At Work & Theology 101

Our Job Description from the Beginning: The Cultural Mandate (Part 2)

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In the opening chapter of Genesis we find God giving Man (male and female) a job description. It is called the “Cultural Mandate,” also sometimes called the “Creation Mandate”:

God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground’ (Genesis 1:28).

Why is it called “the cultural mandate”?

According to Merriam-Webster, a “mandate” is:

an authoritative command; especially : a formal order from a superior court or official to an inferior one” or “an authorization to act given to a representative.”  This is clearly a command given directly by God the Creator to Adam and Eve, his creation.

Nancy Pearcey, in her book Total Truth, explains why it’s been called the “cultural” mandate:

The first phrase, ‘be fruitful and multiply,’ means to develop the social world: build families, churches, schools, cities, governments, laws. The second phrase, ‘subdue the earth,’ means to harness the natural world: plant crops, build bridges, design computers, and compose music. This passage is sometimes called the Cultural Mandate because it tells us that our original purpose was to create cultures, build civilizations—nothing less.

The Cultural Mandate was meant not only for Adam and Eve, but for us as well. It still stands as God’s directive for our stewardship of His creation.

Tragically, because of sin introduced during the Fall, men and women have abused their stewardship. But Christians, because of Christ’s redemptive work in their lives, now stand in the same place as Adam and Eve before the Fall. They can now approach culture with a clearer understanding of God’s mandate.  We are now called to begin again to exercise proper stewardship.

Traditionally Christian theologians have understood Genesis 1:28 as mankind’s purpose and permission for engaging the world. Doug Kelly writes in Creation and Change,

Only because mankind was created in the image of God was it appropriate to grant him the awesome responsibility of dominion over the entire created order.

The Cultural Mandate not only gives us purpose in our vocation, it’s connected to our fulfillment in work.  In his book All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes, Kenneth Myers writes:

Man was fit for the cultural mandate. As the bearer of his Creator-God’s image, he could not be satisfied apart from cultural activity.

In our next post, we’ll talk about what “being made in God’s image” means for our work.

Question: What do you think most Christians think that Genesis 1:28 “the Cultural Mandate” means for them today? Leave a comment.

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  • eric schansberg

    In CT (7/09), Brandon O’Brien connects this to Col 1:15a’s “Christ is the [perfect] image of the invisible God” with II Cor 3:18’s “transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory”– and observes that “for the most part, the NT does not speak of humans bearing the image of God. It speaks instead of Jesus incarnating the perfect image. And it speaks about people being transformed into the image of Christ.” O’Brien then applies this: “That suggests that the image of God is not simply something I have; it’s something I am called to embody in increasing measure.”

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