Bible Catechism: The Doctrine of Man

Question What has God given man to do?

Answer God commanded man to have dominion over all the earth. He made all people to steward His creation by filling it, working in it, and caring for it according to His word.

Scripture Genesis 1:28 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.”

Explanation | By phrasing this question as I have, I am implying that God did give man something to do and that He did so on purpose. And, He did. God created man and He put him to work. That is, He’s given us a job. So, think about this carefully, then—work is not a result of sin, but is a part of God’s purpose for all of us. In other words, work is a good thing. God created us to do something. But, what has God given us to do?

God commanded man to have dominion over the earth. Certainly, there are many things we do, and even many things God wants us to do (not least of which, include the things we looked at in our previous question and answer). But, the doing that I’m talking about, here, with this question is this—what is the most foundational thing that God has given humans to do? That is, what is the job that we all should do that impacts all the other jobs we might do in our lives? According to our verse above, shortly after God made humans, He told them what He wanted them to do—“be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion” (Genesis 1:28). Dominionmeans rule. If rule makes you think of kings and queens, you’re not far off. But, there’s more to it than that, which we’ll get to in a moment. Now, to whom has God given this right to rule? Genesis 1:27 (the verse right before our verse above) tells us that He’s given the right to rule to “man”—or, as I’ve been using interchangeably, to humans. And, not just to a few humans, but to all humans. And, over what has God given humans the right to rule? Well, our verse above says that we are to rule “over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”1  This ruling wasn’t to be primarily over other humans, but over the animals. And, along with ruling over all of the animals, God has also given humans the right to subdue the earth. Subdue means conquest. We often think of subdue (and dominion, for that matter)as something negative, as if it were a bad thing. And, in many cases, today, it is a bad thing. But, don’t forget that God gave this jobto humans before sin entered the world and as a part of His creation that He said was “very good.” Instead, we should think of subdue in this way more positively, then, as bringing something under proper control or in line with the right order.2 Before we move on, let me give you two examples from Genesis 2 of the sort of good subduing and dominion that God intended for humans. God designed for bushes and plants to spring up, in part, by man “work(ing) the ground” (Genesis 2:5). This was to be a demonstration of his job of subduing and dominion. Additionally, God brought every beast and bird to the first man and allowed him to name “every living creature” (Genesis 2:19). This, too, was a demonstration of his job of subduing and dominion. So, dominion and subduing were to be very beneficial and were, at least initially, handled well by man.

God made all people to steward His creation. The word steward helps us understand further both why God has given humans dominion and even how He intends for us to handle our job of dominion. Let me explain what I mean. You see, if we only focused on ruling and conquering like kings and queens, we may think that our job is simply to tell everyone what to do and then to make sure they do what we have said. But, that can’t be. And, in fact, it’s not. Our job of dominion and subduing is to be done as stewards. A steward is someone who takes care of what doesn’t belong to him, doing so as best he can for the sake of its owner and according to its owner’s wishes. So, in this way, we can also think of our job of dominion and subduing as managing what belongs to God. He made all of creation, is its sole owner, and has the ultimate say over all that He has made, including us.3 But, even still, He’s made us to be stewards over His creation. To be clear, though, He hasn’t given us this job because He’s not able to do it Himself.4 Rather, He’s given us this job so that we may share with Him in the glory and joy of good dominion as bearers of His image.5 Our verse above is also helpful in understanding how we can be good stewards of God’s creation. First, we steward His creation by filling it. God told man and woman to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth. As we’ve already seen, this means that God wanted Adam and Eve to have and raise kids. Why? To fill the earth. Why? To provide dominion to all of the earth (not just the garden), by providing more and more stewards. Second, we steward His creation by working it. Adam, as the first human, represents one of the most foundational ways we can be good stewards. God placed him in the garden to “work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). That is, man was to work, yes, and to work in the garden. But, he was also to work it—to cultivate and develop the garden. And, no doubt, God intended for his work to be enjoyable and satisfying.6 Third, we steward His creation by caring for it. Adam was to both work and keep the garden. If working the garden meant to develop it, keeping the garden meant to guard it—to watch over and protect it. Working and keeping the garden, in this way, would provide Adam and Eve with food to eat.7 But, it would also be the way that they cared for God’s creation as His stewards, especially, when they did so according to His word. By His word, God blessed them in their work and told them what He wanted them to do (see our verse above). He encouraged them to freely partake of what He had made (Genesis 1:29-30). But by His word, He also warned them of what they should avoid.8

This is what the Bible teaches about humans.

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1 Psalm 8You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, 7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, 8 the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

2 James 3For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind. (Though James is using the taming of every kind of beast and bird to emphasize what can’t be tamed—the human tongue—what he says, here, also illustrates for us what can be true and has been true in creation as a result of our job of dominion and subduing.

Job 4111 “Who has first given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.”

Jeremiah 32:17‘Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who has made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.’

5 Psalm 8When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 4 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? 5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.

6 Genesis 317 And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Though Genesis 1-2 don’t explicitly say that work was enjoyable and satisfying before sin entered the world, the result of God’s curse on the ground and Adam because of his sin certainly imply that such was the case.)

7 Genesis 129 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. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. (See also, Genesis 2:5-9, 16-17)

8 Genesis 216 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”