Correcting the Cultural Mandate (Creation Mandate) Part 1: (a multi-part series)

I want to begin by explaining what this Cultural Mandate, Dominion Mandate or Creation Mandate is for those who have not heard the term. Though you may not know the technical name I assure you that you have indeed been taught this Creation Mandate.
First things first, the term Creation Mandate or Cultural Mandate or Dominion Mandate are not found anywhere in scripture. These terms have been created by people to define what God said to mankind in Genesis 1:28

God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”[1]
This is considered a divine set of commands given to mankind for how to operate as God’s image bearers in the world. So we see from Genesis 1:28 that the Creation Mandate can be simplified as:
  •     Be fruitful and multiply
  •     Fill the earth
  •     Subdue the earth
  •     Rule over the fish, birds and every living thing that moves on the earth.

It is important to note that many evangelical Christians today indicate that these directions were given to Adam and that he was to assign to Eve the tasks that he either deemed her capable of or that he could not accomplish himself. This is how many understand the meaning of Eve being created as a helpmeet for Adam.

It is also important to note that the bullet points above are the common threads you will see in any explanation of the Creation Mandate.

In order to understand why the Creation Mandate needs correcting we must break it down into sections of [man to man] and [man to creation]. It must also be noted that man in this writing will be understood as mankind or human beings not specifically as male human beings.

Man to Man:

The first correction that needs to be made deals with the first set of instructions in the phrase from Genesis 1:28. 

Be fruitful and multiply and fill...

This one phrase has done more damage in my opinion to man’s relationship to his fellow man than any other in this mandate. By including this phrase in what we have defined as a command from God for man to fulfill as those who bear His image in the world we have made part of our purpose for existing and personal fulfillment about sex and procreation. 

This elevates sex and procreation to a status of obedience and honoring God. This phrase has also simultaneous been used to reduce the role of Eve to the level of all other animals in creation but this will be explained further in later posts.

It has also been argued by some that in giving man this command to be fruitful and multiply God was indicating that through procreation man exhibits the Creator side of the image of God that he bears. God created man and man as the one who bears His image continues to create life through sexual relationship within the confines of marriage.

There is just one major problem that needs resolution if this is true. Man is the only part of creation that bears the image of God so the Creation Mandate as the definition of man’s purpose and method of fulfillment should only have been given to man as the part of creation that bears His image right?

Doug Kelly in Creation and Change states, “Traditionally Christian theologians have understood Genesis 1:28 as mankind’s purpose and permission for engaging the world. The Cultural Mandate not only gives us purpose in our vocation, it’s connected to our fulfillment in work.”[2]
In his book All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes, Kenneth Myers writes “Man was fit for the cultural mandate. As the bearer of his Creator-God’s image, he could not be satisfied apart from cultural activity.”[3]

So we understand this Cultural Mandate to be the divine instruction from God for man to obtain fulfillment and purpose as the bearer of the Creator’s image.  You would be hard pressed to find a religious leader who would not agree that the cultural mandate defines man’s purpose and that man cannot be fulfilled apart from accomplishing it.

So since, it is the common belief among religious leadership that this mandate gives man purpose and fulfillment we must recognize that no other part of creation can have any part of the cultural mandate as its purpose or method of fulfillment because man is set apart from the rest of creation as the only one who bears the image of the Creator.

It follows that if any part of the Creation Mandate is found to have been given to any part of creation other than man it must necessarily be removed as part of the divine mandate from God given specifically to man in order to help man understand his purpose, find fulfillment and reflect the image of his Creator.

Well, Houston, we have a problem. In looking at the fifth day of creation we see this phrase “be fruitful and multiply and fill…” given to a part of creation. If, right now you’re thinking (and I pray you are) but man wasn’t created until day six you would be correct. So then who was this divine command given to?

Genesis 1:21-23  
Then God said, “Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens.” God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind; and God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.”  There was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.[4]
You read that correctly. God gave part of the Creation Mandate to the birds and the creatures of the seas and waters.  

But how can this be? 

Birds and creatures in the waters are not created in the image of God. 

Why would God give them a command that He gave to man in relation to man’s purpose, fulfillment and responsibility to bear the Creator’s image in the world?

The short answer would be that He didn’t.

God didn’t give man this command of “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” in order to represent the image of God in creation, understand his purpose or find fulfillment. 

He couldn’t have because He also gave this command to the birds and creatures of the water.  

Now does man find fulfillment and purpose in being fruitful and multiplying some would say yes while others would argue no. What about those who don’t get married or can’t have children? Do they possess any less purpose than those who can? Was man’s job of bearing the image of His creator lost in the fall? Was it lost to only some while others still possess it?

Christ as man was the ultimate image bearer of God on earth yet he was not married and he had no physical children. Was His ability to represent His Father on the earth hindered in any way? NO.

In fact, Christ tells us in scripture that "if you have seen me you have seen the Father" in John 14:9. Christ was the clearest representation on earth of the image of God in man of anyone who ever lived or will ever live yet he was not “fruitful” he did not physically “multiply and fill the earth.”

What was God doing then when He pronounced that man along with the birds and fish should procreate if that is indeed what be fruitful and multiply means? 

I argue He was doing the same thing that He was doing when He pronounced that each plant should bear fruit and seed after its kind. He was setting up the natural order of life on earth.

Could it be that God in speaking creation into existence also spoke into existence the ability for creation to continue through the means of biology? I cannot tell you for sure but I can tell you that the phrase be fruitful and multiply and fill… is not a divine command given only to man as the one part of creation that bears His image.

So it must be removed from this Creation Mandate that we have created. As long as we continue to teach, preach, and speak about "be fruitful and multiply and fill…” as a divine command given to man so that he will find purpose and fulfillment we are leading people astray. We are elevating things in the natural order to a level they were never intended to be on.

So if we were to removed “be fruitful and multiply and fill…” from the teaching of the Creation Mandate given specifically to man it would leave us with two specific statements. This is proper because these are the only two parts of the Creation Mandate that are spoken specifically to mankind and only mankind:

  • ·         Subdue the earth
  • ·         Rule over the fish, birds and every living thing that moves on the earth.

In the next part of this series we will deal with man’s relationship to creation in conjunction with the Creation Mandate.

Works Cited:
Darek Isaacs, Beth Hallel. "Is There A Creatin Mandate?" Answers Research Journal 6 (Answers in Genesis), 2013: 1-16.
Kelly, Doug. Creation and Change. Mentor publishing, 2017.
Myers, Kenneth. All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes. Crossway, 2012.
New American Standard Bible. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation., 1995: Update.

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Ge 1:28). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.
[2] Doug Kelly, Creation and Change (Mentor publishing, 2017).
[3] Kenneth Myers,  All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes (Crossway, 2012).
[4] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Ge 1:20–23). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.