Q:Does mankind have dominion over nature?
A: Genesis 1:26-28 does include a dominion mandate. The verb radah (1:26), translated by the NASB as rule, cannot be softened simply to mean stewardship. It is appropriately translated as rule or dominate. This dominion mandate, or cultural mandate, was given to perfect and sinless man who was qualified as God’s representative to properly govern the earth. Bacon, Descartes and generations of dominionists since seemingly fail to consider the impact of the events that followed, however. As man was created in the image of God, God declares that His creation, including man, was very good (1:31). But the sin of Genesis 3 resulted in a changed condition for man and all of creation. Man was no longer qualified to govern creation, as evidenced by: (1) the curse that came to the earth as a result of Adam’s governance (3:17), (2) increased difficulty in working with the earth (3:17), (3) finite lifespan that would make discovery of nature far more difficult (3:19), and most importantly, (3) the image of God in man was now altered or augmented by the image of Adam – of fallen man (5:3). God’s subsequent description of human quality sounds nothing like an endorsement of human qualification for governing the earth:
Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (6:5)
Later, after God judges the world and begins anew with Noah and his family, God repeats the “be fruitful and multiply” imperative (c.f., 1:28 and 9:7), but omits entirely any discussion of ruling or subduing. Evidently man has lost the ability and privilege to govern. In order for man even to survive, God installs a sanctity-of-life ethic (i.e., capital punishment, 9:6), He places the fear of man in animals so that they might not destroy mankind (9:2,5), and He covenants with all living things (9:12) that He will not again judge the world by flood (9:11). Thus man is not only incapable of governing, but he needs divine accommodation even for his basic subsistence. Any presumption that the dominion mandate or cultural mandate applies to fallen man is exegetically deficient (and commits the same offense as those who would place all mankind under Mosaic Law, for example), and usually results in a dangerous kind of anthropocentrism. We err when we presume that we can redeem creation when we are in need of redemption ourselves. This is unwarranted hubris, and a mechanism whereby we mistakenly place ourselves in God’s rightful place. Of course, not all who hold to human dominion are abusive of God’s possessions (creation) – in fact many are quite conscious of their God-given responsibilities. Nonetheless, how one answers the dominion question will have far reaching implications.