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What did God mean for man to do when he said in Genesis 1:26 man should take dominion over all the animals?

Are there any practical examples cited by prominent theologians that would distinguish dominion from, say, whimsical destruction? What exactly is implied by the term 'dominion' that would indicate the limits of capricious behavior or neglect?

Finally, are there any examples in Scripture of where dominion is further defined from a practical point of view?

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

As the only earthly critter created in the image of God, man (and woman) is the crowning act of creation by Elohim. The human species, remarkably enough, inhabits what appears to be a universe that is Planet-Earth-centered. This is not to say that our multi-galaxy universe is unimportant, or that critters other than human beings are unimportant. It is to say that there is something special, something of infinite worth, in the one of whom God said,

"'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over [have dominion over all animal life]" (Gen 1:26).

Having said this, I must go on to say that just as God has dominion over everything and everyone He created, including the angelic host, both celestial and infernal, God delegated some of His authority to Adam as his representative on planet Earth. While I may be oversimplifying here, man's dominion over the earth was and is expressed in at least three ways:

  • in his caring for, tending to, enjoying, and investigating what God had created on, in, and above the earth, as well as in the sea. We know that Adam was given the task of naming all the lesser creatures God had created (Gen 2:19,20). For Adam to be able to do these things (and much more) and in so doing be a good steward or caretaker of God's creation, God gave Adam intelligence, rationality, and creativity.

  • in his ability to communicate and to have fellowship with his Creator-God. That is part of what it means to be created in God's image, since God, too, has intelligence, rationality, creativity, and above all the ability to communicate and have fellowship with His image bearers. God, of course, has these abilities to an infinite degree. We call them omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence. By contrast, our intelligence is finite; our strength is finite; our creativity has limits; our physical presence is constrained by gravity and the impossibility of being in more than one place at the same time; and our fellowship with God, interrupted by sin, occurs in fits and starts.

  • in hisfamily relationships, with the man being the head of the woman, and both man and woman being responsible for the rearing and well being of their progeny. They in turn have a responsibility to respect and obey their parents. Just as there is a relationship of love within the Godhead (i.e., Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; see John 5:20; 14:31), so too is there a relationship of love within each earthly family (See Eph 3:14,15 for the "family connection", and 5:22-30).

Unfortunately, the first man Adam surrendered part of his dominion when instead of preventing his helpmeet, Eve, from doing what God had prohibited, he allowed her to be deceived by the tempter. What is worse, he also followed her in disobedience. Had he told his wife to ignore the tempter, instead of simply standing by and letting her be seduced by the serpent, Adam would have retained his position of dominion. Unfortunately (and no surprise to God), he did not.

Even after man and woman sinned and thus became unworthy to have fellowship with Holy God, God already had a plan from eternity past to redeem man, in love, and to restore him to fellowship with Himself. This plan cost Him His only begotten Son, but again, there is something of infinite worth in each human being. God obviously and lovingly looked beyond our sins and saw and met our needs.

In conclusion, and more in answer to your question, man is still lord over the animals. Prior to sin's entrance into God's paradise, man was not endangered by being in the presence of any animal. After sin appeared, however, man was not as free in his interactions with animals, particularly those which present a threat to his very life (the big cats; poisonous snakes, spiders, and fish; killer whales, sharks, piranhas; and so on).

It is a good thing, I believe, for the human species to preserve and maintain as many animal species as possible, and not to hunt them into extinction or deprive them of their natural habitat, thus threatening their very existence. God cares for the animals. Read, for example, the last verse of the book of Jonah in the Old Testament. Jesus said that a single bird cannot trip on the ground without our heavenly Father taking notice (Lk 12:24). (He also added, however, that people are worth much more than many birds (Matt 6:26.)

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Thank you for your answer, it is pretty much the same as mine. – BYE Sep 30 '13 at 0:23

It is in the first creation story (Genesis 1:1-2:4a) that God grants to mankind dominion over animals. In the second creation story, animals are created to be possible companions to Adam who, far from having dominion, is to be the servant of the earth.

In the first story, the first people are given dominion over all living things:

Genesis 1:28: 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.

In the second story, Adam is given the task of tending the Garden. When God realises that Adam would be lonely, he creates animals, not for Adam to have dominion over, but as companions or 'help-meets'.

Genesis 2:15, 18-20: And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it ... And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.

Leon R. Kass says in The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis, page 56, we must scrupulously avoid reading into the second story any facts or notions taken from the first, and vice versa. He says this means that we must not think that in the second creation story, man is to be the ruler over the animals. Nor must we understand the first story in the context of events that occur in the story of Adam and Eve. So, God's meaning of 'dominion' in Genesis 1:26 is not explained in Genesis chapter 2.

From a practical point of view, whenever we meet the term 'dominion' elsewhere in the Old Testament, it is usually in the sense of rule over people or nations, with no real connotations of capricious misrule or neglect. This should be our guide for interpreting Genesis 1:26.

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