"Be Fruitful and Multiply": A Biblical Theology of Offspring

Covenants form the backbone of the Bible. It is therefore fascinating to observe how central the promise of “offspring” is to God’s covenants. God’s pattern throughout Scripture is to command His people to reproduce and then rule over the land that He gives them. This is seen in God’s dealings with Adam, Abraham, David, and Jesus.   

Adam’s Offspring

When God placed Adam and Eve in the garden, He commanded them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion” over all creation (Genesis 1:28). This command is known as the Cultural Mandate. As those made in the “image of God,” Adam and Eve were God’s vice-regents. (“Image” is tied with “dominion” in Genesis 1:26-28). They were to fill the earth with godly offspring and glorify Him through their rule on the earth (Psalm 8:5-6).

However, Adam failed to properly guard the garden (Genesis 2:15). The serpent intruded and then deceived Eve, and she in turn persuaded Adam to eat from the forbidden tree (Genesis 2:17). But in the midst of God’s judgment upon the serpent, He made a promise:

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel (Genesis 3:15).

God promised that there would be conflict between the woman’s “offspring” and the serpent’s “offspring.” (The Hebrew zerah is literally “seed” and is a collective singular). This is a reference to the conflict between “the godly line” and “the ungodly line” that can be traced throughout Genesis and the rest of Scripture. This conflict would ultimately result in the bruising of the head of the serpent’s offspring, making this the first promise of the gospel (the protoevangelium).

Despite their sin, God still blessed Adam and Eve with offspring (Genesis 4:25). Unfortunately, their descendants became so violent that God eventually wiped them out with a flood. But God in His grace saved Noah—a new Adam—and reaffirmed His command to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 9:1, 7). God’s covenant with Noah, his “offspring,” and all creation shows that God still expected this fallen world to go on (Genesis 9:9).

Abraham’s Offspring

The central promise of redemption in the Old Testament is found in God’s covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12, 15 & 17). God repeatedly promised Abraham offspring and a land for them to dwell in (Genesis 12:7; 13:15; 15:18; 17:8). He also promised His presence, “to be God to you and to your offspring after you” (Genesis 17:7). Abraham was promised dominion in that he would be “the father of a multitude of nations” and have “kings” come from him (Genesis 17:4-6). God later confirmed this covenant when Abraham proved that he was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac:

I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice (Genesis 22:17-18).

God would even make Ishmael (the son of the slave woman Hagar) “fruitful” because he was Abraham’s offspring (Genesis 16:10; 17:20; 21:13). However, Ishmael was not the child of promise—for “through Isaac shall your offspring be named” (Genesis 21:12; Romans 9:7-8). God therefore reaffirmed the Abrahamic covenant to Isaac and his offspring (Genesis 17:19; 26:3-4, 24) and then to Jacob and his offspring (Genesis 28:4, 13-14; 35:12). God changed Jacob’s name to “Israel” and declared:

I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you (Genesis 35:11-12).

The command to “be fruitful and multiply” (also Genesis 28:3; 48:4) recalls the Cultural Mandate given to Adam, as does the promise of “land” and “kings” (recall “fill the earth” and “have dominion” in Genesis 1:28). This is significant, as Jacob was renamed Israel and had 12 sons who formed the basis of the 12 tribes (Genesis 32:28; 35:10, 22-26). As such, the nation of Israel was a new creation—a new Adam—designed to glorify God through its rule on earth.

David’s Offspring

After a few hundred years in Egypt and the subsequent Exodus, the Israelites entered the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But as the book of Judges shows, the people acted wickedly and needed a king (Judges 21:25). God later gave Israel a king, which fulfilled the promise to the patriarchs that “kings shall come” from them (Genesis 17:6; 35:11). The most important king in Israel’s history was their second king, David, with whom God made another covenant (Psalm 89:3-4). This Davidic covenant was a royal promise that built on the Abrahamic covenant, again promising land (2 Samuel 7:10) and offspring:

When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom (2 Samuel 7:12).

“Offspring” in its immediate context refers to David’s son Solomon, who “shall build a house” for God (2 Samuel 7:13; 1 Kings 6). But notice that God also promised to “establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Samuel 7:13, 16). The ultimate fulfillment of the Davidic covenant would come in a descendant of David who would rule eternally.

Christ the Offspring

God’s covenant promises to Adam, Abraham, and David culminate in the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the offspring of Eve—“born of woman”—who crushed the head of the serpent on the cross (Galatians 4:4; Hebrews 2:14). And as the New Testament emphasizes, Jesus is the offspring of both Abraham and David. Thus Matthew opens his Gospel, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1).

The promise that Abraham’s offspring would be like the sand by the sea and inherit the Promised Land found partial fulfillment under the rule of Solomon (1 Kings 4:20-21; Genesis 15:18-21). But ultimately, God’s promise of land referred to the whole world (Romans 4:13). And the promise of offspring referred to Christ—“It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one” (Galatians 3:16). Paul therefore concludes that those who belong to Christ “are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:29).

Jesus is also David’s offspring who reigns eternally as King (Romans 1:3; 2 Timothy 2:8). His proclamation that the kingdom had come was also an announcement that the King had come (Matthew 4:17). Jesus is the second Adam who will have dominion over all creation, for “God has put all things in subjection under his feet” (1 Corinthians 15:27; Psalm 8:6). Jesus is the “image of the invisible God” and thus has even greater “dominion” than that which was given to Adam (Colossians 1:15-16).

The King’s Commission

As the King who has “all authority in heaven and on earth,” Jesus commands His church to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18-20). This brings us back to God’s command to Adam (and Jacob) to “be fruitful and multiply.” The Great Commission is the new covenant renewal of the Cultural Mandate, now calling us to make Spiritual offspring. Just as God called Adam (and Israel) to reproduce and rule, so the church is to do so through the task of discipleship—by “baptizing” new believers and “teaching” them the commands of the Lord.

However, this task does not exclude physical offspring. Marriage itself is a covenant relationship intended for the raising of godly offspring (Malachi 2:14-15). Children are a covenant blessing (Psalm 127:3-5), and raising them “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” is one of the best ways for the church to produce disciples of Christ (Ephesians 6:4). 

The Great Commission shows how God will ultimately fulfill His promise to bless “all the nations” in Abraham’s offspring, a promise that Paul calls “the gospel beforehand” (Genesis 22:18; Galatians 3:8, 14). All God’s covenants are connected and fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ, the royal offspring who restores His people to communion with the Father. Now King Jesus commands His church to be fruitful and multiply—to make disciples of all nations who will one day reign with Him in the new heavens and earth.