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Background Scripture: Genesis 1:1-31


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 creature that move along the ground.”  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  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 1:26-28

God said, “Let us make man in our image” (Gen. 1:26).  What does it mean to be made in the image of God?  One of the ways that man is like God is in his exercise of dominion.  Imaging involves kingly rule over the earth.  Man is God’s vice-regent, God’s royal representative ruling over the earth.  Hence, man is given the creation mandate: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28).  This is not a license for domination and exploitation.  It is a call to cultivation and care.  As the next chapter of Genesis tells us, man was placed in the garden “to till it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15 RSV).  Thus, man was given the task of preserving the creation and developing its potential in accord with God’s decrees.

The idea of rule includes the task of judicial discernment and decision-making.  This becomes evident upon a closer consideration of Genesis 1:16.  In making man like “us,” God is indicating an intention to give man authority similar to that possessed by those whom he is addressing – the heavenly council of angels over which he presides (See also Gen. 3:22-24, 11:7).  This aspect of man’s rule is highlighted by Genesis 9:6, where the fact that God created man in His image is cited as the reason that man is given judicial responsibilities in the event of murder: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.”

The judicial aspect of man’s dominion becomes more and more differentiated as the historical process of filling and subduing the earth proceeds.  We see the development of judicial office in the story of Cain and Abel (Gen. 4:1-15), in Abraham’s bargaining with the Lord on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18:25), in the selection of judges to assist Moses with the resolution of legal disputes (Ex. 18:13-26), and in the governance of kings over God’s people (1 Kings 3:28).  Likewise, we see the development of law from a single penalty for murder (Gen. 9:6) to a matrix of penalties covering such things as manslaughter, battery, theft, perjury, negligence, bailments, and security for a loan (Ex. 20:1-23:9).  To these we can add affirmative legal duties related to lost animals (Ex. 23:4), safety railings (Deut. 22:8), gleaning of fields (Lev. 23:22), and land ownership (Lev. 25).  The point I wish to make is that the just legal order which unfolds across the pages of Scripture developed from God’s original laws for creation.

Why is this important?  It roots the governing task of the state in the creation order.  However misdirected the state may be by sin, the state is still God’s servant for our good (Rom. 13:4).  Its distinctive role is to create and preserve conditions in which individuals and institutions can carry out their respective callings within society.  This is not just a negative task of restraining the sin of men.  The state has the prior positive task of ordering relationships between and among people, institutions, and even the earth itself, according to God’s laws.

The challenge for those of us involved with the law is determining the right relations that God calls people to have with one another.  This is a noble, no, a royal task.  A legal career is not something to be avoided or abandoned, but something that should be pursued by those with a passion for justice in service to God and our neighbors.  The creational foundation for the task of governance opens up this positive possibility for service in the field of law.

Mark Greenlee

Suggested Readings: These thoughts evolved from my reflection on Meredith Kline’s book Images of the Spirit, particularly pages 13 to 34 which deal with the official, physical, and ethical dimensions of man’s creation in the image of God.  I suggest the following passages for further study: Psalm 8, Psalm 33, and Romans 12:9-13:10.


– This article comes from AI’s devotional for lawyers titled, “What Does the Lord Require of You?”

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