Top 10 Verses: The Cultural Mandate

The “Top Ten Verses” series will identify key passages that relate to relevant topics for Christians today, with brief commentary under each passage to help our readers connect the dots of the biblical worldview.

The Cultural Mandate describes God's purpose for creating humanity: to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it, having dominion over the created world in obedience to God.

Today, we’ll be exploring the top ten verses related to the cultural mandate. The cultural mandate describes God’s purpose for creating humanity, and is given in Genesis 1. God created humanity to have dominion and to cultivate the earth in righteousness. There are many other passages that could have been considered, but for this article we’ve chosen to highlight passages that trace the cultural mandate and the theme of dominion as it relates to God’s covenants with his people particularly. In this way, we can see how Christ has fulfilled the cultural mandate and is establishing righteous dominion on the earth through the work of his saints.


Genesis 1:26-31

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “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 heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.

The cultural mandate, also called the creation or dominion mandate, describes God’s purpose for humanity: to be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it, having dominion over the created world in obedience to God. God is the Creator and the High King, but he has also delegated ruling authority to humanity as a royal race, created to reflect his image. God intends the world to be filled with his living images.

Just as God created the world and humanity in his own image, men and women are also tasked by God to bring forth children after their own image in marriage (Gen. 5:3). As God brought forth abundance and life in creating the world, humanity is to subdue (better translated as cultivate) the world God created, like gardeners tending their garden and shepherds tending their sheep. God created the world with vast potential, but has given humanity the task of taking the things he created and discovering new creative uses, for the good of the world and the glory of God.

God is the good King and humanity was created as a royal people. In obedience to God, the world would flourish under human leadership. In disobedience to God, however, the world has become filled with societies that practice evil.


Genesis 2:5-9, 15-17

When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Genesis 2 shows us a bit more about the cultural mandate. Adam’s first task was as a priest—to “work” and “keep” the garden, using the same language that describes the priests’ work in the tabernacle and temple (Numbers 3:7-8; 8:26; 18:5-6). Adam was the first high priest and the garden is the first “holy of holies” where God walked with his people (Lev. 26:11-12; Ex. 29:45; Ez. 37:27), and Adam was responsible to ensure that no evil be allowed to enter the sanctuary of the garden. We too are called God’s Kingdom of priests and are called to work to keep evil from invading the places where we have influence (1 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 1:6, 5:10). But Genesis 2 also shows us that, by design, certain aspects of the creation only come about through the cooperative work of humanity and God. Certain plants were only to come up once there was a “man to work the ground” as God “caused it to rain.” God shows Adam the task he intended him to continue, planting the garden while Adam observed. As God cultivated the garden, humanity was to go forth from Eden, being fruitful and filling the earth, until the rest of the world had been cultivated.

Critical for us to consider is the fact that this means our daily work and toil in the world, in all our homes and various professions, is spiritual work. From the beginning, we were made to work in the world in obedience to God, and that remains true today. Our work, offered up to God in faith, is a key part of how God brings goodness and flourishing into the world.

Our daily work and toil in the world, in all our homes and various professions, is spiritual work.

Parents who are diligent in raising their children in the faith,building a stable home in which they can all flourish together, are not
only preparing their children for the afterlife, but contributing to a
better world in this life. Engineers who ensure that clean drinking
water is available for their city are loving their neighbors well. Our
love for our neighbors extends beyond individual acts of charity and
includes our vocational work as well. With this fact in mind, God
empowers us, as Paul says, to “work heartily” in “whatever you do… as
for the Lord and not for men” (Col. 3:23).

Genesis 9:1-7

And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.

Whoever sheds the blood of man,

by man shall his blood be shed,

for God made man in his own image.

And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.

The fall into sin brought about devastating effects for human nature. Instead of living as righteous and obedient stewards of the world, Adam and Eve sought to steal from God the wisdom to rule the world independent of him. The result of this is that now all people are born in sin, naturally disobeying God. But this is not just an individual problem regarding our guilt before God. Man is a social creature. We may be individually guilty, but we rarely sin alone. This means that the Fall also brings about the creation of wicked societies. Cain killed Abel and then founded a city named after his son, and Cain’s descendants brought even greater violence and bloodshed to the world. Over time the corruption was so great that only Noah’s family was left faithful to God. The flood was God’s response after the sinfulness of humanity had become so great. God begins the world again with Noah as the new patriarch of humanity.

God’s covenant with Noah repeats the earlier dominion mandate to be fruitful and multiply, filling the earth. But God also establishes capital punishment and gives humanity the authority to justly execute those who shed innocent blood by murdering image bearers of God. Rather than God acting as the executioner of the wicked directly, as he had with the flood, this duty is now also delegated to humanity for the purpose of maintaining peace against the violent. This means that establishing justice, including enacting penalties against criminals, is not outside of God’s design for humanity, but is a key element of how God intends humanity to flourish after the Fall. Civil authorities who oversee the implementation of justice within a society, therefore, are doing spiritual work. God has given us dominion, and justice is central to establishing godly dominion. God intends those who destroy human life to face death, in order that  the righteous shall be fruitful and multiply.


Genesis 17:15-18

And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son,  I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

Following the flood, some of Noah’s descendants chose to disobey God’s command to fill the earth by gathering together in Babel, seeking to build a temple that would allow them to reach the heavens. As with Adam stealing the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, this is an example of humanity attempting to achieve what is only possible in obedience to God. It was, in effect, an attempt to re-create Eden without God’s assistance. God once again cursed humanity, causing all people to speak different languages, forcing them to separate from one another into distinct nations. By confusing the languages of humanity, God forced them to fulfill the command he gave to fill the earth.

But God does not ultimately intend to be the God of a divided humanity. At Babel, seventy nations of the world were created (Gen. 10), but God chose Abraham to be the new patriarch of God’s covenant people. The blessing that was given to Abraham, however, was not for Abraham alone; rather, Abraham would be blessed in order that God’s blessing would come to every nation of the world through the seed and offspring of Abraham.


God's covenant with Abraham was, in fact, the gospel of Jesus given to Abraham beforehand (Gal. 3:8). Jesus is the one "seed" or "offspring" of Abraham, through whom the Spirit is being poured out upon all the nations of the earth.

Paul tells us that this promise to Abraham was, in fact, the gospel of Jesus given to Abraham beforehand (Gal. 3:8). Jesus is the one “seed” or “offspring” of Abraham, through whom the Spirit is being poured out upon all the nations of the earth, as God’s people—whether Jew or Gentile—embrace Christ by faith (Gal. 3-4). And, as Paul says, God’s covenant with Abraham includes a promise of dominion over the whole world (Rom. 4:13). Abraham’s seed will “possess the gate of his enemy,” which promises conquest and dominion. Through Jesus, the son of Abraham, all the nations would again be brought into right relationship with God, and justice would be established in the earth. And the gates of hell will never prevail against Jesus’ kingdom.

2 Samuel 7:12-13

[And the Lord said to David,] “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”

Following the Exodus, God’s people finally took possession of the land of Canaan, and here experience the greatest fruition of God’s promises to that point. The land was fertile like Eden, and God caused the land to drink from the rain of heaven. They had become God’s Kingdom of priests and had successfully expelled evil from the land. As with Adam before, they were all responsible to tend and keep the land God gave to them, to ensure evil did not take root in their midst.

With the ascension of King David to the throne, God made a new covenant. From Eve, God said a “seed” would be born who would crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:17). From Abraham, God said it would be through his “seed” that all the nations would be blessed. And now God promised David that he would raise up his “seed” or “offspring” and would establish the Kingdom of David’s Son forever, and David’s Son would build for God a temple. Although it appears that this is fulfilled immediately by King Solomon, who did build a temple in Jerusalem, Solomon’s kingdom fell to pieces after his son took the throne. Solomon’s son was an idolater and a wicked man and the kingdom was divided and, ultimately, led into exile. The eternal Kingdom of David’s Son was still to come.

Daniel 7:13-14, 27

I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed… And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.”

This passage from Daniel is, perhaps, the most consequential Old Testament prophecy concerning the Kingdom of God, and it is one of the most misunderstood passages today. In this vision, Daniel is shown the coming of the Kingdom of God and when it was established—when “one like a son of man” comes “with the clouds of heaven.” Jesus uses the title “son of man” for himself more than any other title and spoke regularly about the son of man coming into his Kingdom.

What we must notice is where does the Son of Man go when he comes “with the clouds of heaven”? Most Christians today have been trained to believe that the Son of Man coming with the clouds refers to the bodily return of Jesus, but it doesn’t. It refers to the ascension of Jesus. The Son of Man that Daniel sees comes with the clouds of heaven and he comes “to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.” That is, the Son of Man ascends into the throne room of God and is then given “dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” Daniel also sees that the result of the heavenly coronation of the Son of Man is that all the kingdoms under heaven will be given over to the saints of the Most High. The Son of Man will take his throne in heaven and then all the nations of the earth will be brought to bow before him.

Isaiah 9:6-7

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Here, Isaiah speaks of the coming Messiah and Son of David. This passage establishes the deity of Christ, saying that the son born would be called “Mighty God.” Isaiah uses this name elsewhere to refer specifically to Yahweh (Isa. 10:20-21). But it also speaks of the nature of the coming Davidic Kingdom.

The coming of the Kingdom is equated with the time of the Son’s birth. The Son would be born in order that the the “government” would be “upon his shoulder,” and God promises “to establish it and to uphold it… from this time forth and forevermore.” Further, the Kingdom is described as a one that would continue to expand, rather than being complete from the outset—“Of the increase of his government and of peace, there will be no end.” The promised Son of David would be born, God would establish the eternal “throne of David” and “his kingdom,” and God would zealously cause the Kingdom to increase until the very end of time, upholding justice and righteousness in the world. When we read passages like these in the context of Daniel’s vision of the Son of Man, we come to see that the establishment of Christ’s Kingdom and throne corresponds with his ascension.

Matthew 28:16-20

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

All of us are familiar with the Great Commission. However, we have been trained to view all things in terms of individual salvation, individual repentance, and an individual relationship with God. Because of this we often miss the full significance of the Great Commission. In the first case, the basis of the Great Commission is the enthronement of Jesus as the eternal Davidic King at the right hand of the Father. Jesus gives the commission to his church precisely because, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me, therefore go.” We are to go because Jesus now possesses all authority in both heaven and earth.

But who is the focus of the Great Commission? Very often we hear this and we import our assumptions, rather than hearing Jesus’ words as they were spoken. We are to go and “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them [nations] in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them [nations] to observe all that I have commanded you.” That is, the Great Commission is not merely to preach in order that a small number of individuals out of each nation will come to recognize that Jesus is Lord. Instead, the Great Commission is actually about the conversion of all nations—peoples, tribes, tongues—such that those nations conform their social life to the commandments of Jesus. When we read this passage alongside the other old covenant and prophetic expectations of the reign of the Messiah, this makes a great deal of sense. The Messiah is going to establish true justice throughout the earth, the nations are going to come to serve the Son of Man, the kingdoms of the world are going to be dashed by the Kingdom of heaven that God establishes, and all the dominions of the world will be given to the saints of the Most High. This is indeed what is happening, and the mission of which we are all a part.

Acts 2:22-36 – Pentecost

Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him,

“I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;

therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;

my flesh also will dwell in hope.

For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,

or let your Holy One see corruption.

You have made known to me the paths of life;

you will make me full of gladness with your presence.”

Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

“The Lord said to my Lord, 
‘Sit at my right hand,
 until I make your enemies your footstool.’”

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Peter’s Pentecost sermon is decisive concerning the Kingdom of God. In response to the Spirit falling upon the gathered Church, the people cried out saying that they were drunk. But Peter, after reading the prophecy of Joel, declares to them all that the Spirit was poured out upon them because God has raised Jesus from the dead. Indeed, Jesus, although he was killed, has now been raised up to the right hand of God, fulfilling the promise that God spoke to David, saying, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” 

Peter interprets the covenant God made with David and the psalms which David himself wrote concerning his coming “seed,” and Peter tells us that all of these promises and prophecies were fulfilled with the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. That is, the Davidic Kingdom has begun, the Kingdom of God has been inaugurated on the earth not because Jesus has returned, but because he ascended to the right hand of Power.

This is the perspective that the modern Church needs. The Church is the living manifestation of the Kingdom of God in the present—the Nation of nations—crying out to the world to come and be reconciled to God. We are the Spirit empowered, living Temple that the Son of David is building. God has fulfilled his promises to David and the eternal Kingdom of the Son of God has begun. Christ has been made the name above all names; he is Lord and Christ, the very Jesus that they crucified. And all the nations are now called to bow to the One that God has so highly exalted (Phil. 2:5-11).

Romans 13:1-7

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

In summary, let’s consider Romans 13. When Christians were being slaughtered by Nero during the first century, it wasn’t because they worshipped Jesus as God. The Romans didn’t care if someone worshipped Jesus as God. The problem was political. Christians refused to acknowledge Caesar as Lord because God had raised Jesus from the dead and had enthroned him above all worldly authorities—Caesar included. Indeed, Caesar was just a man and not a god, and needed to acknowledge Jesus as Lord in order to be saved himself. Christians were crucified and beheaded and thrown to lions for refusing to acknowledge any other Lord besides Jesus. Notice here that the spiritual reality of Christ being hailed as King in heaven has earthly, material, political consequences. Political issues are not unspiritual at all. God claims our loyalty in all contexts—in our homes, in public, in the voting booth, in the police department, on the battlefield, in the White House. Jesus is Lord, with all authority in both heaven and earth, which means he’s Lord everywhere.

We have gotten very confused concerning the relationship between God, ourselves, and the state. In Romans 13, Paul describes the nature of civil authorities, saying that they are “instituted by God” and are “God’s servants for [our] good.” As civil authorities, God has tasked government as “the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” That is, government exists as a civil authority, for the purpose of establishing justice within society, bearing the sword—enacting civil penalties, including the ability to sentence to death those guilty of the most heinous crimes—to do it. It is in this sense that Christians ought to be submissive to governing authorities because governing authority is a God-given gift for our good. However, for government to function properly, according to God’s institution and design, it is necessary for governors, presidents, princes, and all authorities to recognize and acknowledge their subordinate role to God.

Power and authority are not inherently evil; rather, authority must be wielded righteously, according to God's design and commands.

God created humanity to have dominion and this will also mean that peoples will create governments. Power and authority are not inherently evil; rather, authority must be wielded righteously, according to God’s design and commands. Because civil authorities are established by God, all Christians are called to honor civil authorities in recognition of that fact. However, because no Christian is ever authorized to do or approve of evil, no Christian can ever give absolute allegiance to any civil authority.

When the Sanhedrin called the apostles before them and commanded them not to preach about Jesus, the apostles rightly said, “We’ll let you judge for yourselves whether we should obey men, rather than God” (Acts 4:19). The Sanhedrin wielded genuine civil authority as the rulers of the people of Israel, however the apostles refused to go along with their dictates because those commands required disobedience to Jesus—the Lord. Christians are required to disobey anything which would require them to sin against God or their neighbor, as God would define sin in the scriptures. There is no “lawful command” when that command is disobedient to Jesus, whether it comes from Congress or the Emperor. As God’s servants, all ruling authorities ought to act according to God’s design for them.

Yet many attempt to argue against enacting laws based on biblical principles, saying that Christians who do so have embraced an idolatrous worship of power. Ask yourself this question: which of these is more idolatrous: 1.) Enacting laws that reflect what God says is good or evil, or 2.) Refusing to allow what God has said to have any influence on the laws of a society? Those who say we must reject what God has said when we make laws are, in fact, the ones who are committing idolatry. A nation that rejects God on principle is a nation committed to idolatry.

A nation that rejects God on principle is a nation committed to idolatry.

When Christians advocate for government to act in obedience to God, they are, by definition, loving their neighbors. In the first case, because government has gone well beyond God’s prescribed limits of civil authority, most people would experience far greater liberty in their daily lives under a biblically-informed legal structure than they do today. But also, even in examples where certain actions would be criminalized, this too would be unto love for our neighbor. Laws that punish wrongdoing are enacted for the sake of the innocent, and those who face the threat of jail or execution will often choose to turn away from their evil desires rather than face future penalties. In this way, even the wicked are saved from great sin, even as the innocent are protected from further harm.

As Christians live righteously in the world and seek to see righteous laws established in their midst in the name of Jesus, we are participating in the work of God in fulfilling the cultural mandate and the Great Commission—establishing justice throughout the world as all the nations learn to obey what Jesus, the Lord, has commanded.


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