Does "Dominion" over Animals in Genesis Mean Stewardship or Despotism? Go Vegan! By Chapman Chen
Updated: Nov 11
Summary: "Dominion" in Genesis 1:28 KJV means not domination or despotism but "stewardship" (Linzey 2016), "caretakership" (Ritenbaugh 1999), and "protection" (Halteman 2007), because 1. In Gen. 1:29, humans were given a vegan diet; 2. In Gen. 2:15 NIV, humans were instructed by God to "take care of" the Garden with all the animals in it; 3. God made His covenant with not only humans (Noah and his descendants) but also animals (Gen. 9:8-17); 4. God has compassion for all creatures (Psalm 145: 9). 5. Animals are our folk (Gen. 1:30). 6. Christ always sided with the marginalized (Matthew 25:40 NIV); 7. Jesus died at least partly for animal liberation. (Mark 11:18); 8. Via Jesus's crucifixion and resurrection, God reconciled himself to all groaning creatures and offered them hope of redemption (Colossians 1:19-20).
Many so-called Christians misinterpret the word "dominion" in Genesis 1:28 as meaning that God gives humanity free rein to do anything he wants to all the non-human animals on this planet—bend them to his uses and abuses, degrade, rape and murder them—for humanity's own benefit.
1. A Vegetarian Diet Given for "Dominion" over Animals
In Genesis 1:28 (KJV), "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.'” However, as rightly pointed out by English theologian Revd. Prof. Andrew Linzey (2016), “People always remember that we are given dominion over animals in Genesis chapter one, but they forget that two verses later we are given a vegetarian diet” -- "And God said, “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food" (Genesis 1:29 NKJV). This means the animals are not intended by God for our consumption.
God’s compromise to tolerate Noah killing and eating animals (Genesis 9:3) is a consequence of the fall (Linzey 1993), and a contingency plan to cope with the food crisis following the Deluge (Barad 2012). It does not concord with "God’s original intention for there to be harmony, rather than enmity and fear, between human beings and animals" (Halteman 2007) .
So much the more, as explained by Linzey, the permission to kill for food in Genesis 9 is by no means unconditional or absolute; God forbids humans from consuming the blood of the animals they kill! "But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat" (Genesis 9:4).
"At first sight these qualificatory lines might be seen as obliterating the permission itself. After all, who can take animal life without the shedding of blood? Who can kill without the taking of blood, that is the life itself? In asking these questions we move to the heart of the problem. For the early Hebrews life was symbolized by, and even constituted by, blood itself. To kill was to take blood. And yet it is precisely this permission which is denied," wrote Linzey.
In other words, God ostensibly allows people to eat meat but in reality sets a unsatisfiable prerequisite, effectively rendering meat-eating "mission impossible," with a view to pulling a prank on those greedy, gluttonous, depraved human beings.
All in all, the ideal diet prescribed by God in the Bible is vegetarian and meat-free: “For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity… you shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God…” (See also similar descriptions in Jeremiah 29:5, Amos 9:14, Hosea 2:22).
2. Dominion as Stewardship
According to Andrew Linzery (2010), "dominion" in Genesis 1:28 means stewardship rather than dictatorship.
"And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it." (KJV)
Moreover, as pointed out by Nathan Porter (2020), "God commissioned Adam to name the animals – a covenant-establishing act between humanity and other creatures that recalls God’s naming of Adam, Abraham, Sarah, and Israel, marking them out as recipients of blessing rather than as objects to be dominated."
Thus, "Humans have "dominion" over animals. But that "dominion" (radah in Hebrew) does not mean despotism, rather we are set over creation to care for what God has made and to treasure God's own treasures" (Linzey 2010). "Dominion understood in this sense means not despotism but responsibility or ‘stewardship.’" (Linzey 2016)
3. Dominion as Caretakership
Here, we may go one step further. Not only is "dominion" in Genesis 1:28 immediately followed by a vegan diet command in Genesis 1:19, but it is qualified and modified by Genesis 2:15. When we go through various translations/interpretations of this verse as follows, we will find that God intends humanity to be a caretaker, a watchman, a keeper of the earth, rather than a Hitler trampling on the necks of his subjects.
"The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it." (Genesis 2:15, NIV)
"The LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it." (New Living Translation)
"And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it." (KJV)
Indeed, tend (Hebrew 'abad) means "to work or serve"; keep (Hebrew shamar) means "to exercise great care over." According to Richard Ritenbaugh (1999), "In the context of Genesis 2:15, it expresses God's wish that mankind, in the person of Adam, 'take care of,' 'guard,' or 'watch over' the garden. A caretaker maintains and protects his charge so that he can return it to its owner in as good or better condition than when he received it."
Now, just imagine the following scenario: Before a landlord departs for a business trip, he entrusts his mansion with all its tenants and facilities to the care of a caretaker. And when he comes back, he finds that the caretaker has taken the liberty to rape, enslave, and murder most of the tenants, and the mansion as a whole is a mess, with water pipes leaking, everywhere filled with garbage, the load-bearing wall removed, etc. What do you think the landlord will do? Of course, he will flame up and punish the caretaker most severely.
4. God Made His Covenant with the Animals
As put by Halteman (2007), "Noah’s rescue mission demonstrates God’s care for the animals and clearly demonstrates that God’s covenant extends to all living things."
In Genesis 9:8-17, God again and again stressed that he made his covenant with not only humans but also other animals, which means that the animals are to be esteemed and cared for!
8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” (Gen 9:8-17, emphasis added)
5. God has Compassion for All Sentient Creatures!
According to Halteman 2007, "'Dominion' (Genesis 1:26-28) does not mean: license to kill and consume (Gen. 1:29-30), but rather: to care for creation in accordance with the divine image—without exploitation, violence, and oppression. The image of God would serve as a pattern for our “dominion.” This dominion would entail protection, not domination".
Consider "God Is Love" (1 John 4:7-21 ESV); "The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made" (Psalm 145: 9). "I know what they are suffering" (Exodus 3:7) ; In all their affliction he was afflicted" (Isaiah 63:9 KJV).
That means "God suffers in all suffering creatures", to borrow Andrew Linzey's (1995) words. To hurt animals means to make God suffer.
6. Animals are our Folk
Another reason why we should take care of other animals is because they are our brothers and sisters on account of their possessing a soul, their physical proximity to us, and their ability to suffer.
In the first creation story man and woman are created in God’s image. But it also tells us that animals have a soul. In Genesis 1:30 (KJV) it reads,
"And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so."
Hebrew for the phrase "life" in the verse above is "nephesh chayyah ", which is mistranslated as "life" in most English versions of the Bible.
Nephesh means soul and chayyah means living. In other words, God did give the animals a living soul when He created them.
Thus the animals are sentient, i.e., able to look for physical pleasure and to stay away from physical pain; to yearn to go on living, endeavoring to shun death and to able to experience various emotions. Subsequently, God created man and breathed into his nostrils the same “breath of life”, “nephesh chayyah”, (Gen.2:7) which is the living soul.
By reason of this commonality of possessing a living soul the animals are also our brothers and sisters to be loved by us. (Farians 2009)
Also, animals are apparently proximal to us. They live side by side with us. They are literally neighbors of us, just that we frequently destroy their homes and chase them out of their living habitats.
Moreover, Jeremy Bentham (1789) pointed out that it is animals' ability to suffer rather than their rationality which made them our neighbors:-"The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?"
7. Jesus Sided with the Marginalized
Jesus always took the side of the downtrodden and marginalized. And who would be more marginalized and downtrodden than the trillions of animals who are crammed into small cages, tortured, exploited, raped, abused, humiliated, and slaughtered every year?!
Admittedly, many animals, like cows, horses and monkeys, are physically stronger and more agile than humans. But, in the face of humans' technology, guns, electric rods, trucks, and, above all, cunningness, the animals are simply helpless. Now, the weakest amongst us are deserving of more, not less, moral concern (cf. Linzey 1995). "The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:40 NIV).
Examples of Jesus siding with the marginalized, both human and non-human, are plenty. Indeed, Jesus inaugurated his public ministry by citing Isaiah’s liberating promises to the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed (Luke 4:18).
7.1. Jesus Hung out with Human Misfits
Regarding human outcasts, Jesus ate "with tax collectors and sinners" (Matthew 9:10-11). He healed "the lame, blind, crippled, mute, and many others" (Matthew 15:30). He praised "a poor widow" who put in "two very small copper coins" into the temple treasury. " “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
7.2. Jesus Spoke out for Animals
Regarding downtrodden animals, Jesus asked, "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father" (Matthew 10:29); “Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the Sabbath day? (Luke 14:5). (Although Jesus' animal rights speeches and acts as recorded in the canonical Gospels were probably tampered with by Paul's carnivorous gentile Christianity camp, some fragments of Jesus' love for innocent animals like those aforementioned survive in them.)
8. Jesus Rescued a Mule
Most impressive of all is a narrative from a Coptic fragment, of unknown background but definitely from ancient times. It merits quoting in full: "It happened that the Lord left the city and walked with his disciples over the mountains. And they came to a mountain, and the road which led up it was steep. There they found a man with a pack-mule. But the animal had fallen, because the man had loaded it too heavily, and now he beat it, so that it was bleeding. And Jesus came to him and said, 'Man, why do you beat your animal? Do you not see that it is too weak for its burden, and do you not know that it suffers pains?' But the man answered and said, 'What is that to you? I may beat it as much as I please, since it is my property, and I bought it for a good sum of money. Ask those who are with you, for they know me and they know about this.' And some of the disciples said, 'Yes, Lord, it is as he says. We have seen how he bought it.' But they Lord said, 'Do you then not see how it bleeds, and do you not hear how it groans and cries out?' But they answered and said, 'No, Lord, that it groans and cries out, we do not hear.' But Jesus was sad and exclaimed, 'Woe to you, that you do not hear how it complains to the Creator in heaven and cries out for mercy. But threefold woes to him about whom it cries out and complains in its pain.' And he came up and touched the animal. And it stood up and its wounds were healed. But Jesus said to the man, 'Now carry on and from now on do not beat it any more, so that you too may find mercy.' " (Linzey 2010).
9. Jesus Died for Animal Liberation
Actually, Jesus died for the cause of animal liberation as well as human liberation. When he drove out from the HolyTemple those vendors who were buying and selling animals for cruel sacrifice (Matthew 21:12), he offended the chief priests and teachers of the law, for the reason that he was disrupting their revenue stream. Immediately afterwards, "the chief priests and the teachers of the law heard about this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him because the whole crowd was amazed at his teachings."(Mark 11:18)
10. Through Christ's Resurrection, God Redeems All Creatures
Ultimately, on the Cross, Jesus took upon himself all the pains, sufferings and deaths of all sentient creatures, animals and humans alike, and transcended them. What Jesus experienced as an individual on the cross represents "incarnation of God’s ubiquitous presence in the psyches of all creatures victimized by predation, injustice, or despair" (Peters 2018), And as put by Elizabeth Johnson (2015), Jesus's "resurrection offers hope of redemption for all flesh", including both animals and humans. The whole "groaning" "creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay" (Romans 8: 19-22 NIV). " For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Jesus Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things... by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross" (Colossians 1:19-20 NIV).
11. Co-operate with God to Liberate Animals
In conclusion, to quote Andrew Linzey (1995) again, the role of Christ's human followers is "to exercise a self-sacrificial priesthood, after the one High Priest, not just for members of their own species, but for all sentient creatures. The groaning and travailing of fellow creatures requires a species capable of co-operating with God in the healing and liberating of creation.” And of course, in order to heal and liberate animals, we have to at least go vegan.
No doubt, many a meat-eater will retort and query, "How about Jesus's 'Five Loaves and Two Fish' miracle? Didn't Jesus eat lamb on Passover and consume fish in front of His disciples after resurrection?......" All these questions are answered in Chapman Chen's (2021) articles, " Proofs that Jesus was Vegan" and " "Follow Christ's Words n Love your Neighbors, includ. Animals."
Barad, Judith (2012). "What about the Covenant with Noah?". In York, Tripp; Alexis-Baker, Andy (eds.). A Faith Embracing All Creatures. p. 13.
Bentham, Jeremy (1789). An Introduction to the Principles of Morals, Ch 17. n.122.
Chen, Chapman (2021). "Which One was Vegan? Cain or Abel?" July 20, HKBNews (https://www.hkbnews.net/post/which-one-was-vegan-cain-or-abel-by-chapman-chen-hkbnews)
Chen, Chapman (2021). ”Jesus Asks us to Serve the Animals. Go Vegan!" July 10, HKBNews (https://www.hkbnews.net/post/jesus-asks-us-to-serve-the-animals-go-vegan-by-chapman-chen-hkbnews)
Chen, Chapman (2020). "Proofs that Jesus was Vegan." Dec. 28, HKBNews. (https://www.hkbnews.net/post/proofs-that-jesus-was-vegan-%E6%85%88%E6%84%9B%E8%80%B6%E7%A9%8C%E9%A3%9F%E5%85%A8%E7%B4%A0-by-chapman-chen-hkbnews )
Chen, Chapman (2021). "Follow Christ's Words n Love your Neighbors, includ. Animals." June 15, HKBNews. (https://www.hkbnews.net/post/follow-christ-s-words-n-love-your-neighbors-includ-animals-go-vegan-by-chapman-chen-hkbnews )
Chen, Chapman (2012). "Does Genesis Prescribe a Vegan Diet or a Meat Diet?" June 17, HKBNews (https://www.hkbnews.net/post/does-genesis-prescribe-a-vegan-diet-or-a-meat-diet-by-chapman-chen-hkbnews )
Farians, Elizabeth (2009). "Animals, People and the Earth". Los Angeles: 2009 Animal Rights Conference.
Halteman, M. C. (2011). "Varieties of Harm to Animals in Industrial Farming." Journal of Animal Ethics, 1(2), 122–131. https://doi.org/10.5406/janimalethics.1.2.0122
Johnson, Elizabeth (2015). Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love. London: Bloomsbury Continuum.
Linzey Andrew (1995). Animal Theology. London: SCM Press/University of Illinois Press.
Linzey, Andrew (2010). Creatures of the Same God. Winchester: Winchester University Press.
Linzey, Andrew (2016). "Christian Theology and Animal Rights." FRA. (https://fra-respect-animal.org/christian-theology-and-animal-rights-andrew-linzey)
Peters, Ted (2018). "Extinction, Natural Evil, and the Cosmic Cross". Journal of Religion and Science. (https://doi.org/10.1111/zygo.12454 )
Ritenbaugh, Richard T. (1999). "The Bible and the Environment." Forerunner, "Prophecy Watch," February. https://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/topical.show/RTD/cgg/ID/2163/Dominion-over-Animals.htm
Southgate, Christopher (2008). The Groaning of Creation: God, Evolution and the Problem of Evil. Westminster: John Knox Press.
Porter, Nathan (2020). "Vegan -- And Christian, Too." Nov. 4, Becreaturekind ( https://www.becreaturekind.org/blog-posts /2020/11/4/vegan-and-christian-too)
Team (2015). "'Human beings are not the master species but the servant species': Andrew Linzey, Oxford animal theologian". 7/11, Newsweek (https://www.newsweek.com/human-beings-are-not-master-species-servant-species-andrew-linzey-oxford-animal-theologian-329899)