“And you, be fruitful and multiply, teem on the earth and multiply in it” (Gen. 9:7).
A biblical theme that is closely related to marriage is the family, and that will be our focus for the next few days as we consider how Scripture develops this theme throughout the canon. Today’s passage is an important one for this topic, as it restates God’s intention that the human race would multiply and cover the earth after the great flood in the days of Noah (Gen. 1:28; 6:9–9:17).
The original meaning of Genesis 9:7 is easy to discern; clearly, every physically able married couple is expected to have children, increasing the number of divine image-bearers on the planet. In a day when children are increasingly seen as a burden that keeps parents from fully enjoying the fruits of their labor and achieving personal aspirations, this word on the importance of raising godly families needs to be heard anew. Governmental officials may encourage us to have fewer children to “save tax dollars,” and couples may decide against kids because they “cramp their style,” but Scripture knows nothing of couples who intentionally decide, though they are fertile, against having any children — except perhaps in extremely difficult ministry contexts. If it is good in some cases to remain single for the sake of ministry (1 Cor. 7:25–40), it may be that there are select instances when couples might forgo bearing children for the same reason.
This is the exception rather than the rule, for most Christian husbands and wives are simply not working in ministry contexts where kids might adversely affect their ability to minister. These should heed the many biblical passages that point to a house filled with sons and daughters as God’s ideal for married people (Ps. 127:3–5). John Calvin writes, “That pure and lawful method of increase, which God ordained from the beginning, remains firm; this is the law of nature which common sense declares to be inviolable” (commentary on Gen. 1:28).
Of course, some couples cannot bear children physically due to advanced age or infertility. Recognizing the emotional difficulties that these situations can cause, the church must minister with love to these couples. At the same time, adoption and helping other parents with their children are ways even couples who cannot bear children can fulfill the mandate to be fruitful and multiply.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
Given the scourge of abortion in the West today, adopting children is a worthy vocation for all couples whether they are fertile or infertile. Even couples who are unable to adopt can help provide financially for those who want to rescue an “unwanted” child. There are adoption funds and crisis pregnancy centers that can benefit from gifts given in order to save lives, thereby furthering the call to be fruitful and multiply in this world.