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Genesis 1:22 and 1:28 start off as almost exact parallels:

22And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” ESV


28And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and 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.” ESV

The NET Bible includes this interesting note:

The instruction God gives to creation is properly a fuller expression of the statement just made (“God blessed them”), that he enriched them with the ability to reproduce. It is not saying that these were rational creatures who heard and obeyed the word; rather, it stresses that fruitfulness in the animal world is a result of the divine decree and not of some pagan cultic ritual for fruitfulness. The repeated emphasis of “be fruitful – multiply – fill” adds to this abundance God has given to life. The meaning is underscored by the similar sounds: בָּרָךְ (barakh) with בָּרָא (bara’), and פָּרָה (parah) with רָבָה (ravah).

I've also heard taught that the direct command to mankind in verse 28 is personal and indicative that we are "rational (and relational) creatures who heard and obeyed the word". Does the minor difference in the Hebrew between v22 and v28 support these widely different interpretations or do they imply a much greater similarity between the commands than supposed here.

If the latter, do both stress the "fruitfulness in the [...] world" or should both be taken to indicate the personal nature of God's command to his creatures, animals and mankind.

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Good Q. Have you ever thought the similarity between the two commands is because all of us--humans, animals, fish, and birds--are critters? We all have our origin in the creative and omnipotent hand of a loving Creator. The same creative genius God demonstrated in making the human species in His image, of which David marveled in Psalm 139 ("I am fearfully and wonderfully made"), is the same genius He demonstrated in making the critters which do NOT bear His image. It's all a matter of degree and purpose. BTW, have you ever seen a slow-mo video of a hummingbird in flight? Awe inspiring! – rhetorician Feb 15 '14 at 18:12

In the response below, I'll start with "conclusions", then set out some data for further probing (and "showing my work").


Q1. (a) Does the minor difference in the Hebrew between v22 and v28 support these widely different interpretations or (b) do they imply a much greater similarity between the commands than supposed here?

Q2. If the latter (1b), do both stress the "fruitfulness in the [...] world" or should both be taken to indicate the personal nature of God's command to his creatures, animals and mankind?

A1. The difference between the Hebrew in the two verses may appear minor, but it amounts v22 having simple quotation marks (Hebrew leʾmor = "saying," in ESV is simply a direct speech marker):1

And God blessed them, “Be fruitful..."

while v28 has a whole extra clause with explicit subject:

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful..."

This part of the NET Bible note seems quite sound. Some corroboration is found in the one other place in Genesis (actually, in the whole Hebrew Bible) where this same phrasing occurs, after the flood in Gen 9:1

And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful..."ESV2

Here too, God is addressing the same (identical) commands to fruitfulness, multiplication, and fulness, to human creatures. (This is part of a larger pattern of commands to the post-flood family echoing the commands of Genesis 1.)

The addition of the Genesis 9:1 example reinforces the interpretation expressed in the NET Bible note: the explicit speech of God to his human creatures in 1:28 is differentiated from the simple articulation of blessing, otherwise not explicitly addressed to anyone or anything in 1:22.

A.2 Although my preference is for 1(a), I think it still follows that God's creating work is "personal", and the whole natural order is bound up in God's purpose for creation to flourish. Possibly I haven't caught the force of the alternatives posed by OP here, though.3

"Show your work"

This is a bit of a "data dump". I looked for all cases where the same verb form "he blessed" is used with "God" as explicit subject; I then included a search for the same verb form, "he blessed" with "LORD" as explicit subject. This interestingly isolates Gen 1:22, 28; 9:1 as a little "trio" of texts: 1:28 and 9:1 are the only ones followed by a report of God (or the LORD) speaking, and 1:22 joins them by virtue of being followed by divine speech.

These are set out in a sort of inter-linear transliteration with the numbered elements attached for comparison.4

With Elohim ("God")

(1) Past narrative "blessed"a
(2) Explicit subject 'elohim
(3) Direct object(s)
(4) ... "said to X"

  • Gen. 1:22 = 1 3 2
  • Gen. 1:28 = 1 3 2 4
  • Gen. 2:3 = 1 2 3
  • Gen. 9:1 = 1 2 3 4
  • Gen. 25:11 = 1 2 3
  • Gen. 35:9 = 1 3

a. never uses object suffix with verb

With Tetragram ("LORD")

(1) Past narrative "blessed"b
(2) Explicit subject YHWH
(3) Direct object(s)
(4) ... "said to X"

  • Gen. 26:12 = 1b 2
  • Gen. 30:27c = 1b 2
  • Gen. 30:30c = 1 2 3
  • Gen. 39:5 = 1 2 3
  • Jdg. 13:24 = 1b 2
  • 2 Sam. 6:11 = 1 2 3
  • 1 Chr. 13:14 = 1 2 3 (// 1 S 6:11)

b. using object suffix with verb
c. Laban's direct speech

Key Genesis Texts

and-blessed them  God  [saying], "..."
wayĕbārek ʾotām ʾĕlohîm leʾmor, pĕrû ûrĕbû ûmilʾû ʾet-hammayim...
  (1)       (3)    (2)

and-blessed them  God,  and-said  to-them  God, "..."
wayĕbārek ʾotām ʾĕlohîm, wayyoʾmer lāhem ʾĕlohîm, pĕrû ûrĕbû ûmilʾû ʾet-hāʾāreṣ
  (1)       (3)    (2)      (4)

and-blessed God     Noah   and his-sons, and-he-said to-them, "..."
wayĕbārek ʾĕlohîm ʾet-noaḥ wĕʾet-bānāyw, wayyoʾmer lāhem, pĕrû ûrĕbû ûmilʾû ʾet-hāʾāreṣ
  (1)       (2)     (3)                     (4)


  1. Often left untranslated; cf. Brown, Driver, Briggs, A Hebrew and English lexicon of the Old Testament, p. 56:
    BDB p. 56
  2. I'm not sure why the ESV varied its sentence pattern in 1:28 and 9:1 -- they are identical structures in Hebrew, and it goes against their stated "translation philosophy". Odd.
  3. The last sentence in the NET Bible note about the sounds of the words reinforcing the fecundity of the commands I find a little forced, but that's more an aesthetic judgment call - not a lot hangs on it. The repetition of a triple command seems the far more emphatic to me. Or at least, the "commands" are the cake for which the "euphony" is, at best, icing.
  4. I have used "1 ... 2 ... 3" following what I take to be the typical order expected in biblical Hebrew prose. I am aware that generalizing about "normal" word order is a matter of debate.
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