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GOD’S IMAGE AND MAN’S MANDATE

Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. —  May 5, 2012 — 3 Comments

The revelation regarding man as God’s image appears in the context of the Creation Mandate. This mandate occurs as the “swelling of jubilant song” at the accomplishment of God’s creative activity. God is now ready to pronounce his creation “very good” (Ge 1:31–2:2). One vital function of that image is man’s acting as ruler over the earth and under God. We see this in the close connection between the interpretive revelation regarding his creation in God’s image and the divine command to exercise rule over the creation order: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Ge 1:26–27). Because man is God’s image, he has the capacity for and responsibility to dominion.

God’s image in man is constitutive of man; it is prior to and definitive of man’s duty, dominion. “Man does not simply bear or possess the image of God, but truly is God’s image.” Man however is not an absolute sovereign; he is God’s vice-regent. God creates him and grants him temporal sovereignty, putting him under command to act obediently in terms of God’s ultimate sovereignty. As John Murray points out, dominion is “a function or office based upon the specific character defined as the image of God.” [1]

God intends man’s dominion obligation as an act of generic worship, for “the setting of six days of labor in the context of one day of worship and rest indicates the true perspective from which man’s dominion over the earth is to be viewed.”[2] Thus, we must understand man’s temporal sovereignty as deriving from and being interpreted by God’s prior and absolute sovereignty. God creates (Ge 1:26), God blesses (Ge 1:27), God gives (Ge 1:28), and God commands (Ge 2:16). Man must obey (Ge 2:16–17), fellowship with (Ge 3:8), and worship God (Ge 2:3; Ex 20:11). Man lives up to his creational purpose as he multiplies (Ge 1:28a) and acts as a social creature (Ge 2:8) exercising righteous dominion (Ge 1:28b) in the earth. God implants within man the drive to dominion.

God gives the Creational (or Dominion) Mandate at man’s very creation. This distinguishes him from and elevates him above the animal kingdom and defines his task in God’s world according to God’s plan. We must understand Adam’s naming the animals in Genesis 2 in a Semitic sense:

“In Israel as among other peoples there was awareness of the significance attached to a name, and of the power which resided in it. . . . By giving someone a name, one establishes a relation of dominion and possession towards him. Thus acc. to Gn. 2:19f. Adam names all the animals. This means that he exercises dominion over creation and relates it to his own sphere. To name a conquered city (2 S. 12:28) or lands (Ps. 49:11) is to establish a right of possession and to subject them to one’s power.” [3]

We should not assume that God limits Adam’s sovereign dominion to Eden. Eden is only his starting point. God intends for Adam to extend Eden’s cultured condition (Ge 2:17) throughout the world (Ge 1:26). We see this in that God creates “him to rule over the world of Thy hands; / Thou has put all things under his feet” (Ps 2:6) — not just those things in Eden.

Not only does God give the Cultural Mandate at creation before the Fall, but it remains in effect even after sin’s entry. We may see this in many ways; consider just two of them. First, the revelational record of man’s beginnings show him acting as a dominical creature and with God’s approval, subduing the earth and developing culture. Indeed, from the very beginning and continuing into the post-Fall world, Adam and his descendants exercise dominion. This dominion impulse operates at a remarkably rapid rate, contrary to the primitivist view of man held by evolutionary anthropologists. Man quickly develops various aspects of social culture: raising livestock, creating music and musical instruments, crafting tools from metal, and so forth (Ge 4:20–22).

Because man is a social creature (Ge 2:18), his culture-building includes the realm of political government, as well. We see this in God’s ordaining governmental authority for man’s “good” (Ro 13:1–4). At his very creation, not only does God command Adam to develop all of creation, but he actually begins doing so. Culture is not an accidental aside in the historical order. Any primitiveness found in human cultures from long ago serve as a record of the consequence of sin and estrangement from God, not of original creational status. As Willem Van Gemeren well expresses it: “Christians are responsible for fulfilling the creation mandates to subdue the earth, develop culture, and establish Christian families” so that “the Christian community can be the salt of the earth, or an agency of transformation.” [4]

And this glorious truth fits perfectly within the postmillennial scheme with its victorious expectations.



Footnotes

1. John Murray, Collected Writings, 2:41.

2. O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants, 80.

3. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 5:253.

4. Willem Van Gemeren, The Progress of Redemption, 452.

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Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

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Ken is a Presbyterian pastor and the author or co-author of over thirty books, most on eschatology. He has been married since 1971, and has three children and several grandchildren. He is a graduate of Tennessee Temple University (B.A., 1973), Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div., 1977), and Whitefield Theological Seminary (Th.M., 1986; Th.D., 1988). He currently pastors Living Hope Presbyterian Church (affiliated with the RPCGA) in Greer, SC. Much of his writing is in the field of eschatology, including his 600 page book, He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology and his 400 page, Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (his Th.D. dissertation). He contributed chapters to two Zondervan CounterPoints books on eschatological issues: Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond (edited by Darrell L. Bock) and Four Views on the Book of Revelation (edited by C. Marvin Pate). He also debated Thomas D. Ice in Kregel's The Great Tribulation: Past or Future? His books have been published by American Vision, Baker, Zondervan, Kregel, P & R, Greenhaven Press, Nordskog, Wipf & Stock, and several other publishers. He has published scores of articles in such publications as Tabletalk, Westminster Theological Journal, Evangelical Theological Society Journal, Banner of Truth, Christianity Today, Antithesis, Contra Mundum, and others. He has spoken at over 100 conferences in America, the Caribbean, and Australia. He is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and a Church Council Committee member of Coalition on Revival.

3 responses to GOD’S IMAGE AND MAN’S MANDATE

  1. I agree with you. I would, however, stress the fact that it is both Adam and Eve together who image God and who are told to exercise dominion over the earth, not Adam or Eve alone. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27 It takes both sexes to properly image God, and it takes both men and women working together to properly exercise dominion over the earth.

    • Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. May 5, 2012 at 6:30

      I agree. But this was not my point: I was speaking generically of mankind being in the image of God.

  2. Ignoring the Biblical command for Christians to have dominion and to act as Christ’s vice-regents ruling on earth certainly makes life for Christians much simpler and easier.
    The dispensationalist piously sits in his pew bemoaning how bad the world is becoming (on the one hand) while at the same time inwardly rejoicing in the evil he sees (on the other hand) since this obviously means that Christ’s return to rapture the church out of all this misery is getting closer and closer which means Christians won’t have to suffer through a coming persecution and times of trouble.

    The amillennialist piously sits in his pew wringing his hands at how bad the world is getting, while by refusing to speak out against the evil he sees and failing to take dominion, he is creating a self-fulfilling prophesy that the world will continue to get worse.

    Both are relying on Jesus to physically take dominion when He Himself returns; the dispensationalist, sooner, and the amillennialist, later.

    Both, when considering verses which describe Christians as being the “body of Christ,” relegate this to referring to some nebulous spiritual realm of the invisible church all the while ignoring the fact that a spirit does not have a body – a body is something physical. Christ is bodily present in heaven ruling the members of His “invisible church” who are also physical members of the “visible church” by means of the guidance and empowerment of the Holy Spirit and God’s written Word; the visible church which is charged with making disciples of all the nations teaching them to obey all of God’s law and commands. Since those who are in Christ and are members of His body are physically present on earth, Christ Himself therefore is currently present here on earth and is fully capable of disciplining and ruling the nations through these members of His body. There is no need to wait for some future date for Christ to make His presence known on earth.

    Both rightly stress the preaching of the Gospel as the first step of making disciples of the nations. However, one must remember that the first step in the proclamation of the Gospel involves a confrontation of those in the nations with their evil and their sin. Also, one must remember that, given their fallen nature, no one who is a member of the nations will come into our churches seeking after God – we must go into the world where the nations are and proclaim the Gospel there. Also, the confrontation of sin and evil can be done by confronting more than one person at a time. One must remember, too, that if a Christian were to confront their local school board with the fact that homosexuality is a sin and is not normal behavior which is to be tolerated and even encouraged, even though the Christian is confronting a group, that group or entity is made up of individuals. When Peter preached the first sermon in the book of Acts, he confronted a large group of individuals with their sin, therefore to preach the Gospel and confront sin and evil in a school board meeting or in the halls of Congress is perfectly appropriate and even necessary if Christians are to faithfully carry out the Great Commission.

    Christians must not be afraid to assert the authority which they have, not in themselves, but as Christ’s vice-regents here on earth. This involves hard work and opening Christianity persecution; something which we seem to want to avoid at all costs. The Apostles and the early church weren’t persecuted, with many suffering martyrdom, because they were preaching a Gospel that the ruling state authorities liked. The Gospel they preached condemned their actions, as individuals and collectively, in their refusal to bow their knee to the Lord the Christians were proclaiming. In proclaiming Christ as Lord, Christians were, in fact, attacking the established government and any other entity which refused to acknowledge Christ as Lord because if they were to acknowledge Christ as Lord, this would, out of necessity, require that they begin to act as Christians and obey God’s laws and commands and these are completely contrary to their fallen, sinful and evil ways – they would have to change. What was true then is true now. If the individuals in our government began to acknowledge Christ as Lord, government itself would begin to change. If individuals in the entertainment industry were to acknowledge Christ as Lord, it too would, out of necessity, begin to change.

    The question is, “Why don’t we act in a manner that is in accordance with who we are? – the earthly representatives of the Ruler of the Universe.”

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