In Genesis, God gave a mandate to humans—be fruitful and multiply and have dominion over living creatures. This command from God places the responsibility to take care of the earth and all its creatures on all generations. You may not know whether your child grow up to be a doctor, fireman, or astrophysicist, but we do know that it’s God’s will for every person—both old and young—to obey the creation mandate. As parents and teachers, it is our responsibility to teach our children what it means to be fruitful, replenish and subdue the earth, and have dominion over creation.
What is the creation mandate?
The Creation Mandate, sometimes called the dominion mandate or the cultural mandate, describes God’s words to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1 explaining how to be good stewards of His creation. When we think of a mandate, we usually think of a command, but the creation mandate is not just a command—it’s a divine blessing. God wants mankind to be fruitful and multiply. He wanted Adam to have children. God wasn’t satisfied with one image-bearer; He wants the earth to be full of people who share His own image.
Because the people God created would use and alter the natural world, God gave mankind a second command to subdue or govern the earth. God designed humans to be creative and to create in and with the world they live in. Wherever people go and live, they are to rule over the creation.
When did God make humanity stewards of creation?
The creation mandate isn’t a result of the fall. The biblical narrative recounts how God created everything we see—the firmament and dry ground, the heavenly bodies, vegetation, marine life, birds and land animals—in six days. On that sixth day, God introduced His most special creation—man made in His own image. And immediately God gave the first man, Adam, and his wife, Eve, the blessing of the creation mandate. They were to fill the earth and they were to be stewards of creation.
God’s power is infinite, so the creation mandate reaches through time and space to all people. Not even the Fall overthrew His mandate to fill the earth and be stewards of creation. The long line of impressive civilizations throughout history with all their remarkable achievements, technological advancements, and beautiful artwork are evidence of God’s power and kindness to all humanity.
This creation blessing from God comes from the first chapter of Genesis.
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.
“Be fruitful and multiply”
The first part of the creation mandate commands us to “be fruitful and multiply.” In other words, God wants families to grow. He wants more people to share in his fellowship. The Bible does not instruct married couples on how many children to have, but it does state that children are a blessing. Unfortunately, many cultures see population increase as a burden, not a blessing. Birth rates in many countries are below “replacement rate.” Seeing babies as unwanted is the result of a fallen culture. We as Christians should see babies as blessings.
Who did God tell to be fruitful and multiply?
Adam and Eve weren’t the first created beings to be commanded to be fruitful and multiply. God gave the same command to the animals in Genesis 1:22. As Dr. Mark Ward points out in Biblical Worldview, animals procreate instinctively, but men and women are privileged to procreate purposefully.
“Replenish the earth”
The Hebrew word translated “replenish” in this verse simply means “to fill.” God wants the human race to fill the entire earth. And He doesn’t want humans to stay in one location like those at the Tower of Babel tried to do. God wants us to spread out over the entire globe.
“Subdue the earth”
Image-bearers are to “subdue the earth,” or tame it. That takes work. Sometimes we mistakenly think that work is a result of the curse, but it’s not. Work is part of the blessing. It allows us to flourish in this world.
As Basics for a Biblical Worldview points out:
The earth didn’t come with houses and parks and cities and farms and cows willing to be milked. It didn’t come with fruit trees all in a row or with the Periodic Table of the elements and a list of what you can make out of them. Humans have to subdue the earth and rule over it—making it suitable for human use.
Even though we are commanded to subdue, or tame, the earth, we don’t get to do whatever we want with it. God has also commanded us to “have dominion,” or rule over the earth. We need to be wise rulers and find ways to steward the earth for the good of mankind.
What does the Bible teach us about caring for creation?
The Fall affected our ability to fulfill the Creation Mandate
The Fall affected our ability to fulfill the Creation Mandate, but it did not absolve us of the responsibility to obey it. After Adam and Eve first disobeyed God and ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, God pronounced a curse that affected both parts of the creation mandate. Adam and Eve were still supposed to be fruitful and multiply, but from then on, that blessing would be accompanied by pain and sorrow. Adam and Eve were still supposed to have dominion over the earth, but now that blessing would be accompanied by physical exhaustion and futility.
The Great Commission frees us to obey the Creation Mandate
At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, we read Jesus’ command to Christians:
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:19-20)
In giving us the Great Commission, Christ was not replacing the Creation Mandate. Yes, we should continue to be fruitful and exercise dominion so that we and the people around us can flourish. But working to fill our stomachs is not enough. We must care for the souls of those around us by giving them the good news of salvation.
What does the Creation Mandate mean for humanity?
God’s blessing carries the weight of a command. We shouldn’t resist His blessing from Genesis 1:28 and expect things to go well for us. For example, in Genesis 11, Noah’s descendants rejected God’s command and all gathered in one place to build the tower of Babel. As a result of their sin, God confused their language and scattered people throughout the world.
Even unbelievers can share in God’s blessing by following the Creation Mandate. In fact, many do. BJU Press science and math textbooks highlight how scientists and mathematicians use their knowledge of God’s world to “have dominion.” They use their skill to care for the creation and use the creation for others’ benefit. Many of those professionals following the Creation Mandate are experiencing the common grace of God’s creation blessing in their lives.
How to teach the Creation Mandate to your children
- Teach children God’s design for the family. Although some people are called to serve God unmarried, His will for many people includes marriage and children. We want to prepare our children for those responsibilities while they are still young.
- Teach children that work is a blessing. It is God’s means for our good. Our children may not yet have a large realm to rule over, but even young children can keep their room clean or pick up toys in the playroom. Older children might be able to help “subdue” the earth by caring for the yard or the home.
- Prepare our children for their future calling. We may not know specifically how God is going to use them in the future, but we have seen that they are called to exercise dominion. To do that well, they will need skills such as reading, writing, math, and science. We need to teach them to be faithful in their schoolwork and encourage them to learn whatever they can.
As parents, we have a huge responsibility to not only live out the Creation Mandate ourselves but to teach our children how to live it out as well.