The Forgotten Requirement of the Dominion Mandate

God made human beings in his image as people who require knowledge (Prov. 18:15). To argue otherwise, to argue that we don’t require knowledge, is to spit in the face of the doctrine that says that human beings are made in the image of God. When we say otherwise—that people don’t require knowledge—we treat people as if they are less than image-bearers of the God of all knowledge. C.S. Lewis wrote, “One of the things that distinguishes man from the other animals is that he wants to know things, wants to find out what reality is like, simply for the sake of knowing. When that desire is completely quenched in anyone, I think he has become something less than human.”[1]

Image-bearers are called to be “knowers.” Consider God’s instructions to Adam in Genesis 1:28-30, “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 heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’ 29 And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so.”

In verse 28 God tells Adam to do three things: (1) To be fruitful and multiply on the earth (2) to subdue the earth (3) to have dominion on the earth. When God tells Adam to have dominion, He is telling Adam to rule as a vice-regent. A vice-regent is a person who acts in the name of another, notably, the Regent. Who is the Regent?God is the Regent! So, when God tells Adam to be a vice-regent, he is telling Adam to act on behalf of the Regent—to act on behalf of God.

Can you act on behalf of someone if you don’t know them? The answer is no. Can Adam act on behalf of God if he doesn’t know God and what God wants? The answer is no. So that means the role of earth’s vice-regent starts with knowing the Creator of the earth—the Regent. It means being suffused with a rich and personal knowledge of God.

Adam is to rule God’s earth, something that can’t happen without knowing about the earth. For a vice-regent to rule the earth he must know the Creator of the earth and he must know about God’s created order. With these two things—knowing God and knowing the created order—image-bearers have dominion, and by having dominion they bless God’s world.

When you know the Creator and the created order, that means you can express something of the reality of the Rock of Ages and his richly varied creation. This involves speaking words that construct the true reality. That is the vocation of the image-bearers. When image-bearers embrace their vocation of dominion over the earth they are embracing a rich vocation of knowing. And the vocation of knowing is about reaching out for pieces of reality, because the more you know about God’s world, the more you know about the God who made it.

Therefore, when we constantly dumb it down, we treat people as if they were made to stare at the glowing screen. When we constantly oversimplify, we treat people as if they are evolved from primates. When we retreat “from the cultivation and celebration of learning,” we treat people as if they were less than God made them. God created us to be inquisitive, to seek knowledge, to pursue the truth. This is why when the church projects a generalized contempt for learning, they are failing in the duty to deal with people soul to soul.[2]

Paul said, that “what can be known about God is plain . . . So they are without excuse.” When we suppress “what can be known” we are “without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). Suppressing knowledge is inexcusable for human beings; it devalues life itself. Aristotle said, “All human beings by nature desire to know.” Thomas Aquinas said, “There is in man an inclination to good, according to the nature of his reason, which nature is proper to him: thus man has a natural inclination to know the truth about God, and to live in society: and in this respect, whatever pertains to this inclination belongs to the natural law; for instance, to shun ignorance.”[3] Mark Lilla says, “To most humans, curiosity about higher things comes naturally, it’s indifference to them that must be learned.”[4] 

In 1961 Martyn Lloyd-Jones lamented the problem that “Everything is being brought down to the same level; everything is being cheapened. The common man is made the standard and the authority; he decides everything, and everything has got to be brought down to him. You are getting it on your wireless, your television, in your newspapers; everywhere standards are coming down and down.”

The solution isn’t to teach over people’s heads in a way they can’t understand. The solution isn’t to leave people behind or form some elitist cult of knowledge. Lloyd-Jones’ solution is as follows, “What has always happened in the past has been this: an ignorant, illiterate people in this country and in foreign countries, coming into salvation, have been educated up to the Book and have begun to understand it, and to glory in it, and to praise God for it. I am here to say that we need to do the same at this present time.”[5]

It is the enemy who wants to turn us into low-information people. Satan has a game plan for destroying ignorant souls. The enemy wants to hinder knowledge because he knows that embracing ignorance, neglecting insight, slighting knowledge, and despising the truth, is the highway to hell. The Puritan, Thomas Brooks explains: “Ignorance is the mother of mistake, the cause of trouble, error, and of terror, it is the highway to hell, and it makes a man both a prisoner and a slave to the devil at once. Ignorance unmans a man; it makes a man a beast, yea, makes him more miserable than the beast that perisheth. There are none so easily nor so frequently taken in Satan’s snares as ignorant souls. They are easily drawn to dance with the devil all day, and to dream of supping with Christ at night.” [6]

Why is it that lack of knowledge is the enemy’s snare? It is because, as G.K. Chesterton said, “Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are most dangerous is the man of no ideas. The man of no ideas will find the first idea fly to his head like wine to the head of a teetotaller.”[7] In other words, without a full complement of mature ideas, people are more susceptible to embrace the first notion of meaning and significance that flies into their heads. Ignorance makes people an easy mark for Satan’s snipers.

Why would Thomas Brooks and G.K. Chesterton say such things? Isn’t passion the important thing? Isn’t zeal and excitement the most important thing? While modern man may prize zeal over knowledge, Proverbs 19:2 says, “Desire without knowledge is not good.” Why is it not good? Jesus explained that “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light” (Mt. 6:22).

So, desire without knowledge tends toward dark desire. This is why Paul lamented the Jews’ “zeal for God … not according to knowledge” (Rom. 10:2). If a person is all zeal without knowledge, that often means they will zealously do evil. But if you think Paul is anti-zeal, think again. He instructs leaders to lead with zeal and Christians to love and serve with zeal (Romans 12:8-11). Thomas Brooks said that “a leprous head and a leprous heart are inseparable companions.” Ignorance deforms the soul, making it like a workman without hands, or as a traveler without legs, or as a ship without sails, or as a sofa without cushions. When zeal is directed by knowledge it leads to service to the Lord. When zeal is disconnected from knowledge, it leads to self-centered display.

Ignorance is a sin that leads to all sins. In Matthew 22:29, Jesus told the Pharisees, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” All sins are seminally in ignorance. Jesus explained that the world will persecute Christians because they don’t know Jesus (Jn. 16:2f). Paul persecuted the church in ignorance (1 Tim. 1:13). The Jews and Roman soldiers crucified Jesus, knowing not what they were doing (Lk. 23:34; 1 Cor. 2:8). Thomas Brooks says, “Sin at first was the cause of ignorance, but now ignorance is the cause of all sin.”

But the point isn’t merely to acquire worldly knowledge. Hebrews 3:10 warns, “They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.” Paul warns in 2 Thessalonians 1:8 that God will inflict “vengeance on those who do not know God.” Isaiah 27:11 warns, “This is a people without discernment; therefore he who made them will not have compassion on them.” These warnings prioritize the type of knowledge Christians seek. It is a knowledge of God’s ways, without which, we go astray. It is a knowledge of God himself, without which, God inflicts vengeance. It is a knowledge that rightly discerns, without which, God will not have compassion.

Consider, three concluding clarifications. First, we don’t require knowledge for knowledge’s sake. We don’t require knowledge merely to say we know. We require knowledge because the human mind requires enlarged horizons. This includes the horizons of desires and wants. The need for knowledge goes deeper than facts. It must prepare the soul for satisfying legitimate wants within the order of the universe God made for us to live in.

Second, the fact that God made humans as creatures who require knowledge doesn’t mean all knowledge is the same. Knowledge of grace ought to come before knowledge of nature, just as knowledge of faith, virtue, and poetry ought to come before evidence, science, and life-hacking. In other words, God made human beings as creatures who require knowledge, and that knowledge is not primarily utilitarian.

Third, neither does it mean that partial, earthly knowledge won’t pass away (1 Cor. 13:8). It will. Much of what is required on earth will “pass away” in the light of the presence of God. Seeing Christ face to face will bring a new knowledge that transforms and transcends earthly knowledge (1 Cor. 3:18). We might dream of knowledge on earth that has the purity of eternality. Certainly, those with a curated reading list of good intentions have such illusions. Better if our pursuit of knowledge in this life comes to peace with the assaulting diversion of ephemerality. We might conceive of entire wisdom in this life, yet at the end of the long years, knowledge is turned to ignorance. What else? you wonder. What other frictions exist between us and what we require?

One thing we know, answering that question won’t come with a direct and simple vision or with a glance. It will come through the mental process of stacking one thing on another, accumulating, and then walking around what we’ve accumulated with the Bible in hand. We were made to do this. It’s part of what it means to take dominion. So, Christians shall go on and try to comprehend God, God’s Word, and God’s world to the furthest limits the Holy Spirit illuminates the finite human mind.

[1] C.S. Lewis, God in the God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970), 108.

[2] See Marilynne Robinson, When I was a Child I Read Books (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012), 5, 30.

[3] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologicae, Part II, I, Q. 94 “The Natural Law.”

[4] The Hidden Lesson of Montaigne (NYT review, March 2011).

[5] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Knowing the Times (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1989),112.

[6] Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1968), 211.

[7] G.K. Chesterton, Heretics (Nashville: Sam Torode, 1905), 130

Published by Jason Cherry

Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call and The Making of Evangelical Spirituality (Wipf and Stock).