“fill the earth.” The Hebrew word translated “fill” is male (or spelled mala; #04390 מָלֵא or מָלָא), and in this context, it means “fill.” Other meanings include, “be full, fullness or abundance, to be ended or accomplished, to satisfy or fulfill.” Adam and Eve were the first humans, and God commanded them to fill the earth, something that has now been accomplished.
Although all the modern translations read “fill,” including the New King James Version, there is some confusion about the translation because some older versions have “replenish,” including the KJV (1611), Noah Webster Bible (1833), ERV (1885), and the ASV (1901), but not including the Geneva Bible (1599); Young’s Literal Translation (1898), or Rotherham (1902).
The translation “replenish” has, among other things, contributed to the belief that there were humans or humanoids on earth that existed before the catastrophe that occurred in Genesis 1:2 when the earth “became” without form and void. There is a simple but not well-known explanation as to why some early versions like the King James read “replenish” when other versions just as old, such as the Geneva Bible, read “fill.” Up until recently, one of the meanings of the English word “replenish” was “to fill.” In fact, the very first definition of “replenish” in Webster’s 1828 English Dictionary is “To fill; to stock with numbers or abundance.” As the second definition of “replenish,” Webster has “To recover former fullness.” As time passed, the first definition of replenish, “to fill” fell out of use, and the second definition became the standard definition of the word.
One of the dangers of reading older versions of the Bible is that words in them may have changed meanings over time, and no longer convey the proper modern meaning. The King James Version is full of these. A few examples in the KJV are: “by and by” (Luke 21:9) means immediately; “carriages” (Acts 21:15) means something that had to be carried, or baggage; “conversation” (Phil. 1:27) meant conduct; “instantly” (Luke 7:4) meant earnestly; “naughty” (Jer. 24:2) sometimes meant worth naught, or worthless; “nephew” (Judg. 12:14) sometimes meant grandson; “sometimes” (Eph. 2:13) meant at one time, formerly. In the KJV, “sometimes” never means occasionally, as it does in today’s English.
“Replenish” in the KJV, ASV, ERV, etc., falls into the category of words that have changed meanings over time. God told Adam and Eve to fill the earth, and up until recently, “replenish” meant “fill.”
“Have dominion.” God gave Adam and Eve dominion over the earth, but they transferred it to the Devil. In Genesis 1:28, God gave the dominion over the earth to mankind. One piece of evidence of that dominion is that God brought the animals He made to Adam so that he could give them names (Gen. 2:19). The whole situation changed, however, when Adam and Eve sinned against God by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3:6). When they followed the prompting of God’s arch-enemy the Devil and ate of the tree, they took on the crafty nature of the Devil, and also transferred dominion of the earth over to him. That is why the Devil told Jesus that the earth had been handed over to him and he could give it to anyone he wanted to (Matt. 4:9; Luke 4:6).
The fact that God gave Adam and Eve dominion over the earth not only displays God’s goodness and trust in humankind, but it reveals part of God’s purpose for humankind: to govern the earth on God’s behalf. We see this also in the fact that God placed Adam and Eve in the garden “to work it and to care for it” (Gen 2:15).
[For more on God’s purpose for humankind, see commentary on Gen. 2:15. For more on Adam and Eve getting the crafty nature of the Devil, see commentary on Romans 7:17. For more on the dominion of the earth being transferred over to the Devil, see commentary on Luke 4:6.]