Take the 2-minute tour ×
Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

"And God 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 fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth." —Genesis 1:26 (KJV)

What does "dominion" mean here? Does it mean "care and look after" or is it more like "plunder and make use of"?

share|improve this question
2  
This question looks a bit like it is trying to pick a fight. Do you have any example of anyone who claims that it means "plunder and make use of"? If not, what makes you think it might mean that? The question appears rhetorical to me, and as such stands in danger of being closed as "not a real question" or "not constructive". –  Kazark Jan 3 '13 at 2:43
    
Marketing teaches that when writing or advertising offends you that writing was not targeted towards you. I was frustrated with the two previous websites with more preaching than substance. Nevertheless, this is just what I needed. Thank you. God Bless –  user3520 Feb 16 at 14:07
    
@Kazark I don't know about the OP, but personally, I have known literally hundreds of people who claim, some of them quite vocally, that it means "plunder and subjugate" (not even "make use of"). By comparison, I know maybe a dozen people (including myself) who are even open to any sort of "care for" interpretation. It may be a national/regional thing, but in my experience, at least in the USA midwest, "plunder and subjugate" is by far the most common interpretation. –  Matthew Najmon May 7 at 3:36
    
@MatthewNajmon Are you able to provide any example blog posts, etc...? –  Kazark May 7 at 18:25
    
@Kazark I don't read a lot of religious blogs, so I have no idea what the common interpretations are among bloggers. I was referring to the common interpretations among my family members, people I've known at schools and at workplaces, people at my church, people at past churches I've attended, any any other people I've known in person. –  Matthew Najmon May 7 at 19:23

2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The verb here (and also v28) is יִרְדּוּ (yirdu), which is from reish-dalet-hei (radah), which BDB gives as "have dominion, rule, dominate". Note that there is another word for "rule", malach, from mem-lamed-chaf "king". This is the word used to talk about God's rule over the world. So whatever radah is, it's probably a different kind of rulership than that.

Another place radah shows up is in Lev 25:43, when talking about one's indentured servants:

לֹא-תִרְדֶּה בוֹ, בְּפָרֶךְ; וְיָרֵאתָ, מֵאֱלֹהֶיךָ.

Thou shalt not rule over him with rigour; but shalt fear thy God.

This passage uses lo (no), suggesting that radah means to rule "with rigor", a stern rule. Another use is in Bilaam's blessing/prophecy in Num 24:19:

וְיֵרְדְּ, מִיַּעֲקֹב; וְהֶאֱבִיד שָׂרִיד, מֵעִיר.

And out of Jacob shall one have dominion, and shall destroy the remnant from the city.

All of this suggests to me that radah means a stern sort of rule -- "dominion" in the "top dog" sense. Going back to Genesis, the text seems to be saying that humans are in charge of the world and everything else exists to meet their needs, at least at that time in the garden. Whether it applies post-expulsion is another question.


Please note: This answer was written for a neutral, academic audience and is not intended to be interpreted in the context of a religious belief or doctrine.

share|improve this answer
    
Excellent, clear, answer. Thank you! –  DanBeale Jan 2 '13 at 12:33

When the heavens and the earth were created, and man and woman were placed on the earth, the creative order was established. (Please click here.) This illustration depicts that the "dominion" was the created order through which the creator exercised his will over creation. Of course this order started with the creator, and then to man/woman (one flesh), and then to the animal kingdom. You can call this created order God's "chain of command."

When the serpent approached the woman and deceived her, and then the man had subsequently sinned, this creative order of God was turned upside-down. (Please click here.) Please note that the serpent was Satan (according to Revelation 12:9 and Revelation 20:2). By approaching the woman as an animal (instead of appearing as himself), he flipped the creative order upside-down.

The same created order (in the positive sense) was repeated with the nation of Israel. In the Hebrew Bible, the visible Kingdom of God on earth was represented by the theocracy, which was headed by the Shekinah Glory, which was the physical presence of God on earth. The King of Israel was the head of the nation of Israel, and therefore was part of its body. In this arrangement, the Gentile nations were the "animals." (Please click here.) As in the case of the created order in the Garden of Eden, disobedience came along and again flip-flopped the created order. When the Shekinah glory left the earth before the Babylonian exile, the prophet Daniel described the rulership of the world through the domination of "beasts" or Gentile kingdoms. Since the departure of the Shekinah glory from earth, the world has been governed by "bestial" kingdoms, and so began the Times of the Gentiles (cf. Luke 21:24). Is it not remarkable that nations of the world today depict themselves through the image of predatory wild animals (such as the bald eagle, the bear, or the lion)?

Finally, and not least, we are now living today in what is the invisible Kingdom of God on earth. During the present time (which is the Times of the Gentiles), the rule of God on earth is invisible, and is operative through Jesus Christ and his church, which are one body (Romans 12:5). At a time in the yet future, the church will become apostate (2 Thessalonians 2:3), at which time the flip-flop will occur again. (Please click here.) That is, the faithful remnant (minority) will be removed from the earth, and the apostate remnant (majority) will remain, and will "ride on top" of the beast (Revelation 17:3), who is the mega-beast empire, whose head is the Antichrist. The apostate church will be "married" to the Antichrist and be one body with him. By desecrating the yet-future temple, the flip-flop is consummated: the blasphemy is the subordination of the Father in heaven in a reversal of God's highest created order on earth (Christ and the Church), which will then be headed by Satan.

So, to answer your question, "dominion" means the creative order (or God's "chain of command"), through which he exercises his holy will within his creation on earth. Of course this "dominion" has its opposite in sin, when disobedience is exercised contrary to the will of God. The sinful version of the created order turns everything upside-down, and of course has its ultimate origin in the serpent ("beast"), who is Satan.

share|improve this answer
1  
Most of this opinion doesn't seem to address the question about the word "dominion". Can you source your understanding of that word as meaning the creative order? (Your answer would probably fare better if you trimmed out the other stuff and focused on answering the question.) –  Gone Quiet Dec 31 '12 at 17:47
1  
Hermeneutics includes more than simply splitting infinitives in the original languages -- in a word it is both the science (exegesis) and art (exposition) of interpreting the Bible. What you call "opinion" is my own exposition of the meaning of Gen 1:26 along with its relevance to the present day in light of Biblical genre for "dominion" in both the Old and New Testaments. –  Joseph Dec 31 '12 at 18:12
3  
not to pick nits here, but splitting infinitives is a style principle. hermeneutics is also more than just proof-texting the greatest hits of one's preferred tradition. i won't say "opinion," but your answer reads like a partial biblical theology of the concept of "dominion." hermeneutics supplies the substance upon which these theologies, doctrines, and even "opinions" are founded. i see no application of hermeneutics in your answer. i won't downvote you, but i will implore you to post a bit more research - and yes, that may mean parsing verbs –  swasheck Jan 2 '13 at 17:58

protected by Community May 6 at 17:34

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.