"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"?

  • 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, 2013 at 2:43
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    – user3520
    Feb 16, 2014 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. May 7, 2014 at 3:36
  • @MatthewNajmon Are you able to provide any example blog posts, etc...?
    – Kazark
    May 7, 2014 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. May 7, 2014 at 19:23

5 Answers 5


The Hebrew text of Gen. 1:26 states,

כו וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם בְּצַלְמֵנוּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ וְיִרְדּוּ בִדְגַת הַיָּם וּבְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם וּבַבְּהֵמָה וּבְכָל הָאָרֶץ וּבְכָל הָרֶמֶשׂ הָרֹמֵשׂ עַל הָאָרֶץ

which may be translated as,

26 And God said, “Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness, and they shall rule over the fish of the sea, and the fowl of the heaven, and over the beasts, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

However, another possible translation of וְיִרְדּוּ is “so that they may rule.” According to this translation, God made man in Their image and according to Their likeness so that they (humans)2 may rule over the rest of Their creation. This would be equivalent to the Greek expression ἵνα ἄρξωσι(ν), expressing purpose (τελικώς).

The Hebrew Verb רָדָה

The Hebrew verb יִרְדּוּ (yir·du') is conjugated in binyan Paʿal from the lemma רָדָה (ra·dah'). In binyan Paʿal, the verb essentially means “to rule,” as indicated by its usage elsewhere.3

Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius wrote,4

Gesenius, o. 758, רָדָה

“In Our Image and According to Our Likeness”

There is essentially no difference in the prepositions ב and כ preceding the nouns in the phrase בְּצַלְמֵנוּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ. For, in Gen. 5:1, it states that God created man בִּדְמוּת אֱלֹהִים rather than כִּדְמוּת אֱלֹהִים (despite כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ in Gen. 1:26), and in Gen. 5:3, it states that Adam begat a son בִּדְמוּתוֹ כְּצַלְמוֹ rather than כִּדְמוּתוֹ בְּצַלְמוֹ.

“Have Dominion”

Therefore, the translation “have dominion” is synonymous with “rule.” God made man in Their image and according to Their likeness so that man would rule over and subjugate,5 not only the creatures upon the earth and in proximity to it (i.e., those inhabiting the sky and the sea), but the very earth itself.

Notice the following:

Gen. 1:26

When the Lord Jesus Christ calmed the waves of the sea,6 he was demonstrating rule over the earth, the authority which Adam and his descendants were deprived of as a consequence of his transgression.

In Matt. 8:27, it is written,

27 But the men were amazed, saying, “What kind of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!?”


Gesenius, Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm. Gesenius’s Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures. Trans. Tregelles, Samuel Prideaux. London: Bagster, 1860.


1 The LXX translates the verb וְיִרְדּוּ into Greek as an imperative ἀρχέτωσαν, i.e. “They shall rule!”/“Let them rule!”
2 The verb וְיִרְדּוּ is conjugated in the plural number.
3 A master ruling over a slave: cp. Lev. 25:43, 25:46, 25:53; a king ruling over nations: cp. 1 Kings 4:24; Psa. 72:8
4 p. 758
5 cp. Gen. 1:28: וְכִבְשֻׁהָ (“and subjugate it”)
6 Matt. 8:27


A good place to start interpreting this is with the simple meaning of the word dominion. It means authority; the word has never had a connotation of abusive power and exploitation, when used in a neutral context like this.

As a Christian, I believe it is completely valid to interpret the meaning of the OT in light of the NT. This means I regard them as one context, originating from the same God. Most Christians understand this as "using the Bible to interpret the Bible," a hermeneutical concept quite familiar to theologians at least from the times of Irenaeus.

So What does the NT have to say about this? Consider Matthew 20:25ff:

But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

So our Lord does not nullify God's command to have dominion in Genesis 1, neither does He consider those who "exercise authority" to be fulfilling that command, but rather those who "minister", who "serve". "Feed my sheep" was his exhortation to Peter in John 21. I think the Lord's interpretation of having dominion should also be ours.

The hermeneutic principle I am following is the "redemptive-historical christocentric method" taught in the excellent book, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament, by Sidney Greidanus, which I highly recommend. None of his examples include Genesis 1 or Matthew 20. But I feel confident that the method in this case would suggest an interpretation along these lines.

For an homiletic example, consider the nickname of the commonwealth of Virginia: "Old Dominion". This would be a rude nickname for a people to take if the word dominion had a negative meaning. The state's flag, "sic semper tyrannis", reinforces this positive authority as well, by decreeing death to those who would abuse authority. (Of course, slavery was just such a tyranny, practiced in Virginia, and put to an end here also. But let's leave the lesson in hypocrisy for another sermon.)

  • 1
    Typically with Hermeneutics, we work to understand the text in it's original context. In Hebrew, רָדָה (dominion) means to tread down, to rule over, to subjugate, etc, and in Hebrew it does not lean very neutral in most uses. The usage meaning of Dominion in Greek may have a completely different meaning, and this is [not a Christian site]. People may come from a number of traditions. Even Judaism or Atheism. Furthermore, applying the NT for interpretation can significantly alter the way it was interpreted originally by it's Jewish audience. Jan 26, 2016 at 18:19
  • Lastly, when showing your work, it is generally recommended that you excerpt and quote only the relevant portion to support your answer, as opposed to providing a book recommendation. As links often become stale (link rot) providing the quote helps as we cannot guarantee the link will be around forever. See also: goo.gl/YEvyME. Jan 26, 2016 at 18:25
  • Thanks for the advice on links, Mr. Shewey. Removed them.
    – C. Kelly
    Jan 26, 2016 at 19:13

Words do not have meanings; authors do. Language is bottom up. That is, people decide how they are going to use words and then linguists merely catalog how they actually are being used. No committee decided that "bad" would now mean "hip" or that "hip" would now mean "chic" etc. So with that caveat one can go to a lexicon and obtain a collection of examples that show how people actually have used the word in the past:


A lexeme might have multiple usages and together they comprise the "semantic domain".

In the Hebrew language a lexeme can have multiple forms that have different meanings.

So the question of what a word "means" is dependent on the context in which it is used. In Gen 1:26 the author appears to be indicating that mankind was to have the authority to rule over the animals. No particular elaboration is provided in the immediate context to specify how that rule is to be carried out.

However, in the wider context of the Torah there are examples of qualifications that suggest that YHVH gave man latitude in exploiting animals, including eating them, wearing them and sacrificing them as an atonement. He does however express displeasure at those who abuse authority and abuse those under their charge:

Lev 25:43 Thou shalt not rule over him with rigour; but shalt fear thy God.

Deu_25:4 Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn.

There is a long history of people who have been cruel to animals but this is criticize in the Proverbs:

Pro 12:10 Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.

And because even a considerate exploitation of nature is taxing on the natural order Moses commanded regular periods of rest:

Lev 26:34 "Then the land shall enjoy its Sabbaths as long as it lies desolate, while you are in your enemies' land; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its Sabbaths. Lev 26:35 As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, the rest that it did not have on your Sabbaths when you were dwelling in it.

In summary, the word "have dominion" does not qualify the way that dominion is to be carried out but the wider context of the scriptures shows that unrelenting, harsh or cruel exploitation is not condoned while careful use without abuse is permitted and expected.


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.

  • 2
    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, 2012 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, 2013 at 17:58

It means that God gave man the greater authority, the greater ruling..

Example, if I give you dominion over a farm. I just gave you authority to rule over the farm.

Another example is when dominion is used in history. It means to "rule over", or "have power over"..

  • Please provide evidence that your opinion is correct. For example, what does the underlying Greek word really mean? Can you show it from a lexicon (not a concordance)?
    – user10231
    Apr 28, 2016 at 20:27
  • @WoundedEgo 3 because my answer does not go into long lengths of non sense, I put what God told me to put. So if you want to argue with what God told me to put down, which what I put was simple, straightforward and to the point.. If you want to argue with God then that's you, so quit down voting my answers. Apr 28, 2016 at 23:33
  • Ivan, this place has rules. If you want to be exempt from the rules you'll have to get special permission. You can apply for that permission over on the Meta site. Be sure to mention how special you are and that whatever you write is actually a revelation from God. In the meantime, expect a lot of down votes if you don't comply with the rules.
    – user10231
    Apr 28, 2016 at 23:47

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