We often see something called “The Dominion Mandate” spoken of. It comes from the KJV rendition of Genesis 1:28, rendered in the NASB as “rule over”, rather than “have dominion over.” Obviously, “dominion” has a much better ring to it than “rule” – so that’s what stuck. Essentially, the version I’m discussing today (in a short example) says that it is “the duty to have children and to take dominion over the earth” – and “in its essence it is a call to take every thought, deed, and action captive to the Lordship of Christ, to advance the work of the Lord in every realm, and to live lives of Kingdom service to our Savior.” That sounds like a good thing, right? I mean, it is hard to argue with taking all our thoughts, deeds, and actions captive to the Lordship of Christ, advancing the work of the Lord in every realm, and living lives of service to God.

Here’s where you see the kicker, however. We have to examine at least some presuppositions to begin with, there. 1) What is meant by “the duty to have children” 2) Who is “to take dominion over the earth” 3) What it means to “take dominion over all the earth.” It is often assumed in these conversations that everyone agrees on what is being discussed – almost by default – but I don’t think think that this can be assumed, for a number of reasons, or from a number of perspectives. We will return to that, however, in a minute. Let’s look at the “key verse” for this viewpoint.

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.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 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.”[1]

Now, I don’t think anyone is going to argue that Adam was not given dominion over the earth in this passage. That’s so vanishingly rare an argument, at least in Christian circles, that it can be ignored. Where the objection is going to come in is at one, two, or both of the following points. 1) The Fall, and its ramifications regarding Adam’s position 2) Christ, seen as the second Adam.

My questions for supporters of the Dominion Mandate as expressed above, are as follows;

1) What sort of accounting have you made for this “Dominion Mandate” as a pre-lapsarian command?
2) Do you assert that the “Dominion Mandate” consists of having as many children as one possibly can?
3) If so, why?
4) What does it mean to take dominion in this post-lapsarian world?
5) What is this dominion over?
6) Who has, and is taking dominion in this post-lapsarian world?

As a discussion opener, let me answer the questions above.

1) The dominion mandate was given to the sinless Adam as his charge – to rule over the earth and all it contained as the subordinate of His Creator. His charge was to care for all things he was given authority over, and to cultivate them. When Adam fell, his rulership was perverted and therefore cursed[2], he himself was enslaved to sin[3], and his power usurped by Satan[4], who became the ruler of this world[5]. Dominion is used 4 times in the LBCF[6] – concerning the dominion of God over all His creatures, the dominion, which while he kept the command, Adam had in the Garden, and the last 2 times of the dominion of sin – thus, confessionally, we do not have an easy answer on this point. The catechism doesn’t help us any more on this point, as it only uses “dominion” once, and with a bare reference to Gen 1:28, and concerning Adam as created, not as fallen.

However, there is another route to take. What does the confession say about the results of Adam’s fall? “Our first parents, by this sin, fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and we in them whereby death came upon all: all becoming dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body.”[7] Wholly defiled, might we say, in dominion, as well? Well, we might say, if in Christ we are restored, does this not restore our dominion as well? I’m not so sure. Take this; “The corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated; and although it be through Christ pardoned and mortified, yet both itself, and the first motions thereof, are truly and properly sin.”[8] I don’t think this means that this same dominion is restored. Are we in union with Christ? Absolutely. In principle, we might say, we are restored to it, in some sense, perhaps – but that needs to be defined first. However, in practice, we do not have dominion as Adam did. First, because while we are in union with Christ, what does that mean concerning dominion? It is dominion mediated through Christ, who has that dominion, not direct dominion as Adam was given it. Second, there is another aspect – but we will deal with that in a bit, while answering another question – although I have essentially answered that question above, you may have noticed.

2-3) No, we are to be fruitful, and multiply. This doesn’t give us a set number, yet, recall, that this was also directly influenced by the Fall in specific, not just a general way. Childbirth was directly and specifically affected by the curse. It is accomplished in pain, and sometimes accompanied by death, as I can personally attest. Is there a regulative principle in Scripture concerning what number or factor we are to be focused upon? I argue that there is no such statement in all of Scripture – and since Scripture does not give such a principle, then insisting upon one is to argue for what Scripture does not – and that is itself a violation of the regulative principle. Abraham is blessed in Isaac, and there is no scorn placed upon him for his single legitimate offspring. Isaac himself has only Jacob and Esau. It is Rachel who is the blessed mother, despite dying in the birth of Benjamin, with only two children, while Leah has 10. Samson is an only child. We are to multiply, as a general rule – but I believe it cannot be said that Scripture puts a low or high figure on the amount of children we are to have.

Secondly, there is no direct connection between “be fruitful and multiply” and “dominion over all the earth” to consider “be fruitful and multiply” as an act of dominion. It is often assumed that there is such a connection, but I haven’t seen any good argumentation for this. As far as I can tell, the passage says 1) They are to be fruitful and multiply 2) Fill the earth 3) Subdue it 4) Bring all living things under dominion. It seems that dominion presupposes multiplication and filling; but it doesn’t seem that multiplication and filling presupposes dominion. You have to be many and in all places in order to take dominion; but multiplication et al does not presuppose dominion – it’s the other way around.

Thirdly, note the context of the multiplication and filling – it is for the purpose of dominion over and throughout the earth. Yet, how does this work when humanity is already throughout the earth, and in this post-fall, ante-diluvian, post-Babel diaspora? Are we now multiplying to fill in every square mile? Are we shooting for a specific number or percentage of Christians per square mile? Or are we, perhaps, shooting for the maximum number of Christians per square mile? What standard are we using, here, for what is considered “proper” multiplication? Again, as there doesn’t seem to be any specific, regulative command for how many progeny we are to produce, where is it do we stop, and for what purpose? Are we to min/max procreation cycles to pump out children every 11 months? 13 months? Chart optimum recovery patterns for the womb so as to maximize births and minimize miscarriages as much as possible over the “usable lifetime” of our wife’s womb? Are we to consider this to be the highest goal, a middle goal, or a low goal, in our schema of overall obedience? By what standard is this to be determined? Is it determined by Christian liberty and godly wisdom in personal circumstances, or are there hard and fast guidelines to be observed from various passages I’ve somehow missed over the years? Am I okay with my six, or should I shoot to redeem the rest of my wife’s childbearing years and shoot for another half dozen with Jacob as my model, and ask repentance for our half-hearted observance of the dominion mandate? Obviously, you can probably tell my answers from the tenor of my return questions – but I think it bears mentioning that the general sense (although, obviously, there are exceptions) of the responses from those who espouse the “dominion mandate” in the sense outlined above are that it is a requirement, in some sense, to have as many children as possible, and that the cessation of child-bearing when there remains a capability for it is somehow sinful, or at the least, an unsatisfactory solution.

Fourthly, it might be argued that while there is no limit, there is no command to stop having children. In the same vein, however, I can argue that there is no command to keep having children. If the argument is that silence is golden, then the gold glints in either direction, does it not? There is no command to stop having children at any specific number, or factor of multiplicative replacement. Fine, let’s grant that for the sake of argument. By the same token, it also remains the case that there is no command to continue having children to any specific number, or until it is no longer possible to have more. Further, there is no specific blessing considered concerning, say, 12 children that is not also offered concerning 1, or 2, or 6. Let’s grant that a man with a quiver full of children is happy. How many arrows belong in a quiver? As Gill points out, “Septuagint, Vulgate Latin, Ethiopic, and Arabic versions, render it, ‘that fills his desire’ has as many as he desires or wishes for.”[9] How many arrows do I want, or need in my quiver, therefore? Now, this is not to say that God does not give the increase – but it also says that God gives us that which we desire righteously – that which is fitting for us to have. Instead of an insistence upon ever-increasing numbers, we should be mindful that God gives to each according to what He Himself wills, and according to what we are able to bear, or are suited for. Hence, here we have the true regulative principle of God’s ordination of the family unit – the precise amount of children which He Himself wills, in accordance with the gifts He has given us. As in all things, there is a proper balance which needs to be kept in mind. Some families only receive one child, and that is sufficient as well as proper. Others have a dozen, or even more. Let us not go beyond Scripture to insist on ever-increasing numbers when there is no warrant for doing so. In fact, let us recall that God uses means in accomplishing those ends – and one of those means may in fact be either the lack of desire or recognition of one’s lack of ability to provide for and parent more children than you have now. Not always, of course, but wisdom is granted to parents when they ask it in His name.

4-5) My answer to the question is that God gives the increase – but in the sense of “dominion,” you aren’t populating the kingdom by having children – because kingdom needs to be properly defined. You populate the kingdom by the preaching of the gospel and discipling those to whom it is preached and are given citizenship in it. In this fallen world, we live in a creation that groans to be released from bondage. We are not the ones who will strike off those chains. We have as much hope of that as we do of breathing life into dry bones. In fact, to think of dominion in terms of this world is to think of the kingdom in precisely the wrong fashion. We are not to be prophets, priests, and kings of this world. We are to be prophets, priests and kings in the world, but not of it. We are pilgrims and strangers in this world, and any dominion we have here will be equally ephemeral, if it is of this world. Focusing on dominion over this fallen, decaying world, which is passing away, is a waste of time and energy. This does not preclude the preservation of that which we are in, to some extent, but that preservation is that of salt – preserving that which is and must be decaying, due to the curse, in order that it might last until the appointed time, by the due use of means. Even the mountains will melt like wax at His coming, and all things will pass away and be made new. To try to usher in the kingdom here, and take dominion here is to invest precisely the wrong capital in precisely the wrong project. What we are given, we are given as prophets, priests, and kings in our families, churches, and only then to the world – but not directed toward the things of this world. We are not in the business of empire building in the material sense. We are in the business of empire building in the spiritual sense – in building up the church. Are we used as means in the restraint of sin and God’s common grace toward saint and sinner alike? Certainly. However, recall that common grace and the restraint of sin is for the sake of the elect. Not even primarily for their physical comfort or blessing, either – but primarily for their spiritual well-being and survival.

6) The answer to this question should be self-explanatory by now, but it needs to be explained. The dominion is Christ’s. The “dominion mandate” was given to Adam – and Adam failed to accomplish it. Christ, however, is the second Adam – He is the heir, and in Him is the restoration and summation of all things. Yet, what did He tell us? His kingdom was not of this world. Psalm 8 seems to be somewhat of a commentary on Genesis 1; in that commentary[10], we see that man is crowned with glory and majesty, rules the works of God’s hands, all things are under His feet. At that point, if you’re thinking “well, there you go! The dominion mandate is still in full flower!” – read the passage below.

What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, All sheep and oxen, And also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, whatever passes through the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth![11]

There’s a problem with the above interpretation of this passage as a continuation of the dominion mandate, however. It is found in the following passage, which cites Psalm 8.

For He did not subject to angels the world to come, concerning which we are speaking. But one has testified somewhere, saying, “WHAT IS MAN, THAT YOU REMEMBER HIM? OR THE SON OF MAN, THAT YOU ARE CONCERNED ABOUT HIM? “YOU HAVE MADE HIM FOR A LITTLE WHILE LOWER THAN THE ANGELS; YOU HAVE CROWNED HIM WITH GLORY AND HONOR, AND HAVE APPOINTED HIM OVER THE WORKS OF YOUR HANDS; YOU HAVE PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS FEET.” For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him. But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings.[12]

Note the first phrase. It is the world to come that is being spoken of. What does this mean? First, it means that it is speaking not of the world as in bondage, but of the world restored. After quoting the passage, he goes on to say that while everything is subject to Christ, we do not see all things subjected to Him. Here, we do not have a lasting city. We seek the one which is to come. He went away to prepare it for us – we are not here preparing it for Him. The verses above clearly specify the holder of this dominion to be Christ. This is inescapable. However, Christ Himself identified His kingdom as not of this world. Thus, if we receive our dominion from union with Christ, and by adoption as joint heirs with Him, our dominion is also not of this world.

So, by telling others to “take dominion” – what do you mean when you say that, and when you say it, are you telling us to take something that is rightfully and even possibly ours? “Taking dominion” seems to be a popular catchphrase – but the exegetical basis for it seems to be shaky, at best. How do you account for taking dominion over this world when the only dominion in view seems to be not of this world at all, but of the world to come? Assuming we all mean the same things when using these words is not going to work, nor is assuming the interpretation you have of them. There needs to be less buzzwords and more exegetical foundation for these ideas, or the audience you’re seeking to reach will quite simply not take it seriously. As for myself, I’m not convinced that we need to take dominion in the sense that it is being encouraged that we take it. In fact, I’m convinced that I need to spend less time taking “taking dominion” seriously, due to the lack of exegesis provided by the pro-dominion groups. If you are willing to make the case, however, go for it.

  1. [1] Gen 1:26-28
  2. [2] Gen 3:17-19
  3. [3] John 8:34
  4. [4] Eph 2:2
  5. [5] Eph 6:12
  6. [6] II.2, IV.3, XIII.1, XXI.1
  7. [7] VI.2
  8. [8] VI.5
  9. [9] Gill, Psa 127:5
  10. [10] See Gill on Psalm 8:4, as well
  11. [11] Psa 8:4-9
  12. [12] Heb 2:5-10