Fruitful Multiplication and Theological Anthropology

The first command God gives to humanity is to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28). The command for fruitful multiplication is given in Genesis 1 within the context of describing the vocation of humankind, directly linking the fruitful multiplication of humanity to the function of the image bearer. The narrative of Genesis 1–3 demonstrates that the command for fruitful multiplication is essential to being human and forming human community.

This paper argues that the command to be fruitful and multiply in Genesis 1:28 connects human procreation with being created in God’s image. Because of this, human procreation is foundational to Christian anthropology especially in the areas of marriage, sexuality, and gender.

The paper begins by surveying various ways Genesis 1:28 in particular and Genesis 1–3 more broadly inform Christian understandings of marriage, sexuality, and gender. This exploration begins with Augustine’s “three goods” of marriage and traces this theology through early protestant understandings of marriage. These arguments continue to play a prominent role in contemporary scholarship that sees procreation as essential for Christian understandings of marriage, family, and gender (See Brian Peterson, Bruce Waltke). The paper then surveys scholars who argue that the OT focus on procreation is not essential to Christian understandings of marriage, sexuality, and gender. Karl Barth states as a “fact” that the procreative command of Genesis 1:28 is not in effect in a Christian context. Some contemporary scholars argue that procreation is not a necessary “good” for reasons varying from Trinitarian theology (See Adrian Thatcher, Eugene Rodgers), arguments that the OT never gives a “command” for procreation (See John & Paul Feinberg, John Walton) to the observation that the NT does not explicitly emphasize procreation in relation to Christian marriage or community (See Ronald Pierce’s excellent 2022 ETS Paper).

After surveying various Christian understandings of procreation and its application to marriage, family, and gender, the paper considers how the procreative command of Genesis 1:28 has particular force for Christian anthropology. In the biblical context, fruitful multiplication clarifies what it means for humans to exist as bearers of God’s image. The paper concludes with some practical considerations of how the procreative mandate of Genesis 1:28 should inform Christian approaches to marriage, sexuality, and gender.

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