Genesis 1:28 Commentary - Expository Notes of Dr. Constable (Old and New Testaments)
Note that God’s blessing of man finds expression in terms of posterity that connotes the ideas of seed and life, two prominent themes as Genesis and the whole Bible unfold. [Note: Sailhamer, "Genesis," p. 38.] God’s blessing enables humanity to fulfill its twofold destiny: to procreate in spite of death and to rule in spite of enemies. "Blessing" denotes all that fosters human fertility and asists in achieving dominion. [Note: Waltke, Genesis, p. 67.]
Interpreters have generally recognized the commands to "be fruitful and multiply" as commands to Adam and Eve (and later to Noah, Gen 9:1) as the heads of the human race, not simply as individuals. That is, God has not charged every human being with begetting children. This seems clear from the fact that God has made many men and women incapable of reproducing. [Note: For a good book on childlessness, see Vicky Love, Childless Is Not Less.] Consequently one should not appeal to this command as a support for the theory that God wants all people to bear as many children as they possibly can. This verse is a "cultural mandate," not an individual mandate. It was to Adam and Eve as heads of the human race that God gave this command.
"This command, like others in Scripture, carries with it an implicit promise that God will enable man to fulfill it." [Note: Wenham, p. 33.]
Sexual union is God’s ordained method of implementing His command to multiply descendants. Consequently sex is essentially good. When God gave this command Adam and Eve were in an unfallen condition. Therefore the descendants they would produce would be godly. It is particularly a godly seed that God has charged the human race to raise up. Likewise He commanded Noah and his wife, who were both righteous, to be fruitful (Gen 9:1).
God did not make men or women emotionally, spiritually, or physically capable of raising children without a marriage partner. Consequently single parents struggle. As children observe both godly parents modeling a harmonious marriage they learn to appreciate their own sexual identity, the roles of husband and wife, and unconditional love. Unconditional love is necessary for a harmonious marriage.
"Subdue" and "rule," the second aspect of this mandate, imply a degree of sovereignty and control that God delegated to man over nature. [Note: See Eric Sauer, King of the Earth. Cf. Hebrews 2:8-9.] This constitutes God’s "Magna Charta" for all true scientific and material progress. God commanded Adam and Eve to acquire knowledge so they could master their material environment, to bring all its elements into the service of the human race.
"The dominion which man enjoyed in the Garden of Eden was a direct consequence of the image of God in him." [Note: Davis, p. 81.]
For a married couple oneness in marriage is necessary to manage God’s creation effectively.
"Our Christian proclamation of hope has antecedents in the theological soil of three divine programmatic expectations first heard in Genesis: (1) God will bless the human family with procreation and dominion (Gen 1:26-28); (2) he will achieve victory over mankind’s enemy (Gen 3:15); and (3) he will bring about both through the offspring of Abraham (Gen 12:1-3)-namely, the one man Jesus Christ." [Note: Mathews, p. 22.]
We have in this verse the three essential elements of a dispensation (stewardship, household rule): a divine revelation of God’s will for human conduct, consequent human responsibility, and a period of time during which God tests people as to their obedience to this responsibility. A dispensation is a period of time during which God tests man in relation to his obedience to a specific revelation of God’s will. The dispensations constitute a progressive, connected revelation of God’s dealings with humankind. God gave them to the whole human race or to a part of it (e.g., Israel). They are not separate ways of salvation; in each dispensation man is saved by God’s grace because of the work of Jesus Christ. Before the Cross, people were saved in prospect of Christ’s sacrifice, as on credit so to speak, by believing a revelation given to them by God. After the Cross, people are saved in retrospect of Christ’s sacrifice, by believing the revelation that He satisfied God’s just demands against sinners (1Jn 2:2). Whereas specific human responsibilities change as divine revelation unfolds and dispensation succeeds dispensation, people have a continuing responsibility to live in the light of previous revelation. For example, even though the dispensation of the Mosaic Law has ended, Christians are helped to discharge our responsibilities to God by being aware of what God required of the Israelites under the Law (cf. Rom 15:4; 2Ti 3:16-17). The purpose of each dispensation has been to place people under a specific rule of conduct, not as a condition for salvation but to demonstrate that people always fail to live up to God’s standards and so need to accept salvation that God extends to them as a gift. I believe that seven dispensations are distinguishable in Scripture. These are Innocence (Gen 1:28), Conscience (Gen 3:7), Human Government (Gen 8:15), Promise (Gen 12:1), Law (Exo 19:1), Church (Act 2:1), and Kingdom (Rev 20:4).
This verse marks the first dispensation: Innocence. God created man innocent, placed him in a perfect environment, subjected him to a simple test, and warned him of the consequences of disobedience. Adam did not have to sin but chose to do so. The serpent deceived Eve (cf. 2Co 11:3), but Adam sinned deliberately (cf. 1Ti 2:14). This dispensation ended when God judged Adam and Eve guilty and expelled them from the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:24).
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Expository Notes of Dr. Constable (Old and New Testaments)
Copyright 2012, Dr. Thomas Constable. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.
Dr. Thomas Constable graduated from Moody Bible Institute in 1960 and later graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary.
Dr. Constable is the founder of Dallas Seminary’s Field Education department (1970) and the Center for Biblical Studies (1973), both of which he directed for many years before assuming other responsibilities. Today Dr. Constable maintains an active academic, pulpit supply, and conference-speaking ministry around the world. He has ministered in nearly three dozen countries and written commentaries on every book of the Bible. Dr. Constable also founded Plano Bible Chapel, pastored it for twelve years, and has served as one of its elders for over thirty years.