In a world filled with grocery stores, pollution, birth-control, and debates about the definition of marriage, it is challenging to apply God’s mandate to humanity: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Gen. 1:28). This verse clearly outlines God-given roles put forth to humankind. But how are we to understand God’s mandates in modern society? In order to consider this question, we must understand to whom this mandate was given.
The church is divided over this issue: does the mandate in Genesis 1:28 apply mainly to men, or all humans? Aída Besançon Spencer points out in her article that God did not divide this command: he did not tell Eve to be fruitful and Adam to rule. Nor should we assume the male was the only one who received this command. When considering Genesis 1:26 where God says, “Let us make humankind in our image,” the scholars who contributed to the New Interpreters Study Bible: New Revised Standard with Apocrypha write, “The translation humankind (ʿadam) is an improvement over ‘man’ (RSV, KJV). The Hebrew word ʿadam possesses the same dual sense, ‘man, mankind (humanity)’ as the English word ‘man’ in traditional discourse” (Nashville: Abingdon, 2003; p. 8).
Personally, when I acknowledged that God commanded all of humanity (including me) to share in dominion and fertility, I was overwhelmed with a sense of responsibility. I think the feeling was somewhat similar to the sort of responsibility that literary figure, Jean Valjean, felt in Les Miserablés. After being treated as less than human for most of his life in prison because he stole a loaf of bread, Jean Valjean was given the chance for a new life by a bishop. After Valjean was caught stealing from the bishop, the bishop did not condemn Valjean, but instead told the police he gave Valjean the stolen items. In fact, the bishop really did not see the items as stolen; he argued privately that they belonged to the poor and he should have given them to the poor long ago. He then told Valjean, “I have bought your soul … and I give it back to God.”
Women have been accused of “stealing” the authority of men in some churches, despite the many changes in their civil identity over time. It is my hope that the God-given authority of women will be returned to them. William Hull writes, “although the battle for gender equality has been well nigh won in our [U.S.] national life, some treat this political victory in the same way their ancestors treated the abolitionist movement-labeling ‘women’s lib’ a ‘secular’ or ‘liberal’ threat to be deplored with disdain.” This journal stands to correct misunderstandings about women and authority with careful analysis of scripture. As you consider the artwork of Bill Cottman and J. Otis Powell! in this issue, I hope you capture a glimpse of this vision.
Jesus has bought all of us and restored our souls to God, if only we accept him. Ultimately Jean Valjean had to accept his gift, just as women need to accept God’s gift of authority, a responsibility to share with our communities. Read about what this reality meant to Amy Carmichael later in this issue and how she applied her understanding of God’s mandates.
When considering the creation account and male/female relations, Catherine Clark Kroeger writes, “Woman is taken from the very same substance as man, capable of the same thoughts and emotions and aspirations. She is able to share with man a full-orbed life, with its adventures and challenges and perceptions.” It is my prayer that as you read this issue you will find something here to aid you, regardless of where you are in your journey exploring what God’s mandates to humankind mean to you.