A Biblical Survey of Animals and Man Part II
In the previous post in our series “A Biblical Survey of Animals and Man,” we asked, why do animals exist? and talked about the presuppositions we all bring to the discussion of animals’ place on earth and in our lives. Off hand, it is easy and natural to assume an anthropocentric view of the world; that is, things have value as they relate to humankind. We value things and creatures based on how useful they are, how entertaining they are, how aesthetically pleasing they are, and how delicious they are, perhaps. But Scripture clearly calls us to a theocentric view of the world; it is all about God, and things have value because of their status before Him. This applies to our discussion of animals and their welfare in the hands of man. The creation account in Genesis reveals that animals were good and blessed by God before man had anything to do with them. They have their own intrinsic value as creatures made by the hand of God.
Of course, as the drama of Genesis continues to unfold, man enters the scene as the major player in the future of the creaturely kingdom.
Let’s go to Scripture:
“Then 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 birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.’” (Genesis 1:26-29, emphasis mine)
Right away the creation narrative deviates from its previous pattern; in Genesis 1:1-25 we read that God created the earth, waters, sky, stars, sun and moon, plants, birds, livestock, fish, and every other living thing, but now he decides to make a different sort of creature, a creature after His own image. Creation is crowned with a special and unique creature called Man, who will be a representative of God in exercising dominion over all of creation.
Dominion is a concept that has been widely debated and often abused. A brief discussion of the dilemma of dominion is on the blog here. Several things are important to note about the original context of the command:
1) Man, in the unbroken image of God, had not yet fallen into sin. Being in the “image of God” is a topic worthy of boundless research and thought, but here is a simple explanation I’ve paraphrased from Anthony A. Hoekema:
“The image of God” has both general and narrow meanings; in the general sense, all men are created with the ability to reason and be held responsible for their actions; in the narrower sense, Christians (and Adam and Eve, before the Fall) have the ability to function in “true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness,” through the power of the Holy Spirit (from his excellent book Created in God’s Image).
(This is barely an introduction to the concept of the image of God – we’ll discuss this in greater detail in the next post. For more detail on man in the image of God as related to creation care in general see this post.)
2) ) In Genesis 1, the animals were not yet given as food (this becomes allowable in Genesis 9:3). Dominion in this original charge to Adam and Eve did not include hunting, killing, trapping, slaughtering for food, and the like. I think we can barely imagine a world in which animals were not used in such ways, but we must try in order to understand the Garden of Eden and the original relationship of man to animals. (for a discussion on the ethics of modern meat-eating see posts here, here, and here.)
3) The animals did not have an intrinsic fear of man (which is described as beginning after the flood in Genesis 9:2-3) and presumably had gentle natures. Both man and animals were given “every green plant for food” (Gen. 1:29-30). The animals were not natural enemies or natural predators of man or each other. Can you picture such a fairy-tale-esque world, in which birds might land on your shoulder, and deer graze quietly by your side? Lions were not stalking the antelope, and rabbits were not cowering under the shadows of hawks. Man had no worries about wolves killing their sheep, snakes strangling their children, or crocodiles lunging out of rivers with open jaws. There was, therefore, no need for a “heavy-handed” dominion in order to protect oneself or settlements against wild, poisonous, hungry, or otherwise dangerous animals, as became a problem later and remains so throughout the rest of history.
So what did dominion in this peaceable kingdom look like? We have long acquainted “dominion” with control, and often violence. The word conjures up images of barbed-wire fences, deer stands, feedlots, and butcher shops. But the charge of dominion was given to a world without sin, pain, or death, without meat-eating, and was to be held over kind and gentle creatures unaffected by the curse. In light of this, it is apparent that we need to revise our understanding of dominion to understand the application it was meant to have in the Garden.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the creaturely kingdom and its relationship to man before the Fall. In the next post we’ll look at more of what we can learn from Scripture about dominion held by man in the image of God.
deer: paparutzi (creative commons license)
barbed wire: seriousbri (creative commons license)