Genesis 1:26-28 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Previously we pointed out that all of creation was made before humanity. This suggests that we are ultimately dependent and intimately connected to the rest of creation. We should keep this in mind as we read this passage.
The word “rule” is also translated “have dominion.” In our modern mind dominion immediately makes us think of “dominate.” This is how humanity has taken this passage for centuries. We take this passage to mean that creation is for us. We see the world as ours to use as we please, to control and manipulate. If we recognize, however, that creation existed before we did and that we are ultimately a part of creation and dependent on it for sustenance and life, then this meaning is antithetical to the creation story.
The Message says it well, “God spoke: Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature so they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, and yes, the Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of the earth.” The point of “ruling over” creation is not to dominate or manipulate for our own purposes. Rather it means that we are stewards. We are responsible for caring for the creation.
The first command to humans is to “be fruitful and multiply” and “subdue” the earth. I don’t quite know what to make of this particular verse. I don’t believe, like Al Mohler, that if you aren’t procreating you are somehow less than human or not fulfilling your purpose. It seems like the whole point of creation is being fruitful and multiplying though. That’s kind of the way life works. Myabe this doesn’t just mean making babies though.
Then there’s this other little word “subdue” which means “to conquer, subjugate or violate.” I don’t get that either. This is before “the fall” so I’m not sure why creation needs to be subjugated. Perhaps it refers back to verse one when the Spirit hovered over the formless and void primordial deep. God created out of a kind of chaos and so we participate in God’s image by also creating order out of chaos.