Genesis 1:28 and the ancient worldview

Personally I’ve always struggled with Genesis 1’s relevance to the ecological debate more than its relevance to the evolution debate. What follows is my attempt of (not)rationalising it.

To be honest, if we’re going to dismiss the the firmament and waters above as relics of the Bible’s ANE worldview, I think we can, maybe should do the same with the Bible’s ethic of conquest and dominion over nature, given its parallels with Assyrian hunting records which similarly have divine commands to hunt vast numbers of animals, similarly using ‘military’ language.

This worldview is what we’d expect from agrarian people who (understandably) find nature hard to get along well with. I don’t see any reason why it would be the eternal commandment of God, however.

This is not to suggest a chronological snobbery, or that the beliefs of the ancients were always wrong, it’s just this belief that I find hard to rationally justify.

But my chief problem is less that it would be cruel or destructive (I think we could ‘maybe’ one day circumvent the deleterious effects), I’m more concerned about the spiritual effects. Nature would be less revelatory of God if it is irrevocably marred by man. Add the mountains of evidence that nature is good for our mental and physical health as well.

Here’s a post I wrote summarising my views on the passage:

Note that Lynn White’s article does not cite any sources. Of course, he was not ignorant about the topic, but it’s not accurate in portraying Christianity as monolithic in its views on ecology, nor in neglecting other factors.

Con-Serving and Keeping a Habitable Earth - Christian Scholar’s Review finds that the wording in Genesis 2:15 is more positive for creation care. More generally, the Bible’s picture of good rule is a servant seeking to help those ruled, not exploitation. On the one hand, it is true that the Bible does not focus much on ecological ethics, though there are glimpses in the commands not to devastate the land, to not take both the eggs and the mother bird, etc. It seems to me that the message of everything being God’s creation points to the lesson that we should take good care of it, but not everyone seems to follow such reasoning. However, the Bible conspicuously lacks the glamorizing of hunting that is prominent in so many other cultures. You can hunt game to eat, and protecting people or flocks against predators is noted, but that’s it.


Isn’t Genesis 2:15 talking about a cultivated garden though, not nature?

Interesting observation. That would be consistent with a society who raised their own meat animals, rather than hunting them. And of course, hunting for meat would be run afoul of Jewish dietary laws in the preparation of meat as well as the issues of what is clean/unclean.


Deuteronomy 12 has provisions for how to ceremonially properly deal with hunting animals that qualify on the divided hoof and cud-chewing criteria, but still it’s restrictive.


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