Full of Meaning: Replenish or Fill in Genesis 1:28?

Why would God tell Adam and Eve to “replenish” the earth if they were the first humans?

by Stacia McKeever on December 22, 2008; last featured August 22, 2023
Genesis 1:28, KJV
And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

According to some, this verse in the King James Version indicates that Adam and Eve were to refill the planet, implying that that they weren’t the first humans God created but were part of a “second creation.” Many who accept the gap theory believe this. However, take a look at the same verse in the New King James Version.

Genesis 1:28, NKJV
Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

The word replenish in the King James Version was used in the seventeenth century (when the King James Version was translated) to simply mean “fill.” It expressed such ideas as to stock, fill, supply, or inhabit. Replenish is related to the word replete; being replete with happiness is being full with happiness. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first recorded use of the word replenish to mean “to fill again” occurred in 1612, one year after the King James Version was published. Furthermore, it was used in a poetic sense, and Genesis 1:28 is not poetry. The English word has changed meaning over the centuries so that the word replenish today generally means “refill.”

The original Hebrew word for replenish in Genesis 1:28 is male. This word simply means “fill” and is translated that way in the King James elsewhere (e.g., Genesis 1:22). So neither the Hebrew word nor the English word chosen by the King James Version translators meant, at that time, “refill.” The translators’ choice of replenish may have been meant to convey something akin to “fill up” (i.e., to “make replete [full]”), but they were certainly not trying to convey anything about another filling of the earth.

The New King James Version (and some other versions) correctly translates the word in today’s parlance as “fill.” This apparent “contradiction” is simply a translational issue—not an error in the original manuscripts.

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