I was reminded last Sunday by John Thatamanil’s sermon what a profound challenge it is to read Genesis 1:26-28 in our current context of global climate crisis.

John’s sermon can be heard here: https://www.stphilipvictoria.ca/podcasts/media/2019-11-10-a-new-battlefield-creation?fbclid=IwAR2tSCcPhMtik6EtAWyfdjyLBJQ5vRqNei_ZcosBZ09nj8JaQcSJEblDJBE

or read here: https://inaspaciousplace.wordpress.com/2019/11/10/enlarging-our-love-sermon-preached-10-november-2019-by-john-j-thatamanil/

The difficulty of the words in the first chapter of Genesis is evident throughout John’s sermon, as he paraphrased the stinging critique issued over five decades ago by Lynn White, who took the words of Genesis 1:26-28 and pointed out the damaging way in which they have been used to support a disordered relation between human beings and the rest of creation.

How do we propose to read these difficult words in our current context?

26Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’
27 So God created humankind in his image,
   in the image of God he created them;
   male and female he created them.
28God 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 air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’
(Genesis 1:26-28)

I cannot imagine there are many people today who would promote a human relationship to creation that puts us in a position of “dominion” over the created order or invites us to  “subdue” the earth.

Fifteen years ago, as chair of the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia’s Environmental Commission I reflected on Genesis 1:26-28 in some notes attached to our “Environmental Commission Declaration of The Anglican Diocese of British Columbia”. (See below)

I am no Hebrew scholar, but there is no doubt that Genesis 1:26-28 is hard work. It is not possible simply to translate one’s way out of the difficulty these verses present. The Hebrew words translated “dominion” and “subdue” are harsh words with violent overtones. They seem to invite us to adopt an attitude in which we use creation for our own ends and seek to dominate the forces of nature upon which our lives depend. The damage of such a stance is all too evident today.

But, when understood in a broader context, it is possible to view these difficult verses in a more positive light and find in them instruction that should prevent the reader from viewing them as licence to abuse creation.

In Genesis 1:26 & 28 the Hebrew word translated “dominion” is radah. It means “to rule, have dominion over, dominate, tread down, subjugate”. These are not helpful concepts to shape our relationship to creation.

However, the role of “dominion” entrusted to human beings needs to be understood within the context of the fact that human beings are created in the “image” and “likeness” of God.  Human “dominion” is intended to reflect God’s “dominion.”

God’s “dominion” is never domination.  God’s “dominion” always aims for life-giving benefits for all creation.

For Jesus “dominion” meant self-sacrificial service for the well-being of the other. (Mark 19:43-45) The “dominion” into which we are invited is a “dominion” of service. The human task is to serve all dimensions of life and to work for the flourishing of every part of the created order. We are called to be servants, not “masters”, of life.

In Genesis 1:28 – The Hebrew word translated “subdue” is “kabash”. It is similar to radah meaning “to rule, have dominion, dominate, tread down, put into bondage”. “Kabash” is distinct from radah in carrying an overtone of getting rid of, or taming, chaos rather than subjugating it to human will.

This word must be understood in the context of a pre-industrialised culture in which human beings lived in a much more intimate and obviously dependent relationship with creation than we are often aware of today. The aim of “kabash” is to make it possible for human beings to live in harmony with the often threatening forces of nature before which, particularly in ancient times, humans are profoundly vulnerable. “Kabash” is a call to live in harmony with the forces of creation in order that we might support the prospering of all life forms in the land in which God has placed us.

When we attempt to dominate creation using it only for our own interests, we miss the nurturing emphasis of God’s dominion and we create chaos in contradiction to the call of kabash.

Any biblical view of the human relationship to the created order must take seriously the constant repetition of the refrain that runs through Genesis 1, after each part of creation comes into existence:

And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25 and 31)

All of creation is pronounced “good”. When we fail to acknowledge the goodness of all creation, we foul our nest and create suffering. When we recognize that all of life is sacred (Genesis 28:16) we will live with reverence in the face of the beauty and mystery entrusted to our care. Any reading that leads away from an awareness of the sacred nature of all reality and causes us to do harm to life, has failed to understand accurately the deep intent of the words of the sacred texts in which we seek guidance and wisdom.


Environmental Commission of The Anglican Diocese of British Columbia
Declaration on the Environment


The purpose of this declaration is to:

1. Provide an outline of a theological basis for the fulfilling of the Diocese of BC Environmental Commission mission statement which states that:

The Diocesan Environmental Commission exists to ensure that people, beginning with Anglicans in our Diocese, recognize that their relationship to God’s Creation is a spiritual issue and to help them change their attitude and behaviour toward Creation.

2. Provide an opening for conversation with the Church that encourages us all to reflect more deeply upon how God calls us to live in
responsible relationship with all of Creation.

3. To bear witness to the wider church and to others beyond the Christian faith that the Christian Church is attempting to take seriously God’s call to live in responsible, life-giving relationship to all dimensions of God’s Creation.


1. God created all life forms, those perceptible to the five human senses and those beyond normal human perception.

2. God saw Creation and declared that it was all good and God entrusted each part of  Creation with a unique role within the whole.

3. The presence of God can be discerned throughout the entirety of Creation.

4. God breathed life into all creatures, making them instruments of praise to their Creator.

5. Humans are uniquely created in God’s image with the ability to choose to live consciously in relation to their Creator.

6. God provides for all Creation, entrusting humans with divine responsibility for  protecting and nurturing God’s gifts for the good of all.

7. Unwilling to acknowledge their dependence upon God and their interconnectedness  with all Creation, humans fail in their responsibility and introduce disorder into God’s Creation

8. Since the beginning of time, God has called human beings to embrace the original design of order and perfection of Creation which was distorted when humans placed themselves at the centre of  Creation.

9. In Christ, the perfection of God’s Creation, God restores the cosmic  order and purpose of Creation and enables all  to live in restored harmony with God, with one another and with all of Creation.

10. Humans are empowered by God’s Spirit to love and worship God reflecting God’s original love and harmony in relation to all orders of  Creation.  (January, 2004)