Men and animals (Genesis chap. 1, vers. 28)

“And God blessed them, and 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.”

This commission to rule is not considered as belonging to the definition of God’s image; but it is its consequence, i.e., that for which man is capable because of it. The close relation of the term for God’s image with that for the commission to exercise dominion emerges quite clearly when we have understood tsélem (“image” – cf. Genesis 1:27) as a plastic image.

Just as powerful earthly kings, to indicate their claim to dominion, erect an image of themselves in the provinces of their empire where they do not personally appear, so man is placed upon earth in God’s image as God’s sovereign emblem. He is really only God representative, summoned to maintain and enforce God’s claim to dominion over the earth. The decisive thing about man’s similarity to God, therefore, is his function in the non-human world.

The espressions for the exercise of this dominion are remarkably strong: radà, “thread”, “trample” (e.g., the wine press); similarly kabàsh, “stamp”. Thus man’s creation has a retroactive significance for all non human creatures; it gives them a new relation to God. The creature, in addition to having been created by God, receives through man a responsibility to God; in any case, because of man’s dominion it receives once again the dignity belonging to a special domain of God’s sovereignty. (From Gerhard von Rad, Genesis. A Commentary, 1973, pp. 59-60)

Simone Venturini


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