Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Questions About Genesis 1:28-29

Each night, I pray ten minutes before I go to bed, and I decided a few days ago to incorporate Bible reading into that.  Essentially, I will read a passage, and then I will talk about it in my prayer.  I figure that it’s better for me to do that than it is for me to struggle to find things to say, or to talk primarily about my day and my plans (which is not to say that I can’t talk to God about those things).  I may blog about some of my thoughts from those daily quiet times, but I won’t obligate myself to do so.  For one, I don’t want to impose on myself another blogging obligation.  Plus, there are some thoughts that I like to keep personal—-rather than displaying them on the Internet for the public.

What has amazed me about my reading so far is that I have had questions rather than answers.  I was expecting to go through the same-old stories and to say the same-old things about them—-things that I have learned from biblical scholarship and other sources.  Instead, I’ve had questions.

Let me give you an example.  Genesis 1:28-29 states (in the KJV): “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, 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.  And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.”

The word translated as “replenish” is rendered as “fill” in many other translations because the root m-l-aleph often relates to filling.  I have two questions (or categories of questions):

1.  So the first man and woman are to fill the earth.  That appears to contradict what I was taught about Genesis, which is that, had Adam and Eve not sinned by eating the forbidden fruit, they would have stayed in the Garden of Eden for all of their lives, as would their descendants.  Is there a contradiction between Genesis 1, in which God at creation tells the man and the woman to fill the earth, and Genesis 2, in which Adam and Eve leave the Garden and inaugurate the process of filling the earth only after their transgression of God’s command?

I realize that many scholars say that Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 have different creation accounts—-that Genesis 1 is by P and that Genesis 2 is by J (or whoever).  But they disagree about whether or not P knew of J’s creation account and was trying to supplement it, thereby creating a sort of “Fall” story in which human beings fall from a state of being good.  Does P in Genesis 1 manifest any awareness of Genesis 2, in which God appears to intend for humans to obey him and thus be cooped up in a Garden for the rest of their lives?  Or would P think that the transgression was the means by which humans could begin to obey God’s command to fill the earth?

2.  Many maintain that Adam and Eve were to be vegetarians, and that human beings were allowed to eat meat only after the Flood, as a concession to human brutality.  This view makes a degree of sense, for, in Genesis 1, God tells human beings that they can eat plants, without mentioning eating animals.  But God specifically tells humans that they can eat animals in Genesis 9:3.

But here’s my question: What does God mean when he tells the man and the woman to have dominion over fish and fowl?  Why would we want dominion over fish and fowl, except to eat them?  Does God granting the first man and woman dominion over fish and fowl imply that he was allowing them to eat those creatures?


  1. This is all too literalistic to me. Scholars can try to figure out what people at various times have taken it to be about (maybe even for the original time of writing), but as to what it asks us now to think about the beginning of the world and human race, and even more how now to act, I reckon we need to be more creative than that, taking into account our greater experience and rumination about things.

  2. A lot of my write-ups probably will be literalistic. Some may think my questions are important; others may not. But maybe they could lead somewhere.

    I have been trying in my daily reading of the Bible to bring into the equation our greater experience and rumination. For example, Genesis 1 presents God bringing order out of a watery chaos and setting up a system that holds chaos at bay. And here our orderly (so-to-speak) planet is, amidst chaos.

  3. i understand the Bible in a kabalistic way. So in this case the idea would be that gan eden refers to a spiritual realm that the souls of adam and eve were in before the fall. the bodies were not physically thrown out of gad eden. This can also refer to losing a higher aspect of the soul. In general we consider the "ruach" part of the soul to be in the region of foundation. being kicked out of gan eden may refer to losing that higher part of the soul and being left with the lowest part -the nefesh.

  4. That's interesting, Adam. So is that like the Christian view that humans became corrupt as a result of the Fall, or is it something different?


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