Genesis 1:28

Posted: 20th April 2007 by ElShaddai Edwards in Translation

Often called “the original commandment”, Genesis 1:28 is God’s instruction to newly created mankind before the Fall. It contains the kernel of what life *should be* like in Creation and thus what we strive to experience in Heaven and the new Kingdom.

NLTse: “Then God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.'”

TNIV: “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.'”

HCSB: “God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.'”

REB: “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase, fill the earth and subdue it, have dominion over the fish in the sea, the birds of the air, and every living thing that moves on the earth.'”

In the first part of this verse, there can be read an implied order to this commandment: “Be fruitful in order to multiply in order that you might fill the earth so that you will subdue it and then you will be able to exercise dominion over the whole earth.” Only the REB connects the first half with the second without breaking the English sentence structure, though this does create a longer read. I like what the HCSB has done by stripping out the “and” between commands, though the implied order is still left to the reader.

Only the NLTse smooths out the introductory phrase, “And God blessed them and said…” While the others might make it explicit that God is still talking to the newly created human beings, I think that everyday English makes this connection implicitly.

I like the TNIV’s “increase in number” over the alternate “multiply”, even though the latter may be more literally descriptive of a population expansion. Not a deal breaker…

The NLTse uses “govern” where the others use “subdue”. I’m not sure that “govern” captures the earthiness of the labor needed to rule/reign/have dominion over the living Creation, but back to my first thought, perhaps that labor was not/is not needed in an Edenic Earth… are the other translations reading a post-Fall painful toil sense into the word choice? If nothing else, the “govern/reign” word pair is well chosen and more clearly conveys the “legal authority to rule” sense of the traditional “have dominion” phrase.

Are fish “of the sea” or “in the sea”? Are birds “of the sky” or “in the sky”? The NLTse and TNIV use “in”, the HCSB uses “of” and the REB splits. “In” sounds natural to me, “of” gives me pause.

While I’ll give kudos to the NLTse for using “scurry” as a distinctive word choice, to me “scurry” has a significant conotation of small animals, like mice, and not all living creatures (hard to imagine an elephant scurrying!); likewise the HCSB’s choice of “crawl”. Between the TNIV’s “every living creature that moves on the ground” and the REB’s “every living thing that moves on the earth”, the TNIV’s “ground” connects best to the preceeding “fish/sea” and “birds/sky” phrases, though “living creature” seems somewhat redundant to me since the definition of creature is “a living organism with voluntary movement”. I wonder what distinction the translators are trying to make by choosing “creature” vs. “animal”, since birds and fish have already been identified. The REB’s “thing” is too ambiguous and could include other human beings(!).

Conclusion: I like the NLTse for its’ slightly smoother English, the royal “govern/reign” word choice and the clear “animals”. “Scurry” is my only pause, but I like the word in general and probably won’t get worked up about it. TNIV would be my second choice, for the “increase in number” and “living creature/ground” word choices.

  1. elshaddai says:

    [comments originally posted at

    Jungle Pop said…
    Interesting post. I’ve been comparing the CEV with the NLT lately, and am always looking for strengths or weaknesses in either.

    I agree with you about “scurry” as a distinctly small animal action. Unfortunate.

    March 19, 2007 12:44:00 PM CST

    Light said…
    I think it’s also interesting as to what it DOESN’T say … nowhere is the man commanded to take dominion over (lead, or exert authority over) the woman. Rather, the dominion mandate is given to both of them to exercise together over the creatures and the earth. The dominion is not divided into two spheres, the domestic (for the woman) and beyond the domestic (for the man.

    March 19, 2007 1:08:00 PM CST

    ElShaddai Edwards said…
    nowhere is the man commanded to take dominion over (lead, or exert authority over) the woman.

    It really does serve to illustrate how the entrance of sin corrupted every level of relationship in Creation. In line with my comments on “govern/reign”, I find it interesting that the translators chose “rule” to describe the post-Fall relationship between husband and wife in Genesis 3:16. I would be curious to know if the underlying Hebrew is the same or different.

    March 19, 2007 2:24:00 PM CST

    Kevin said…
    Elshaddai, I kind of prefer the word “reign” because it’s more clear than the outdated “dominion” but yet it has connotations of a king’s right to rule and govern over the earth. I think the Hebrew is closer to the “govern/reign”. Yes, “scurry” still seem inadequate but it does help me conjure up images of active animal movement, whereas, “move” and “crawl” does not do as well. It’s also interesting that the TNIV didn’t use commas for more breathing room. Commas do make it easier to read too.

    March 19, 2007 10:41:00 PM CST