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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


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
US $39.00
Hard Cover
The Genesis Account
by Jonathan Sarfati
US $20.00
eReader (.epub)
The Genesis Account
by Jonathan Sarfati
US $20.00
Kindle (.mobi)
The Gap Theory
by Dr Jonathan Sarfati
US $0.20

Readers’ comments

Dorin R.
The King James verse 28 might be a mistake because the same hebrew word מלאו is translated in the same KJ version verse 22 with 'fill' not 'replenish'. The context is the same, v22 referes to animals and v28 referes to people. Septuaginta translates to 'fill' on both verses so it does the Orthodox Jewish Bible. I just asume that the Jewish Orthodox and the Septuaginta (sevety people) might have a better understanding of hebrew than Mr. Thomas Chalmers and his followers.
Carl Wieland
As the article indicated, though, someone in the time of the KJV translation would have understood 'replenish' to mean 'fill', i.e. the verb form of the adjective 'replete' (as in 'replete with happiness' meaning 'full with happiness'). So there is no reason to assume a translation error here, just an alternative word for 'fill' used on each occasion.
robert M.
"Replenish the earth" I am forever dumbfounded that most folks like to misconstrue this with "fill the earth with people" or simple "fill it"
Here in Genesis, the wise text simply means as it appears. Replenish the fish, fowl.. It is the message of replacing what you use. Th earth is a finite resource. It is the message of conservation. There is no way this can be misconstrued, it is only done by those who want to believe the earth is theirs to plunder and fill with people. Sorry, God has spoken. Replenish the Earth. (our forests, fish, land) All good Christians had better get cracking :-)
Carl Wieland
Dear Robert, I'm not unsympathetic to the view that we should not plunder the earth, but there is a fairly straightforward principle of both Bible translation and simple logic (not to mention ethics) that one should not be guided by what one wishes any particular Bible passage to support, but should let it speak for itself. I'm puzzled how you can have missed the point of the article, namely that the Hebrew word really does simply mean 'fill'. Furthermore, look at the words preceding the word in question: "Be fruitful,and multiply,and (----)the earth". Given that context especially, it is hard with even the very best of intentions to see it as supporting anything other than the plain meaning.
Michael K.
Replenish - from "replete" means full. Thanks for the explanation.
Also, the word may have been used like we use "report" or "record" - no one demands that there had to be a "porting" or "cording" first!
Michael S.
The Gap Theory is a house of cards designed to force-fit evolution and millions of imaginery years into the bible.

Evolution simply doesn't fit with what the bible says. The designs in animals are incontrovertibly miraculous. Once you believe in God, it is not hard to believe that He says what He means and vice versa, and that He can do anything.

But man wanted his own answer, man thinks that he can find the answers through science, that man is the measure of all things. How apt, how incredible, that this worldly spirit was present in the beginning, when mankind chose not to listen to God, but rather to "be like God".

I feel that people live in denial when they look at a tree, or a little bird in that tree, and they somehow convince themselves that both things are not created, that both things caused themselves through an imaginery diversification over millions of years. It's a cheap and nasty answer, a falsehood and a travesty, it is obscene.

I feel the miraculous nature of life in all it's forms are "incontrovertibly" created. You can't argue with reality. A tree and a sparrow diversify to the point of no return. That is to say, the scale of the difference between them, can't be GAPPED by evolution, it is too great a stretch of imagination to believe that a simple natural process can lead to a piece of wood rather than a bird. To say that evolution has the ability, through simple mechanisms, to scale the differences, is to live in a place of denial. The true gaps are the gaps between blades of grass and hairy shins. Between fish and bananas, vegetables and kangaroos. To "stretch" information that far only requires one thing, and there is no other possible answer, it requires an unlimited mind, a mind so wise, that with the very same matter, that mind can come up with a limitless number of amazing and viable designs. All else is fantasy, no other answer answers the gaps that evolutionists pretend to have gapped.
Chandrasekaran M.
The implication of both ‘Gap theory’ and ‘very very long Genesis day’ is that death and suffering came before the original sin – the sin of Adam and Eve unbelief in God by eating the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. But the Bible says that death came by a man (the first Adam).

I think that ‘billions of years’ read into Genesis account to keep the Bible not to be out of step with science because science cannot not wrong for scientists are educated in science and technologies and their ‘unbiased’ scientific research results are vetted by ‘unbiased’ scientific peer reviews.

As CMI pointed out, scientists, according to the 1771 Encyclopedia Britannica, believed that the earth was about 6000 years old but scientists nowadays believe that the earth is about 4.5 billions of years old.

During Galileo’s time, scientific community then subscribed to geocentrism so they opposed Galileo when said Earth and planets revolved around the sun.

We do not have to revise the meaning of the Bible every time science is revised.
Josef L.
Great article. It does seem weird how the Gap Theory continues to endure despite the fact that it has been thoroughly debunked for quite some time.

It also seems sketchy to build an alternate creation account based on one word from one English translation of the Bible, and that word could still simply mean "fill". But we know the reason the Gap Theory doesn't make sense is because it's not true.

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