Monday, May 12, 2008

Are Christians Today Commanded to "Be Fruitful and Multiply"?

Adam and Eve were commanded to "be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth" (Genesis 1:28). Noah and his sons were commanded to "be fruitful and multiply" (Genesis 9:1). Jacob was commanded to "be fruitful and multiply" (Genesis 35:11). And Christians today are commanded to "be fruitful and multiply."

Or are they?

We learn from scripture that Adam and Eve, Noah, and Jacob all obeyed God's command. They were very fruitful and multiplied greatly. But does this apply to all believers?

The reason I bring this up is because there are those who will tell you that command is just as valid today as it was in the Old Testament. In fact, that is precisely why some Christians condemn all forms of birth control and try to have as many kids as possible.

My wife and I have no biological children. After two failed pregnancies, we decided to grow our family through adoption and are currently in the process of adopting three kids. But if we are indeed commanded to be fruitful and multiply, can our actions be considered obedient? After all, we weren't all that fruitful, and the method by which we are adding to our family won't contribute to our other obligation to "fill the earth," which was why God gave the command in the first place.

What do you think? Are Christians today commanded to be fruitful and multiply, or was that a specific command given to specific people at a specific time for a specific purpose?

While you ponder that, think about this: The Apostle Paul said that it was good for some to remain single as he was (1 Corinthians 7:8). Surely he must have been aware of what God had commanded, so how then could he teach singleness as a virtue?

In fact, we are commanded to be fruitful and multiply. Christ himself gave that command when he told his followers to "make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19). Yes, children are a tremendous blessing, "a heritage from the Lord" (Psalm 127:3), but one could argue that the Old Testament command was merely a prelude to the Great Commission, for it is through the gospel that Christians today exercise dominion, subdue the earth, and grow God's Kingdom.

If that's the case, then I think every believer -- those with biological children, those who adopt, those without children, as well as single men and women -- can be obedient.

17 comments:

Arthur Sido said...

Lee, I certainly think there is an enormous difference between not being able to have children versus willfully deciding against children. Not everyone is called upon to be married. Not everyone is going to have a huge family. But if a couple gets married and just decides against having children I am not sure that they are being faithful. We are friends with a couple who have two boys and are unable to have more, so they are also adopting which is a wonderful blessing. My wife and I are blessed with eight kids. It doesn't mean we are a more faithful married couple.

Lee Shelton IV said...

I've known Christian men who have had vasectomies almost immediately after getting married because neither they nor their wives wanted children. Personally, I think it's sad. They will never know the joy of parenting. And I admit that I often wondered if such a decision was sinful.

Perhaps it's more a question of Christian liberty. I would never approach them and tell them they are living a life of sin based on the OT command to be fruitful and multiply. I do, however, think they are missing out on one of God's most precious blessings.

Lee Shelton IV said...

If the number of children were a measure of faithfulness, then there probably isn't anyone more faithful than the Duggars, who are expecting their 18th child. Wow!

Stan said...

It looks as if you're trying to avoid the label of being sinful because you don't have kids yourself. Since Scripture is abundantly clear that it is God who opens and closes the womb, I cannot imagine how anyone could say, "You're sinning because you're incapable of having children." That would be utter nonsense.

God commanded that they be fruitful and multiply. I can't see any reason to think that the command was rescinded or changed. There is no hint that it would not still be a general command in force. The fact that God closes some wombs (so to speak) or calls some to be "eunuchs" wouldn't require that the general command would still be in force. The fact that some cannot have children would not be a violation of the command. (Example: The command of husbands to love their wives doesn't apply to men without wives. Thus the command to "be fruitful and multiply" wouldn't apply to those who lack the opportunity.)

Lee Shelton IV said...

Fortunately, no one has ever called us sinful for not having kids. But I do wonder if some people are suffering needlessly from guilt because they were told that command applies to them personally.

The reason I question the usual application of that command is because of the context in which it was given. Adam and Eve needed to populate the earth. Noah and his sons needed to do the same thing. Jacob had a nation to build. But just about everywhere else in scripture where the terms "fruitful" and "multiply" are used, it is in the context of God's blessing on the people, not a command for them to reproduce.

Since we see many other types and shadows in the OT, I'm just wondering if we should look at the command to be fruitful and multiply as pointing to the NT command to spread the gospel. After all, that is how the family of God is grown.

awilburjames said...

Why not live your life with joy and stop putting yourself under the law. 'There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.'

Lee Shelton IV said...

That's kind of what I was driving at. By insisting the OT command applies to Christians today, are we placing them under a law that found its fulfillment in Christ?

Sam said...

God's commandment to "be fruitful" was given 3 times: to Adam & Eve, to Noah, and to Jacob. It seems like a huge jump to take those 3 specific commands and apply them to all of the elect. What is laid upon one person's conscience most certainly cannot be applied to another Christian - that is, unless it is specifically commanded to all persons in scripture. In this case, the commandment to be fruitful isn't even applied to all of the elect - only to 3 specific individuals. In discussing the papacy, Calvin is quite clear about one person's interpretation being laid upon another's conscience, saying that since the beginning, God has attested "to liberty, exempting the conscience from the tyranny of man" [Institutes, 4.10.5]. Should the number of offspring a person produces be a cause for pride? Such an assumption might well eventually result in viewing those with many children as the elect, and those who are unable to reproduce as reprobate.

Arthur Sido said...

Sam, I could throw the Psalm 127 thing at you: Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

Are children still a blessing or did that go away too?

The argument that the command to be fruitful and multiply only applies to those three individuals named could be taken further, and you could claim that the Great Commission given in Matthew 28 only applies to the 11 disciples who were present.

I blogged about this very subject a couple of days ago in response to the Albert Mohler show.

Puritan said...

Lee, it's great you're adopting children (they could be 3 little Calvinists ;0), and you're certainly not sinning.

As Arthur has already pointed out "there is an enormous difference between not being able to have children versus willfully deciding against children."

Now if we look at the reasons why virtually all American and English Christians don't want many children it reveals a lot.

It is basically because they consider a bigger house or bigger car, or 'more peace' (because they don't follow God's instruction in how to raise a child), or a career, more important than having children. As Voddie Baucham points out the U.S. is the richest nation in the world and one of the only ones that puts money before children.

In general Christians do not believe Scripture when it says children are a blessing, but rather their actions reveal they think they are a burden and a curse.

This sermon Child Training-Dr. Voddie Baucham
is a real eye-opener on this and a real rebuke for the church.

John said...

I agree with Sam. There was a specific purpose for God's command to be fruitful - to continue the human race. Adam and Eve had to multiply. So did Noah. As one of the patriarchs, so did Jacob.

The command, really, should be seen as having been given to man in general. Not every individual is commanded to multiply. Otherwise we would have to say that Paul was being sinful in not having children. And Jesus, who fulfilled every command, had no children, unless you want to spiritualize that.

I'm not opposed to having children; our third is on the way, Lord willing. And we ought to, as Christians. But I don't believe we're commanded to.

the_militant_pacifist said...

Surely "freedom of conscience" must come into play here. Pragmatically, I don't want anyone having a child who doesn’t want him/her - that's just sad. I love my four.

Spiritually, I believe that someone who doesn't desire "increase" has some "issues" - after all, it was the man after God's own heart who penned the words "children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward (Ps 127:3)."

I (like you) have "mixed feelings" about this - but I believe that every man should be fully persuaded in his own mind because "to his own master he standeth or falleth (Rom 14:4)."

For one Christian to judge another over something like this is tasteless and graceless.

Darrell said...

Lee, it seems like it has been forever since I've posted anything here, but I addressed this issue in some respects in the past...http://contemporarycalvinist.blogspot.com/2005/12/hearing-pitter-patter-of-little.html

I also think it is a shame when people don't see children as a gift of God. An unwillingness (key word) to have children from Christians reveals something about what they think of the giver of life.

Your situation is different in that adoption likewise demonstrates the marvelous love God demonstrates in adopting us as His children. God bless you as you go down that path.

Darrell said...

The link is
http://contemporarycalvinist.blogspot.com/
2005/12/hearing-pitter-patter-of-little.html

Scott said...

I believe we are to let God have full control over our lives and that included family size. I would never condemn anyone for stopping at any stage of having children and saying it is enough for them. They are free to choose that route if they wish. For someone who cannot have children themselves may simply be selected by God to take in the children that have no homes through adoption. God's plan is in perfect harmony here. TO be fruitful and multiply does not state how many to multiply. Today I think this is clearly to say let God be in control of this aspect of your life and He will give you ever how many children He wishes out of His abundant grace and pleasure. One is just as much a blessing as 10 (which I have so far) and the adopted children can be as much a blessing to you as someone who actually birthed their children. The main thing is do NOT allow yourself or someone else to put you or anyone else under the "legalism system" many churches today try to place people under. If the statement in scripture "Be fruitfula nd multiply" places you under some kind of conviction then by all means search your heart to find out why...God will show you why. But if it is someone else bringing about guilt in this area and when you read God's word it does not produce the same effect then ignore the one causing you to be guilty. It is ok to listen to such messages, but make sure it is not our oldest adversary, satan, that is placing that guilt rather than the Holy Spirit. many Christians live in guilt because of this mistake in identity as to where the message is coming from...God's word will do the convicting most of the time not a human being unless the person was sent by the Lord to get your attention from His word like the prophet Nathan did with David.

Just live your life close to the Word of God and let Him assist you along in this quest of life and not others so much.

Keep on adopting until to sense God is finished with you in that area, who knows He may open your wife's womb so you can birth your very own as well...have seen this numerous time. Give God all the glory for the great things He has done.

In Christ,
Scott

Sarah D said...

Lee,
Thanks for sharing this. My husband and I have been married for over 6 years and have wrestled with the decision to have children. I have many questions after reading these posts. If it is possible that one might not be called to get married, then could it not also be possible that one might not be called to have children, even after marriage?

My husband and I have watched our sisters and brothers have children for the last 19 years. We now have 11 nieces and nephews, who we love dearly and spend a lot of time with. I've been in education working with children of all ages for more than 10 years. We have so many children in our lives right now who depend on us for love and support. We are not unable to have children, but we have chosen not to (so far) because we believe we are being called to serve God in other ways. But as I said, some of the reply posts have raised questions. And I guess my BIG question is:
Are my husband and I going against God's will, simply because the children in our lives don't belong to us?

Lee Shelton IV said...

Sarah, if it's because you believe God has called you to teach other children, and that is where you devote your time and attention, then I don't know how anyone can say you are going against God's will. If, however, it's because you think having your own children would be a burden, then I would remind you that scripture teaches that children are a blessing. Of course, considering the work you do, you already know that. :)

I don't think reproducing is an explicit command for today's believers any more than than the command to marry. Some people are called to a life of singleness, so why can't some couples be called to a life of childlessness? After all, the Kingdom isn't grown merely by having kids. Many children of believers end up never repenting and putting their faith in Christ.

As I mentioned in my post, my wife and I are adopting three kids (one of whom just came home). Given the context in which the command to be fruitful and multiply was given, there is no way that we can be fulfilling that. We aren't filling the earth; we are simply taking care of children who are already here.

The way I see it, accusing childless Christian couples of disobeying God is taking a step toward legalism, opening the door for abuse. For example, how do we determine which couples are sinning? Those who have no kids after three years of marriage? Four years? Five? Should they demonstrate that they have taken all appropriate steps to become pregnant, such as seeking help from a physician? And once we have determined which couples are "living in sin," how serious is that sin? Should they be made to face church discipline if they don't repent?

I honestly believe it boils down to your own conscience and motivation, and whether or not that decision is based on searching God's word.

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