19

Genesis 1:28 is

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that crawls upon the earth.”

You can compare the language here to Genesis 2:16-17, where

And the LORD God commanded him, “You may eat freely from every tree of the garden, 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; for in the day that you eat of it, you will surely die.”

Note that Adam and Eve are not recorded as having consummated their marriage (and hence starting the process of multiplying) until after their expulsion from the Garden, at Genesis 4:1.

Many Christians believe that God's words at 1:28 are the first commandment given to humans in the Bible. Yet, the language isn't clear. What grammatical or contextual reasons do we have to believe God at Genesis 1:28 simply blessing or commanding Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply?

This question is inspired by an answer to the question here.

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  • 3
    Why do you think there's a significant difference between a command and a blessing in this context? If someone says "Live long and prosper", the assumption is that living long and prospering are good things. If God blesses saying "Be fruitful and multiply", He's implying that being fruitful and multiplying are good, and of course, God commands us to pursue what is good.
    – aswine
    Jun 14 at 20:28
  • 1
    Why compare the second quote, please? Jun 16 at 18:35

5 Answers 5

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It's a command.

The linked answer appears to be conflating two different verbs: "blessed" (not a command), and "be fruitful" (command).

In verse 28, after "God said", there are five verbs in succession, in Hebrew they are all in imperative form:

  • Be fruitful
  • Multiply
  • Fill
  • Subdue
  • Rule/have dominion

God's blessing may well help them fulfil these commands, but God is still clearly speaking in the imperative.


Post-Script--discussion from the comments

In English we say things like "live long and prosper" and "have a nice day", but these are not commands. They are subjunctive statements which have an implied "may you" in front of them.

This is evident by comparing them to one of the most common subjunctive statements in English: Goodbye. Goodbye is a contraction of "God be with you" (much like the Spanish Adios). This is not a command to God, but a subjunctive statement: [may] God be with you.

In contemporary languages, this difference is more apparent in languages with a greater variety of verb conjugations. Let's use Spanish as an example. How do you say "have a good day" in Spanish?

It's Que tengas un buen dia NOT Ten un buen dia. The former is subjunctive and is grammatically correct; the latter is a command and is not how it would be said. In English we can miss this distinction because we have so few variations in our verb conjugations.

In summary, "live long and prosper" and "have a nice day" are not commands, and thus are not comparable to the imperative verbs in Genesis 1:28.

--

As noted by Jamin Grey in the comments, God can indeed give commands to wind, water, whales, fish, etc.

--

There was discussion in the comments about the Jussive conjugation, which could indeed be used in Hebrew to express a blessing or a wish--not identical but similar to the English & Spanish subjunctive wishes discussed above (see discussion here). This is true...but the 5 commands in Genesis 1:28 are Qal, not Jussive. Hebrew does have a way to express these ideas as a blessing (I bless you that you will have children)...but this is not the way the verse in question is written.

God is giving a command.

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    +1 Right, 'be fruitful', 'multiply', 'fill', 'subdue', and 'rule' are all in the imperative. Now is God speaking in the imperative necessarily a commandment in the sense most people take that? If someone blesses you by saying "Live long and prosper" are they commanding you to do so? Jun 13 at 19:34
  • 5
    Echoing the OP. Is imperative grammar always a commandment? Can there be other options? I agree that "Be fruitful and multiply" is in the imperative, but I'm not 100% convinced it's necessarily a command.
    – CJ Dennis
    Jun 14 at 2:39
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    @CJDennis Biblical Hebrew also retains elements of the Proto-Semitic jussive (although in most cases it appears identically to the prefix-conjugation "future tense"; with infinitive sentences also sometimes having a similar sense). I would expect to see this form for a blessing or simple declaration of fact (compare "let there be light" in Genesis 1:3 where "be" is in the jussive). More info on the Hebrew Jussive here, and on the pages for the each verb stem: uhg.readthedocs.io/en/latest/verb_jussive.html
    – Tristan
    Jun 14 at 9:42
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    @Tristan I think you may be positioned to offer an excellent answer: eva.mpg.de/lingua/conference/07-CaucasusConference/pdf/… Jun 14 at 15:48
  • 2
    According to this paper the jussive mood is displayed as the form of blessing using the imperative while not actually qualifying as a command (as such): eva.mpg.de/lingua/conference/07-CaucasusConference/pdf/… Jun 14 at 15:51
4

A few verses earlier we find something similar:

And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.

(KJV)

Presumably, fish are not subjects of God in the sense that they receive commandments that they can then choose to obey or disregard. If that is the case, then the imperative statement here is indeed merely a blessing. When the same statement is used with regard to man, then, it stands to reason that it is similarly a blessing.

Furthermore, consider the remainder of the verse about man:

and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

(KJV)

If man just minds his own business and does not express his dominion over all other creatures, has he sinned against God? If not, then again this would seem to indicate that the verse is merely a blessing.

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    While I agree it is a blessing (because scripture says, "And God blessed them", letting us know what it was), I disagree that "Presumably fish are not subjects of God in the sense that they receive commandments" - Fish are not sentient, and do not have free-will. Never the less, God in many parts of scripture commands non-sentient and even non-living things. Famously in the book of Job, He commanded the waves, 'This far, and no further', and the very next verse reads, Have you ever in your life commanded the morning, And made the dawn know its place.
    – Jamin Grey
    Jun 15 at 1:32
  • 4
    In [biblegateway.com/passage/… Psalm 33:6-9 He commands ocean waves and the (material) heavens. Satan tempting Jesus suggested Christ 'command' stone become bread. [biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%204%3A3&version=NKJV] Luke 4:3 [biblehub.com/greek/2036.htm] is the word used. The commanding of unliving substances particularly awed His disciples: "Who can this be? For He commands even the winds and water, and they obey Him!" [biblegateway.com/passage/… Luke 8:25.
    – Jamin Grey
    Jun 15 at 1:33
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I suppose you notice that Adam and Eve are the only 'kind' not created en masse. Hence any children they have, to the end of time, are a family, so I take this like the 'fruitful vine around your table' as both a blessing (for children are a great blessing in the Bible) and command, as Judaism took it

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    Jun 15 at 16:26
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It is a command that holds a blessing.

"command" and "blessing" are not mutually exclusive.

Obeying the commands of God is always a good idea (a blessing). We can see this throughout scripture, but maybe more clearly in Deuteronomy 28.

We use scripture to understand scripture.

  • Gen 1:22 is a blessing "And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful..."
  • Gen 1:28 is a command "And God blessed them , and God said unto them, Be fruitful..." (KJV) note the comma.
  • Gen 1:28 (ESV) Even starts a new sentence: "And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful..."

PS. We should be careful not to think of the commandments as a curse or a burden, but rather as they truly are: a blessing and an honour.

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God's blessing on animals as well as Adam and Eve means He is the one that makes their kind continue on. That showed up even after Adam and Eve sinned and dying set in, life continued to be propagated through them in spite of their death. His creation of new life continues on through His blessing. His blessings are very prophetic and greatly desired. What He says comes to pass.

Look at the example of Jacob's pronouncements on each of his sons individually. I assume every deceleration came to pass and look at the one son who is blessed above the others. After Jacob spoke to each of his Individual sons of what would happen, it states that it was his blessings on each of them that came to pass.

In light of this I would suggest that blessings from God are things that definitely are going to happen. Because He is the one that makes it happen. In a sense it's prophecy of His blessings and that He will fulfill them. After all, how could Adam resist Eve?

I would say that it's His word that he Has sent forth that He himself fulfilled through man whom He created.

Here is a good example to see Gods prophetic word of blessings in the light of God filling it Himself. Of course it was Him that inspired Jacob to speak His words.

Genesis 49 Jacob Blesses His Sons 1Then Jacob called for his sons and said, “Gather around so that I can tell you what will happen to you in the days to come: 2Come together and listen, O sons of Jacob; listen to your father Israel. 3Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, excelling in honor, excelling in power. 4Uncontrolled as the waters, you will no longer excel, because you went up to your father’s bed, onto my couch, and defiled it. 5Simeon and Levi are brothers; their swordsa are weapons of violence. 6May I never enter their council; may I never join their assembly. For they kill men in their anger, and hamstring oxen on a whim. 7Cursed be their anger, for it is strong, and their wrath, for it is cruel! I will disperse them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel. 8Judah,b your brothers shall praise you. Your hand shall be on the necks of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down to you. 9Judah is a young lion— my son, you return from the prey. Like a lion he crouches and lies down; like a lioness, who dares to rouse him? 10The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the staff from between his feet,c until Shilohd comes and the allegiance of the nations is his. 11He ties his donkey to the vine, his colt to the choicest branch. He washes his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes. 12His eyes are darker than wine, and his teeth are whiter than milk. 13Zebulun shall dwell by the seashore and become a harbor for ships; his border shall extend to Sidon. 14Issachar is a strong donkey, lying down between the sheepfolds.e 15He saw that his resting place was good and that his land was pleasant, so he bent his shoulder to the burden and submitted to labor as a servant. 16Dan shall provide justice for his peoplef as one of the tribes of Israel. 17He will be a snake by the road, a viper in the path that bites the horse’s heels so that its rider tumbles backward. 18I await Your salvation, O LORD. 19Gadg will be attacked by raiders, but he will attack their heels. 20Asher’s food will be rich; he shall provide royal delicacies. 21Naphtali is a doe set free that bears beautiful fawns.h 22Joseph is a fruitful vine— a fruitful vine by a spring, whose branches scale the wall.i 23The archers attacked him with bitterness; they aimed at him in hostility. 24Yet he steadied his bow, and his strong arms were tempered by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob, in the name of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, 25by the God of your father who helps you, and by the Almightyj who blesses you, with blessings of the heavens above, with blessings of the depths below, with blessings of the breasts and womb. 26The blessings of your father have surpassed the blessings of the ancient mountainsk and the bounty of the everlasting hills. May they rest on the head of Joseph, on the brow of the prince of his brothers. 27Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he devours the prey, in the evening he divides the plunder.” 28These are the tribes of Israel, twelve in all, and this was what their father said to them. He blessed them, and he blessed each one with a suitable blessing.

We also can see the great lengths that Jacob went to two get Esau's blessing. God's blessings were greatly desired by some who knew their value.

Sarah and Abraham realized that their blessing of Isaac was strictly of God's doing. He was the one that closed her womb to teach them a very valuable lesson. His blessings can only come from Him and they alone produce His desires fulfilled through man whom He created.

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