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Genesis 1:28: "Be fruitful and multiply:" Implications for
gays and same-sex marriage (SSM): 3 points of view

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bullet "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." King James Version, Genesis 1:28
bullet "God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in  number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and  the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the  ground." New International Version, Genesis 1:28

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As is our policy, we do not simply describe a single point of view about Genesis 1:28. Rather, we describe three typical beliefs: that of some conservative Christians, some liberal Christians and some religious skeptics.

Hopefully, you will see an accurate description of your own belief here. You will also see conflicting beliefs of others. You might find the latter disturbing. If become distressed at reading alternate interpretations of Bible passages, please do not read further.

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A common conservative Protestant Christian viewpoint:

Historical Christianity has taught that the entire Pentateuch -- the five books from Genesis to Deuteronomy -- was written by Moses under the inspiration of God. The text is therefore inerrant -- free of error. It is the Word of God. Most conservative Christians continue to follow these beliefs.

It is important to interpret biblical passages in context. In the verse previous to Genesis 1:28, God is recorded as saying that he created Adam and Eve in his own image as "male and female."  In Genesis 1:28, having created them male and female  and thus capable of procreation. he blessed them and commanded them to be fruitful and multiply so that there would be sufficient humans on earth to subdue it.

Most Bible translations precisely copy the King James Version (KJV) of 1611 CE by rendering verse 28 as "Be fruitful and multiply." That may be because the phrase had become so popular that subsequent versions of the Bible simply duplicated the KJV text.

There is some variation in translation among various Bible versions:

bullet 21st Century King James Version: "Be fruitful and multiply"
bullet American Standard Version: "Be fruitful, and multiply"
bullet Amplified Bible: "Be fruitful, multiply"
bullet Contemporary English Version: "Have a lot of children!"
bullet Darby Translation: "Be fruitful and multiply"
bullet English Standard Version: "Be fruitful and multiply"
bullet Holman Christian Standard Bible: "Be fruitful, multiply"
bullet The Message: "Prosper! Reproduce"
bullet New American Standard Bible: "Be fruitful and multiply"
bullet New International Reader's Version: "Have children and increase your numbers"
bullet New International Version: "Be fruitful and increase in number"
bullet New King James Version: "Be fruitful and multiply"
bullet New Life Version: "Give birth to many; grow in number"
bullet New Living Translation: "Multiply"
bullet King James Version: "Be fruitful and multiply"
bullet KWycliffe Bible: "Increase ye, and be ye multiplied"
bullet Young's Literal Translation: "Be fruitful, and multiply"

The meaning is quite clear, and needs little elaboration. God created two humans of different sexes so that they could reproduce. He ordered them to have children and start to populate the world with more humans. There is obviously a limit to the number of children that Eve could give birth to. One might safely assume that God's instruction to Adam and Eve were also binding to their children, grandchildren, even down to the present generation.

The only family/marriage structure that allows procreation by the spouses is made up of one or more men and one or more women. Two women cannot procreate together with the current level of scientific knowledge. Two men cannot have children. God's intent therefore is for marriage to be limited to opposite sexes. God did not initially create one man and multiple women, or one women and multiple men, or multiple men and women. God's intent therefore was to have opposite-sex pairs of humans marry and create families consisting of one man and one woman. There is no room in God's plan for same-sex marriage (SSM). SSM should therefore not be legalized as they have been by rogue courts and legislatures in the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada and the state of Massachusetts.

Some religious conservatives use the memorable phrase: "God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." Although it was intended as a catchy slogan, it points to the prohibition of SSM within Genesis, and God's intent that each man and woman should pair off in marriage, and produce children by merging the husband's sperm with the wife's ova.

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A common liberal Christian viewpoint:

Understanding biblical text today is a three step process:

Step 1: Understand what the text meant to the author(s) at the time it was originally written: The ancient Babylonian Pagan priest or theologian [see below] who wrote the original version of this creation story knew that he was creating a myth by using his own imagination. He wrote down his best guess of how the Gods might have created the Earth, the rest of the universe, and all its life forms. The ancient Hebrew priest who copied the Pagan Babylonian myth, with some modifications, may have believed that it came from God. But we know today that it was written by people who lived in a pre-scientific world. The story is a myth which should be mined for its spiritual content, but not regarded as an actual account of origins.

Genesis 1 has God creating the first male and female humans, and commanding them to fill up the Earth with sufficient humans to subdue nature. The story assumes that God's plan was to create two humans and then have them reproduce in large numbers over many generations. It is a beautiful religious myth, but not a description of real events.

Step 2: Determine if the text accurately reflects the will and actions of God, or whether it is simply a measure of the author(s)' beliefs which may be contrary to the will of God. Among many dozens of examples of the latter, most religious liberals reject the belief that God actually:

  • Sent a flood at the time of Noah that wiped out almost the whole human race in the most nearly complete genocide in history.
  • Ordered the genocides of entire tribes of people, from the elderly to the newborn.
  • Established laws requiring non-virgin brides, homosexuals, and persons who practiced minority religions to be stoned to death, etc.

Instead, these events were described in the Bible by authors who wished to promote their own belief systems.

The first creation story in Genesis 1.1 to 2.3 is obviously a religious myth. That is, it is a story of profound spiritual meaning, but is not a description of real events. It is not an actual record of God's activities. God did not create the world, moon, sun and stars circa 4004 BCE. The universe came into existence about 14 billion years ago in a "big bang." The sun was formed billions of years later, and the earth coalesced about 4.5 billion years ago. God did not create humans out of mud. Rather, we evolved over hundreds of thousands of years from an ancient mammalian ancestor that we share with the apes and lemurs.

We can conclude again that the first creation story in Genesis is myth and does not necessarily represent real events.

Step 3:Determine if the injunctions are still valid today: We must determine whether the text is still applicable to North American Christians and Jews in the 21st century. It may have been only intended for the guidance of ancient Hebrews; it may be valid for Hebrews at all eras; it may be valid for Christians and Jews of all ages and locations; it may be binding on everyone, everywhere.

Requiring everyone to marry a spouse of the opposite sex and produce children may have been a reasonable expectation for ancient Hebrews. They were a small country continually being attacked by neighboring tribes. A high birth rate was sorely needed to recruit sufficient soldiers into their army. But in today's world, this situation is reversed. The human race is threatened by overpopulation. We need to reduce the world's population, either by lowering the birth rate among committed couples, or by persuading more people to remain single. If there were a way to increase the number of homosexuals in society, this would be a third method of lowering the birth rate. However, there appears to be no way to alter the percentage of gays and lesbians. The injunction for all women and man to enter into opposite-sex marriages and produce children is therefore contraindicated today. If Genesis 1:28 were followed, the earth's population would spiral out of control; pollution levels would rise; and the quality of life of the earth's inhabitants would drop precipitously. An additional consideration is that Paul contradicts the Genesis passage. In 1 Corinthians 7:7-9, he recommends against single and widowed persons marrying.

Although there are eight types of marriages and families described in the Bible, the Bible is silent on same-sex marriage. Whether same-sex marriages should be legalized should be decided on human rights grounds, after considering the benefits and disadvantages to society as a whole.

In conclusion: Genesis 1:28 was derived from an earlier Pagan Babylonian document. It is a myth that does not reflect the actions of God. This passage cannot be used to argue for or against same-sex marriage. It has been contradicted by Paul in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament). The verse is not useful for guidance of Christians or Jews.

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A religiously skeptical viewpoint:

Most liberal and mainline theologians and skeptics accept the Documentary Hypothesis: that the Pentateuch was written by a number of anonymous Hebrew authors who followed four different religious traditions. The Hypothesis asserts that the author of the creation story seen in the first verses of the Bible was an anonymous 6th Century BCE writer or group of writers of the priestly tradition (often referred to as "P"). "P" based his creation story on an earlier Pagan myth written by an anonymous writer in Babylon. This Babylonian creation myth is generally called by its first two words "Enuma Elish." According to archaeologists, it was originally written circa 1120 BCE. This was perhaps five centuries before Genesis was written. A surviving copy was only discovered in 1875 CE.

When comparing the Babylonian Pagan creation myth with Genesis 1:1 to 2:3, we see the identical events in the identical order:

bullet The initial start of darkness.
bullet The creation of light.
bullet The creation of a firmament (a metal dome over the earth which separates earth from heaven).
bullet The appearance of dry land.
bullet The creation of the sun, moon and stars.
bullet The creation of the first humans.
bullet God resting afterwards.

The points of similarity are so many and so precise that the only reasonable explanation is that "P" copied the earlier Babylonian story, making certain substitutions -- e.g. changing polytheistic references to the "Gods" into mention of the single deity, Yahweh.

The author of the Babylonian myth clearly lived in a pre-scientific era. So did the Hebrew copyist "P." However, human sexuality was not seriously studied until the late 19th century CE. The term "homosexual" was first used by a Karoly M. Kertbeny in private correspondence in 1868. It is only in the past half century that human sexuality researchers and mental health therapists have determined that homosexuality is an unchosen, unchangeable sexual orientation that is normal and natural for a minority of adults. It doesn't make a lot of sense for 21st century humans to blindly follow an ancient creation myth created over 3100 years ago and give it the status of divine revelation.

Equal rights for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals -- including the right to marry -- are a human rights issue. In the U.S., with its tradition of separation of church and state, we cannot allow a three millennial old Pagan myth to dictate public policy.

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Copyright 2005 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2010-APR-24
Author: B.A. Robinson.

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