Environmental Studies

What role should believers have in caring for God's creation in light of Genesis 1:26-28 and Romans 8:20-22?

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Image, Creation, and Family in Genesis

Joel Hamme is Associate Professor of Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern studies at William Carey International University. His main research concerns the Psalms and Genesis in their larger contemporary cultural milieu.

Joel Hamme is Associate Professor of Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern studies at William Carey International University. His main research concerns the Psalms and Genesis in their larger contemporary cultural milieu.

WCIU Journal: Environmental Studies Topic

March 23, 2018

by Joel Hamme

This article was originally published in the WCIU Journal, Volume 1, Issue 2: The Christian’s Responsibility to the Environment.

While many of the world’s mythologies provide stories of creation, Greco-Roman mythology was singularly incoherent in this respect. Like Aristotle, the intellectuals of the ancient West denied that the visible world had a beginning. Indeed, the idea of a beginning was impossible in the framework of their cyclical notion of time. In sharp contrast, Christianity inherited from Judaism not only a concept of time as non-repetitive and linear but also a striking story of creation. By gradual stages a loving and all-powerful God had created light and darkness, the heavenly bodies, the earth and all its plants, animals, birds and fishes. Finally, God had created Adam and, as an afterthought, Eve to keep man from being lonely. Man named all the animals, thus establishing his dominance over them. God planned all of this explicitly for man’s benefit and rule: no item in the physical creation had any purpose save to serve man’s purposes. And, although man’s body is made of clay, he is not simply part of nature: he is made in God’s image (White 1974, 6)

With this statement and others like it, Lynn White, in 1967 laid the responsibility for the current ecological crisis at the feet of Western Christianity. It is without a doubt that Judeo-Christian ideas concerning the rationality of God and progress spurred on the technological and industrial advance that made the ecological crisis possible, and thus is in a sense behind the crisis. The question is, however, does the Genesis text, when read responsibly and in its Biblical and cultural context, really say what Lynn White would have us believe it says? One can forgive his harmonization of Genesis 1 and 2, but does his reading of the Genesis text do justice to it? Besides making the human “simply not part of nature” what does God’s making the human in God’s image do to the human? What does it mean to be made in the image of God and what does that have to do with creation care?

The following is an examination of Genesis 1:26-28 in the narrative context of Genesis. Genesis 1:26-28 is the passage in which God makes the human, both male and female, in God’s image, blesses them and gives them dominion over non-human creation. God also tells the human to be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. I argue that the passage is a re-articulation of Ancient Near Eastern royal ideology in which instead of the king being the image of the deity and placed over humans, the human is made in the image of God and placed over non-human creation.[1] The function of the human as the image of God most relevant to environmental concerns is to provide a place on earth for human life to thrive. This image has a relational aspect that is carried out primarily through the extended family.

This paper concentrates on the narrative of Genesis, especially chapters 1-2, and to a certain extent, the early portions of the Abraham narrative (12-19). It takes a canonical approach,[2] in which the passages are in dialogue with each other and help to paint a picture of what the image of God is, and what it means to live effectively as God’s image. Rather than examining prescriptive statements in legal sections of Torah or aphorisms in Wisdom literature, the paper will examine the plot of a constructed narrative to see what moral vision emerges from it. Barton comments that narratives can elucidate moral issues in a way that is not possible in other genre (Barton 2003, 4-5). It is also just a simple fact that the primeval history in Genesis is the only part of the Hebrew Bible that affirms that the human is made in the image of God.

The paper concludes with a short reflection concerning how the idea of the image of God in the human can be applied to the contemporary ecological crisis, and discusses hermeneutical issues in applying this Ancient Near Eastern Iron Age text to contemporary ecological concerns.

The Image of God in Genesis 1-11

Three times in the primordial history, at Genesis 1:26-28, 5:1 and 9:6, Genesis affirms that humans are made in the image and/or likeness of God. The first occurrence is in the creation account of Genesis 1;1-2:4, the second is an affirmation that Seth was made in the likeness of God (5:1), and the third is in God’s saying that a human’s blood should be shed when that human sheds another’s blood, as the human is in the image of God (9:6).

Genesis 1–11 divides into four rough sections: Genesis 1–2: creation and the human’s existence in paradise, Genesis 3–6: the human’s sin, expulsion from paradise and slide into violence, 7–9: the flood, and 10–11, the creation of nations. After the creation account in Genesis 1, in which the human was said to be created in God’s image as God’s likeness, human society has difficulty living as God’s image, and human society down to its most basic unit, the family, is wracked with violence and transgression of the natural order established in God’s commanding the human to rule and subdue nature, and to keep and work the garden.

GENESIS 1:26-28
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 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 air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

Much ink has been spilled over the meaning of this passage. Some scholars have taken a word-study approach, and have concentrated on btsalmenu “in our image” and kidmutenu “after our likeness.” This is not the path that this paper will take, as both tselem and demut occur infrequently in the Hebrew Bible and the contexts within which they do occur are varied. The results of a word study of these two Hebrew words “yield notoriously inconclusive results” (Middleton 2005, 45).

Middleton submits that one must move from studying isolated words to studying the larger verbal units in which one finds the words. Such an investigation yields three observations that warrant further study. First, the image is associated in 1:26 with God speaking in the first-person plural, which God does nowhere else in Genesis 1. Second, the image is associated in 1:26 and 1:28 with the exercise of power over the natural world. Third, the image is associated in 1:27 with the creation of the human as male and female (Middleton 2005, 49). This paper will discuss briefly Middleton’s second and third observations.

Volumes have been written on what it means for humans to have dominion over the earth and subdue it. Some scholars take great pains to mitigate the apparent violent nature of “having dominion” and “subduing,” often in reference to the contemporary ecological crisis, which has at times been blamed upon the Judeo-Christian use of Genesis 1:26-28 as justification to run rough-shod over the environment. Both Middleton and Wright assert that although the verbs rādâ and kābaš may refer to violent exploitation and domination, the words do not necessarily do so, and it is quite recent to consider that they do in the context of Genesis 1:26-28 ((Middleton 2005, 50-52; Wright 2004). Middleton asserts that kābaš represents the bringing of something under one’s control through the exercise of power and rādâ represents royal dominion, and is a term taken from the political sphere that is applied in Genesis 1:26-28 to the relationship between humans and animals.

Neumann-Gorsolke goes further in his attempt at mitigating the apparent violence that may be found in the rule and dominion language in Genesis 1:26-28. He does a relatively exhaustive word-study of rādâ. The verb is used for the operating of a winepress and treading on objects, either literally or metaphorically, and for rule. The verb is used three times in Judahite royal theology, in Psa 110:2, 1Kgs 5:4 and Psa 72:8. In Psa 110:2, the king rules over his enemies. In 1 Kgs 5:4 and Psa 72:8, the king rules over the people of Israel in a way that promotes a state of peace and well-being. He draws upon the occurrence of the root rādâ in the context of shepherd and writes that the conception of the good king is of one that works righteousness and does not oppress. The good king is the good shepherd. He applies this understanding of the shepherd-ruler to Genesis 1:26-28 (Neumann-Gorsolke 2004, 10-14).

Wright, as well, draws upon the common ANE language of the king being a shepherd in his discussion of human dominion over non-human creation. The king exists to care for the people, not to exploit them. He writes concerning the mutual relationship of servanthood between king and people,

Mutual servanthood was the ideal. Yes, it was the duty of the people to serve and obey the king, but his primary duty of kingship was to serve them, to care for their needs, provide justice and protection, and avoid oppression, violence and exploitation. A king exists for the benefit of his people, not vice versa. The metaphor that expressed this, and which was common throughout the ancient Near East and not just in Israel as a metaphor for kingly rule, was that of the shepherd. Kings were shepherds of their people. Sheep need to follow their shepherd, but the primary responsibility of shepherds is to care for the sheep, not to exploit or abuse them. The very word ‘shepherd’ speaks of responsibility, more than of rights and powers (Wright 2004, 122).

Along with the concept of the human being a benevolent shepherd-king over the rest of creation, Old Testament ethicists stress that God has entrusted the human with non-human creation as stewards, a trust that carries with it responsibility and accountability. It is this function of the human as a responsible steward over creation that separates the human from the rest of creation (Wright 2004, 123). Neumann-Gorsolke especially stresses that the human participates in God’s divine might and responsibility by God’s command. The human is not autonomous, but is in a responsible relationship with God as God’s representative, having a lordship over the earth similar to God’s lordship over the rest of the cosmos (Neumann-Gorsolke 2004, 314). Humanity is a steward of creation at the command of God and as such is responsible for its treatment of the environment.

One approach to the mitigation of the violence that may be present in the human’s call to have dominion and subdue creation is to read the primeval history canonically. Thus, I read God’s commissioning of the human to rule over creation in Genesis 1 in the light of God’s putting Adam to the task of keeping and working the garden in Genesis 2:15. The verse reads, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden to till it and keep it (leābdāh ulešāmrāh).” Whereas Genesis 1 uses language that denotes rulership and control over the creation, Genesis 2 uses terms of service and protection.

In both Genesis 1 and 2, the human is an integral part of creation. In chapter 1, the human is made on the 6th day along with the land animals, albeit with much more divine attention and deliberation. In chapter 2, it seems as if one cannot have plant and animal life without a caretaker and guardian, so God fashions the human to work the soil before the first plant sprung forth from the ground. Although made prior to the animals and animated by the very breath of God, the human being is still very much part of the created world, and both the human and the animals are nepeš chayyâ (2:7; 2:27).

What separates the human from the animals is the position in which God has placed the human. As the human is very much intertwined with creation, God creates the human in a way that does not place the human at a distance from creation, but puts the human at the apex of creation. The respective narratives in Genesis 1 and 2 merely express this theo-anthropological assertion in two different ways.

In Genesis 1:26-28, the human is made in God’s image and receives a divine commission to have dominion and subdue the earth. We also learn that the human is created male and female. God blesses bi-gendered humanity and tells them to be fruitful and multiply, to have dominion over and to fill the earth.

In Genesis 2, apart from a prohibition not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God does not speak to the man, but fashions him from the earth, breathes the divine breath into him and places him in the garden with the task to work and guard/keep it (2:7, 15). Curiously, God makes the animals from the ground only after God decides that it is not good for the man to live alone, and that it would be nice for the man to have a helper suitable to him (2:18-19).

It is clear from Genesis 2 that both animals and the man come from the same source, from the earth (min-hāadāmâ in both 2:7 and 19). Humans and animals are more alike than most humans would like to admit. We come from the same place, the earth. The only thing different in God’s creating the man in comparison with the animals is that God breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and no such statement is made concerning the animals. Whatever the process of creation concerning humans and animals, both are called “living beings (nepeš chayyâ).” The differentiation between humans and animals is that God has given the humans authority over animals. God forms the animals and brings them to the man to be named, the man then names them and so exercises power over them (2:19). In chapter 1 of Genesis this authority flows from the human being made in the image of God. Humans and animals, although quite alike, are not equal in the created order (Reed 2000, 335).

It is at the point of recognizing that God put humans at the apex of creation as its ruler that we can briefly discuss Genesis 1:26-28’s relationship with Ancient Near Eastern kingship ideology. Old Testament scholarship has largely reached a consensus that Genesis one draws upon Ancient Near Eastern kingship ideology, either Mesopotamian or Egyptian, in its portrayal of God as creating humans in the image and according to the likeness of God. The human is God’s regent on earth. Middleton calls this the royal-functional interpretation of the image of God (Middleton 2005, 53).

Old Testament scholars have demonstrated that we find in Genesis 1:26-28 a modification of ANE kingship ideology in which the king as the god’s image ruling over people is changed to humans as a whole in God’s image ruling over creation. There are three main points in Genesis 1:26-28. 1) Humanity as a whole is in God’s image. This can be viewed as either a democratization of God’s image to all humanity (Middleton 2005, 227-28), or as a royalization of the human. It makes little difference which for the argumentation of this paper, but Neumann-Gorsolke makes a good argument when he submits that the OT royalizes the human, as it applies royal terminology to humans as a whole (Neumann-Gorsolke 2004, 202-203). 2) Humanity is told to have dominion over animals and subdue the earth. 3) Humanity is created male and female and is told to be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth.

Middleton submits that rulership is the purpose for which humans were made in the image of God, not merely a consequence of being made in such a fashion (Middleton 2005, 53). This is somewhat contrary to the position of Wright, who does not see the idea of the human as being created in the image of God as exclusively tied to the human’s dominion over nature. The Imago Dei is certainly manifested in the human’s ruling over the rest of creation but is not totally subsumed in rulership. Wright comments,

It is going too far to identify the two completely; that is, to argue that our dominion over nature is exclusively what actually constitutes the image of God in humanity. For human beings are, and do, very much more than all that is involved in mastering their environment (Wright 2004, 119).

Wright continues in a line similar to Westermann in submitting that the image of God in the human is not something that humans possess, such as rationality, moral consciousness, and the like, but is a result of how God made us. The image of God is what the human is, not something the human possesses. Since humans are in the image of God, God instructs them to rule over creation (Wright 2004, 119).

Wright makes two points that move beyond reducing the image of God in humans from a merely functional category to both an ontological and functional one. This is important, because if one cannot fulfill the function for which one is made, how does one remain the image of God? If the image of God is somehow ontological, then whether or not a human can fulfill his or her function does not compromise that image. 1) He recognizes that humans do much more than master the environment. Humans think, love and have relationships that order their lives and the lives of others, and so forth. 2) The image of God is not merely rule, but enables it.

Image and Family

It seems counter-intuitive that humans being made in the image of God does not have a relational aspect to it, as the narratives in Genesis that submit that humans are in the image and/or likeness of God have humans relating to God and to each other quite often, but not always positively. God creates male and female in the divine image and blesses them, commanding them to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it, and to rule over all earth creatures. Some scholars argue that the fact that Genesis 1:27 uses the gendered terms for male and female rather than the social terms for man and woman militate against a relational interpretation of the Imago Dei (Middleton 2005, 13). This seems to be equivocating, splitting hairs. Why would the writer make pains to introduce the topic of sexuality into the passage if it was not some how significant to the humans being in God’s image? And how more relational could one get than telling a male and a female human to fill the earth with their offspring? As if the biblical writer did not know that filling the world with offspring would mean having sex. It seems that there is a relational aspect to humans being, and functioning, in the image of God that goes beyond the human being God’s counterpart on Earth or as God’s dialog partner.

It is my submission that Genesis 1:26-28 depicts the Image of God in the human as relational in a specific way. The bi-gendered human race is to rule over the earth through being fruitful and multiplying and subduing the earth through the efforts of the extended family practicing agriculture and animal husbandry, at least in its Ancient Israelite manifestation. This is evident through clues in the narrative that follows Genesis 1:26-28. Chapters 1–11 depict all of the ins and outs of family life, including the violence, strife and jealousy which threaten it and humanity in general (Janzen 1994, 45). From the primeval history in 1-–1, 12–50 carries out the same theme of the extended family struggling to carve out a space in the world in which human life can thrive.

The depiction of the male and female ruling over creation through subduing the earth and being fruitful and multiplying is a re-articulation of the Ancient Near Eastern kingship ideology that was discussed earlier in the paper. What does this dominion over animals and subdual of the earth entail? Middleton writes,

In 1:26-28, that task is understood as the exercise of significant power over the earth and its non-human creatures (likely including the agricultural cultivation of land and the domestication of animals-which together constitute the minimal historical requirements for organized human society or culture). Imaging God thus involves representing and perhaps extending in some way God’s rule on earth through the ordinary communal practices of human sociocultural life (Middleton 2005, 221-28).

Middleton’s observation makes sense in the canonical context in which one finds 1:26-28. It precedes a story of the first gardener and master of animals, which quickly turns into the story of the first family, as God fashions a woman for the man, and despite some major setbacks, start a family, the most basic of Israelite social units. The rest of the primeval history is filled with the begetting of children and the death of children, and with familial turmoil. Things get so bad that God changes God’s mind concerning creating the human and decides to start over with one extended family; a man and a wife, their sons and their sons’ wives (Genesis 6-9).

It is important to remember that the idea that the image of God was destroyed in the human is a creation of Christian theology that has no grounding in the biblical text, either Old or New Testament. Despite the downward slide into sin for which the ground is cursed and strains familial relationships to murderous extent, the biblical writer still affirms that the human is made in God’s likeness (5:1), and that Seth is in the likeness and image of his father, Adam (5:3). Even after the earth is so filled with violence and the created order becomes skewed that God floods the earth and starts over with Noah and his family, God still affirms that the human is created in God’s image (9:6) (Towner 2005, 351-52).

Along with sin, however, comes an increased lack of facility for living up to the calling that humans have as being made in the image of God. Relationships between family members, between animals and humans, and relationships between God and humans become increasingly difficult due to human sin throughout Genesis 1-11. Humans decide to create the tower of Babel, which Middleton interprets to be the attempt to establish the first world empire—a move from a diverse world based on kinship to an enforced uniform language and culture in which the masses serve the elite (Middleton 2005, 221-28).

It should not be surprising that the extended family is the vehicle through which God chose the divine image to be fully lived out, as family is very important to Old Testament ethics. Waldemar Janzen has placed family as central to Old Testament ethics, making it his central paradigm among four other paradigms that support it. By paradigm, he means, “. . . a personally and holistically image of a model (e.g., a wise person, good king) that imprints itself immediately and non-conceptually on the characters and actions of those who hold it” (Janzen 1994, 27-28).

According to Janzen’s model, through being exposed to numerous stories concerning the ideal Israelite family, the ancient Israelite developed a certain image of what family should look like. The family paradigm has three elements to it. 1) Life—The preservation and continuance of life conceived both individually and life through a family line. 2) Land— it takes land for an individual and family line to live. This land is a gift of God’s hospitality. 3) Hospitality—in time of need, people do not only live off of their own resources, but off of the provision of others. The element of hospitality keeps a kinship group from becoming too close-knit and rejecting of the needs of others.

An example from Genesis that Janzen uses to illustrate the familial paradigm is Abraham’s preserving family peace by parting ways with Lot in Genesis 13. In this story, Abraham sacrifices better pasture land to remain in peace with his nephew Lot. In doing so, Abraham upholds the will of God, as God has willed that Abraham bless all of the families of the Earth (12:3) (Janzen 1994, 32).

One does not need to stop at Abraham’s sacrifice of land for the sake of family peace. In chapter 14, when Lot is captured in war, Abraham forms an ad hoc army and rescues Lot. When God is on the way to destroy Sodom, Abraham intercedes on the behalf of the righteous that are in Sodom, and is given opportunity to rescue Lot from destruction. An interesting element of the narratives dealing with Abraham and Lot is how his advocacy and intercession on the behalf of Lot is met with God’s blessing and promise. After Abraham’s parting from Lot and giving up the best pasture land, God promises Abraham that all of the land that he sees will be for him and his descendents forever (13:14-18). After Abraham rescues Lot from capture Melchizedek blesses him (14). The promise that within a year’s time Sarah will have a son by Abraham precedes his intercession for the righteous of Sodom (18). The combination of acts for the benefit of others, both relative and stranger and the blessing and promise of God highlights the value placed upon the care for families and strangers in the narrative of Genesis.

In the Abrahamic narrative, the author of Genesis tells us of a man and his family that makes a place in the world for humans to thrive in a new land, and the people surrounding that family are generally better off (blessed) by their interactions with this family. This man and his family have a blessing and calling not unlike Genesis 1:26-28, in which the man and woman are blessed to be fruitful and multiply, to have dominion over non-human creatures, and subdue the earth. In Abraham, we see an example of a man and his family making a place in the world for human life to thrive. It is probably no accident that the whole narrative of Genesis 12-50 covers four generations, from Abraham to the ancestors of the twelve tribes of Israel, and at the end of Genesis, Joseph saves Egypt and the Levant from famine. Indeed, in the narrative structure of Genesis the family of Abraham does bless the nations.

But what makes the story of Abraham so real is that his shining moments of benevolence and brotherly love are punctuated with narratives in which Abraham fails morally. He seems more than capable of exposing his wife to danger, which not only seems self-serving and cowardly, but also threatens to put God’s purpose of descendents and blessing of the families of the earth in jeopardy. He goes along with Sarah’s plan to produce an heir with Sarah’s maidservant Hagar, which produced strife that threatened to destroy family peace. Abraham is lifted up as a moral exemplar, but whose weakness at times causes us to realize that his true standing before God rests in God’s election of him to be a blessing through his descendents.

GENESIS 12:1-3 reads: Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.

With Abraham, Genesis starts a new chapter that moves from humanity in general that tries to establish security based upon a temple-state system, which God thwarts, to a carrying out of God’s purposes through a family line (Janzen 1994, 35).

Janzen is not the only Old Testament ethicist that considers the family central to Old Testament ethics. In Wright’s explication of ethics along three angles, the theological, the social and the economic, embodied in God, Israel and the Land, he puts the family, the household-land unit, in the center of all three as having central importance. Family in this sense has vertical and lateral dimensions—one had an obligation to one’s kin of the same generation, but also to one’s ancestors and descendents. This obligation to family was connected to land as the place where one was buried and the basis for economic survival for the family (Wright 2004, 357-58).

Whether or not family is central to Old Testament ethics is not as important as the organizing principle it applies to the Old Testament. New issues are addressed that remain submerged if holiness, for example, is treated as the center of Old Testament ethics. The Old Testament is diverse, and addresses a number of issues that cannot all be captured by one organizing theme.

Implications for Christian Creation Care

If the proposal of this paper is correct, that the OT portrays the Image of God in the human as being lived out through the extended family, in both its relational and rulership aspect, what are the implications for Christian creation care?

One implication is that to live obediently as God’s image is to be a responsible steward of the Earth and the creatures living on it, as they are entrusted to humans by God. Genesis 1:26-28 uses the rulership terms rādâ and kābaš in relating God’s command to the human regarding exercising authority over  nature. These may be violent terms, but are not necessarily so. Read in relationship with Genesis 2:15, in which Adam’s stewardship of the garden is described in terms related to service, leābdāh ulešāmrāh, the violent potential in the rulership language of Genesis 1:26-28 is largely removed.

A number of Old Testament scholars connect Genesis 1:26-28 to the modern ecological crisis. Cyril Rodd is dubious concerning the idea that the Old Testament authors were that concerned about the environment from an ecological stewardship standpoint, and critiques the idea that the OT speaks of the human as a shepherd king who is responsible for the environment and submits that modern ethicists start with the ecological crisis in mind, not from the Old Testament. His critique is grounded in the idea that the ancient Israelite farmer would have been in constant struggle with animals and other parts of the environment to produce a crop, and would have wished that his dominion over the environment was more complete (Rood 2001, 237-38). Cyril Rodd is correct. Iron Age Israelites were not environmentalists in the modern sense, and due to the minimal potential that they had to drastically change their environment, they need not be. (This is not to say that the Israelites ignored or were not awestruck by God’s creativity shown in the natural world, and Psalms such as Psalm 104 attest to this.)

In the light of Rodd’s obvious critique of the use of Genesis 1:26-28 in the modern ecological crisis, one observation is in order. The ancient Israelite farmer did not have as many efficient methods to manipulate the environment as modern society has. Ancient Israelite activities that entail carving out a space for human life to thrive, which is what I take the mandate to have dominion and subdue means is much different than what it means today, especially in industrialized society.

In industrialized society, in which we have eviscerated the environment to such an extent that the world’s ability to sustain life is being increasingly compromised, we need to be reminded that the humans are called to rule and have dominion over the planet in a responsible way. We are not only called to have dominion and subdue (1:26-28), but also to keep and to work/serve (2:15) Whereas the Ancient Israelite family struggled to wrest a space for life from the environment, modern society can easily oppress the environment to the point that it no longer sustains life, and humans will be on the list of endangered and extinct species.

The difference in the historical and cultural circumstance of modern industrial society in comparison with Iron Age Israel creates a different hermeneutical circumstance in which to apply Genesis 1:26-28 to Christian creation care. Although Goldingay writes concerning Old Testament theology, and not ethics as such, he provides a methodology for addressing Rodd’s critique concerning the (mis)-use of Genesis 1:26-28 in the debate concerning modern ecological concerns. Goldingay asks whether some historical contexts may be more illuminating than others when forming theology. He writes that one must understand both the historical context of the text and the contemporary situation in which the church confronts the text (Goldingay 1987, 37).

Using Goldingay’s methodology concerning a stress on the message of the text in its contemporary historical context, which I take to be that humans are to create a place in the world in which human life can thrive, it makes great sense to apply this general message to the concrete situation today concerning the ecology. Today, in industrialized society, to create a space for human life, and all life, for that matter, calls forth a concept of dominion over nature that must stress benevolent care of the creation if life is going to survive on the planet.

How, then, can the concept of Christian creation care that our current ecological crisis draws forth from the Genesis text be taught and actualized in the lives of contemporary Christ following communities? Hans Walter Wolff hints that Christ’s authority in all of heaven and earth, and the call to make disciples that issue from that authority can give us a proper understanding of humans living in the image of God as stewards of the earth. These Christ following communities can become a spiritual extended family, just as real as Abraham’s, working to provide a space for human life to thrive for themselves and for those around them. They can teach others what it means to live as the image of God in relation to the environment, and model that for those other communities around them.

Although Hans Walter Wolff basically equates the image of God in the human with establishing civilization and the individual human’s coming to terms with life’s problems, a basic meaning that this paper does not share, he makes some observations that help keep the human’s rule over creation in perspective. The human’s domination over creation threatens to escape, because the human misunderstands the task as ruler. Related to this, Wolff makes two points. 1) The human’s rule should not bring humanity to the brink of destruction by destroying the environment. Above this, Wolff writes that human domination of other humans falsifies the image of God. 2) The subjection of the world should not in turn lead the human to being dominated by a myth of technology in which a thing is done simply because it is possible, and therefore the human is ruled by economic and technological forces (Wolff 1974, 163-64).

Finally, Wolff grounds the authority of the human over creation in the fact that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Jesus Christ, and the call to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-19). He eloquently writes, “We ought to consider how, through the mode of sovereignty of the One who was crucified, mankind’s stewardship over the world is snatched back from self-destruction, and the image of God once more emerges in all its freedom” (Wolff 1974, 165). In the final analysis, then, Christian creation care is grounded in the authority of Christ, who has created a spiritual extended family, who through discipleship and witness, blesses those other communities around it, and creates a space for human life to thrive.


1. What is meant by re-articulation is that the Biblical text takes an understood idea from the larger culture, in this case, the king being the image of the deity and representative between the deity and humans, and uses that idea in a new fashion, applying it to all of humanity as the apex of God’s creation as God’s representative in creation. For a good discussion of this idea, see Middleton, J. Richard, 2005.
2. A canonical approach to the Scriptures reads a particular Biblical text in the context of the Scripture around it, and can be expanded, although it is not here, into the whole Bible. This is an especially valuable approach to the issue of humans being made in the image of God, because the text does not define what is meant by this in any depth. This paper defines the image of God in the human by reading it in the context of Genesis.


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