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Children and the Dominion Mandate (Part 1)

In spite of all the rhetoric concerning the rights of children and their importance, the modern perspective on children is quite negative. Clear evidence of this is the prevalent opinion that the ideal family is a small family consisting of only one or two children.

  • William O. Einwechter,
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In spite of all the rhetoric concerning the rights of children and their importance, the modern perspective on children is quite negative. Clear evidence of this is the prevalent opinion that the ideal family is a small family consisting of only one or two children. Those who are most vocal in asserting the importance of children and the need for the state to safeguard the education and welfare of "our most important natural resource" are the same ones who advocate the "right" to kill unborn children through abortion and the need to limit the number of children born through "family planning" and programs of population control. If "our children"1 are our most important resource, why do we then go to such great lengths to hinder conception and limit the number of children born? Communist China is known for its official one-child-per-family policy, a policy promoted through propaganda, birth control, and abortion, and enforced by law. But little considered is the unofficial two-children-per-family policy of the West that is promoted by propaganda, birth control, and abortion, though this policy is not yet enforced by law.

In contrast to the prevailing anti-child attitude of our day is the positive message of the Bible concerning the blessing and the importance of children. Whereas the sentiment of current thought decrees that the family consisting of one or two children is best, the teaching of Scripture is that a large family consisting of many children is blessed of the Lord. The sad fact, however, is that the modern evangelical church (including the Reformed segment) has been more willing to side with the perspectives of man rather than of God on this issue. But we who seek a Christian reconstruction of society through the establishment of Christ's dominion in all spheres of life must reject the thinking of those around us, and seek to be thoroughly Biblical in our view of children. Christian reconstructionists need to think clearly concerning the importance of children and large families in regard to the dominion mandate and the task of reconstructing our culture to live in submission to Christ and his law-word.

Be Fruitful and Multiply
In Genesis 1:26-28 we have the account of the creation of man on the sixth day of the creation week. In verse 26, God's purpose is stated: to create man in his own image and to give him dominion over the all the earth and every living thing. In verse 27, the actual creation of man, male and female, in the image of God is recorded. In verse 28, God commands man to take dominion over the earth and all things therein.

The dominion mandate is established for man quite forcibly in that it is given twice in the space of three verses. First, the Lord indicates that it is his will for man to share his image and rule the earth as his representative. God says, "[L]et them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth" (Gen. 1:26). The Hebrew verb "have dominion" (radah) means to rule, subdue, have mastery over, or to take possession of, and is here translated "[L]et them have dominion" to express the imperatival nature of the Hebrew construction. Thus, the statement of verse 26 emphasizes the will of God for man. Second, the Lord specifically commands man to take dominion over the earth. He says, "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" (Gen. 1:28). The dominion mandate is here expressed by two imperatives, "subdue" and "have dominion." The charge to "subdue" the earth is a command to bring the earth and all therein under the control of man and for the service of godly man. This command to take dominion calls man to fulfill the will of God for him as expressed in verse 26. The dominion mandate instructs man to develop the resources of the earth so that the full potential of the creation can be realized to the glory of God and for man's own good. It places all things under man's feet and charges him to utilize these in the development of human culture marked by righteousness and true holiness.

But the fulfillment of the dominion mandate cannot take place unless the prior commandments of God recorded in verse 28 are observed: "be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth." These two imperatives precede in time and in logical sequence the command to take dominion in the earth. Note the progression: 1) man must be fruitful and multiply so that, 2) he can fill the earth so that, 3) he can have dominion over all the earth. Thus, we see that fruitfulness in regard to bearing children is essential to the fulfillment of the dominion mandate! It is significant to recognize that the first commandment given to man in the Bible is the command to "be fruitful and multiply." This command is based on the institution of marriage (cf. Gen. 2:18-24), and it places marriage and the procreation of many children (i.e., a large family) at the center of God's purpose for man in the dominion mandate. It is also important to note that the command is not given in the abstract, but concretely to the first man and woman, the first husband and wife. It is a command that can be fulfilled only in the specific relationship of marriage. The command to be fruitful and multiply is not given to "mankind," but to men and women individually in the context of marriage. Obviously, Adam and Eve could not fulfill the command in themselves, so the command not only binds them but passes on to their descendants, binding husbands and wives in each generation to obey God's precept to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.2

It is also vital that we consider the blessing of God that precedes the command to be fruitful in bearing children: "And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply . . . ." The blessing of God refers, in context, at least in part if not wholly, to the power of procreation, i.e., the ability to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth so that the dominion mandate can be carried out. God is the source of all human life, either directly as in the case of Adam and Eve, or indirectly in that he gives the power of procreation to husbands and wives. Man could not fulfill the command of God to be fruitful, fill the earth, and subdue it unless God blessed him with the ability of producing offspring.3

The dominion mandate, therefore, includes three commands, and all are necessary for its fulfillment: be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Those who focus only on the command to subdue the earth and have dominion over it sever this duty from the two that precede it and present a truncated perspective of the dominion mandate. Therefore, as we hold forth the dominion mandate we must not only call men to take dominion in all spheres of life for the glory of God; we must also call on them to strive to follow all the precepts of the dominion mandate; we must call on each husband and wife to seek the blessing of God for the procreation of many children.

(Part 2 appear in the December 1998 Chalcedon Report)


1. This is the standard terminology used by liberals, politicians, and government school bureaucrats when referring to the children of a particular nation or smaller geographical or political unit. This phraseology is based on the false and debased notion that children are the mere creatures of the state. But children do not belong to the state, they belong to the family. The only ones who can legitimately use the phrase "our children" are parents when they are referring to their own children.

2. The tired and erroneous argument is usually raised that the earth is already full, and therefore the command of Genesis 1:28 is no longer binding today. But the earth is certainly not full, though it may be crowded in a few spots. The claim that the earth is full is a claim to overpopulation. In response to the contention that the world is overpopulated Osterfield states: "'Overpopulation' cannot stand on its own. It is a relative term. Overpopulation must be overpopulation relative to something, usually food, resources, and living space. The data show that all three variables are, and have been, increasing more rapidly than population . . . . In short, although there are now more people in the world than ever before, by any meaningful measure the world is actually becoming relatively less populated (David Osterfield, "Overpopulation Myths Ignore Realities of Progress," Human Events, [September 4, 1993], 9). To indicate how large the earth is in relation to the current population of the world Osterfield says: "For example, if the entire population of the world were placed in the state of Alaska, every individual would receive nearly 3,500 square feet of space, or about one-half the size of the average American family homestead with front and back yards" (ibid.).

3. In the post-fall world God grants the blessing of fruitfulness or holds it back according to his sovereign will. One man who wrestled with the pain of unfruitfulness in marriage was John Calvin. Only three children were born to John and Idelette, two died shortly after birth and one died at birth. In light of this we read the poignant comments of Calvin on the "blessing" of God in Gen. 1:28: "This blessing of God may be regarded as the source from which the human race has flowed. And we must consider it not only with reference to the whole, but also, as they say, in every particular instance. For we are fruitful or barren in respect to offspring, as God imparts his power to some and withholds it from others" (John Calvin, Commentaries on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, trans. John King [Grand Rapids, 1989], 97)

  • William O. Einwechter

William O. Einwechter serves as a teaching elder at Immanuel Free Reformed Church in Ephrata, Pennsylvania. He is also the vice president of the National Reform Association and the editor of The Christian Statesman. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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