Be fruitful and multiply

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On day 4 we’ve hit a milestone.  Here’s the first of many King James phrases that have become swear words!  “Be fruitful and multiply.”

It’s God’s way of saying… well… let’s stick to the way God says it: “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28)

It’s a phrase that actually gives us a window onto:

  • the character of God;
  • the way of true flourishing; and
  • the heart of God’s gospel (i.e. God’s good news for the world)

First let’s think about God’s character.

In Genesis 1:28, God is speaking about how humanity are to fill and rule the earth.  And He doesn’t say: “Let there be a human race.”  He doesn’t scatter an army of humans over the face of the earth.  He starts with a man.  He makes for him a woman – out of Adam’s own flesh (we’ll talk about this soon).  And from the union of their love will flow the human race.

This is a window onto the character of God. 

God is Persons-in-relationship and He creates a people who are persons-in-relationship.  We thought about this yesterday when we discussed humanity in the image of God.

And so, as humanity is tasked with filling the earth, how will they do it?  Manufacture?  An assembly line?  Cloning?  No.

They will do it like God: in a deeply relational way.  The filling of the earth mirrors the creation of the earth.  It is loving union.  It is face-to-face fellowship which, though intensely intimate, is outward-going in its fruitful creativity.  The human family is to be made how the world was made – birthed out of love.

And this gives us a window onto the truly flourishing life.

We often think the way to ‘make things happen’ in life is to grit our teeth and go for it.  We picture success in individual terms – perhaps we aspire to be the corporate high-flyer or the peerless performer or the champion athlete.  But lasting and true value comes as the organic product of persons-in-relationship.  I’m not just talking about ‘making babies’ here.  I’m talking about what our verse from Genesis says: “replenishing”, “subduing” and “having dominion” over all the earth.  This is not just about baby-making.  The lessons of being “fruitful and multiplying” are to be applied in all kinds of realms.

The stuff that really matters in God’s world does not come from the manufacturing model of success – individual efforts, impersonal tasks, laying brick upon brick.  What really flourishes and multiplies in this world is the organic fruitfulness model – persons united in love and common purpose.

Filling/blessing/replenishing the earth starts small.  It begins with loving that person who God has in your path right now.  Not ignoring persons and performing grand tasks.  Instead it’s about the pouring of person into person in committed love.  This has a multiplying power to bless and replenish the earth.

Finally, “be fruitful and multiply” shows us wonderful gospel truth.  Because – oddly enough – Adam is being treated as a plant.  Humanity is a crop.  But this is crucial, Adam is a plant that will bear fruit ‘according to its kind’.

This has been a big theme in Genesis chapter 1.  Day three of creation was all about fruitful plants with seeds and how they will reproduce ‘according to their kind’ (verses 11-12).  All of this prepares us for humanity.  Adam will be a plant intended to be fruitful.  But the fruit borne will be just like that of its forebear.

Adam and Eve (who was herself a ‘cutting’ from Adam!) proved fruitful.  And they multiplied.  But they multiplied a diseased strain of humanity.  Between “Be fruitful and multiply” and the time when “Adam knew Eve” (nudge, nudge) – the crop was compromised.  It had been severed from its lifesource in the Lord.  As so they bore fruit devoid of the life of God.

Jesus described humanity’s multiplication under these conditions: “Flesh gives birth to flesh” (John 3:6).  We’re not born with Spirit-life – life in connection with God.  Instead we’re disconnected, devoid of true life.  And looking for the life of God among Adam’s descendants is like looking for grapes on thorn-bushes or plucking figs from thistles (Matthew 7:16).

What we need is a new kind of plant.  We need a new kind of humanity to get grafted into.  And so the Spirit-filled Son becomes flesh and stands on the earth as the true Adam.  He is the true humanity.  The true Vine.  And He invites us into Himself

I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth (makes their home) in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit

How will we be fruitful and multiply?

First we come to Christ.  We are grafted into Him and become His fruitful, new humanity.  We make your home in Christ and as He makes His home in us, we will bear fruit.  Fruit according to His kind.

It won’t be the mechanical manufacture of Christian effort.  It will be the fruit of loving union with Jesus.  As His people – the new humanity – enjoy Him and spend time with Him, there will be an organic, gradual but exponential fruitfulness that will ‘replenish the earth’.

Let us make man in our image

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Picture God-like-ness.  How does it look?  What is it like?

Well Genesis 1:26 speaks of ‘the image of God’ and it’s one of the most discussed verses in all the bible:

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion…”

What exactly is the image of God?  That’s been a question that has rolled on down the centuries.

Apparently humanity is in God’s image.  Apparently no other creature shares this dignity.  Great.  But what is it?

Predictably enough, misconceptions of the image of God follow misconceptions about God Himself.

So first there’s the Power-God misconception.  This states that the ultimate fact of God is His power – or, to dazzle you with my great learning, His ‘omnipotence’.

Those enamoured of the Power-God point to the end of the verse.  “Look,” they say, “the image is about ‘dominion’. Being God-like is having power.”

Well certainly the dominion is linked to the image.  But the dominion doesn’t seem to be equivalent to the image, it seems to flow out of the image.

The other misconception I’ll mention is the Wisdom-God misconception.  This states that the ultimate fact of God is His knowledge (‘omniscience’ for those taking notes).  For these guys, God is an Infinite Mind.  So, obviously, what else would ‘the image’ be except our own rational capacities?  The logic runs something like this:

  • ‘The image’ is unique to humanity
  • Self-conscious rationality is unique to humanity
  • Therefore, rationality is ‘the image’.

You can tell they’re clutching at straws can’t you?

But it’s surprising how pervasive this view is.  We readily distinguish our species by the name homo sapiens knowing man (when did this blog become a latin primer?).  Philosophers describe us as ‘rational animals.’  We think therefore we are, right?

Well, certainly rationality flows from ‘the image’, but let’s think about what this verse is actually saying.

First, understand that the words ‘image’ and ‘likeness’ are just really basic words for ‘lookalike.’  They’re the kind of words you’d use for the statues at Madame Tussaud’s.  God is not making ants He can crush.  Or drones He can look down on.  We are not exhibits for His zoo.  He’s making creatures with whom He can share life.  He wants to invite us to eat at table – to share ‘face-to-face’ friendship.  It would almost seem blasphemous to write like this, but the bible speaks in these terms time and again.  ‘The image’ has radical implications for how we think of our relationship with God.

Secondly, let’s notice how verse 26 begins: “Let us.”  Here is a conversation happening among multiple Persons.

There’s a joke about bureaucracy that says “a camel is a horse designed by committee.’  Actually the bible would tell us a horse is a horse designed by committee.  Creation is designed by a Divine Committee and when it comes to humanity that truth is brought to the fore.  “Let us.”

The Persons of God uniting in common purpose are going to make a special species.  And the verse goes on…

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.  (Genesis 1:27)

It seems like a multi-Personal God would not be properly imaged if there were just a lot of blokes running around.  The God who is different Persons united in love creates a people who are themselves different persons – male and female. And, as the end of Genesis 2 teaches, man and woman are to become “one” in committed love.

So it is with humanity, so it has ever been with God.

We image God’s life in that God has always been a community of other-centred love.  Whether we consider the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit, each Person has always loved God and their neighbour.  Even before there was a universe!

And this God brings a world into being and places humanity at its pinnacle.  He wants these creatures particularly to share His life and so He makes them like Him – persons in relationship drawn into God’s own relationship.

Now that we’re thinking along these lines, of course the special dominion of humanity will follow.  And of course the special intelligence of humanity is required.  But, for my money, the image is first a relational truth.  It denotes our special relationship to God and, secondarily, to each other as persons in relationship.

Perhaps then we should ditch homo sapiens.  Maybe homo adorans (loving man) would be better!  Those are the kinds of thoughts we’ll have when we understand God’s image relationally.

So now… picture God-like-ness.  Does it look like Absolute Power?  Does it look like Infinite Mind?  Or does it look like Persons in loving relationship?

And picture flourishing humanity? What will that be like?

What does ‘God’s image’ tell us about these fundamental realities?

Impact of KJV according to the BBC's Politics UK

‘Politics UK’ have given over a whole programme to the legacy of the KJV

Some assorted quotes:

Professor Gordon Campbell: “It’s one of the cultural building blocks of  civilisation in the English speaking world… You cannot hope to understand the English speaking world without reference to the King James Bible.”  Professor Gordon Campbell

Baronness (P. D.) James: “It is one of the most interesting and important books ever written… It is a translation of genius.”

Frank Dobson MP: “For centuries it dominated all religious and political thought in this country and in those countries to which the British and most particularly the English emigrated.”

Richard Chartres, Bishop of London: “You must read the Authorized Version aloud.  It isn’t something just for the head.  There are sonorities there, there is an authority that can only really be communicated by a good reader.”

I was interested by the Bishop’s response when asked whether we should try to read the bible divorced from its religious context (as Dawkins suggests here).  He replied:

You bring a quite different attention to the sacred text if you realize that it is shot through with divinity.  To treat it tyrannically as some kind of secular expression of a culture of a particular time long past means that you’re shut out from it’s power and its capacity to move.

One of the most important things now is, people are always saying, ‘We want versions of the bible that are accessible.’  And that’s not wrong of course.  But the bible is very strange.  It’s very deep.  It’s symphonic.  It’s music.  There are themes adumbrated which are then reversed, which are decorated.  Therefore a certain defamiliarization when you encounter the biblical texts is a way to the depths.

If you think you understand it with the top of your mind because it is written in racey contemporary English, then you probably haven’t approached it in a way in which it is going to release its power and its depth.

What do you think about that?  I’m all for entering the bible as a strange and foreign country.  But that doesn’t mean you need arcane language does it?  Tyndale didn’t think so!

It’s on BBC iPlayer for the next little bit

Let there be light

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In the beginning was the life and love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Before there was a universe there wasn’t nothing, there wasn’t chaos and there wasn’t a lonely god.  Our origins are not darkness but entirely light.

But when this God creates, the equation changes.  Suddenly there is something else other than God.  The Father, Son and Spirit are radically relativised!  Now they are not everything.  God ‘makes room’ if you like for something else to be alongside.  In fact for something else to be drawn in.

But that process is not straightforward.  Here’s what the second verse of the bible says:

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

This should shock us.  ‘Without form’, ‘void’, ‘darkness’, ‘the deep’, ‘waters’ – here are biblical words and phrases associated with sin, chaos, de-creation.  Darkness is not a good thing in the bible – it means fearful ignorance and death and judgement.  But these are the very first descriptions of the heavens and the earth!

It’s as if the universe is still-born.  All the excitement of a new arrival in verse 1 turns to anguish.  There don’t seem to be any signs of life.

But take heart – the life-giving Spirit is there, hovering in a motherly, brooding kind of way.  There is hope.  But how will things be resolved?  Genesis 1, verse 3:

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

Here’s what creation needs – the Word of God to be revealed.  And when God’s Word is revealed the darkness must flee.

The Apostle John understood what Genesis was saying.  You see God’s Word is not a what – God’s Word is a Who.  God’s Word is Jesus, who was there creating in the beginning.  It’s Jesus who needs to be revealed, and to shine His light.

John comments on our verse:

“In Him [in Jesus] was life and the life was the light of men.  The Light shineth in the darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not.”  (John 1:4-5)

When the Light shines the darkness can’t cope and new life is born.

We tend to think of light and darkness as equal and opposite powers, but of course they’re not.  A battle between light and darkness is over in an instant.  Wherever light is present, the darkness must give way.  Yet darkness has no power to push back in the other direction.  Light shines.  Darkness doesn’t darken.  It can only have a shadowy existence.  It is not a positive thing.  It is a lack of a positive thing.  And when Light shines, darkness is defeated.

The whole of the first day of creation is given over to the conquering power of light.  In fact, the whole definition of Day and Night is given in these verses:

God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. (Genesis 1:5)

Do you notice when a day begins according to the bible?  It begins with evening, but the evening gives way to the morning.  The Light triumphs.  That’s the bible’s view of things.

Julius Caesar changed all that for us.  He decided that our days should begin and end at midnight – from darkness to darkness.  That was his view of the world and so that was how he framed his days.

What do you think?  Is darkness an equal and opposite force?  Is darkness our origin?  Is it our destination?

The bible has good news.  There is an uncreated and eternal Light.  And His shining dispells the darkness.

Jesus said:

I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.  (John 8:12)


In the beginning

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Right now the whole world is considering beginnings.  But usually they’re the beginnings that we will make.  “New year, new you” and all that.

What about the beginning that God has made?  Let’s think about that for a minute.

Wind back the clock to the time before people and planets and protons, what was there?

Where do your thoughts go?  What images spring to mind?

Here are some popular answers to the question, What was there in the beginning?


There was nothing in the beginning.  Just a big dark endless expanse of empty space.  (Of course, that’s not nothing, that’s a whole lotta black something, but let’s not get picky).

I don’t know about you, but this was my reflex thought:

‘Before the universe?’ I scoff silently, ‘What else is there?  What could possibly predate that?  The universe is everything!’

These are the instinctive reactions of a supposed bible-believer.  But I’m a bible-believer who, like you, has soaked for long years in a religious story very unlike the bible’s.

The story we’re told in a thousand ways and from a thousand sources begins, “In the beginning, there was nothing.  And then – BANG – something (everything!) from nothing.”

In this story our origins lie in some kind of absolute zero point.  Bring it all back to basics and what do you get?  Nothing.  King Lear said “Nothing will come from nothing.”  But this story says, everything comes from nothing.

Therefore what is life?  It’s trying to work a something out of a nothing.  Forget our origins, we came from nothing – just make it happen.  Forge something, impose something, be a self-creator.  Make some resolutions dammit!  But know that ultimately, at bottom, it’s nothing.

Here’s another popular answer.  What was there in the beginning?


Many of the world’s creation myths tell of wars in heaven.  Battling gods jostle for pre-eminence and the losers are cast out.  Creation may be explained as the place of exile for naughty deities or the body of a dead god.  Or cosmic storms destroy the harmony of heaven and the universe is the rubble.  Essentially the world comes out of conflict, killing and chaos.

This is a story of struggle and storms and selfishness.  Life, therefore, is about fashioning something from the cosmic debris.  But ultimately, at bottom, it’s chaos.

Or how about this for an answer.  What was there in the beginning?

A lonely god.

Here’s one for the pious among us.  Perhaps, this is what you imagined in the beginning.  God.

Well, ok good, you’ve read on in the verse.  But which God did you imagine?  There are millions to choose from.  I’m guessing that if you live in the west and you thought of God, you thought of a solitary God.  All on his own.

But you know, such a thought is quite chilling.

Can you imagine this lonely god existing from all eternity.  With no-one and nothing besides him.  Just his own thoughts for company.  He knows nothing of relationship, nothing of back-and-forth or give-and-take.  He only knows absolute power and supremacy.  That’s what comes naturally.  Love does not.  He’s like an awkward, older single guy who’s never had a girlfriend.  For all eternity.

Now just imagine if this god was in the beginning.  Imagine if this god created the heavens and the earth.  To be honest I’d rather not live in that universe.

Because what would our lives mean if this were the story?  Well they wouldn’t be nothing and they wouldn’t be chaos.  They’d be slavery.

If the universe begins with the lonely god, then living in tune with reality means living before this god.  And remember, for this god love does not come naturally.  But power does.  Most basically the world would exist to be in submission to the absolute will of this god.  Therefore the meaning of life would be slavery.

You’ll be pleased to know that the bible points to something very different when it says “In the beginning.”  Here’s the bible’s answer to the question, What was there in the beginning?


Let me explain.

The phrase “in the beginning” comes up three times in the bible.  Once at the start of Genesis and then twice at the start of John’s Gospel.

In Genesis it says “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  And it goes on to describe God’s creation in plural terms.  The Spirit of God moves upon the waters (Genesis 1:2).  The Word of God brings everything into being (v3ff).  And when this God decides to make humanity, it’s a committee decision: “Let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:26)

In John it says: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  The same was with God in the beginning.” (John 1:1-2)

John is just refreshing our memory of Genesis.  In the beginning there was not a lonely god.  In the beginning there was one Person called “God”, who John later calls “the Father” (v14).  But there was another Person called “the Word”.  He also has the right to the title “God”.  And soon John will give Him some more familiar names: “The Son of God” and “Jesus Christ” (v14,17).  Later on John will also tell us about the Holy Spirit – He too was in the beginning.

So this is ultimate reality according to the bible.  Before anything else was, there was a Father loving His Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit.  For all eternity there was give-and-take, back-and-forth.  There was closeness, friendliness, interaction, intimacy.  In short, in the beginning there was love.

Now what’s the meaning of life when we understand this beginning?

Well we’re saved from nothingness and we’re saved from chaos.  But wonderfully we are not delivered into the hands of the lonely god, to be mere slaves.  No, this God does not create to display His power but to spread His love.  The meaning of our lives is not to cower before our creator but to be wooed by our heavenly Lover.

So then, whatever beginnings we resolve to make today, there is good news.  An ultimate beginning has been made – one that shapes everything.  We have not come from nothing or from chaos or from selfishness.  We have come from a God of love.  And His unshakeable resolution is to draw us in.



Here are some links to other King James stuff to watch, listen and read.

It includes this article from the Guardian:

“As well as selling an estimated 1bn copies since 1611, the KJB went straight into our literary bloodstream like a lifesaving drug. Whenever we put words into someone’s mouth, or see the writing on the wall, or go from strength to strength, or eat, drink and be merry, or fight the good fight, or bemoan the signs of the times, or find a fly in the ointment, or use words such as “long-suffering”, “scapegoat” and “peacemaker” we are unconsciously quoting the KJB. More astounding, compared to Shakespeare’s prodigal 31,000-word vocabulary, the KJB works its magic with a lexicon of just 12,000 words.”


'Don't let religion hijack the bible'

As well as commenting on 365 phrases from the KJV, I’ll occasionally offer a comment on the reception of the bible in our culture.


In this video, Richard Dawkins makes the case for being steeped ‘to some extent’ in the King James Bible.

He claims that a person ignorant of the Authorized Version is ‘in some small way barbarian.’  Perhaps I should write to Professor Dawkins for an endorsement of the King’s English.

Well, except that he ends by saying:

It is important that religion should not be allowed to hijack this cultural resource.

Typical religious folk eh?  Turning a perfectly secular book like the bible into some kind of… I dunno… holy book.

Well you have to admire his consistency.  Because either this world is made by and for the God of the bible or it isn’t.  And if it isn’t then the bible is no more ‘religious’, ‘spiritual’ or ‘holy’ than anything else.  In that case it is a ‘cultural resource’ at best.

But if the world is made by the God of the bible, then not only has Dawkins got the bible wrong.  He’s got the world wrong too.  He hasn’t just shown himself unable to appreciate a spiritual text for what it is – which is far more than a cultural resource.  He’s shown himself unable to appreciate a spiritual world for what it is – which is far more than a biological happening.

Misjudging the word and misjudging the world are linked in a profound way.  The word is not, most basically, a literary work which crazy religionists hijack as a spiritual reality.  But, in the same way, the world is not, most basically, a naturalistic biosphere on which spiritual values are imposed.  No the word and the world are spiritual and cultural works.

Therefore the response to Dawkins is not to fight a turf war – “No, Richard, it’s only a religious book.”  We don’t want to keep ‘our book’ solely in religious hands the way he wants to keep the book solely in secular hands.

Christians say to the world, ‘Here, have our book.  Of course it’s most basically a spiritual text.  But ‘spiritual’ in the bible is a world-affirming thing.   The Spirit-filled Son of God swung a hammer for a living, walked dusty roads, washed dirty feet, drank red wine, hung on a wooden cross and rose to immortal bodily life.’  In the bible, ‘spiritual’ has significance for everything.  And so the bible is a book for everyone.  Long may the bible resource the culture.

Yet to appreciate it truly you must appreciate it for what it most truly is – a book about that Spirit-filled Son of God who came from beyond our world to redeem it.

But what if you’re not yet persuaded that the world, still less the word, really is authored by this God?

Here’s my suggestion.  Put on the bible like a pair of glasses and look again at the world.  Look through the lens of “In the beginning… let there be light… let us make man… the Word became flesh… He gave up the ghost… He is risen… Alleluia.”  Look again at life in all its richness and ask whether this Word and this God make sense of it all.

And if you’ve got any questions, feel free to ask.  Happy to discuss.


Welcome to The King's English

In 2011 there will be many celebrations to mark the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible.

This blog is just one attempt to raise awareness about the impact of this translation on the English speaking world.  Throughout 2011 I will blog on a phrase per day that has passed into common parlance: popular phrases like “labour of love”, “beast of burden”, “wits’ end” and “scapegoat”; but also phrases that should be more popular, like “filthy lucre” and “gird up thy loins”.

Here’s the full list of phrases I intend to cover.

Others are much better placed to tell you the history of the translation (see these videos for instance).  And others can tell you about the modern usage and adaptation of these phrases (see for example Begat by David Crystal).

I’m just a church minister who wants to give some insights into their biblical origins and, along the way, to give a thumbnail sketch of the bible’s story.

This is a blog for people of all beliefs and I’ll try to keep things as jargon-free as possible.  I hope that whether you are a Christian or not you will understand more about the English we speak, and about the King who has shaped it.