart from having children numerous times during His earthly ministry (Matthew 3:8; 7:17; John 15:2, 4, 8). “Here am I, and the children God has given me” (Hebrews 2:13). And He promised to multiply “children” to those who follow Him (Mark 10:30). Paul considered both Timothy and Titus his “true sons” in the faith (1 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4). The apostle John wrote a loving letter to his spiritual children (1 John 2:1; 3:18; 4:4; 5:21).
We can have lives that are pleasing to God and bring Him glory whether we have children or not. Indeed, we can be spiritually fruitful and multiply the citizens of the Kingdom of God when we obey Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).