When first created, Adam and Eve lived in a state of innocence, not yet tainted by sin, possessing both the ability to sin (posse peccare) and the ability not to sin (posse non peccare). This was a natural condition called original righteousness. Harmony existed among the human faculties so that the mind, the will, and the affections were upright and submissive to God. This condition would have been passed on to the descendants of Adam if he had not sinned. Roman Catholicism, on the other hand, argues that original righteousness was a supernatural gift added to the natural condition of mankind, but such a view contradicts the teaching of Scripture. This view assumes that there was something lacking in the original state of mankind, but God’s creation of everything He had made, including mankind, was declared good (v. 31). When God gave Adam the command not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (2:17), Adam had the ability to keep the command. In other words, Adam was able “not to sin.”
When God created mankind in His image, He also gave them dominion over His creation, specifically mentioning the fish, the birds, and the livestock (1:26). Human dominion has become a point of contention because many have denied the special place of human beings in creation by giving animals the same level of importance. Dominion, however, must be understood in the context of Genesis 1–2, where the role of human beings reflects the way God is presented. In Genesis 1, God is the powerful, majestic Creator who forms His creation to make it inhabitable for mankind. Human dominion over creation is a reflection of God’s activity. Although we do not have the same ability to create as God does, for He created the world ex nihilo (from nothing), we are creative and have the ability to understand God’s creation and use it for good. The Hebrew word translated “dominion” in Genesis 1:26–28 means “to rule” and occurs in contexts where one group rules over another group, such as the rule of Israel over its enemies (Isa. 14:2) or the rule of gentile nations over people subjected to them (v. 6). The word “subdue” occurs in Genesis 1:28, where mankind is commanded to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth, followed by the commands to subdue and have dominion over it. This word is a strong term that refers to bringing something under control. Apart from Genesis 1:28, it occurs in the context of a fallen world where there is opposition expressed and thus the need for some kind of coercion to take place (Num. 3:22, 29; Josh. 18:1; Mic. 7:10). Before the fall, Adam was to exercise this role by taking the ordered, domesticated world of the garden to the pristine, good, but wild world outside the garden.
Genesis 1 presents one side of the role of human beings in God’s creation described in terms of dominion and rule. Genesis 2 presents the other side where the emphasis is on care for creation. This role is also patterned after God’s activity, where the powerful, transcendent, creator God of Genesis 1 enters His creation to personally create Adam and Eve and to prepare for them a special place to live. The name for God is not just Elohim, as in Genesis 1, but is “LORD God” (Yahweh Elohim). The name Yahweh becomes significant as the covenant name of God in the exodus from Egypt, where God hears the cry of His people and fights to deliver them. The role of Adam in the garden is patterned after God’s activity as he is placed “in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (2:15). Thus, the proper role of human beings in God’s world is patterned after God’s activity, and it includes both dominion and care for creation.