TNIV and NLT vs. Pretty Much Everybody Else On Something Kind of Important

by May 15, 2010ChurchLife, Culture, Exegesis, Theology

Most major translations agree that man is to have dominion “over all the earth.”

Genesis 1:26 (NIV) Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

ESV—”over all the earth”
RSV—”over all the earth”
NASB—”over all the earth”
KJV—”over all the earth”
NET—”over all the earth”
HCSB—”all the earth”
NKJV—”over all the earth”
LXX—πάσης τῆς γῆς

But three major translations have another rendering:

The TNIV renders the same Hebrew phrase (וּבְכָל־הָאָרֶץ) with “all the wild animals,” while the NLT has “all the wild animals on the earth.” The NRSV is different by one word: “over all the wild animals of the earth.”

A note in the TNIV explains that, in the committee’s judgment, this is the “probable reading of the original Hebrew text (see Syriac),” while the Masoretic Text has “the earth.”

Neither of my top two Genesis commentaries (Wenham and Hamilton) even mention this question, but the UBS Translator’s Handbook does include a note:

The Hebrew Masoretic text has “and over all the earth,” which the authors of the Hebrew Old Testament Textual Project (HOTTP) rate as {A}. Another textual variant is “and over all the animals of the earth”; HOTTP believes this may be the original form and therefore suggests placing it in a footnote.

The difference seems pretty important! Either mankind has dominion over the animals or over all the earth. But note that whether this phrase gives man dominion “over all the earth” or not, he still has dominion over all the animals—and, perhaps more importantly, the passage still says man is to “subdue” the earth. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (1:28).

Some Christians are fearful of this verse because of postmillennial or Reconstructionist overreach, but note that the Bible never abrogates this command. Subduing the earth and having dominion over it remain part of our marching orders even as Christians. I find that fact liberating. It means, to get down to the nitty and the quite gritty, that the mulching and digging and beautifying I did last week in my yard wasn’t a waste even if no one notices it. I subdued my little plot of ground. (Except for those nasty stumps! But I have purchased a few subduing mechanisms at Home Depot!)

I think it means even more, however. It means that God built a justification for the domains of human culture and the academic disciplines into His blueprint for humanity. This may sound like overreach on my own part, and I’m still exploring this topic, but here’s what I mean: As soon as you start trying to subdue the earth, to “make something of it” you might say, you run into agronomy, science, engineering. As soon as you subdue the earth into a garden or subdue a river by bridging it, you’re into art and architecture. Such as they are, gardens and bridges and wisely fallowed fields honor God by honoring His design for the world.

That design comes in two forms: God’s special and His general revelation. His special revelation in Scripture tells you to build your bridge for God’s glory and out of love for your neighbor who uses it to commute. His general revelation tells you to construct your garden according to the principles of beauty (color, shape, size, proportion) He built into the world. There are, then, Christian ways to engineer and garden. You will subdue whether you have God in mind or not, but you should subdue for Him (Rom. 11:36; Col. 1:16).

The Fall frustrates our attempts at subduing. The world doesn’t quite work the way it should because it’s groaning under the same weight of sin we are (Rom. 8:22). Only when God puts all things in subjection under Christ’s feet will all bridges and gardens—and every other product of human earth-subduing—give full honor to God (1Cor. 15:20-28). But it’s striking that God never said, “Eh, forget that subduing stuff. There’s more important work to do.”

So Christian engineers and gardeners (to name just a few of the vocations) don’t have to feel like they are wasting their time. They have many other obligations in God’s world (including Matt. 28:19-20!), but in their daily work they’re doing what God said to do.

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