Genesis 1:28 Subdue and Rule Over - Animal Death Before the Fall

Question re. Subdue and Rule over in Genesis 1:28

Picking and choosing chapters to read in a recent book by Ben Stanhope called “(Mis)Interpreting Genesis: How the Creation Museum Misunderstands the Ancient Near Eastern Context of the Bible” and came across a chapter on animal death before the fall.
He argues on the basis of the Hebrew verbs kavash and radah that animal death is likely before the fall, both from the humans, and also from the animals themselves.


God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”


וַיְבָ֣רֶךְ אֹתָם֮ אֱלֹהִים֒ וַיֹּ֨אמֶר לָהֶ֜ם אֱלֹהִ֗ים פְּר֥וּ וּרְב֛וּ וּמִלְא֥וּ אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ וְכִבְשֻׁ֑הָ וּרְד֞וּ בִּדְגַ֤ת הַיָּם֙ וּבְעֹ֣וף הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וּבְכָל־חַיָּ֖ה הָֽרֹמֶ֥שֶׂת עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃


καὶ ηὐλόγησεν αὐτοὺς ὁ θεὸς λέγων Αὐξάνεσθε καὶ πληθύνεσθε καὶ πληρώσατε τὴν γῆν καὶ κατακυριεύσατε αὐτῆς καὶ ἄρχετε τῶν ἰχθύων τῆς θαλάσσης καὶ τῶν πετεινῶν τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καὶ πάντων τῶν κτηνῶν καὶ πάσης τῆς γῆς καὶ πάντων τῶν ἑρπετῶν τῶν ἑρπόντων ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς.

Stanhope says re. Kavash

The first verb translated “subdue” here, kavash, occurs thirteen other times in the Bible. Surveying its usage comprehensively, in six of these cases, it refers to military conquest of hostile lands. Five other instances use it to speak of forcing people into slavery. Among the remaining two, Mic 7:19 uses it of God aggressively trampling sin underfoot, and Esther 7:8 uses it to speak of sexual assault. War, enslavement, trampling, and assault! It’s no wonder Christians and Jews concerned… The takeaway: Humanity was commanded to conquer and take rulership over the animals with language similar to Israel’s mandate to conquer Canaan through military combat.

And concerning radah

Radah occurs at least twenty-six other times in the Bible and seems to derive from an etymology either of “descending upon” or of “treading” (as in a winepress). It “is used to communicate a highly coercive form of control. The verb by itself can be used to communicate harshness or injustice…. The focus is on having power over someone and not on executing administrative or bureaucratic functions.”

He concludes

The military terminology of the creation mandate permits use of human force and violence against the animal world. Consequently, it seems most reasonable to also conclude violence existed between animals before the Fall.

Any thoughts on the validity of this argument?
1: on the basis of the meaning of the verbs in their wider contexts for humans causing death to animals before the fall
2: the step that he takes to assume animals causing death to animals before the fall.

The lxx Greek verbs don’t bear the same violent notions that he sees in the Hebrew

As I was reading through this, your exact two questions were that ones I had as well.

  1. I’m looking forward to some of the OT scholars input on this. Given the OT was written over a couple thousand years (200 is a guestimate on my part), and given that language changes in time, how viable is it to compare the meanings of words across the OT?

  2. There seems to be a huge leap in logic here I can’t follow. Even if humans are called to rule & subdue in the way he suggests, I don’t follow how that means there was death before the fall.

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Ditto on 2
He does go onto say

If human violence upon animals was a feature of God’s original creation, consistency would lend to the probability that animal violence upon other animals was a feature of God’s original creation.

Which still isn’t convincing to me. What is more convincing though is the lack of reference to the fall causing animal death in the Jewish literature that he reviews

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I think it’s sound. Dick Averbeck is giving a paper (right before mine) on kabash at our annual meeting this year. (Averbeck’s been in these origins discussions for quite a while.) I’ll be interested to see his results.

It’s always possible a word’s meaning has evolved substantially, but it’s usually not that much. Besides, the final edition of the Pentateuch is likely in the exile or beyond, so we’re really not looking at a large time gap between uses (that sort of thing would be more important in poetry, which tends to not change through editing and updating).

I agree this alone wouldn’t settle the issue. But the verbs do connote resistance in a pre-fallen world, which does run against the YEC view of some pristine creation.


Thanks for the response.

It would be great if you could flag that paper to us if it does get publicly posted somewhere

Agreed on this

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I come from the position that Genesis 1-11 is mythological in nature and not actually a origins story for life or death. I think that the idea of ruling over nature refers to a association with violence is not accurate and it’s moving away from the generic meaning of the word. I think you could do that with a lot words most likely.

When reading the story for what it is it seems to paint a picture of a very peaceful world where humanity coexists with nature and we are co-rulers with God over them. Then when reading of the concepts about the restored world it seems to support this agenda.

After the fall it states that Abel sacrificed one of his choice animals to God. Most likely something connected to the animal sacrifices down the road. But in genesis 9 it also mentions that until after the flood they were not permitted to eat animals.

I’m under the impression that by the time our species was here our ancestors was were eating meat occasionally. Animals was dying before the first primates even evolved. Eating from some
Tree that grants immortality, or sustains it, is not the actual origins of death but is confined to mythology. So I don’t think it’s beneficial to treat it as real history. So I personally make the distinction of what really happened in nature versus then narrative of the story. We really did evolve as creatures through a sort of military domination of nature through social structures and technology resulting in civilizations resulting in our species producing and keeping alive more and more offspring causing us to further colonize nature.

But when reading genesis I don’t see that as the story being painted. I even believe that Genesis 1:8-9 sets up the image that it was not until after the flood that humanity actually heavily hunted animals.

Just curious, and not meant in a confrontational way - but do you have knowledge of the Hebrew for this, or is that based on the English?

The author does address this and argues that that passage gives the following:

In the past, many scholars have simply concluded that the biblical authors were contradicting each other. I believe Van Ee has found a far more coherent solution. Namely, Genesis 9 is written as it is because it’s following a classic Hebraic formula for introducing prohibitive legislation in which, “an entire class of animals is designated as proper for food (or as improper) with the following restrictive clause providing the exceptions.

Put simply, modern readers have long misread this passage because it follows a conceptual style of literary formulation we don’t possess in Western languages. Gen 9:3’s affirmation of man’s right to eat meat is part of a formal Hebraic device setting up the immediately following prohibitions regarding consumption of blood (see Lev 17) and the violence described in the next verse, likely because this sort of disrespect for “lifeblood” (9:4) is what motivated God to flood the earth in the first place.[435] There is, therefore, no implication that eating meat was previously prohibited. On the contrary, the particular prohibitive formula of this passage assumes that the creation mandate must have originally circumscribed the consumption of meat (in the same way that Israelites were already consuming cattle, birds, or fish before the introduction of the parallel Levitical restrictions). The author’s purpose for reiterating this original prerogative is to emphasize the newly introduced exception of consuming blood

The thesis he references by Van Ee can be found here:

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I’ll read it. But it’s based off of both. English snd hebrew. It’s also based off of what I believe is a more systematic approach to theology. Ive read the view you have shared a few times from various people, and I still don’t see how that conclusion is drawn. When looking at the whole Bible from genesis to revelation and the hyperlinks shared with restoration I can’t see the view you’re sharing as accurate.

All disagreements and debates are confrontational. We just try to remain loving while calling each other wrong.

As for the the thesis one of the issues I have with it is that I think it’s wrong on many levels. I don’t believe that genesis 1-3 teaches that humans were immortal. I don’t think it teaches animals was immortal. After all if the humans were already immortal then why would they have a tree that sustains immortality in the garden.

So I believe that conditional immortality is something taught through the entire Bible. Adam and Eve were mortals. They could eat from a tree to sustain their immortality conditional upon them having access to it. When they sinned, they lost access to it and lost access to their immortal life. Something everyone outside of the garden already did not have.

It also seems like while outside of the garden eating animals was part of their lifestyle, inside the garden part of the covenant was not to eat them and neither was their descendants until after the flood.

So personally I think the entire argument from the thesis is off. I think it ignores the covenants in place, it ignores the general use of words, it ignores conditional immortality, and it ignores the even clear pictures painted in restoration imagery.

I haven’t actually read the thesis - just found it and downloaded for future reading

Always worth a check.

Agreed on the first part to an extent. Thanks for the responses.

Something I was considering that is not in align with my belief is the fact that Abel has livestock. I guess it could be that he has livestock just for milk snd for sacrifices. But it seems likely he would have them for the same reason we see all the other people throughout the scripture.

But I did not find much of the thesis very convincing. Especially concerning lack of conditional Immortality. But I’ll reread back through it when I’m more awake. It still seems to be in contention with restoration imagery. But that is imagery and I’m not sure where I land on how restoration is supposed to look. If we are physical bodies, something different, or if new world just means kingdom as in body and so on. Ive never studied it.

Most of us believe that genesis 1-11 was written sometime after Moses I think. So it could be that the Israelites by this time have been eating meat for so long that it was just simply a given to them and that the verses in genesis eating fruits does not mean only that. After all it says vegetation was for animals as well and I can’t imagine they believed the snake was eating plants. So it could be that animals was still eating each other as well and the verses about eating was meant to highlight they also need to eat snd so we don’t just eat all the plants but leave some them and so on.

I think it’s a bigger challenge to show that in Genesis God created animals with immortality than it is to show that he didn’t.

I wonder where and how the tradition that teaches that animals were immortal developed?

In fact. I think it would be difficult to show that humanity was created with immortality!

Genesis just never suggests that animals had access to the eternal life that came from partaking of the tree of life (the life that came from living with God in the place where heaven and earth met.) Humanity, or some of them, or two of them had that access.

If we accept that evolution happened, then there is plenty of fossil evidence that animal death occurred before man even existed, never mind ‘fell’, whatever that means in the context of human evolution from primate ancestors.


Agreed entirely. Just a case of whether the text allows for it as well, or is it just in error

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