Genesis 1:28, Subdue the earth

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.

//In this verse, just after God creates humankind on the earth, he grants us dominion over all the animals and tells us to “subdue” the earth. What does this mean? There are two main ways of reading this, and I’ve heard both sides preached.

On the one hand, utilitarian readers interpret this verse as permission to use the earth as they wish, to their own end. Knowing that God will one day destroy his creation anyway, they reason that there’s no point of preserving it, and gladly accept the call to dominate all that lives.

On the other hand are those who see this verse as a call to care for the earth. They read the story of Adam and Eve in Eden, placed there to care for God’s garden, and see today’s verse as a similar call for responsible stewardship.

My own opinion? Logic dictates that we hedge our bets and come down on the “responsible stewardship” end of the spectrum, just in case God does want us to save the whales.


  1. It’s always struck me how proponents of the first reading never extend the argument to its logical conclusion: There’s no point in having doctors; people are going to die one day anyway. If someone’s sick, just let them suffer and die, since they’ll be all better once they get to heaven anyway. Let’s take the money we currently spend on hospitals and spend it on marshmallows instead.

    It’s exactly the same logic: the created world is temporary, so don’t think twice about neglecting it; focus on eternity instead. When applied to humans, it’s clear to anyone that, although logically sound, it’s a stupid and obscene way to think.

    It’s a tragedy that so many Christians have not been able to make the leap and see that it’s just as stupid and obscene when applied to nature. Their inability (refusal) to do so has perhaps been one of history’s most costly cases of sloppy thinking.

  2. Regardless of interpretation, this is repeated in Psalm 8:6-8.

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