Some people harshly criticize God for allowing mankind to dominate the earth. Many are atheists. Whether atheist or not, many are feminists or animal rights activists. But where in Scripture does it say that humans ought to dominate anything?
I searched for “dominate” and “domination” in most of the English translations on Bible Gateway. The Amplified Bible suggests those words once each as an amplification. Otherwise, neither word appears in any English translation I have seen. Not even in the loosest paraphrases.
The word “dominion,” on the other hand, appears in many English versions. It’s not a word we use often nowadays. When trying to use an unfamiliar word, people frequently substitute a similar, more familiar word. Careless, but common.
It looks like some people have taken umbrage at something they didn’t read very carefully. It turns out, though, that Christians can make the same mistake. My email recently brought me a devotional with the title “Domination over Animals.” The scripture it quoted uses “dominion.”
I assume my readership doesn’t include many atheists, but since a very prolific Christian blogger substituted “domination” for “dominion,” it seems like a good idea to explore the topic.
People who object to God’s choice most often cite Genesis 1:28. Here it is in several translations, some of which use “rule” instead of “dominion.” Note also the word “subdue” or the equivalent. The combination of those two words seems to make the verse particularly offensive.
And God blessed them [granting them certain authority] and said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth, and subjugate it [putting it under your power]; and rule over (dominate) the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and every living thing that moves upon the earth.” –– AMP (Amplified Bible)
And God blessed them, saying: Increase and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it, and rule over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and all living creatures that move upon the earth. –– Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition
And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. –– KJV
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.” –– NASB
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” –– NIV
Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” –– NKJV
And God blesseth them, and God saith to them, `Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it, and rule over fish of the sea, and over fowl of the heavens, and over every living thing that is creeping upon the earth.’ –– Young’s Literal Translation
What does subdue mean?
“Subdue” or its equivalent translates the Hebrew kabash, which means “to subject, subdue, force, keep under, bring into bondage, make subservient.” It’s often used as the proper response to an attacking army.
So does it give us free reign to treat the world violently?
Let’s keep the context in mind. God gave this commandment in the Garden of Eden before the fall. Had man not sinned, obeying the command to be fruitful and multiply would have eventually made the garden too small for everyone to live in it.
Outside the garden was some kind of wilderness. Subduing the earth by unfallen humans would have meant transforming wilderness into garden.
In our fallen state, we have from the very beginning perpetrated monstrous crimes on nature. Prehistoric man hunted some animals to extinction. Mining and making such products as leather and paper have always created health hazards and otherwise negatively affected the environment. Nowadays, we seem bent on making the earth uninhabitable. That’s not what God had in mind when he told unfallen humanity to subdue the earth.
What does dominion mean?
The Hebrew here is radah. Where the King James Version translates it “have dominion,” most of the more recent translations use “rule.” According to the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (BDB)., it means “to rule, have dominion, dominate, tread down.”
Again, it looks at first like God intends something harsh, but how did God intend for the kings of Israel to rule? Psalm 72 states it explicitly:
Give the king Your judgments, O God,
And Your righteousness to the king’s Son. . .
He shall have dominion also from sea to sea,
And from the River to the ends of the earth. . .
For He will deliver the needy when he cries,
The poor also, and him who has no helper.
He will spare the poor and needy,
And will save the souls of the needy.
He will redeem their life from oppression and violence;
And precious shall be their blood in His sight. –– Psalm 72:1, 8, 12-14 NKJV
That hardly equates dominion with domination.
BDB suggests “dominate” as a definition of radah because in some contexts, that’s exactly how it’s applied. But what does Scripture say when rulers did equate dominion (godly rulership) with domination? Here’s a small sample:
An astonishing and horrible thing
Has been committed in the land:
The prophets prophesy falsely,
And the priests rule by their own power;
And My people love to have it so.
But what will you do in the end? –– Jeremiah 5:30-31
Look, the princes [rulers] of Israel: each one has used his power to shed blood in you. In you they have made light of father and mother; in your midst they have oppressed the stranger; in you they have mistreated the fatherless and the widow. You have despised My holy things and profaned My Sabbaths. . . Behold, therefore, I beat My fists at the dishonest profit which you have made, and at the bloodshed which has been in your midst. –– Ezekiel 22:6-8, 13
Hear now, O heads of Jacob,
And you rulers of the house of Israel:
Is itnot for you to know justice? . . .
Now hear this,
You heads of the house of Jacob
And rulers of the house of Israel,
Who abhor justice
And pervert all equity, . . .
Therefore because of you
Zion shall be plowed likea field,
Jerusalem shall become heaps of ruins,
And the mountain of the temple
Like the bare hills of the forest. –– Micah 3:1, 9, 12
As with Israel, so with all mankind. We have subdued the earth, but not as God intended. We have dominated the earth, but not exercised godly dominion.
What right do critics have to blame God for the outcome of rebellion against him they participate in as much as anyone else?
The kingdoms of Israel and Judah met a violent end for misuse of power. So will all mankind, but God also promises redemption for all who submit to his righteous dominion.
Grazing sheep © Copyright Maigheach-gheal l and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License
Peaceable Kingdom. Public domain from Wikimedia Commons
Destruction of Jerusalem. Public domain