What Does It Mean to Be Fruitful?

By Mark D. Roberts

May 6, 2015

God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ ”

Genesis 1:28


After God created humankind as male and female, he blessed them and gave them instructions: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion . . .” (1:28). The first imperative given to human beings is “be fruitful.” What does this mean?

The context in Genesis helps answer this question. Earlier in chapter 1, God created sea creatures and birds. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth” (1:22). In this instance, fruitfulness and multiplication clearly have to do with procreation. Fish are to make more fish and birds are to make more birds. This procreative sense of “be fruitful” also fits the basic meaning of the Hebrew verb parah, which means “to bear fruit” and is related to the noun peri, which literally means “fruit” in Genesis 1:11 and elsewhere.

The same basic sense of parah carries over to verse 28 in relationship to man and woman. Just like the animals, they are to be fruitful and multiply in the most basic sense. To put it bluntly, they are to make babies. And, if the earth is going to be filled with human beings, then, by implication, the babies will grow up to make more babies, who make more babies, and so forth and so on.

Why did God tell the man and woman to be fruitful in this sense? Most obviously, because the world was meant to be filled with human beings, and, according to God’s design, this would happen through human reproduction. God did not choose to create millions or billions of human beings to fill his earth. Rather, according to Genesis, God made two humans with the ability to reproduce. Filling the earth would be their responsibility as they exercised the ability God had given them.

In tomorrow’s devotion I’d like for us to consider a couple of implications of the imperative “Be fruitful.” For now, I would encourage you to see in this part of the creation story a paradigm for how God works with us in many aspects of life. God’s world is not what he wants it to be. But, rather than making the world complete, God instead makes you and me with the capacity to contribute to its completion. We are essential participants in God’s creative work, co-creators with him. This is true when it comes to not only literal fruitfulness but also to metaphorical fruitfulness. Today, you and I have the opportunity and responsibility to use well the abilities God has given us so that we might help the world become what God intends it to be.


In what areas of your life are you living fruitfully? In what areas are you less fruitful than you would like to be? What abilities or gifts has God entrusted to you so that you might help the world become what God intends it to be?


Gracious God, thank you for the wonder of your creation. Thank you for creating human beings as stewards of your world. Thank you for giving us the capacity to be fruitful, to contribute goodness to the world.

Help me, Lord, to be fruitful this day. May I use the gifts and abilities you have given me in order to add a bit of goodness to the world. May I be fruitful in my work today, honoring you in everything I do. Amen.

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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