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d) Gen 1:28: This text sits at the heart of western religious tradition concerning humanity’s place in our world.[1]

It states, “And God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and become numerous and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and the birds of the heavens, and over all the living things which move about on the land.’”



People who do not follow Christ remain in the image of God (Gen 1:26). This enables them to retain some glimmers of truth in their conception of God and of humanity.[2]

An Akkadian text asserts that the formation of the earth and of people were divine processes:

When the god Anu created heaven, [when] the god [of waters] created the…ocean, his dwelling, the god Ea pinched off a piece of clay in the…ocean, created the [brick god] for the restoration of [temples], created the reed marsh and the forest for the work of their construction, created the gods…to be the completers of their construction work, created mountains and oceans for everything…

[created] the abundant products [of mountain and ocean] to be offerings…created the deities…to be presenters of offerings, created the god Kusug, high priest of the great gods, to be the one who completes their rites and ceremonies, created the king to be the provider…created men to be the makers.[3]



However, Gen 1 differs from the Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) conception of the world by asserting that only one God ultimately wields power in the universe. Furthermore, he granted jurisdiction to people made in his image, rather than to lesser gods.[4]

The Lord commissioned Adam and Eve to expand Eden until paradise covers the whole earth, so that everyone could see that the Lord rules through the work of his images (Eph 3:8–10).[5]

By procreating, they would create additional images of God to fill the earth, God’s temple (Isa 66:1).[6]



Yet humans do not possess absolute dominion. Our rule must align with God’s intentions for the earth and its creatures. He intended for us to fill the earth and rule as benevolent kings and queens (Ps 8:3–9).[7]

In the same way that God blessed the animals in Gen 1:22, he immediately granted the first humans with the ability to reproduce.[8]

Genesis often repeats this blessing of fruitfulness (Gen 9:1; Gen 17:2, 20; Gen 28:3; Gen 35:11; Gen 48:4). Its genealogies bear witness that it came to pass (Gen 5, Gen 9, Gen 11, Gen 25, Gen 36, Gen 46).[9]

Since God directly endows humanity with the means to propagate life, this undercuts all rationale for fertility cults in which people which people engaged in ritual sex to entreat the gods to create and sustain life.[10]



Given that God described reproduction as a blessing in Gen 1:28, we should understand it as a privilege, rather than a command to obey. Those who choose not to have children do not violate Scriptural obligations.

The Lord gave this blessing so humanity might fill the earth. How wonderful it would be if we succeeded in utilizing our spiritual privileges as well as we have this physical one (Matt 28:18–20).[11]



The Lord also blessed humanity with the ability to “subdue the earth” and “have dominion” over the animals.

Typically, the term “to subdue” (kavash) refers to subjecting someone to slavery, physically assaulting a person, treading underfoot, or subjugating people with military power (Esth 7:7–8Jer 34:11; Mic 7:19Num 32:29).

However, in this context, the word likely described creating civilizations and fostering agriculture and animal husbandry (Gen 2:5–6, 15).[12]

Other cultures within the ANE viewed these tasks as the prerogative of the gods and their offspring, the kings.[13]

For example, Sennacherib, who ruled from 705/704–681 BC, claimed:

I greatly befriended the gods of Assyria, who exalt the great gods in their shrines…[I am the] maker of Assyria, who completes its metropolis; [I am the] subduer

[who makes obedient] the enemies’ land, destroyer of their towns; who digs canals, opens wells, runs irrigation ditches, who brings plenty and abundance to the wide acres of Assyria, who furnishes water for irrigation to Assyria’s meadows—engineering and construction such as none had seen in Assyria in the days of old.[14]

People in the ANE viewed enabling agricultural use of previously unfruitful land as one facet of subduing it.



The word translated as “have dominion” or “rule over” (radhah) contains the nuance of using authority which one has been granted by another (1 Ki 4:24; Ps 110:1–2). It refers to priests and administrators fulfilling their duties, kings and tribes ruling over other people, and even shepherds with their sheep.[15]

God expected Israelite kings to uphold the welfare of their subjects, especially the poor and weak (Ps 72:12–14; Prov 31:4–9).[16] He prohibited abuse and neglect (Ezek 34:1–10).[17]

Similarly, he calls us to rule over nature benevolently.[18]

Just as the Lord brought structure to the cosmos, our subduing and having dominion should bring order to the world.[19] God intended Adam and Eve to expand Eden into habitable places for his glory.[20]

Consider the annals of Sargon II (722–705 BC):

The site of this [new city] none among the 350 ancient princes who lived before me, who exercised dominion over Assyria and ruled the subjects of [the great god] Enlil, had thought of nor did they know how to settle it, nor did they think of digging its canal or setting out its orchards: to settle that city, to build its great shrines, the abodes of the great gods, and the palace for my royal abode, day and night I planned it. I gave the order and I commanded that it be built.[21]

Ancient Assyrians associated the exercise of dominion with bringing order to the land.



As God’s image-bearers, we must fulfill the privileges of subduing and wielding dominion as the Lord did when he formed the cosmos,[22] creating order from chaos and caring for the creatures he made.[23]

This includes domesticating and managing the animals which populate the earth.[24] As the Lord’s representatives, we rule over them on God’s behalf.[25]

Since we are made in God’s image, he has conferred upon us his dignity, entrusted us with his authority, and endowed us with the capacity to imitate him. While all of humanity bears the image of God, the presence of the Spirit greatly enhances those capabilities within those whom the Lord has redeemed.[26]



As Christians, we tend to think of bringing healing to the world spiritually by extending God’s offer of salvation to others (Luke 7:44–50). However, the Lord also calls us to pursue physical healing, social justice, and environmental restoration (Luke 7:20–23; Luke 4:14–19; Rom 8:19–23).

While we wait expectantly for the ushering in of the new age, we must fully engage ourselves in the advancement of the cause of Christ. This involves pursuing the righteousness, equity, and eternal life which God intended from the beginning.[27]

If the Lord cares for creation enough to restore it in the age to come, then, surely, we who seek to align ourselves with him should nurture it as well.



Nevertheless, we must remain cognizant that, although they are not in vain, our own efforts cannot bring a complete end to the groaning around us. God himself will accomplish that.[28]

In the meantime, we function as stewards of the cosmos which God has created for himself. We manage it for the glory of the earth’s true owner.[29]

A key focus of biblical ethics consists of loving our neighbors as ourselves (Lev 19:18; Mark 12:28–34). The harsh realities of the ecological crises around the world force us to consider whether we can truly love our neighbors without caring for the environments in which they live.[30]

For example, Noah, a man who was uniquely righteousness among his neighbors, ensured the preservation of nonhuman life (Gen 6:9; Gen 7:1–5; Prov 12:10).[31]



People placed an image of a god in a temple to carry out the deity’s will and work.[32]

In keeping with this, Assurbanipal (668–626 BC) wrote, “The great gods, whose name I called upon, extolling their glory…commanded that I should exercise sovereignty [and] assigned me the task of adorning their sanctuaries.”[33]

Similarly, Moses’s original readers understood that God created Adam and Eve to serve as his ambassadors. He authorized them to fulfill his purposes by faithfully tending, guarding, and governing the earth (Gen 2:15) while displaying the Lord’s glory and extending God’s kingdom.[34]

In order to accomplish this cultural mandate,[35] God endowed Adam and Eve with his own gifts and abilities.

He enabled them to function perfectly in full relationships with God and with each other as they carried out his purposes:[36] expanding the paradise in which they lived throughout the earth,[37] until the whole world serves as God’s temple.[38]

Image via Wikimedia Commons


Read Gen 1:28. What blessing and mandate did the Lord give to Adam and Eve? How can you fulfill it today?




Go to The Lord Provides Food (Gen 1:29–30)

[Related posts include An Israelite View of Genesis 1; In the Beginning of God’s Creating (Gen 1:1–2); Let There Be Light (Gen 1:3–5); God Separates the Waters (Gen 1:6–8); Dry Ground Appears (Gen 1:9–13); Greater and Lesser Lights (Gen 1:14–19); Inhabitants of the Sea and Sky (Gen 1:20–23); Living Things from the Earth (Gen 1:24–25); Let Us Make Humanity (Gen 1:26); Made in the Image of God (Gen 1:26 cont.); Stewards of the Earth (Gen 1:26 cont.); Male and Female He Created Them (Gen 1:27); God Evaluates His Creation (Gen 1:31); A Well-Watered Garden (Gen 2:8–14); Advancements in Civilization (Gen 4:20–22); A Promise of Stability (Gen 8:22); A New Mandate (Matt 28:18–20); The New Holy City (Rev 21:10–11); A Return to Paradise (Rev 22:1–5, 20); and Ancient Literature]

[Click here to go to Women and Marriage Throughout Redemptive History or to Chapter 3: The Image of God (Genesis 1:26–31)]


[1] Theodore Hiebert, “Rethinking Dominion Theology” Direction 25, no. 2 (Fall 1996): 16-25, 17,

[2] Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, 88.

[3]A. Sachs, trans., “Ritual for the Repair of a Temple,” in ANET, text c, lines 24–37, 341–2. Italics mine.

[4] Walton, Genesis, 136.

[5] Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, 81–2.

[6]Dennis R. Venema and Scot McKnight, Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture After Genetic Science (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2017), electronic version, loc. 3035 of 5792.

[7] Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 67.

[8] Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 139.

[9] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 33.

[10]Bird, “‘Male and Female He Created Them’: Gen 1:27b in the Context of the Priestly Account of Creation,” 147,

[11]Walton, Genesis, 143–4.

[12]Hamilton, Genesis 1–17, 139–40.

[13] Walton, Genesis, 135.

[14]Sennacherib, “The Temple of the New Year’s Feast,” in ARAB: 2:183–9, 184, Italics mine.

[15] Walton, Genesis, 132.

[16] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 33.

[17] Walton, Genesis, 132.

[18] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 33.

[19] Walton, Genesis, 136.

[20] Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, 82.

[21]Sargon II, “The Display Inscription of Salon XIV,” ARAB 2:39–45, Section 83, 42, Italics mine.

[22] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 33.

[23] Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, 83.

[24] Walton, Genesis, 135.

[25] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 33.

[26] Walton, Genesis, 37.

[27]Roy E. Ciampa, “Genesis 1–3 and Paul’s Theology of Adam’s Dominion in Romans 5–6,” in From Creation to New Creation: Biblical Theology and Exegesis (ed. Daniel M. Gurtner and Benjamin L. Gladd; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2013), 115.

[28] Moo, “Nature and the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment,” 460–1,

[29] Walton, Genesis, 141.

[30] Moo, “Nature and the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment,” 461,

[31] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 33.

[32] Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, 83.

[33]Assurbanipal II, “The Rassam Cylinder,” ARAB 2:290–323, Section 768, 292,

[34] Walton, Genesis, 130.

[35] Per Beale, this promise of fruitful multiplying recurs in the OT fifteen times (The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, 265).

[36] Hoekema, Created in God’s Image, 73.      .

[37]Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview, 70.

[38] Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, 97–8.