Genesis 1:26 reads, "Then God said, Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.'"
So what does that mean to us?
Pick up any newspaper and you will find headlines about global warming, increased carbon footprints, the peak of oil production, the growing list of animal extinctions, and pollution of the world's air and water. What is the biblically based response to these headlines? Should there even be a biblical response?
Many read Genesis 1:26 and find that God creates mankind and gives us dominion/rule over the plants, animals and all the earth. The common usage of these English words, to rule or have dominion over, often means to have authority over _ or to do what you please with. If this is true, then God has given mankind the authority to do what we like with the world's resources (including oil and the environment). To have dominion would then mean that we can deplete resources without regard for renewal or sustainability.
But is this what Genesis, Chapter 1, means when discussing mankind's role in relation to God's creation? The key lies in the Hebrew word translated as "rule" (radah), which is found several times in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible.
An examination of three of these additional uses of the word helps us to better understand the fuller meaning to "rule" or have "dominion over."
First, let's take a closer look at Genesis, Chapter 1. God's command to each type of created being _ including mankind _ is to "be fruitful and multiply."
Mankind has the responsibility, as God's charge on earth, to assist creation to fulfill God's command. Mankind is to rule, as a steward, so that the creations of the world (including animals, plants and resources) are fruitful and multiply. For mankind to rule in such a way that depletes resources is contrary to God's intention for creation that all life should be fruitful and multiply.
A second use of the Hebrew "radah" (to rule) is in 1 Kings, Chapters 4 and 5. Here we find King Solomon reigning over Israel. In 1 Kings, Chapter 4, King Solomon is said to have dominion over all the lands west of the Jordan River. As the passage progresses one might expect King Solomon's dominion over these lands to mean that he exploits wealth from the subjected areas.
But just the opposite is said in the next verse: "So Judah and Israel lived in safety, every man under his vine and his fig tree, "¦ all the days of Solomon" (1 Kings 4:25). According to this usage, the king's dominion is equated to stewardship _ providing safety, prosperity and abundance.
The third use of the Hebrew word for rule/dominion is found in Ezekiel 34:4. In this passage, the prophet is chastising the people of Israel for exercising an inappropriate dominion over their resources. Ezekiel explains that the Israelites have fed themselves while not feeding their flocks (Ezekiel 34:2-3).
The implication is that when people overly use their resources and do not allow God's creation to be fruitful and multiply, they are acting in a way contrary to the "rule" intended biblically.
So what is a biblical response to the world and our environment?
First, based upon a study of the word "to rule," I would argue that mankind is charged with the role of steward.
Second, mankind is to use the resources and gifts given by God, but this use is to be tempered through the conservation of limited resources. The Bible calls all of God's creation to be fruitful and multiply _ essentially the idea that mankind has the responsibility to ensure the world has abundant resources.
Third, while we have dominion over all the world's resources, we should seek to develop and encourage the use of renewable and sustainable energy. In biblical times, this was shown through the idea of eating from the herd while ensuring the herd's abundance _ be fruitful and multiply (the modern idea of herd management).
Today, this may best be shown in our energy policies _ developing wind, solar, tidal, geothermal and nuclear power. Good stewardship often means making hard decisions that weigh long-term goals against short-term needs.
Fourth, it is evident from Genesis, Chapter 1, that mankind is the peak of God's creation. We have the role of chief steward _ but we are also said to be created in the image and likeness of God. As such, we have both creativity and intelligence. The Bible calls each of us to use these gifts while working with the environment to ensure long-term abundance.
Bryan Babcock is a professor/lecturer in the religious studies department at Hartwick College.