We will never grasp the richness of what it means to be fruitful and multiply or to rule and subdue in isolation from him. Jesus – who never married or had physical children of his own and who surprisingly endorses singleness (as did the apostle Paul), not simply as an unfortunate consequence of a fallen world but as a kingdom strategy. Jesus – who is the King of Kings and Lord of all, yet whose ruling and subduing take on shockingly unfamiliar from what we typically observe in people who occupy positions of power and privilege over others. Jesus – who when asked what is the greatest commandment, didn’t answer “be fruitful and multiply… rule and subdue,” but “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength,'” adding, “The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these” (Mark 12:30 – 31). Somehow, all of these elements inform and shape the mission God gave us in the beginning.” ( Carolyn Custis James, Half the Church, 69-70)
In the Evangelical world a debate rages as to what women can or can’t do in the home, church and society. Scholars on both sides of the debate have turned to the Creation Story to support their position. The Creation Story sets the stage for how to interpret New Testament passages (such as Ephesians where the man is called the “head of wife” and the woman is called to “submit”). Complementarians view NT passages as confirming Adam’s authority (leadership) and Eve’s (helper) role whereas egalitarians don’t. Complementarians view men as God’s appointed spiritual leaders while women support their leadership through submission. I’ve asked married couples what they mean by the “man is the head of the home” (which by the way the text doesn’t say that, it says head of wife). Their response? When we can’t come to an agreement the husband makes the final decision.
Complementarians also view mothering and homemaking as women’s most important role – both of which are noble work. However, to say motherhood or homemaking is the “highest” role of a woman is not only inaccurate but it is limited and exclusive. Consider how their interpretation impacts the 51% of American women who don’t have a significant man in their lives? These women work and manage their homes but not in the traditional complementarian sense. What are we saying to these 51%? And what about the woman in America that don’t have the option to “stay home?” And how does that message work for the majority of women around the globe who live in grinding poverty – in third world countries every body works! (Staying home to raise children is a wealthy, first-world issue.) And what about single women (not married for a variety of reasons)? Are we stating they are “not fully woman – yet?” And what about the 10 percent of women (6.1 million) in the United States ages 15-44 who have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant? Are they not fully woman either? And even those of us who have given birth and/or mothered know the window of physical reproduction (and mothering) is a short one at that. Finally, if being fruitful and multiplying(which by the way the earth is full! In fact we are overpopulated) is solely about physical reproduction then what do we do with Jesus? And Paul? Carolyn Custis James
So, yes, to be fruitful and multiply means physical reproduction. The same two words are used for sea creatures and birds (Genesis 1:20-22). Fish multiply fish. Birds multiply birds. But we are not fish or birds. We are God’s image bearers. And while physical reproduction may suffice for fish or birds, for image bearers multiplication involves far more than simply populating the earth with more people. God calls us to multiply image bearers – a new humanity that embraces the God who made us and whose purpose is for his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Multiplying for us moves beyond the purely biological to a much deeper and more challenging spiritual command that calls every image bearer to engage. The outcome of this kind of multiplying means that GOd’s glory spreads over the planet as his image bearers reflect his attributes – his goodness, mercy, love and justice, truth and grace, and more -whatever they are.” (James, 70)
Perhaps our ideal of marriage has clouded our ability to see community as a crucial aspect to our Creation story. Community is a big deal to God. He lives in it. He made male and female to mimic the Triune community. And much of Scripture addresses it – community. Did you know the Apostle Paul spoke more of brothers and sisterhood, (how we are to live together for Kingdom purposes) than marriage? And Matthew 22:30 we states, “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” I take that to mean we aren’t married in the new heaven and new earth. The relationship that lasts into eternity is not marriage but brother sisterhood. If that’s the “type” of relationship that continues with us into eternity then why we have done such a poor job in practicing it here? I can list reasons. Fear. Sex. Power. But perhaps our idealism of marriage (which is a fairly new concept – since the Industrial Revolution) has hampered our ability to read our Creation story more accurately. What if our Creation story is first and foremost about community (marriage being one expression of community)? How would that impact the roles we give, the way we live, love and work with each other in our homes, churches and society?
Let your mind percolate on it for a bit. I welcome your ideas of how things might look differently if we had a broad view of Creation story.