Is God’s Command to Be Fruitful and Multiply Descriptive or Prescriptive for Christians?

“I would be willing to theologically contest that “be fruitful and multiply” is a prescriptive command for each individual.” This was the assertion made by a Christian man I recently was conversing with on Facebook.   Here is was his fully comment:

“I would be willing to theologically contest that “be fruitful and multiply” is a prescriptive command for each individual. Rather it was a descriptive account of what God said at the beginning of his creation to Adam and Eve so mankind would grow, and was repeated to Noah since he had decimated Earth’s population with the flood. It’s not a command you see repeated in the Law of Moses as a command to the Israelites though, for example.”

I thought it would be good to let my readers know my response to this assertion as it is one that is commonly made today.

Below is my response.

I would agree with you that Christianity made singleness a legitimate way of life but only in service to God. Singleness was not encouraged so that one could live selfishly and escape the many responsibilities that come with marriage and family.

The command to be fruitful and multiply is actually renewed in the law of Levirate marriage in Moses Law:

“5 If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband’s brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband’s brother unto her. 6 And it shall be, that the firstborn which she beareth shall succeed in the name of his brother which is dead, that his name be not put out of Israel.”

Deuteronomy 25:5-6 (KJV)

God was not just concerned with a man marrying and having his own children, but he was so concerned about this that he commanded men to marry their brother’s wife if he died with no children to carry on his name.

God repeats his “be fruitful and multiply” command in different language in the book of Jeremiah:

“Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished.”

Jeremiah 29:6 (KJV)

Incidentally – this is why American and western nations are seeing their native populations die out and only through immigration do they continue to grow. We are actually seeing the native population of the United States dwindle each year because women born and raised in American are not having enough children. We are having roughly 1.76  births per woman in the US which is well below the replacement level of 2.1. Check out the article entitled “The historically low birthrate, explained in 3 charts” from Vox.com actually praising these falling birth rates.

That number is actually inflated by immigrant women who tend to have more children than women born and raised here and if we did not count immigrant women having children it would be even less.

This is the direct result of our culture disobeying God’s command to be fruitful and multiply.

So sir I kindly and respectfully disagree with you that God’s command to have children (which would first require marriage) was “descriptive” rather than “prescriptive”. Celibacy is the exception to his rule but it does not negate his rule.

This is why I feel some Christian teachers have gone too far with celibacy and are attempting to normalize it. We can honor celibacy in the service of God while at the same upholding God’s very first command to mankind to be fruitful and multiply.

8 thoughts on “Is God’s Command to Be Fruitful and Multiply Descriptive or Prescriptive for Christians?

  1. If you don’t want children, don’t get married, even as a Christian, but as a Christian you have a duty to be dedicating your time to work for the Kingdom. This message, however, is not widely accepted, as many Christians would question exactly how YOU know that such and such woman should be getting married and having children instead of doing God’s work by getting her degree or just getting married but denying her husband children.

    This is a tough subject for me right now as my daughter has announced her engagement but is still of a mind that she wants no children, yet remains consistent that she is, in fact, a Christian.

  2. Snapper,

    I hear your frustration brother. Believe me I share it as well with my older two sons (20 and the other almost 19). They are not walking with God as they should. I told my wife just the other night there are days I feel like a failure as a parent. But she reminds me that they both know the Word of God well and that God can take that learning in them and revive himself once again. My 20 year old still very much claims faith in the Lord and I have a lot faith that he could get some things right in his life. The 18 year old is another story – he has a lot of issues with the church because of some things he saw growing up. I am not sure if we will ever fully return.

    My daughter though truly loves the Lord. And when I feel as failure as a parent because of my older two sons I just speak to my daughter and feel much better. She is so looking forward to being a wife and mother and she just renewed her request to me the other day that she wants me to be fully involved in helping her choose a husband. She is 16 years old but she is nothing like the teenage girls around her. She has a heart to please and heart to submit.

  3. How do you feel about birth control or sterilization after so many children? Catholics, and some Protestant denominations believe fully in trusting the Lord with family size, only allowing for Natural Family Planning.

    Other churches tend to agree that couples can stop after two or three, but 1 and done isn’t good enough.

  4. I’ve wondered about this command/blesssing. Sadly, my wife is barren (and nearing menopause at 47). I’ve been tested, and everything seems fine on my end. We’ve been married almost nineteen years, and never used any birth control other than condoms around ovulation time for first two years.

    I know The Bible permits polygyny, but that it is culturally unacceptable. Still, that is something I sometimes consider, as I desire to have children, and believe it to be a proper thing for Christians to do. The way Evangelicals lie about what the Bible teaches regarding marriage angers me greatly.

  5. Bart, why not adopt?

    I bet it would crush your wife to know you’d take another wife because the Lord has closed her womb. Why not bless her with a baby through adoption instead of taking on another wife who can have children and forcing her to live every day in the living hell of watching another woman bear your children and win your favor while she remains cast aside and childless?

  6. Livingblurredlines,
    Adoption is a wonderful thing, and glorifies God, reflecting His adoption of us, through our redemption in Christ. We have considered it, and are still considering it. That doesn’t change the fact that polygyny is lawful marriage in the sight of God. Under the Divine Law, I could both adopt children with my wife, and have natural children (or adopt further) with an additional wife.

    The main issue is that my wife and I have always had a very frustrating sexual relationship, with strongly mismatched levels of desire. We were both virgins when we got married (which is good and proper of course). Still, how was l to know that she would think that once a month, or less, is great for sexual frequency?

    She seemed to desire me before we got married.

    I figured sex every other day would be about right, though I could get by with once or twice a week. It isn’t just the frequency, also the quality. We generally have poor quality duty sex, and it only happens about once a month. That is terrible.

    I want her to desire me. I know she loves me, but she doesn’t seem to want me sexually.

    If we would have had a good sexual relationship, I don’t think I would have ever thought of polygamy (or spent hours and hours studying the Biblical passages dealing with the issue). Even today, were my wife truly my lover, I’d be happy to adopt right away.

    Partly, I blame our lack of sex (and therefore somewhat her) for the fact that we are childless. The doctors never found anything wrong with her reproductive system. They don’t know why we couldn’t have children. I find myself thinking that maybe we would have had children if we would have had a proper sexual relationship. Maybe she would have conceived if she hadn’t rejected my advances all those times, over the years.

    I’m also afraid to adopt with her. I am afraid that our sexual frequency will drop even further if we had children. I also know that family courts screw over fathers, and that frightens me.

    Maybe I don’t want to reward her sexual defrauding by giving her children via adoption.

    Maybe (probably) I’m struggling some with the sin of bitterness.

  7. Bart – It is possible that a lack of sex at the right time could be part of the struggle. Does your wife want to be pregnant? Usually even in a wife who is being willful about sex, if she wants children, would likely push/find a way to get that done at the right time. It won’t be easy, but it might be a time to sit her down and tell her that you want a biblical marriage where your wife does not deny you. Setting a schedule of 2 or 3 times a week should be put on the table as the expectation. Even if there is a physical hardship (as opposed to just willfulness), she needs to get on board to the idea that even in that you both need to be flexible – that might look like once or twice a week instead of 3 times. Where is she spiritually? That may have a lot to do with how she responds. You are probably struggling with bitterness – take it to the Lord and pray that He heals this and that He gives you wisdom on how to lead/proceed.

  8. BGR,
    Great post.

    Regarding the replacement rate of 2.1. For our generation in North America the real number is much closer to 2.9. That means married couples need to round up to 3 children just to replace themselves; in order to grow the church they need to have 4 or more children.

    The replacement rate is both a variable and an estimate. It varies from nation to nation, from culture to culture, from generation to generation. It is an estimate based on how many adults will not have any children in our generation. With the increase in modern adults choosing to not get married, and to marry but not have any children the current number is close to 3.0.

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