creation domination?

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.
– Genesis 1:28-31a

In my experience there is a lot of confusion about the meaning of the above passage from Genesis, not least in relation to the concept of “dominion”.

What is “dominion” anyway?

Some have seen it as God’s designing the world in such a way as to allow humans to rule over it and to do to it as they see fit. Such ruling is often seen as not excluding the abuse of the natural world in the name of human freedom, prosperity and comfort.

(As much as I wish this were a strawman argument, it is not…)

But this raises some logical problems in the Genesis narrative of which I will outline two.

The first is that the humans in the Genesis narrative are never told to do as they see fit. In fact though they have free will/choice, they are not to abuse this privilege by deciding for themselves what is morally/ethically right or wrong. This decision is after all not for them to make, but rather for God in his infinite wisdom.

Ultimately it is God that gives the humans dominion over other creatures, but this rulership is not an arbitrary dictatorship, but simply a means for humans to have food to eat (see 1:29-30).

This leads me to my second point about “dominion”. The “rule” of humans over creation is not defined by humans themselves, but rather by humankind’s likeness to God.

In Genesis 1:26-27 we are told that humans are created in the image of God, that is to say they are to reflect the likeness of God in the world he created. The next thing that is outlined in the story is the dominion of humans over other living creatures.

Can you see the movement of the narrative?

The “dominion” of humans over creation is not a free-for-all of destruction for the benefit of human society. Rather it is an emulation of God in his care and love for the natural world while also making responsible use of the resources provided.

Just as God said his creation was good, so too should human “dominion” affirm the same reality.

Though many people have said it before, I will echo the reality that Genesis does not teach dominion as rulership per se, but rather it teaches dominion over creation as stewardship.

This of course has huge implications for the environmental call of those who claim to follow God.


Posted on February 24, 2011, in Ecology/Environment, Old Testament, Theology and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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