"Replenish the Earth"

"Replenish the Earth" (Genesis 9:1)

How should we understand the text Genesis 9:1.

By L. L. CAVINESS, Professor of Biblical Languages, Pacific Union, College

After the flood, God said to Noah and his  sons: "Be fruitful, and multiply, and re­plenish the earth." Gen. 9:1. The dictionary defines the word "replenish" as meaning "to fill again; stock anew; refill." This command, given after the destruction of the whole human race except the eight who were saved in the ark, is readily understandable. But difficulty arises when one observes that the very same expression occurs in Genesis 1:28, where, after the creation of the first man and woman, God said to them: "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth."

We wonder why this idea of filling the earth again is thus set forth in the King James version. Some have used the statement in trying to prove that the creation recorded in the first chapter of Genesis was subsequent to a world catastrophic destruction of the life that had previously been existent on the earth. Let us notice some of the other versions.

The Spanish version of Genesis 1:28 says: "Henchid la tierra," which means "to fill," but carries no idea of again. Luther says in his German version: "Pullet die Erde," or "fill the earth." There is no idea of stocking anew here.

The Vulgate or Latin Version of the Bible is one of the oldest translations, and one that seems to have a great influence on our English Authorized Version. The Vulgate says: "Re­plete terram." Here we have the prefix re which usually has the idea of again. Literally replete would be "fill again."

The question then arises, is the Vulgate correct in giving this idea? Let us go back to a still older translation, the Greek version which existed in the time of Christ and from which both Christ and the apostles quoted whenever they used Greek. Here we find in Genesis 1:28: (See PDF for greek text) (plerosate ten gen), "fill the earth." There is no idea of again in this Greek expression.

Turning now to the Hebrew, the language in which Moses wrote the words originally, we find the expression (see PDF for greek text) (cumilu eth­haarets), "and fill the earth." In the original Hebrew there is no notion of again. Nor does this idea appear in the Greek. It is only when we get to the Latin that the prefix re appears. Furthermore in the Latin this prefix re does not always mean again. Sometimes it serves only to strengthen the word to which it is pre­fixed. This is shown in the English word "replete," which as an adjective means simply "completely full."

It would seem then, that although it was God's purpose that the earth should be com­pletely inhabited, He created only one man and one woman, and gave them the gift of pro­creation, that thus His plan might be carried out. When sin came, God told the woman that the number of births would be increased. This is necessary, that, though so many persons are eternally lost, there should be enough saved to completely fill the earth.

It is unfortunate that the King James Ver­sion uses the word "replenish," which suggests to the English reader the idea of "fill again," but this idea of renewal is not present at all in the original Hebrew of the text.


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By L. L. CAVINESS, Professor of Biblical Languages, Pacific Union, College

August 1937

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