The Cultural Mandate, Imaging God, and The Blessing of Children

“There’s one, well-known, reformed author that I highly respect. He says, ‘Before the fall, Adam needed a commandment to be fruitful and multiply.’ Well, I think Adam, when he saw Eve, he did not need a commandment to be fruitful and multiply. It was a blessing! ‘Be fruitful… multiply!’ It’s not a commandment.” – Charles Leiter (from a sermon entitled Love is the Big Thing, which can be found by clicking here)

Throughout my walk with Christ, whenever any conversations have revolved around God proclaiming, “Be fruitful and multiply…” the discussions always came to the conclusion that this was a command given by God (more on this below). It was not until after hearing Leiter make this point did I ever even stop to consider what God had actually said. I had never noticed that “Be fruitful and multiply…” is described in the Bible the way that Leiter says that it is… a blessing; and it was not how I had always heard and thought that it was described as being… a command.

Take a look at what it says in Genesis…

Genesis 1:28 (ESV)
And 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 heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Genesis 1:28 does not say, “And God commanded them.” It says that God “blessed them.”

The Cultural Mandate

Again, as I had mentioned above…

“Throughout my walk with Christ, whenever any conversations have revolved around God proclaiming, ‘Be fruitful and multiply…’ the discussions always came to the conclusion that this was a command given by God.”

This might seem like a drastic generalization, but in my experience it’s not. I can recall many conversations and references over the years where Genesis 1:28 is by default assumed to be describing a “Cultural Mandate.” Here’s Biblical scholar, Nancy Pearcey, talking about Genesis 1:28…

“In Genesis, God gives what we might call the first job description: ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.’ The first phrase, ‘be fruitful and multiply,’ means to develop the social world: build families, churches, schools, cities, governments, laws. The second phrase, ‘subdue the earth,’ means to harness the natural world: plant crops, build bridges, design computers, compose music. This passage is sometimes called the Cultural Mandate because it tells us that our original purpose was to create cultures, build civilizations… nothing less.” – Total Truth (page 47)

Now, I understand why the “Cultural Mandate” view of Genesis 1:28 is so common. The previous verse says…

Genesis 1:27 (ESV)
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

According to Cultural Mandate minded thinking, since we are made in God’s image, His declaration of “Be fruitful and multiply…” means that we are commanded to have children (amongst the other things that Pearcey had mentioned). But, I’m not convinced that an aspect of imaging God is having the ability to procreate.

Imaging God

Human beings are imagers of God, just as the Bible says. We can all agree. But, that’s not the question. The question is…

What does it mean to image God?

As imagers of God, we are supposed to represent God in all aspects of life. Imaging or representing God does not include a mandate to have children. It means that in whatever we do, whether we choose to have children or not, God is to be glorified through how we live. Paul wrote about this in his many letters to the churches. But, he never promoted that having children is a requirement for godly living. How Christian parents were to raise them and how children were to respond to their parents was certainly addressed by Paul (Colossians 3 and Ephesians 6). But, nothing was ever said by him (or any other Biblical writer) that there was ever a mandate to procreate.

Here is an example of Paul’s broad perspective with respect to Christians representing God, when he wrote to the church in Corinth…

1 Corinthians 10:31b (ESV)
…whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

When Paul wrote to the church in Rome, the same concept was in view when he said that they were…

Romans 8:29 (ESV)
…predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…

In other words, Paul was saying that God had created us to image Him, and in order to do so properly we must calibrate how we live according to the standard taught and exemplified by Jesus. Since the fall, however, we simply don’t. But, since Christ, we now know what imaging God is all about when we look to His Son as to how to do it, because…

Colossians 1:15 (ESV)
He is the image of the invisible God…

Want to image God?

Then, reference the exact imprint of His nature…

Hebrews 1:1-3a (ESV)
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature…

Back to the Cultural Mandate

Now, I’m certainly not denying that there is some sort of a “Cultural Mandate” concept for us to implement. We do have a responsibility to impact the fallen world with more than just the message of Christ. How we live helps to bring such impact. I’m just suggesting that maybe a “Cultural Mandate” like endeavor might be described in 1 Corinthians 10:31, rather than in Genesis 1:28…

1 Corinthians 10:31b (ESV)
…whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

I say this because imaging God is the whole point as to why God created us in the first place (Genesis 1:27) and that one of the blessings of representing Him properly in “whatever you do,” includes how we handle the blessing of being able to procreate, and not that we are required to have children. This does not fully fly in the face of what Pearcey wrote on this topic…

“When we obey the Cultural Mandate, we participate in the work of God Himself, as agents of His common grace.” – Total Truth (page 49)

I would put it this way instead. It’s slightly different…

“When we (Christians) image Christ, we participate in the work of God Himself, as agents of His special grace.”

The Blessing of Children

Charles Leiter is not alone. Old Testament scholar J. Richard Middleton (author of A New Heaven and a New Earth) also tracks with Leiter’s thinking. In Middleton’s book, he talks about how children are counted as part of the covenantal blessings described in both Leviticus and Deuteronomy…

“Both Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 list a series of covenantal blessings and curses linked to obedience and disobedience. According to these texts, obedience to God’s law will lead to blessing across a broad spectrum of daily life (Lev. 26:3–13; Deut. 28:1–14). This blessing includes the birth of children and the fruitfulness of crops and herds, with regular rains to fertilize the land, and a life without fear of attack by wild animals or enemies. There will be blessing in the city, in the field, in the home—even “your basket and your kneading bowl” will be blessed (Deut. 28:5). Indeed, “Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out” (28:6).” – (pages 96-97)

Here are the specific verses pointing to the blessing of having children cited by Middleton in both Leviticus and Deuteronomy…

Leviticus 26:3-9 (ESV)
If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. Your threshing shall last to the time of the grape harvest, and the grape harvest shall last to the time for sowing. And you shall eat your bread to the full and dwell in your land securely. I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid. And I will remove harmful beasts from the land, and the sword shall not go through your land. You shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall chase ten thousand, and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword. I will turn to you and make you fruitful and multiply you and will confirm my covenant with you.

Deuteronomy 28:1-4a (ESV)
And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb

Granted, Genesis 1:28 was not addressing a specific group of people, as Leviticus and Deuteronomy do. However, what these other references in the Old Testament show is that there is consistency in the Bible. In other words, when it comes to having children, such is a blessing and not a command (whether God addresses such for all of mankind as in Genesis, or for just a specific group of people as in Leviticus and Deuteronomy).

Noah and His Sons

There is one more place worth mentioning in Genesis regarding this subject…

After the flood, God spoke to Noah and his sons about having children (repopulating the earth). It is worth noting that when God repeated to them what He had said on the sixth day of creation, “Be fruitful and multiply,” the Bible does not describe it as a command, but again as a blessing…

Genesis 9:1 (ESV)
And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.”

Jesus and Paul

The last point that I would like to bring up regarding this topic is what both Jesus and Paul had to say about being single.

When Jesus was challenged by the Pharisees about giving a wife a certificate of divorce and then sending her away, He answered by reminding them that even though Moses had permitted it, it was not meant to be that way…

Matthew 19:8
He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”

Jesus then followed up with…

Matthew 19:9 (ESV)
“And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

The interesting thing is what comes next. Look at how Jesus responds to His disciples, who were also there, regarding eunuchs…

Matthew 19:10-12 (ESV)
The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

It is important to note that Jesus Himself speaks highly of the state eunuchs. Especially those, “who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”

Along these same lines, when Paul wrote to the church in Corinth about encouraging marriage, he also had positive things to say about not being married. Why? Because, those who remained single, their “interests” are not “divided.”

1 Corinthians 7:6-8, 32-35 (ESV)
Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am… I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.

Similar to the eunuchs described by Jesus who choose to be that way “…for the sake of the kingdom of heaven,” Paul described those who chose to be single were then free to focus on the “things of the Lord,” and also “…how to be holy in body and spirit.”

Conclusion

Being single is just as much a gift from God as is being married; and since being single is also a blessing, then again… having children cannot be a command.

As Leiter says…

“It was a blessing! ‘Be fruitful… multiply!’ It’s not a commandment.”

Jesus and Paul both made the point that whatever path one chooses to be on (singleness or marriage), both are to be seen as something that is good. Both scenarios are noble, and neither option is commanded. Getting married and having children, as much as these are each gifts and blessings, they do come with their own anxieties and a potential for divided interest. Therefore, we must use wisdom when considering these things. Whichever path one may choose, the most important thing (as Paul said) is “undivided devotion to the Lord,” because that is what promotes “good order.”

Godspeed, to the brethren!

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15 Comments

  1. I see a similarity between marriages and the animal sacrifices that were commanded in the Old Testament. The sacrifices were pictures of Christ’s sacrifice but when the gospel was preached there was no distinction between those who had sacrificed animals and those who hadn’t . Marriage is a picture of what we experience as part of the Bride of Christ but at the marriage supper there will be no distinction between those who were married and those who remained single.

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    1. And, just as there are no longer sacrifices post cross, there will be no more marriages post Christ’s return (except of course believers to Christ, which His sacrifice made possible).

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  2. A most excellent and provocative article, my brother! I’ve never thought of it that way, but with the context of the other passages you bring in, it makes very good sense.

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