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Creation 33(2):48–49, April 2011

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Replenish the earth

Were Adam and Eve supposed to fill the planet with their descendants—or to refill it?

Images from sxc.hu Replenish the earth

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Were Adam and Eve supposed to fill the planet with their descendants—or to refill it?

“And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth … .” (Genesis 1:28a, KJV)

CMI’s speakers have noticed of late that in spite of the overwhelming array of biblical facts against it, the hoary old ‘gap theory’ (or one of its many variants) still occasionally rears its head in unexpected places. It basically involves the belief that the recent six-day creation in Genesis is really only a re-creation. This allegedly ‘second’ creation is supposed to have taken place upon an Earth that became empty, having once been filled.

To many people, this seems blatantly obvious from reading the verse above, which is from the King James translation. When I say I want to ‘replenish’ my kitchen cupboard, I mean that I want to ‘refill’ or ‘restock’ it. Which means that though it is now empty, it once was full.

By seeing the word ‘replenish’, people think (not surprisingly), “Isn’t God telling us that he wants Adam and Eve to refill the world? And doesn’t that mean that it had previously been filled, then emptied?”

But as any Hebrew interlinear Bible or Bible dictionary will tell you, the word translated as ‘replenish’ in Genesis 1:28 is the Hebrew verb מלאו (mil’û), which simply means fill. Not refill. Which is why most modern versions translate the word in Genesis 1:28 as fill. But this does not necessarily mean that the King James translators made a mistake here. They seem to have known what the Hebrew word meant, as shown by the fact that in most other places it appears in the OT, they simply translated it as ‘fill’.

The key to unravelling the apparent confusion is the fact that languages continually change. Quite simply, the usage of this word has changed since the KJV appeared some 400 years ago (1611). Back then, people were more likely than nowadays to say things like ‘I am replete with happiness’, which is just another way of saying ‘I am full of happiness’. And replenish (fill) is the verb form of the adjective replete (full). People reading the KJV in earlier times would have likely understood replenish to mean exactly what the Hebrew word means, i.e. fill.

In defence of those who have held to the ‘refill’ understanding, the confusion is quite understandable. In today’s English, we have fill and refill, and there is stock and restock. In each case, the prefix ‘re’ means ‘again’. And to make it even more confusing, there is actually a word ‘plenish’ that means ‘fill’, though it’s a very old word, too—one that gets used even less nowadays than ‘replete’. Today, when we say or write ‘replenish’, we unmistakeably mean ‘refill’. It’s no wonder people think that ‘replenish’ must mean ‘refill’ in Genesis 1:28. Except that when we examine the Hebrew, we know that it means ‘fill’—the information about older English explains it all. If God had wanted to tell Adam to fill the earth again there were unmistakeable ways of saying this in Hebrew.

So in future, when someone throws that word ‘replenish’ at you as if it is a knock-down, drag-em-out argument for some mysterious previous creation, you will be able to set them straight—making sure your words are ‘replete with grace’, of course.

The gap theory—neither viable nor harmless

Gap theories in all their many versions propose that one can squeeze millions of years into Genesis before Adam—for example, between the first two verses of the Bible.

Rather than go through the many details of why the Gap Theory so comprehensively fails the test of straightforward biblical exegesis, interested readers are referred to Chapter 6 of CMI’s The Creation Answers Book . The chapter is also downloadable as a pdf at creation.com/gap-theories.

In short, though, the gap or (ruin-reconstruction) theory:

  • Did not arise from any reading of the text, but was ‘discovered’ as a possible ‘answer’ to secular speculations of long ages;
  • Was never biblically viable;
  • Did not adequately deal with (in fact mostly failed to address) geological facts that were being interpreted as evidence for ‘millions of years’;
  • never persuaded even small numbers of the scientific establishment that it could reconcile science with the Bible, and
  • resulted in large numbers of young people being lost to the church during their higher education, as they realized that their supposed ‘answer’ didn’t work.

Gap ideas have good intentions, but are not only wrong, they have done considerable damage to the faith. The classic ‘gap theory’, historically, served largely to lull the church into a false confidence about the dangers of compromise on the age question. Because of this, naked naturalistic/evolutionary proposals were permitted to take over the areas of higher learning largely unopposed—with the church thinking they ‘had the answer’.

Helpful Resources

The Genesis Account
by Jonathan Sarfati
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The Gap Theory
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