According to Isaiah 45:18 (cf. v.12), which is presumably an inference drawn from Genesis 1, the earth was created to be inhabited. Thus from the start man’s primary vocation as one who is made in the image of God is to exercise dominion over the creation he inhabits (1:26-28). Since man is uniquely both earth-derived flesh and spirit, the assumption must be that insofar as he is spirit he is intended to rule both the earth and his own flesh, as a rider is his horse (Jas. 3:2f., cf. Isa 31:3). According to the Psalmist (8:5-8), implicit in his call are not only the promise of present blessing but also that of final glory and honour.
However, Adam, who was representative man according to the flesh (cf. 1 Cor. 15:45-49), after an apparently propitious start (Gen. 2:19f.) failed to fully abide by his vocation to till the garden in which he was placed. He and Eve deceived by the devil disobeyed the rule God had imposed primarily on Adam. And having come under the dominion of sin (and hence of death, Rom. 5:14,21) they were cast out. The inevitable result of this was that the land he was supposed to superintend became a desolation (cf. e.g. Isa. 6:11; 27:10). The implication of the curse placed on Adam was that the ever-increasing difficulty of his dominion exercised in his expanding world would become apparent (Gen. 3:17-19) especially in his progeny (cf. Gen. 4:12; 5:29; Ex. 23:28f.). (Bearing in mind that Adam was at once both individual and community, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Garden of Eden is to be understood as the womb of mankind where initial nurture corresponded with gestation. Note how Adam as the son of God, Luke 3:38, though portrayed physically as an adult and spiritually as an infant, cf. Dt. 1:39; Isa. 7:15f., etc., was first created by God then placed in the Garden to till it, Gen. 2:8,15. In Psalm 139:15 David presents himself as first woven in the depths of the earth like Adam, and in verse 13 knitted together in his mother’s womb. Needless to say, the first Adam invites comparison with the second Adam who was also “created” or generated by his Father, to gestate in the Virgin’s womb, cf. Job 31:15; Heb. 10:5. The essential difference between the two as ‘seed’ was that the first stemmed from the earth, the second from heaven, 1 Cor. 15:45-49. It is worth adding that man is by nature subject to development, and the idea that he was originally created as an adult in a single 24-hour day is a contradiction in terms and must be rejected out of hand.)
Since the earth, like its product the flesh (John 6:63; Rom. 7:18), proved unprofitable in that it failed to produce its intended fruit of obedient men and women (Gen. 6:11-13, cf. Heb. 6:7f.), God threatened its destruction by means of the flood. Thus, man, in fact all flesh (Gen. 6:17) and their habitat (6:13) faced universal obliteration. However, God in his grace and pursuit of his plan of salvation saw fit to rescue Noah and his immediate family. In contrast with his arrangement with Adam, God established a transgenerational covenant with Noah. This time, the command to be fruitful (Gen. 9:1,7, cf. 1:28) was undergirded by a guarantee of success despite sin so long as the earth remained (Gen. 8:21f.). Though sinful mankind might well find his conditions on a naturally corruptible and recalcitrant earth difficult (Gen. 3:19), he could nonetheless exercise his dominion with purpose and meaning. (It might be added that even the sinless Jesus found earthly conditions outside the womb hard. He too had to endure hard work, experience fatigue, sweating, etc.)
Sodom and Gomorrah
Though prior to his reception of the law, apart from which he could do neither good nor evil, Adam was clearly as innocent as a baby (cf. Dt. 1:39, etc.). The traditional Augustinian notion is that he was righteous and holy as created, that is, even before he embarked on the path to perfection. And it was from this “high estate” that he “fell” and brought a curse on the entire cosmos. This notion, which is called in question by Genesis 13:10 (cf. Ex. 16:3; Num 16:13; Isa. 36:17), is repudiated by Paul’s insistence in 1 Timothy 4:3f. (cf. Gen. 8:22; 1 Cor. 10:26,30f.) that the earth is still good, that is, useful but like the law incapable of giving life (Gal. 3:21). However, events at Sodom and Gomorrah where ungodly people and their habitat were destroyed remind us again that the earth which is fruitless and, like the flesh that derives from it, unprofitable (John 6:63, cf. Gal. 6:8) is ripe for destruction (Lu. 17:29f.; Heb. 6:7f., cf. Luke 13:6ff.). In other words, if man fails adequately to exercise his rule over the earth in such a way as to produce its intended harvest of godly souls it will be dispensed with (cf. the ruin of Egypt, Ex. 8:24; 10:7). Thus the eschatological picture is one where both the ungodly and their habitat are destroyed as at Sodom (2 Pet. 3:7,10-12; Rev. 14:17-20, etc.) and believers rescued or saved (Mark 13:27; Rev. 14:14-16).
Leviticus 18:24ff. and 20:22ff. in particular describe the uncleanness of the Canaanites. However, they were nature worshippers and apparently took their dominion over the land seriously, so seriously that they bequeathed a good land, like Egypt (Num. 16:13), flowing with milk and honey (Dt. 6:10f.; Neh. 9:25) to the incoming Israelites who had been rescued from Egyptian bondage. On this occasion, the Canaanites themselves who had polluted the land by their idolatry were, like Adam before them, vomited out and forced to give way to or be enslaved by the new arrivals. The latter in their turn were to ensure that the land was properly maintained and not become desolate (cf. Dt. 7:12-15; 28:1-14). (This surely undermines the view that the earth is under a permanent curse stemming from Adam. See further my essay Cosmic Curse?)
Dominion under David
It soon became apparent that rest in the Promised Land was less than idyllic. Even when David became king and his son Solomon reaped the blessings that issued from his reign, all was not well for sin and rebellion remained permanent problems (cf. Dt. 9:7,24; 1 Sam. 8:8; Neh. 9:35). But this was no more than Moses in particular had predicted when he underlined the punishment that would be imposed on the people of God’s own possession if they proved unfaithful (Dt. 4:26; 8:20; 30:18). For all that, God in his grace promised to do his people good in the end (Dt. 8:16, cf. Jer. 29:11, etc.). Dominion was certainly extended under David as 1 Kings 4:20f. (cf. Jos. 21:43-45; 23:14) makes clear. Despite this, the promise of a future king or Messiah was necessitated by constant failure. Only the sure blessings of David (Isa. 55:3) which pointed to eternity (Acts 13:34, cf. Luke 1:32f.) would prove adequate to meet the people’s need, as later events made clear.
But the Israelites themselves did not heed the warning of Deuteronomy 6:12-15. There came a time when they also went their own ungodly way and were sent into exile. During this time the land, lacking inhabitants, languished. Happily, repentance paved the way for a restoration of the fortunes of God’s people, and their return brought renewed though by no means total blessing as it did on the occasion of a much later return in Christian times. However, the rest originally promised to Joshua was by no means final; rather it looked forward to a more complete one at the end of time (Heb. 3 & 4). The pilgrimage of the people of God was not to terminate in an earthly city or land but in the heavenly one to which Abraham aspired (Heb. 11:10,16; 13:14). The conclusion from this must be that man’s dominion, like his law keeping, must be maintained to the end of earthly reality (Mt. 5:18).
The Dominion of Jesus
As James points out, man has enormous ability to exercise his dominion over the earth (3:1ff.). What he lacks, like Adam, the Canaanites and even Paul (Rom. 7), is the ability to rule his own flesh (cf. James 3:2). This of course was precisely as the Creator intended. He always purposed to be the Saviour of his people himself (Isa. 11:12; 43:5f.; 45:22) and ensure that no flesh should boast before him (Rom. 3:19f.; 11:32; 1 Cor. 1:29). His salvation, however, would only be in accordance with his original promise to man exercising dominion in accordance with his will. As we have seen the first Adam failed. He sinned and his rule over the earth came short of the standard God required. As a consequence he was exiled from Eden, which was apparently obliterated through lack of human habitation, and at death he returned to the ground from which he had come in the first place. He had failed to achieve the glory (Gen. 1:26-28) and eternal life he had been implicitly promised (Gen. 2:17). The same story was re-enacted in all his posterity who likewise came short of the divine glory (Rom. 3:23; 5:12, pace Art. 9 of the C. of E.). Thus, of necessity, it was in the words of Newman that “A second Adam to the fight And to the rescue came”.
The NT leaves us in no doubt that Jesus conquered the world, the flesh and the devil; he put all within his sphere of operation, that is, his total environment, beneath his feet (cf. John 16:33; 17:4f.). Since he was an individual human being, his subjection of creation was of course representative. And what he achieved as the second Adam avails for all who put their trust in him (Heb. 2:9; Rom. 8:35ff.). In light of this, justification (righteousness by keeping the law), which throughout Scripture is the indispensable prerequisite of (eternal) life (Gen. 2:17; Mt. 19:17; Gal. 3:11, etc.), is to be gained by his faulty followers only by faith. But if, as the author of Hebrews observes, Christ’s human achievement on earth was necessarily spatially limited (2:8), he applies it from his heavenly throne at God’s right hand until it is finally completed (1 Cor. 15:24-28; Col. 1:20, etc.).
The Subjection of Creation
In view of traditional, especially Augustinian, theology, Jesus’ victory raises important questions. I have already intimated that the idea of a cosmic curse consequent on the sin of Adam is false to Scripture, but the result of its general acceptance in the West is that our Saviour redeemed not only sinful men and women but the material creation as well. This idea would appear to be completely fallacious. In Romans 8:18-25 (cf. John 3:1-13) Paul does not even mention sin, and virtually all commentators known to me go beyond exegesis when they quite unwarrantably drag it in. What Paul is apparently saying, as Genesis 1:1 implies, is that the physical creation being a product of time is by nature transient and in direct contrast with its eternal Creator (cf. Mt. 24:35). In other words, it is a tool which, so long as it serves its purpose of producing its harvest of redeemed people, will remain ‘good’ (1 Tim. 4:3f.). It was only ever intended to last for a (comparative) little while (Gen. 8:22) like the fleshly body of the incarnate Jesus (Heb. 2:9) who was creation in miniature (cf. Eph. 1:10). To put it plainly, creation is naturally corruptible as Hebrews 1:10-12, for example, also implies. In light of this, it is hardly surprising that in subjecting the world to himself, Jesus did not overcome the God-ordained corruption of creation or alter its constitution. In fact, as one who was truly flesh, he embodied it. Like the earth from which he was taken through his mother, he grew older (Luke 2: 40ff.; John 8:57, cf. Heb. 1:11) and accordingly would have succumbed to final corruption if he had remained flesh on the earth (Heb. 8:13; 2 Cor. 4:16). However, since he kept the commandment(s) and gained eternal life (Gen. 2:17; Mt. 19:17; 3:13-17), he first overcame the death he died on behalf of his fellows. Then, after his resurrection, as one who was never to die again (Rom. 6:9), his ascension, which involved the transformation (cf. 1 Cor. 15:50ff.) and replacement of his fleshly body with a body of glory, became an unavoidable necessity (John 20:17, cf. 1 Tim. 3:16). How otherwise could he inherit the sure blessings of David alluded to above? Since he had conquered, he was glorified at God’s right hand (Rev. 3:21, etc.). He had clearly achieved the immortal life and incorruptible glory (cf. 2 Tim. 1:10) that had been promised to the first Adam and his fleshly posterity but had been forfeited through failure (cf. Heb. 2:9f.). (It perhaps needs to be made clear here that by creation man is in contrast with God both mortal and corruptible. On the one hand, he is promised life if he is obedient but death if he is disobedient; on the other hand, he is promised glory and honour if he exercises proper dominion, Gen. 1:26-28; Ps. 8:5f.; Heb. 2:9, but dishonour if he does not, Phil. 3:19, cf. Gal. 6:7f.; 2 Pet. 2:19; Jude 10-13. In light of this, death and corruption for man in contrast with the animals become penal, Rom. 5:12; 6:23. However, both are overcome through faith in Christ who uniquely brought life and incorruption to light in a world subjected by God himself to death and corruption, but in hope, Rom. 18:18-25; 2 Tim. 1:10.)
Since Jesus is Lord we honour him as both God and man. As man he regained the glory he shared with the Father before the world began (John 17:5,24) and thus paved the way for the glorification of all who believe in him (Heb. 2:10; 1 Pet. 3:18). Jesus recovered the generic nature of God temporarily relinquished during his incarnation (Phil. 2:5-11) and paved the way for those who were also corruptible flesh to become the spiritual children of God (Rom. 8:23). So while the lowly body fitted for life on the temporal earth is permanently shed, the body of glory like that of Jesus is an eternal possession (Phil. 3:21) suited to life in the very presence of God (Rom. 5:2, cf. Rev. 21 & 22).
This world in which we live in the twenty-first century gives every indication that man continues of necessity to exercise his intended dominion. The stupendous achievements of modern science and technology testify indisputably to this. Since he is made in the divine image, man continues to think God’s thoughts after him. But in the final analysis this dominion is both limited and flawed as both Genesis and James (see ch. 3) in particular imply. Sin, death and corruption still reign and have to be reckoned with. And no matter how wonderful man’s accomplishments may appear to be, it remains perennially true that it is appointed to man once to die and after death the judgement (Heb. 9:27). Material riches, which are the glory of man on earth, cannot ransom him (Ps. 49).
In light of this the only hope of mortal man is Christ. He alone as a true son of Adam met the conditions the Creator imposed on mankind from the start and blazed the trail to eternal glory (Heb. 2:5-10; Col. 1:27). May the name of the Lamb and of him who sits on the throne forever be praised (Rev. 5:12f.).