The Dominion Mandate


There was a young couple who had just joined a church that had a reputation for being kind of wild. And they had tried and tried unsuccessfully to get Grandma to come to that church. They were eating dinner at Grandma's house one Sunday and the man said, "You should see the services, Grandma. The Holy Spirit is really there. You should have seen the pastor. He was screaming at the top of his voice and people were popping up like popcorn all over the place just praising the Lord. It was unbelievable!" Well, Grandma didn't seem too impressed, but she didn't say anything. Finally the grandson asked her why she didn't like their church. She said, "Honey, let me just put it this way. I don't care how loud they shout, and I don't care how high they jump. It's what they do when they come back down that counts." And I would say the same about the modern church of today. It's not the bells and whistles, the choirs and buildings that impress the Lord, its what they do when they come back down that counts.

What difference does our Christianity make in our day by day involvement in the world? There's a ton of energy expended on Sundays to promote quality worship: there is art, drama, music, carefully crafted rhetoric in the sermons, beautiful buildings. But what difference does it make when we come down and go out into the world? There are enormous amounts of money being spent on programs and outreach. But when the ra-ra stops and people come down to earth, are there any changes whatsoever in our culture? After all, we are commanded to disciple the nations, right? To be salt and light is not an option. One of the things that Billy Graham admitted to in a taped interview was that his method of advancing Christ's cause was a failure. He and others have pointed out that the church has thrown more money, publishing, radio, TV, technology and programs at the world than at any other period of history, and yet it has had less impact on the world than any other generation. Something is desperately wrong. Even in Africa where the church is growing like crazy, in most places it has not changed culture. In Rwanda it was Christians who fought against Christians. In South America there has been so little teaching on what a Christian culture should look like that evangelicals have become Marxists – a movement that at least has a comprehensive worldview. But liberation theology is not the answer. It is an anti-Biblical economics. There may be many reasons for our lack of impact. I will at a later time address the issue of a lack of holiness. But I think one of the key foundations that is missing is a belief in the dominion mandate. Without the dominion mandate, our worldview is truncated.

We will be seeing later that this call to have dominion encompasses not only everything on the earth and under the earth but also above the earth. When Jeremiah speaks of this covenant made with Adam, it was a covenant that included the sun and the moon. And harnessing the sun and the moon for our dominion is a legitimate part of man's calling. Botany, zoology, geology, chemistry – everything is the responsibility of man. But it can only be achieved by Jesus, the Second Adam. I won't have time to preach on Psalm 8, but Psalm 8 is a discussion of Christ as the Second Adam being given all authority in heaven and on earth. It revisits the Dominion mandate that Adam lost and gives it to Jesus. Any dominion that we do in time or in eternity will have to be through the Lord.

But before we get into a discussion of what is involved in this fantastic covenant mandate, I want to show that God graciously provided Adam with absolutely everything that He would need.

God's Covenant Provision Precedes Man's Responsibility (vv. 26-27)

God made man and woman in His image and likeness

The first covenant provision was that God created both Adam and Eve in His own image and likeness. And this is huge. We are going to be spending most of our time on what the image means, because without an understanding of God's image, we will distort our attempts to take dominion. Verse 26 says, Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.. In verse 27 it says, So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Later Scripture talks a lot about this image or likeness that men and women have, and if you are taking notes I want to outline seven distinct ways in which men and women image God. Without the image of God, everything that God commanded mankind to do would be impossible to do. What does it mean to be in the image of God?

Made to be social beings

First, it means that God created us to be social beings. Long before there were men and women; long before their were angels, the one God had perfect communion within Himself because He has always existed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Verse 26 says, Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion… etc. Though there is only one God, He has always existed in three persons. And I can't get into the hugely profound ramifications, but just as one example, this means that His love is not a selfish love because each Divine person's love has always been for another. In Unitarianism, the only person God could love would be himself since there is no Trinity. It would be an inherently selfish love, and the making of a creation wouldn't change that. But not so with the Trinity. And so, part of the image of God is His creation of man as a social being because He was from all eternity a social being. The first word describing man after describing God's image is a plural word for mankind. Let me read it again: Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion… etc The plural in manhood was necessitated by a plurality in the Godhead. The reason individuals grow lonely; the reason God said, "It is not good for man to be alone" in chapter 2 is because man is made in God's image. He is made to be a social creature who delights in fellowship. Now sin has marred that, but how well we fulfill the dominion mandate rests upon our imaging God as social creatures.

And this has profound ramifications on all the disciplines. The genius of Free Market economics is that it fully utilizes this aspect of God's image in the division of labor. In fact, I really would like you to pick up an essay called "I pencil" by Leonard Reed, which shows how inescapable this facet of the image of God is to economics. It's frustrating that I can't develop just this one point into an entire sermon to show the implications of man as a social being through Scripture and through the disciplines, but we need to move on.

Made to be communicating beings

The second thing that makes man like God is that man can communicate. And what an incredible gift for dominion this is. Throughout this chapter God speaks and names things, and as soon as Adam is created God gives him the task of naming things and he speaks. No animal has true language. Evolutionists have trained monkeys to do clever things with symbols, but only man has the ability of speech. And that ability is placed within man's spirit the moment he is created in the womb. Even secular linguists have been fascinated by this phenomenon. You can take a baby from a Swahili tribe, another baby from Russian city, and another one from China and raise them in your home and each one of them will utilize the same deep structure rules of communication to figure out the meaning of sounds and eventually speak your language. It is part of God's image in man, and it must be used in dominion of every sort. It is a gracious provision. So kids, don't despise grammar, vocabulary drills, writing essays or debate. You are honing one of God's precious covenant provisions. You need to value the gift of language which enables dominion to be taken. In fact, we are just starting a DVD set on Creative Writing that I think is just out of this world. I wish I had this years ago. But it's a gift. It's a gift for Dominion.

Made to be logically reasoning beings

The third part of God's image in man is logic and reasoning powers. John 1 says that Christ enlightens every man who comes into the world. He gives all humans basic reasoning powers. Even those who are retarded or in a comatose state have this ability imprinted on their souls and will use it when they die. You could not understand the Bible without having embedded into your very being the law of non-contradiction. Does this mean that retarded people are not in the image of God? No. They are in God's image even if one of the facets of God's image is partially marred. All of God's image is in some sense marred since the fall of Adam into sin. But all humans from infancy through death carry the image of God. And when retarded people leave their bodies, or when the mind is freed from the restrictions of the brain at death, every human spirit will have logic and reasoning abilities. I highly, highly recommend that you teach your children logic, and if you don't know it yourself, I can recommend either computer software or books that can help you learn right along with them. Full dominion cannot be taken if our children are not honing this precious dominion resource, which flows from God's covenant with Adam, was renewed under Noah and reaffirmed in the New Testament. So we are social beings, have language and have logic.

Made to be moral beings

The fourth aspect of the image of God in man is that man was made a moral creature. As soon as God made man, God started giving commands in verses 28-31 and in chapter 2. And men responded without needing training to know what obedience is. He has the ten commandments written on his heart. And by the way, if you want a fascinating book which demonstrates how every one of the ten commandments was broken by Adam and Eve, Dr. Nigel Lee has just such a book. They knew the whole moral law.

And when a baby is born, it is not born with a blank slate. That is absolutely unbiblical. Scripture indicates that babies think, sense God's presence in the womb and can in infantile ways know right from wrong. Babies sin in the womb according to the Bible. Mothers, that means that some of those kicks on your ribs may be just stretching or play. But some of them might be anger or frustration. And you may want to pray that God by His Spirit would draw your babies heart away from such frustrations and anger into joy and contentment. Psalm 58:3 says, The wicked are estranged from the womb; They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies. And you don't have to use English to speak lies. We communicate with body language, with cries, with coos, with facial expressions and in other ways.

Romans 1-3 indicates that pagan men know that it is wrong to lie, to cheat, to commit adultery, to fail to worship God. They don't need to ever be taught these things. They intuitively know that they are wrong because they are in God's image. Sinful men can repress that knowledge for a time, and can deceive themselves into thinking they are doing OK. But you can guarantee some moral knowledge in everyone. It's marred, but it's there. And it's a gift to help us in our dominion.

Made to be dominion beings

The fifth part of God's image in man is the urge to take dominion. This starts out very young as children try to feel their environment, taste their environment and change their environment. We are just more sophisticated at our dominion work as we get older. But verse 26 defines image as the capacity to take dominion or rule. That is very much involved in image. And laziness is a sinful rebellion not only against God's dominion mandate, but rebellion against the very way God made us. Do not put up with laziness. The old Swedish expression is that idle hands are the devil's workshop.

Made to relate to God

The sixth aspect of image is the ability to relate to God. Adam and Eve were made for worship; they were made to depend upon God; pray to God and follow God's Word. Again, this distinguishes man from animals. Man was made to relate to and pray to and worship God. And when we are restored to this aspect of Dominion, it transforms our dominion from being selfish and independent to being service and dependent upon God.

Ability to make choices

The last aspect of man's image is the ability to make choices. God is the ultimate chooser since He predestines all things. But God made man with true free agency and the ability to make choices without coercion.

All seven of those features are basic to being able to take dominion, as we will shortly see. Man did not have to earn it. He was given the ability. So God's first gracious and wonderful provision was that he was made in the image and likeness of God.

God gave man all the resource material he needed

God's second gracious provision enabling Adam and Eve to fulfill the covenant mandate was that God gave mankind all of the resource material that he would ever need to take dominion. In the previous 25 verses God had created light, heat, gravity, and all sorts of forces and materials that man could harness for dominion. It was all placed under his control. Jeremiah 31 and 33 indicate that even the stars were placed their for man's use. Psalm 8, the dominion Psalm, revels in God's good gifts of animals, land, and yes, even stars. There is no aspect of this universe that cannot be subject to man's dominion and care.

God created a sonship privilege (cf. Gen. 5:1-3; Luke 3:38)

God's third provision was a sonship privilege, and it's a privilege that Christians are restored to. This sonship is implied here, and it is made explicit in chapter 5, as well as in Luke 3:38 where Adam is called "the son of God." In Genesis 2 God shows a special relationship of care for Adam and Eve and provides a home for them. He also creates the Sabbath in which the Father-child relationship can be nurtured. We shouldn't think of this covenant as only a legal relationship. Law was involved, but it was far more personal than a legal relationship. Adam and Eve had the privilege of prayer; of asking God for any sonship privilege that they desired. Sonship was a tremendous provision, and it's a provision that we have been restored to.

God modeled dominion to Adam and Eve by making a garden

The fourth thing that God's covenant provided was teaching. And God taught in various ways. We see oral teaching going on in verses 28-31. We see more of that kind of teaching in chapter 2. But I think one of the most helpful forms of teaching that God gave was by modeling what it meant to subdue the earth and take dominion by creating a garden. The rest of the earth would be allowed to run wild until through multiplication man got to it, but God illustrated what kind of work He wanted mankind to do by providing a garden of beauty, by showing Adam and Eve minerals, diamonds, gems. He modeled all kinds of dominion through that garden. And modeling is an important aspect of education. If you tell your kids how to clean a room but never show them how to do it, you are only giving half of education. God's teaching was a wonderful provision of the covenant. It was Christian education wasn't it? Everything was taught from God's perspective. And we must value Christian education as well if we truly value dominion. Christian education is not an option. God didn't tell the Israelites to send their children off to the Canaanites to be trained. We have violated a fundamental of Dominion if we fail to educate our children from God's viewpoint.

God established role differences and the initiative of the male as essential to the covenant (expanded upon in chapter 2)

The fifth covenant blessing for dominion was that God established role relationships to aid in this dominion, the male to lead, the female to help. The urge for males to be the same as females or vice versa is not from God. Verse 27 says, Male and female He created them. God clearly intended there to be profound differences that were needed to complement, not compete. But interestingly, Adam takes the initiative even in this brief account since the word for mankind is taken from Adam, not from Eve. This is amplified in chapter 2 where man is created first and is given the primary responsibility for dominion and the woman is called to be a helper to complete him. He is not complete without her help, and she is not complete without his leadership.

When those role differences are ignored, the ability to fulfill the covenant is destroyed. And feminism recognizes that. The gender neutral Bibles that are coming out destroy this distinction of the sexes. It's not enough to say human kind. God calls it man or mankind. Many evangelicals think such distinctions of words are not important, but feminists have always recognized it essential to destroy this kind of vocabulary in order to destroy Christianity's influences. Daphne Hampson is a feminist scholar who has renounced Christianity. However she agrees with conservative Christians that if one gives up the male female distinctions, you have to give up Christianity. For example, in the Fall, 1995 issue of Touchstone, she said, "Feminism represents the death-knell of Christianity as a viable religious option....It is conservative Christians who, together with the more radical feminists, perceive that feminism represents not just one crisis among many. For the feminist challenge strikes at the heart of Christianity....Christianity is a religion of revelation with a necessary foot in history. It cannot lose that reference as long as it remains Christianity. And that reference is to a patriarchal history." [Theology and Feminism, pp. 1,5; in Touchstone (Fall 1995), p. 23] She is right. The male-female role distinctions are fundamental to the dominion covenant and to all of Christianity, and to reject them, you will never take dominion as God intended.

God's Blessing

Finally, in verse 28 it says, Then God blessed them… God's blessing is the ultimate covenant provision. And this covenant blessing can only be restored in Christ Jesus. Outside of Christ all things work together for the condemnation of mankind. It's only in Christ that we have the blessing of Romans 8:28. That blessing has been restored in Christ Jesus. And there is no reason why the dominion mandate cannot be fulfilled when the New Testament promises that Christ, the Second Adam, will fulfill it through the church.

But let's go on to the covenant mandate itself.

God's Covenant Mandate (vv. 28-31)

Not centralized, but decentralized

We see immediately that this is not a centralized mandate like socialism calls for. Verse 28 says, Then God blessed them, and God said to them… etc. The first thing that I want to point out is that God's dominion mandate was not given to one central person. God didn't just make Adam in His image. Marxists like to see dominion only in the state. They believe in a centralization of power, control and government into one organization and they do much to limit the influence of the family to merely procreation - and even there they sometimes put limits as in the case of China's mandatory sterilization program. But Scripture gives dominion to all: both men and women. Both male and female were made in the image of God. Now roles are different, but both share dominion. In verse 26 God says, "let them have dominion. And that has implications for family, church and state. Actually, Adam and Eve were family church and state. It was only later that God by division of labor created three separate governments, and that was needed for checks and balances against sin. But I want you to notice what is the fundamental unit of society. It is not man alone since God said of Adam, it is not good that man should be alone. Nor is it in children. If you look at chapter 1:31 you will see that the husband-wife relationship is the most fundamental relationship amongst men. It was not until male and female were made that God saw that it was very good. The family is the fundamental unit of society and when a government seeks to erode the influence of the family there is bound to be trouble ahead, and when the church seeks to compete with and tear apart the family, there is trouble ahead. So this is not a centralized, managed dominion mandate, but a decentralized mandate that is especially seen in the family, though all of mankind share in it. Does that make sense? The church and the state are involved, but since those flow out of the family, not vice versa, the family, not the church or state is fundamental.

But this also makes a different perspective on the common notion of putting family before work. The family was the business. The man led, the woman complemented, and the children continued the division of labor.

Involves imaging God


Secondly, if man is to carry out dominion mandate, he must imitate God; image God; seek to do things like God. Here I am using the term "image" as a verb. We have already seen that man is the image as a noun. Here I am looking at the concept of living out the image of God in all seven ramifications. The first ramification is socially. If man seeks to take dominion in total isolation from the rest of society, he fails the first point of image. God wants dominion taken in a social context and says, It is not good for man to be alone. And some people are tempted to ignore that. Let me illustrate within the context of the church. One of the rules for gifts that Peter lays down is that every gift must be used to serve people. If you have the gift of administration, you might be tempted to think that administrating would be great if there were no people. But that would defeat the purpose. Even explorers need to do their work for others.


The second and third aspects are verbal and rational. In education I think that teaching verbal skills from grammar to rhetoric to debate are important aspects of preparing them for dominion. But so is logic and clear thinking. If you have never had a logic course, it wouldn't hurt to at least read a book for self-improvement on informal fallacies. You might even find it fun. But rationality and logic are necessary for even rudimentary menial labor.



Fourth, you must carry out the dominion mandate in an ethically proper manner. God laid down rules for Adam and Eve of what they were supposed to do and what they were not supposed to do. They were supposed to work six days and rest one and to ignore the Sabbath would be to take dominion in a way that violated the image of God. To eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil when God had forbidden it, would be to turn dominion into a demonic enterprise. We must be ethical. We must study God's laws in all their minute details if we want to be honorable in our occupation. And let me tell you something – there is no neutral discipline. God's Word governs all disciplines. Honestly before God, can you say that you are running your home, ,or your educational enterprise, or your business by the book? Could you spell out where in Deuteronomy those principles are? Every man, woman and child must study the Old Testament dominion laws because every one of you have been given the dominion mandate.


Fifth, we must not be half-hearted or sloppy in our work. The Hebrew word used here for "rule" or dominion indicates asserting one's authority over something with the foot. In the Old Testament when someone would conquer a nation he would put his foot on the neck of the conquered king's neck as an indication that he was governing and controlling that person from then on. That is why when the dominion mandate is repeated in Psalm 8 it speaks of all things being put under man's feet. This is not a half way dominion. This is taking dominion all the way. Kids, don't let the homework get the best of you. Conquer it. Put your foot on its neck. Men, have a vision of what could be done by God's grace. Don't think of what you could get by with, but always be taking on new mountains for God's glory. And women, be the best helpers to your husbands that you can. You will share in their dominion glory as you support and encourage them. Children, take dominion of the home on the assignments to clean your rooms or doing the laundry. Don't let those things take dominion of you.


And then finally, we image God by doing our dominion spiritually, as unto God. Paul told slaves that even their menial work could be eternally significant if they did it as unto the Lord. So don't ever forget what it means to be in the image of God or to be commanded to image God in our work. Our work is not godly work unless it images God and is done to His glory..

Comprehensive dominion given to man


Let's just take a couple minutes to look at how comprehensive this dominion mandate really is. Verse 28 says, Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth… The first part of the dominion mandate covers procreation. We dealt with that last week. We saw that this aspect of the dominion mandate has never been revoked. If you have bought into the myth of overpopulation, you need to read Rushdoony's book, The Myth of Overpopulation, or E. Calvin Beisner's book, prospects for Growth. Beisner points out that if every man, woman and child on this planet were placed in Texas, each person would have 1373 square feet, which means that a family the size of ours could have a ranch home of 12,000 square feet, with the rest of the world free of humans. No, we have not yet filled the world. God has never repealed any part of the dominion mandate. Even unbelievers are still judged in terms of it according to Romans 5. Since procreation is part of the dominion mandate, the command to be fruitful and multiply has never been revoked. But I think I said enough on that last time.

Subduing the earth.

Secondly, God said, fill the earth and subdue it. There is no way that Adam and Eve could subdue the entire earth by themselves. They would start at the Garden of Eden, and as more children and grandchildren and great grandchildren came along, they would branch out in subduing areas that were overgrown. It was inevitable that over a period of many years parts of the earth would be very wild and would need subduing. Subduing the earth comes before having dominion over the earth. This is true of cultures as well as individuals. Though the earth was good, it was not complete without labor being applied to it. You look at the Indians on this continent before Columbus and what was achieved and compare it with the incredible productivity of American civilization and you have a small picture of what being dominion minded can do. They had the same resources we now have, but not the cumulative dominion.

Dominion over everything that lives

The next part of the command was to take dominion over everything that lives. He says, have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth. There is a big difference between ruling over creatures and abusing creatures. A righteous man regards the life of his animal, but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel. God calls us to care for and manage animals. Sometimes this means harvesting deer to keep them from overpopulating, starving, getting sick and endangering the whole group of animals. Sometimes it may mean protecting an endangered species. But keep in mind that man is to rule them, not have animals ruling man. The Green movement is not a Biblical movement. And I highly recommend some of E. Calvin Beisner's books which show the errors of the green movement while showing what Biblical stewardship would look like.

Dominion over the plant life

The next command was to have dominion over the plant life. And God said, ‘See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food'; and it was so. Notice that God's command to Adam included not just what Adam could eat, but what animals and insects could eat. Adam was not to wipe out the food supply for creatures. He was not to destroy their habitat. He was ruler, not destroyer. While modern radical ecologists have been bizarre and unbalanced in the things they want to preserve, we need to be ecologically sensitive out of obedience to the Lord. But God's ideal is not virgin untouched land. It is subdued and ruled land. It's not swamp and overgrown jungle that God idealizes. God idealizes a park where man and beast can dwell. Unfortunately, what ecologists call good (overgrown swamps and forests untouched by man), God calls mankind to put his hand to in order to bring order out of disorder. So this passage helps us to avoid imbalance.

Dominion over the earth itself

Verse 26 says that man was to have dominion over the physical earth, and verse 28 said that man was to subdue the physical earth itself. Fill the earth and subdue it. This could involve mineral extraction, chemical studies, and any other science or technology that relates to the earth.

Even the sun, moon and stars are given to man (Deut. 4:19; Jer. 31:35; 33:20; Psalm 8)

But the Dominion mandate is even more comprehensive than this. Jeremiah 33, when commenting on this covenant that God made with Adam says that it was a covenant also with the day and the night. And the Bible says that the sun, moon and stars were given as a heritage to man. They are God's gift to mankind. For example, Deuteronomy 4:19 stands as a rebuke against the Green Peace movement which divinizes nature. It says, And take heed, lest you lift your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, you feel driven to worship them and serve them, which the LORD your God has given to all the peoples under the whole heaven as a heritage. He says, "Why in the world would you worship the creation? The creation belongs to man, and man should take dominion rather than man submitting to the dominion of creation. But that's a great verse showing that even the stars are man's heritage; they belong to man and can be harnessed by man. Jeremiah 31:5 says, who gives the sun… It was a gift of God.

Morris points out that this therefore is the basis for every science and every legitimate discipline known to man.

Morris points out that this Dominion Mandate is therefore the basis for every science and every legitimate discipline known to man.

We have an awful long way to go before this world is subdued. Technology has really taken off over the past 100 years. But let me give you one example to show how we tend to be blinded to the potential hidden in God's creation. It is the black scientist George Washington Carver. He was a godly Christian who took the Dominion Mandate seriously and used his energies to try to develop the potential of the created world. He made many other discoveries, but what he did with peanuts alone is amazing. He said:

I carried the peanuts into my laboratory and the Creator told me to take them apart and resolve them into their elements. With such knowledge as I had of chemistry and physics I set to work to take them apart. I separated the water, the fats, the oils, the gums, the resins, sugars, starches, pectoses, pentosans, amino acids. There! I had the parts of the peanuts all spread out before me.1

This man in spite of primitive conditions in his work place, and despite opposition from others made nearly 300 derivative products from the lowly peanut including cheese, milk, flour, ink, dyes, wood stains, and soap. Nobody had even thought to do that before. They just thought of the peanut as pig food. But Carver had the urge to take dominion and he used the God given capacities to do so.

Christianity has given impetus to science, exploration, technology and other advancements. And despite the incredible advances of technology in the last 50 years, we are just in the infancy of taking dominion of and subduing our planet to the Lord. Do not let the Christian bashers deceive you. Without Christianity the West would not be where it is today. We need to value God's world not for itself, but because of our Creator to whom we are accountable for all that we do. May we do all of our occupations in light of the Dominion Mandate. Amen.


  1. Rackham Holt, George Washington Carver: An American Biography (New York: Doubleday, 1943), 226-227.

The Dominion Mandate is part of the Foundations series published on June 8, 2003

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