Dominion

The concept of dominion is one of the key themes in the biblical account of the relationship between mankind and the rest of the material creation. It is a consequence of being created in the image of God, and has links to the biblical witness of Christ.

Source

The source of man's authority over the world is located in the one who created both. God, when proposing to create man, said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." ( Gen. 1:26) Man, therefore, is not autonomous in his dominion, but subject to God. Further than that, however, we see that the source of man's dominion is in the fact that he is created in the image of God. ^[1]^ As a result, this will provide boundaries to our dominion.

Nature

The understanding of the nature of man's dominion is something which has been moving over the last decades. The emphasis in previous centuries was on a man-centred understanding of creation, leading to a man-centred view of authority. Perhaps Calvin most succinctly expresses this view when he says, "And hence we infer what was the end for which all things were created; namely, that none of the conveniences and necessities of life might be wanting to men."^ [2]^ This view sees creation as existing for man's benefit, and so sees extracting value from the world as being of prime importance. Carried to extremes, it could suggest that anything mankind can do to extract value from the world around is legitimate. Although this latter view has been and is current in some parts of the Christian church, most proponents of this understanding of creation—and consequently, of man's dominion—have taken a far more nuanced view. Indeed, not much further on from the previous quotation, Calvin wrote, "let every one regard himself as the steward of God in all things which he possesses. Then he will … [not] corrupt by abuse those things which God requires to be preserved."^ [3]^

Modern ecological concerns have led some theologians to propose that we must radically re-cast our understanding of nature, and move to an "ecocentric" view of creation, where the whole of creation is counted equally. However, some twentieth-century scholars, rejecting the "anthropocentric" model as inadequate and viewing the "ecocentric" view of creation as tantamount to pantheism^[4]^^[5]^, have proposed a modified reading of the concept of dominion. They suggest that we should understand man's relationship to creation in terms which are "theocentric". For instance, Bullmore writes that, "It is not primarily for our own well-being that we rule over creation but for God."^[6]^

As an example of the effects of this change in reading, Blocher, commenting on the nature of man's dominion, explains that "like a shepherd will he rule the animals, with a view to their own welfare as well as to his own."^[7]^ By comparing man's role to that of the shepherd, he hints that we can only understand our dominion in the light of the dominion of the Good Shepherd. Thus, to understand what biblical dominion is, we must look to Jesus. Bullmore^ [8]^ quotes Dyrness as pointing us forward from the dominion of Genesis 1 to the dominion that a godly king is to exercise in Deuteronomy, and to the dominion of the godly king in Psalm 72. We may add Psalm 8 and its commentary in Hebrews, which don't treat of dominion specifically, but do bear on the basic question of man's relationship to the rest of creation. These passages, in turn point forward directly to Christ, who is the godly king, ruling in righteousness and justice. He is the king who builds his people up with love and gentleness; he prunes his people for growth; and he gives all that he has for their benefit.

Effects of the Fall

In Genesis 3, we see clearly that the Fall affects man's dominion, in two ways. Firstly, man's ability to understand his work is diminished; this follows as one of the noetic effects of the Fall. However, the effect which Genesis, and Romans 8, explicitly teaches is that the ground itself is cursed because of us. Thus, we cannot say, as have some scholars, that our problems in exercising dominion rightly are solely because we are out of touch with nature. Human folly makes it quite obvious that we are; but nature is also out of touch with itself.

Future hope

It is to this truth, of nature out of touch with itself, that Bullmore turns in his final section^[9]^, as he treats of Romans 8. For God subjected the whole creation to frustration, writes Paul, so that one day it may enjoy the freedom of the sons of God. Creation groans, as though in childbirth, and one day, Paul's imagery implies, the new creation will be born out of the old. The implications for our attitude towards dominion are striking: creation is waiting with us for the final redemption. We do not exercise our dominion in vain, but await our Saviour from heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will complete his new creation.

Notes

  1. ? Blocher, p. 90
  2. ? Genesis, 1:26
  3. ? Genesis, 2:15
  4. ? Bookless
  5. ? Armerding, pp. 8–9
  6. ? Bullmore, p. 155
  7. ? Blocher, p. 90
  8. ? Bullmore, pp. 155–156
  9. ? Bullmore, pp. 159–161

References