Replenish the earth

Is “multiply and replenish the earth” one commandment, or two?

Actually, there are a lot of admonitions in Genesis 1:28:

“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.”

However, “multiply and replenish” seems to be the key points (see Julie’s post for various statements from church leaders emphasizing those two elements).

So, is “multiply and replenish” a single command, or two? In particular, what are we required to do in the replenishing department?

Is it enough simply to bear children? Does the act of childbearing itself, adding physical human bodies to the planet, constitute sufficient replenishment of the earth? In other words, is “replenish” swallowed up by “multiply”?

Or, is there a separate injunction to replenish? That no matter how many children we have — no matter how much we succeed on the “multiply” front — we fail this task, if we are not taking steps to replenish the Earth?

On the one hand, I think that the vastly more common reading among church members is that the replenish language is not a separate commandment; it is mere surplusage, or perhaps a description of the effects of multiplying; and thus, the only real duty is to multiply. If one multiplies, the replenishing of the earth will happen automatically.

On the other hand, that interpretation does not seem to be required by the text — and it raises a few questions. It _is_ phrased in the imperative, as a command. (Isn’t it? If this is different in the original, how?) Why would God — in the very first recorded words to man — start off with a long, winding bit of surplusage?

Of course, if replenish is indeed a separate command, why hasn’t this been clarified earlier? One possible reason is that the meaning of the dual commandment may shift as the relationship between people and planet shifts. The original commandment was given in Adam’s time — pristine environment everywhere, with only two people on earth. At that time, the two commandments may have been logically yoked. But that doesn’t mean that this link continues into our time, with 6 billion people on the planet, sundry forms of pollution, and so on. It seems quite possible that at some point, as the condition of the planet deteriorates, “replenish the earth” becomes a separate and distinct duty.

If we are required to take separate steps to replenish the earth — what might those steps be?

Is it enough to plant a garden? Or are we being commanded to do more? Just how much earth-replenishing are we committed to? Should we be composting? (How much?) Eating locally grown food? (But what about the gorgonzola?) Planting (non-invasive) trees? Eating meat only sparingly or in times of winter? Driving a Prius? Freecycling?

Is composting really as much of a duty as childbearing?

[Note: This post is about the _replenish_ side of the equation. If you want to talk about the _multiply_ side, go do it on Julie’s thread.]

37 comments for “Replenish the earth

  1. Julie M. Smith
    November 17, 2007 at 1:27 pm

    Interesting questions. One data point:

    “It is interesting to note that God said “multiply” and not just “replenish” the earth.”
    –Elder N. Eldon Tanner, “Celestial Marriages and Eternal Families,” Ensign, May 1980, page 15.

    But I have to confess that I’m not entirely sure what he meant by that.

    Also note that (Hebrew readers, please correct me if necessary because I’m too lazy to walk all the way into the other room to fact-check) that ‘replenish’ is the same word translated as “fill” in v22.

  2. November 17, 2007 at 1:41 pm

    I’m not sure if ever in my life I have done my part to subdue or dominate the fish of the sea. sigh.

  3. Ray
    November 17, 2007 at 1:42 pm

    Fwiw, I look at the “replenish” command in conjunction with the statement that the earth has enough and to spare – IF we replenish it. A dictionary definition of replenish is “to make full or complete *again*, as by supplying what is lacking, *used up*, etc.: to replenish one’s stock of food.” In that light, I view classic clear-cutting and non-replacing deforestation and over-grazing and over-population in desert areas (that permanently depletes the water supply) and pollution that causes permanent damage as a violation of this command, while I view cyclical commercial clearing and planting of timber to be in harmony with it. I also temper my assessment based on our ability to create more effective means of production – meaning some things that might have constituted violation in previous ages might not qualify today.

  4. Ray
    November 17, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    Btw, I am fascinated by the command to “subdue” the earth. I really don’t understand that one yet.

  5. Kaimi Wenger
    November 17, 2007 at 1:49 pm


    You clearly need to repent and go fishing.

    Based on the photo, I’d say that this guy could probably give you some good starter advice.

  6. LRC
    November 17, 2007 at 2:13 pm

    Re #3, Ray –

    We need to look at the scripture about the earth having enough and to spare in context. It is about caring for the poor – that there is plenty for everyone if we share the way God wants us to (in this case, in enacting the United Order):
    14 I, the Lord, stretched out the heavens, and built the earth, my very handiwork; and all things therein are mine.
    15 And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine.
    16 But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low.
    17 For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.
    18 Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.

    That being said, as humans, we use resources – we breathe, eat, build shelters, wear clothing, use medicine, entertain ourselves, educate ourselves and live. If we want our children to be able to do the same, we need to replenish what we use, we need to take care of the gifts God has given us. Have you ever given something to someone only to find out that the recipient has either not taken care of the gift or has allowed it to deteriorate and decay? Did you feel that person showed appreciation for the gift given?

    When we use something up, we should at least replace what we’ve used. Furthermore, God tells us to be good stewards of his creations, something reaffirmed in the Modern Era – ” Being the stewards and custodians of the resources which are committed to us, have we not an obligation to use them, preserve them and return them in the best possible condition of which our circumstances will permit? I think upon reflection you will say that we have such an obligation and that it is very definitely our task to make God’s footstool as beautiful as we may. For “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,” and the righteous “and their generations shall inherit the earth from generation to generation forever and forever.” (Stephen L. Richards, Apr. 1940 Gen Conf)

    Not only should we replenish what we’ve used, but we should teach our children to do the same – especially if we want them to to have a replenished world (rather than a diminished world).

    Where are all our good Boy Scouts who’ve learned to leave the site cleaner and better than they found it?

    There are lots of ways to replenish the earth and ourselves, and when we do, I believe it shows that we are grateful for the life and resources God provides us. Anything we can do to make the air and water cleaner, to use resources more efficiently, to enhance the beauty of the natural world, and to encourage thriftiness as opposed to wastefulness or over-consumption and a throw-away society is probably a step in the right direction.

  7. Ray
    November 17, 2007 at 2:18 pm

    LRC, why is your comment addressed to me? If you are agreeing with what I said, I get it, since I agree completely with your comment. If you are “countering” my comment, I don’t get it.

    (No need to respond. I simply want to make sure it is clear that we are saying the same thing.)

  8. Clair
    November 17, 2007 at 3:25 pm

    Note that verse 22 has the multiply and fill/replenish statement being a blessing to the animals, not a commandment. Is there any reason to think that the similar language for man is not also a blessing from God?

  9. Janet
    November 17, 2007 at 4:45 pm

    Kaimi–like Julie I’m too lazy to find a Hebrew dictionary (am at my parent’s house and would have to drive 3 hours to Seattle, in all probability, to locate one). Thus, I can’t offer a close-reading of the text which doesn’t rely upon anachronisms often necessitated by translation.

    You seem spot on w/your assessment of the general populace’s opinion that “replenish” ingeminates “multiply.” If memory serves (not positive he referenced the Hebrew, either), Hugh Nibley had some pointed words about this constituting a fallacy. I hope the imperative tense refers to two commandments, and the necessity of carefully balancing the effects of the first in order to still keep the second.

    Forgive me for this possibly odd tangential analysis, but I view replenishing the earth as necessary for the continuity of multiplying. Sure, granola cruncher that I am, I think we should take care of the environment out of pure humility–but we can also find the most self-serving reason to be good stewards. Think of how Moses 7 ascribes the earth subjectivity–almost as though *she’s* the maternal counterpoint to the also-weeping Father of that passage. They weep when we hurt each other. And not taking care of the earth will injure not just earth, bu humanity, and badly (see rise in environmental teratogens, mercury-infested fish, the *infertility of downwinders*, etc. ad naseum). If Al Gore and all those Nobel Laureates are right and our irresponsibility does usher in cataclysmic climate change, the earth will survive. Altered, but here. Humanity might not. Thus no more replenishing.

    Not replenishing what we can isn’t just anthrocentric, it’s myopic.

  10. Clair
    November 17, 2007 at 5:03 pm

    “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it” KJV

    “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it” NKJV
    “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it” NIV
    “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it” NASB
    “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” ESV
    “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, (A) and subdue it.” Holman

    The multiple and fill/replenish language is repeated to Noah in Genesis 9. There isn’t much language there to comfort a tree-hugger.

    For Hebrew and Greek lexicon online, see:

  11. Kaimi Wenger
    November 17, 2007 at 5:14 pm


    Yep, the majority of translations do seem to go with the “fill” option (though there are more that say replenish than just the KJV; see ).

  12. Lupita
    November 17, 2007 at 5:49 pm

    You don’t grow your own gorgonzola?
    What, no translations say to multiply and landfill the earth?
    I don’t care if it’s scriptural or not, I think that all of the ideas listed are excellent. Anyone following NPR’s “Consumed” series? Quite good.

  13. Kevin Barney
    November 17, 2007 at 6:02 pm

    Replenish appears seven times in the KJV as a translation of Hebrew male’. As several have noted, the Hebrew verb simply means to fill, to make full. So is this a mistranslation? No; it is rather an example of linguistic drift. The re- compound in the Latin verb repleo originally did convey the sense of “again,” but over time that force of the compound was lessened and it was seen as having other nuances. So in Livy we have “he *filled* the battlefield with men [before the battle],” where repleo does not convey the sense of “again.” This type of usage became common.

    If you check the OED, you’ll see that at the time of the KJV, English “replenish” meant simply to fill (as plenish itself was becoming archaic and no longer used). As we have in modern English put more stress on understanding the re- compound as conveying the force of “again,” we tend to misinterpret what the KJV translators meant to say. In modern English we should say “fill,” not “replenish.”

    So (i) be fruitful, (ii) multiply and (iii) fill the earth are simply different nuances of saying the same thing: babies a-go-go, baby!

    It gets worse than that. Not only can replenish not be read with an environmental slant, the verb subdue derives from Hebrew kabash, which normally is a pretty harsh word having to do with enslaving someone (in Esther it is used for forcing a woman, and so means “rape”). So are we commanded to enslave the earth, to rape it? No; the context seems to suggest something more benign, along the lines of using this earth’s resources for our benefit. That we should do so *responsibly* and conserve those resources and help the earth to replace them is a nuance that we moderns have to read into the text.

  14. Janet
    November 17, 2007 at 6:16 pm

    My computer won’t let me access the online OED. Sob. Then again, my parents only have dial-up so this entire computer thing lacks fun.

    Tree huggers can still note (as I did above) that we won’t be able to multiply and fill the earth if we render it inhospitable to human life or to human fertility. Again, plenty of selfish, human reasons abound for taking care of the environment.We want to multiply? Then we’d better note that healthy multiplying demands healthy air, water, food, blah blah blah.

    Kevin–disturbing and fascinating references, thanks for finding them!

  15. Blake
    November 17, 2007 at 7:05 pm

    Just looking around — those in L.A. and New York have really been successful in filling the earth. Those in the West still have a lot of open land to fill. Shame on those Westerners for not keeping the commandment to fill the earth full of off-spring.

  16. scott
    November 17, 2007 at 7:06 pm

    This is ironic. Just last night I was in the car having a similar conversation with my wife about what the meaning of this scripture means in regard to the term \”multiply\”.

    Does multiply really mean multiply or does it simply mean have children. Kevin?

    BTW, I appreciate the question brought up by Kaimi and Kevin\’s input on replenish.

    I\’d like to believe that subduing the earth doesn\’t mean that \”anything goes.\” As Janet points out in the previous post, \”if we render it inhospitable to human life\” it won\’t be of much use to us.

  17. Rob
    November 17, 2007 at 7:13 pm

    Of course, when we are told to “fill” the earth, we are not told at what densities we are to fill it. It may well be that 6+ billion people makes the earth over-full at modern industrial levels of resource use. And then, we have to remember that this was written more than 2,300 years ago when the world population was less than 27 million people. Not sure how much stock we 21st century readers can place in this passage as a directive on either reproductive decisions or resource use.

  18. Kevin Barney
    November 17, 2007 at 7:19 pm

    Rabah means to be or become multiplied, increased, many, numerous.

  19. Ray
    November 17, 2007 at 9:07 pm

    Thanks, Kevin. I appreciate understanding the original intent – and belonging to a Church that allows to choose a new one. *grin*

  20. WillF
    November 17, 2007 at 10:05 pm

    Rob, interesting point, but until a prophet says it has been rescinded I’ll assume it is still in effect.

  21. MLU
    November 17, 2007 at 10:11 pm

    I think about these things from the point of view of a gardener. When my few acres are properly subdued, I remain aware that the real power of the place remains beyond me. I can plant the seeds and arrange for what they need, but I cannot make them grow.

    I imagine both the replenishing and the subduing as gardening on a planetary scale. I also imagine the planetary garden will include considerable wilderness. My own gardens include a large swath of riparian zone that is left pretty wild, except for a bit of editing so dogwood isn’t completely succeeded by vine maple and cottonwood. A bed of delphiniums here, a wild patch of sumac there. . .

    We’ve gone quite a ways toward the subduing, since grizzlies in their wilderness habitat exist only because we have decided to keep them. Nature has become quite bureaucratic, meaning subjected to to our politics. I think we are learning better all the time how to garden the planet better, and I’m quite sure that the tower in Lehi’s dream will never grow so large as to destroy the habitat needed for the tree of life to flourish.

  22. November 17, 2007 at 10:38 pm

    The Arabic in verses 22 and 28 are both “fill” in both the older and more contemporary translations I have. Same word in both translations as well “imla'” (though gender adjusted in the two verses, feminine in vs 22 and plural in vs 28). Both are in command form.

  23. November 17, 2007 at 11:07 pm

    I think that we have done an adequate job in producing food in the United States. Here is some interesting propaganda:

    “Agriculture plays a valuable role in our everyday lives by not only providing us with food, but also by maintaining a strong economy. On a worldwide basis, more people are in some way involved in agriculture than in all other occupations combined. Agriculture is America’s largest industry—not computers or cars or entertainment—employing more than 20 million people in agriculture-related jobs.

    In the past century, there have been tremendous changes in American agriculture. Farmers have become extremely efficient and have taken advantage of newer technologies. As a result, they are producing a wider variety of crops and producing them more efficiently. In 1935, there were 6.8 million farms in the United States, and the average farmer produced enough food each year to feed 20 people. In 2002, the number of farms was estimated to be 2.16 million, and the average U.S. farmer produced enough food to feed almost 130 people.

    In addition to providing an abundant food supply for domestic markets, U.S. agriculture exports crops to countries around the globe. Trade is essential to the U.S. agricultural sector, with earnings from U.S. agricultural exports accounting for 20 to 30 percent of total farm income. Almost $60 billion of American agricultural products are exported. As the population increases in the U.S. and throughout the world, there is an even greater demand for the food produced in the United States.

    Still agriculture is primarily a family enterprise. Almost 99 percent of all U.S. farms are owned by individuals, family partnerships or family corporations. Less than 1 percent of America’s farms and ranches are owned by nonfamily corporations. According to the 2002 Census, the majority of American farms are small-scale, with just over 1.4 million farms having 1 to 179 acres. In comparison, only 77,970 farms are 2,000 acres or more.”

    In terms of productivity we are indeed filling the earth with our food. Unfortunately half of it goes to waste. I think we need to either give more away or eat more. In terms of the earth’s other resources we aren’t do enough to conserve them. In terms of the meaning of the what the scripture is talking about I think it is still a procreative subject. We are really being asked to replace ourselves and everyone on the earth. The amount of children we have is the argumentative problem. I guess we should stick with whatever the current living Prophet espouses and quake in our boots that we have interpreted it correctly. As my non Mormon father who worked as a shift boss in a gambling casino in Las Vegas would say “life is a crap shoot.” The next life is also unless you have the Spirit and the redemptive power of Christ to save you.

  24. Rob
    November 18, 2007 at 1:25 am

    Dr. B., as for “sticking with whatever the current living Prophet espouses” on the number of children to have–Pres. Hinckley has 5 children and Pres. Monson has 3 children. Its just a matter of time before “whatever the current living Prophet espouses” will be a 40% reduction in child bearing!

    But seriously, lets take a look at the number of children our church presidents have had over the past 100 years:

    Grant–11 (last of the polygamous presidents)

    Any chance the prophets are showing us that we shouldn’t be having as many children as we once did?

  25. WillF
    November 18, 2007 at 9:29 am

    Rob – I can speculate if you can: maybe prophets are precluded from having bigger families now because they have a bigger church to lead. Don’t you think they would say something if they expected us to have fewer children?

  26. Clair
    November 18, 2007 at 11:14 am

    #24. Those are interesting numbers. I put the non-polygamous numbers into a spreadsheet and asked it to calculate a trendline. The trend is definitely downward. By removing just JFSmith, however, (and how many here would want to do that?), the trendline shifts to a slight upward slope.

  27. Adam Greenwood
    November 18, 2007 at 11:17 am

    I’m inclined to agree that ‘replenish’ doesn’t have the environmental meaning you’ve given it here. There are other scriptures that can support stewardship though.

    Anyway, most of us live in countries with below replacement birth rates, so all of our multiplication will just lead to replenishment anyway.

  28. Eric Boysen
    November 18, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    I have always read the “and” more as a “to,” more a consequence than a repetition, but not a separate commandment. I think the concept of taking care of the earth is what the commandment of having “dominion” is really about. To have dominion is to dominate, but domination is not an invitation to despoil. Rather it is to be a steward. We alone on the earth among the creations of God have the capacity to understand the consequences of our actions on the larger scale of the earth, and as its stewards have responsibility to take care of it.

  29. Rob
    November 18, 2007 at 12:17 pm

    WillF (#25)–Presidents of the church (or rather, their wives) don’t generally bear children while they are running the church, but earlier when they are establishing themselves in their career. So if you want to argue that they, like many of us, are too busy with their careers to have larger families, well…

    As for changing their tune on how many kids to have: In the 60s and 70s we used to hear about how birth control was wrong; now we are told that family planning is a matter between a husband, a wife, and the Lord. Seems like a bit of a change there?

  30. Anita
    November 19, 2007 at 10:25 am

    Marion D. Hanks performed our sealing and discussed this; among other things he said that we were to multiply and replenish the earth with goodness and righteous living.

  31. akm
    November 19, 2007 at 1:34 pm

    My definitions:

    Multiply – Have children
    Replenish the earth – Fill the earth with people.

    As has been pointed out, we are not told a number that makes the earth \”full.\” In addition we are given no reference as to the speed at which we should be filling the planet. However, we are told the commandment is still in force. Say, for argument, that the current population meets the definition of full. Then can the \”replenish\” commandment be met by maintaining that level?

  32. Rosalynde Welch
    November 19, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    A bit of historical trivia, from Terryl Givens’ _People of Paradox_:

    “[B.H. Roberts] cited Lord Kelvin’s theory of extraterrestrial origins for earth life as compatible with his view that Adam and Eve were translated beings brought here from another sphere (thereby preserving the scientific validity of evolution while exempting the human family). He argued that the earth was constructed of ‘pre-existing world-stuff’ (implicitly acknowledging the fossil record while making it irrelevant to the dating of creation). He asserted that a cataclysm had annihilated earthly life before Eden (thus life and death preexisted Adam, but he was needed to ‘REPLENISH the earth’). Accordingly, he made Adam head of a dispensation rather than the human race (thereby allowing for pre-Adamites, while making Adam the ‘first man’ in that particular context).” (p. 204, emphasis mine)

    Roberts thus puts a lot of pressure on the word “replenish.” I was so enlightened by this passage in _PoP_. I’d always thought of the extra-terrestrial Adam and Eve as embarrassing, bizarre back-doctrine, but now I see it entirely differently: as a creative (if, yes, a little bizarre), characteristically Mormon attempt to synthesize revealed and natural knowledge. It’s a very tricky endeavor, maybe ultimately doomed, but I’m proud to be a part of the tradition.

  33. Kaimi Wenger
    November 19, 2007 at 2:53 pm

    Got it, RW. I’m filing this under, “Rosalynde thinks Adam is an extraterrestrial.”

  34. mmiles
    November 20, 2007 at 3:24 am

    Hmmm–Sounds so very compatible with Scientology

  35. Le
    November 20, 2007 at 8:40 pm

    “It may well be that 6+ billion people makes the earth over-full at modern industrial levels of resource use. … Not sure how much stock we 21st century readers can place in this passage as a directive on either reproductive decisions or resource use.”

    I won\’t do the math here, but we could take the entire population of the earth, and give every family of 5 a half acre of land in Texas. The Earth is not crowded.

    There are new techniques of oil recovery that make currently unavailable in heavy oil, tar sands and other sources that hold far more energy than all the known reserves and extracted petroleum on the planet. I own stock in a company that just proved the technology that made the heavy oil light enough to process, and extracted other economically desirable chemicals.

    The famous Simon-Ehrlich wager of 1980 showed that not only are we not running out of resources, including food and commodities (like chromium, copper, nickel, tin, and tungsten), but that their prices are actually falling. Which means that there are more of them now than in the past.

    Moreoever, the standard of living in nearly all countries is higher today than a decade ago, life spans are longer, and general health, aside from Malaria and AIDS (the first increase due to the unscientific DDT ban) is better.

    None of this means that Jesus was wrong, there are indeed, poor among us. But on average things are better, and the poor, especially in the West, are more wealthy than Solomon.

    We have a myriad of examples of Israel rejecting the Lord\’s commandments, and then His modifying the commandment. The Law of Moses jumps to mind – Israel broke her first covenant on the foot of Sinai, and Jehovah retracted His promises, substituting the lesser law for the Gospel.

    In our own dispensation, the Lord has allowed His church to ignore many of the counsels of His prophets and substituted lesser laws (with concomitantly lesser blessings). E.g., we do not have an active Law of Consecration, we have the poorer Laws of Tithing and Fast Offering.

    I believe the Lords wants to bless us, but that the greatest hindrance to His doing so is our unwillingness to obey the very laws that would make us able to receive the blessings we claim to want.

    To make my point, I cite two scriptures we all know well. “For behold this is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” “… men are that they might have joy.”

  36. Rob
    November 21, 2007 at 12:17 am

    Le, the only way that we can sustain this modern lifestyle is by converting life into money–forests, birds, river dolphins, etc. Many people may be better off, but its at a huge ecological cost that will not be sustainable–for us, and for many, many other species as well. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying don’t have kids. By all means, multiply and replenish. But if we’re going to do that, most of us will need to have less stuff. But if we take the law of consecration seriously, we probably already know that, right?

  37. akm
    November 21, 2007 at 11:43 am

    #35 – “I won\’t do the math here, but we could take the entire population of the earth, and give every family of 5 a half acre of land in Texas. The Earth is not crowded.”

    I guess I can’t follow the math. Google tells me there are 167.6 million acres in Texas. At ½ acre per family of 5 I can fit 1.676 billion in the state. Add Alaska and you’re up to 5.3 billion – getting closer. But I concede the point – We can fit more people in the world. However, we must provide food, water, and livable conditions for those people. So are we full yet? I personally don’t think so. But we have to remember that there is more to the equation than just acreage.

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