There are two competing images of fatherhood in Genesis, and this is related to the theme of dominion– who has it, what is the nature of it, and how it is exercised.  For the two images of fatherhood we can use the word dominion to describe the first image of life-giving fatherhood and dominationto describe the tyrannical view of fatherhood and by extension masculinity in general.  Domain and dominion have the same root in dominus, which means “lord” or “ruler” who exercise authority over a domus, which has roots in the idea of “home”.  Hence, the same root is in domestics. “Domination” has the sense of active control, foreign or not properly exercised rule, and typically lends itself to something foreign to the domus having control over it.  Tyrants rule from without, from “outside” the kingdom.

First, what does Genesis tell us about man’s dominion?  When God is creating the world, the order that things come is basically in two groups.  The second group “has dominion” over the first group, it governs or rules it. Here’s the first group:

Day 1 – Light and dark

Day 2 – Sea and sky

Day 3 – Land

Now, look at how the second group has dominion over the first:

Day 4 – Sun and moon

Day 5 – Fish and birds

Day 6 – Land creatures

At the beginning of the first group God creates light and dark.  At the beginning of the second group God creates the sun and the moon.  First the domain is created, then the lord of the domain. Have you ever wondered why light and dark are created before there’s sources of light (the sun)? Genesis is explaining that the sun “rules” the light of day.  The sun (created in the second set) has dominion over the light (created in the first set).  The other creatures repeat the pattern.  The fifth day is fish and birds to rule the sea and sky of day two, and land creatures of day six rule over the land of day three.

The last creature is man who, by coming last, was given dominion over it all.  The “command” over creation is explicit when God says

“let us put him in command of the fishes in the sea, and all that flies through the air, and the cattle, and the whole earth, and all the creeping things that move on earth” (Genesis 1:26).

But man is not just last and therefore greatest, but he actually continues the very work that God began.  Man, unlike all the other creatures, shares in God’s rightful dominion as Creator – he is privileged to name the animals and tend the garden, both of which are a sort of completing or perfecting of what was already complete and perfect – it was made by God after all.   Stradford Caldecott points out the importance of Adam’s task of naming creatures:

“We must remember that the act of naming was not understood … as a matter of merely ‘attaching a label.’  It represents something much more like appointing a place in the world, or giving a mission – as when Jesus named Simon the Petrus (rock) on which he would build his Church… It may be that what Adam is doing by naming other creatures is simply ruling…”[1]

This ruling was an extension of God’s loving creation, not just “being the boss.”  As a father has dominion in naming children, so Adam shares God’s creating fatherhood by naming the animals.  Adam was giving life in his rule, “not for his own selfish aggrandizement, but in accordance with the reality of things and with the wisdom of God.”[2]  Pause on that for a moment.

When we raise up sons in this true spirit of gift and glory, we are recognizing a reality, not engineering a way we want them to be.  In Genesis God is sharing His dominion with man in an act of sheer goodness, and it is real.  Every other creature just lives there, looks for food and mates, following instincts, but although they are not abused by Adam, they are still “under” his rule. His rule is in a spirit of communion as a fellow creature, but uniquely more than a creature, a son of God.

[1] Stratford Caldecott, Beauty in the Word 40

[2] Ibid. 40

  • Howard

    “And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and largeness of mind like the sand on the seashore, so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east, and all the wisdom of Egypt. … He spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall; he spoke also of beasts, and of birds, and of reptiles, and of fish.” 1 Kings 4:29-31; 33 (RSVCE)

    This passage is, I think, meant to be understood as somewhat parallel to Adam naming the animals. But Solomon did not ASSIGN roles to the cedar or the hyssop; he REVEALED their roles in greater detail. The same was true of Adam. The birds had been assigned to the air and the fist to the water before there was an Adam.

    God created the world through His Word. The desire to change reality with our words has more to do with the serpent’s temptation to “be like God” than with God bringing the animals before Adam. We still see this today, from the attempt to cast magical spells to the attempt to redefine marriage.

  • Phil Alcoceli

    This article brings a hugely important power given to humankind: language, though which, as the article says, we participate, acknowledge and submit to God’s Wisdom and Most Holy Will. Language was designed by God to bring his dominion over the Earth and all creation, forever. Satan started political correctness, his very own language, when he deceived Adam and Eve and through this counterfeit language brought evil to Earth and all Creation.

    We may feel like gnats before the huge power of today’s Anti-Culture of Death but we still have God’s authentic and holy use of language. Why call our situation today a “Culture War” when there’s only an Anti-Culture War? Satan has no real culture whatsoever to offer, so why give it legitimacy with our language? Why are we so stubborn about playing into the Devil’s hands? Social approval, maybe? Real godly change will come when we stop playing by Satan’s rule book and dictionary and use God’s instead, obeying God’s first commandment to Adam: CALL THINGS BY THEIR REAL NAME.