PART 1: FOUNDATIONS – Chapter 1: The Creation Mandate and the Great Commission

Kenneth L Gentry

Narrated By: Joseph Spurgeon
Book: The Greatness of the Great Commission
Topics: , ,


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Chapter Text

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” And God created 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 rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:26-28).

The Christian faith is concerned with the material world, the here and now. The Christian interest in the material here and now is evident in that: (1) God created the earth and man’s body as material entities, and all “very good.”[1] (2) Christ came in the flesh to redeem man.[2] (3) His Word directs us in how to live in the present, material world.[3] (4) God intends for us to remain on the earth for our fleshly sojourn, and does not remove us upon our being saved by His grace.[4] As is obvious from these four observations, we have a genuine concern with the here-and-now. Just as obvious is it that this concern is necessarily in light of the spiritual realities mentioned: God, redemption, revelation, and providence.

At death, all men enter the spiritual world, the eternal realm (either heaven or hell).[5] But prior to our arrival in the eternal state, all men live before God in the material world,[6] which He has created for His own glory, as the place of man’s habitation.[7] The Great Commission necessarily speaks both to the present state (by giving our duty in the material world) and to the eternal state (by showing the means of our entry into heaven). In other words, it speaks to issues regarding body and soul.

Both of the foundation stones for our study of the Great Commission are found in Genesis. In fact, the very foundations of all of reality, revelation, and redemption are laid in the book of Genesis, which makes that book of primary significance to the Christian faith. The very title “Genesis” is derived from the Greek translation[8] of Genesis 2:4a: “This is the book of the generation [Greek: geneseos] of heaven and earth.”[9] The word geneseos means “origin, source.”[10] And it is in the opening chapters of Genesis (chs. 1-3) that we find the essential elements of these foundational truths.

The Mandate Explained

The Creation Mandate was given at the very creation of the earth and mankind upon it: on the sixth day of the creation week.[11] Consequently, the Mandate serves an important purpose in distinguishing man from the animal, plant, and protist kingdoms: only man is created in “the image of God” (Gen. 1:26; 9:6), a little lower than the angels (Psa. 8:5). One vital function of this image is that of man’s exercising dominion over the earth and under God. As is evident in their close relation in Genesis 1:26, the dominion drive (“let them rule”) is a key aspect of the image of God (“Let us make man in Our image”) in man.

Thus, man has both a basic constitutional urge to dominion as a result of his being created in God’s image and a fundamental responsibility to do so as a result of his being commanded in the Creation Mandate. Man’s distinctive task in God’s world in accordance with God’s plan is to develop culture.[12] Culture may be defined as the sum deposit of the normative labors of man in the aggregate over time.[13] Adam was to “cultivate” the world (Gen. 1:26-28), beginning in Eden (Gen. 2:15).

Interestingly, early fallen man was driven to cultural exploits well beyond the expectations of humanistic anthropologists and sociologists. We see the effect and significance of the Creation Mandate very early in history in the culture-building exploits of Adam’s offspring. In the Bible, man is seen acting as a dominical creature, subduing the earth and developing culture, even despite the entry of sin. Man quickly developed various aspects of social culture: raising livestock, creating music, crafting tools from metal, and so forth (Gen. 4:20-22). In that man is a social creature (Gen. 2:8), his culture building includes the realm of political government, as well; this is evident in God’s ordaining of governmental authority (Rom. 13:1-2). Upon his very creation, not only was man commanded to develop all of God’s creation, but he actually began to do so. Culture is not an accidental aside to the historical order. Neither should it be to the Christian enterprise.

It is important to realize that the Cultural Mandate was not withdrawn with the entry of sin into the world. The mandate appears in several places in Scripture after the Fall: Genesis 9: 1ff; Psalm 8; Hebrews 2:6-8. But the new factor of sin did necessitate divine intervention and the supplementation of the original Mandate with the new factor of redemption.

Immediately upon the fall of Adam into sin, God established the covenant of grace, which secured man’s redemption. Genesis 3:15 promises the coming of a Redeemer (“the seed of the woman”), who will destroy Satan (“the seed of the serpent”). This verse is often called the “protoevangelium,” or the “first promise of the gospel.” The gospel of God’s saving grace began at this point in history.[14] And it is the Great Commission which comes in as the capstone of this proto-redemptive promise.

The Mandates Compared

There are a few evangelicals who disassociate the Creation (or Cultural) Mandate from the Great Commission,[15] which has also been called the New Creation (or Evangelistic) Mandate. This is an unfortunate mistake that detracts from the greatness of the Great Commission and a proper engagement of the Christian calling in the world. Nevertheless, the two mandates are intimately related. This may be seen from several considerations.

Both Mandates Are Granted at Strategic Times

In its setting, the Creation Mandate occurs as the “swelling of jubilant song” at the accomplishment of God’s creative activity.[16] At that time, the creation had just been completed and pronounced “very good” (Gen. 1:31-2:2). Genesis declares that “God finished His work.”[17] The Greek word for “finished” here is suntetelesen, which is based on the root word teleo. On the basis of the completion of God’s work, the joyful declaration is given.

The New Creation Mandate, too, occurs at the climax of divine labor. It was given at the completion of Christ’s work in securing man’s redemption, not long after He declared, “It is finished” (John 19:30).[18] His statement in the Greek is tetelestai, which is based on the root word teleo, the same root found in the statement in Genesis 2:2.

Because of the work of Christ, a “new creation” has begun; there are several verses that speak of salvation as a new creation.[19] The old creation involves the material world in which we live; the new creation involves the spiritual world, which governs the life we live as saved creatures. Consequently, the old creation and new creation correspond to one another. Thus, the Creation Mandate and the New Creation mandate supplement each other, as well.

Both Mandates Claim the Same Authority

The ultimate authority of the Triune God specifically undergirds both the Creation and the New Creation Mandates. The Creation Mandate was given directly from the mouth of God, who had just created all reality by means of His spoken word (Gen. 1:26-31). This was the very God who said, “Let Us make man in Our image” (Gen. 1:26), thus indicating His Trinitarian being.

The activity of the later New Creation Mandate is to be performed “in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” the Triune God (Matt. 28:19). It also was uttered by the very mouth of God: God the Son, who holds “all authority in heaven and earth” (Matt. 28:18) and by whom the universe was created.[20]

Both Mandates Are Given to Federal Heads

The Creation Mandate was initially under the federal headship of Adam. By “federal” is meant that Adam did not act just for himself, but for us. When he was tempted in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:16-17) and fell (Gen. 3:6ff), he did so in our stead, as our federal head (Rom. 5:14ff). We are all born sinners[21] on the basis of this federal connection with Adam. We do not earn our sinful estate; we are born into it.

The New Creation Mandate is under the continuing headship of the Last Adam, Christ.[22] When Christ lived according to God’s Law through all His trials (Heb. 4:15) and died under that Law (Gal. 4:4), He did so in our behalf, as our federal head (Rom. 5:14ff). Christians are all born again[23] on the basis of this federal headship connection with Christ. We do not earn our righteous standing; we are born into it.

Both Mandates Engage the Same Task

Both the Creation and New Creation Mandates are designed for the subduing of the earth to the glory of God. The Creation Mandate was to begin at Eden (Gen. 2:15) and gradually to extend throughout all the earth (Gen. 1:26-28). It was restated after the Great Flood (Gen. 9:1-7).

The New Creation Mandate, which supplements, undergirds, and restores man ethically to the righteous task of the Creation Mandate, was to begin at Jerusalem (Luke 24:47) and gradually to extend throughout the world (Matt. 28:19). As we will show in the following chapters, the Great Commission sets forth the divine obligation of the true, created nature of man. It seeks the salvation of the world, the bringing of the created order to submission to God’s rule. This is to be performed under the active, sanctified agency of redeemed man, who has been renewed in the image of God.[24]

Both Mandates Were Originally Given to Small Groups

The Creation Mandate originally was given to Adam and Eve (Gen. 1:27), and then renewed to Noah and his sons (Gen. 9:1). The New Creation Mandate was given to Christ’s disciples (Matt. 28:16) for all ages (Matt. 28:20).

It is clear from the New Testament that the few original disciples, though initially intimidated by the resistance to Christ from their native countrymen, eventually overcame their cowardly hesitance. Upon witnessing the resurrection of Christ, they became convinced of the power of God. They received the command to “disciple all nations” on the basis of “all authority in heaven and on earth.” They accepted the obligation to preach the gospel to “every creature” (Mark 16:15).

Both Mandates Require the Same Enablement

As I have shown above, the Creation Mandate establishes a close connection between the interpretive revelation regarding man’s being created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26a, 27) and His command to exercise rule over the creation order (Gen. 1:26b, 28). Man lives up to His creational purpose as He exercises righteous dominion in the earth. God has implanted within man the drive to dominion. The entrance of sin, however, perverted godly dominion into a desire to “be like God” (Gen. 8:5).

The New Creation Mandate provides the essential restoration of the image of God in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness (Eph. 4:24; Col. 8:10). The Creation Mandate is consequently undergirded by the restorational activity of God by means of the New Creation power.


A major foundation of the Great Commission is found firmly placed upon the bedrock of Scripture and creation in Genesis. An awareness of man’s divinely ordained task in the world is essential to grasping the greatness of the Great Commission, as I will show more fully in the exposition of the Commission itself. The Great Commission is a corollary of the Creation Mandate.

But the second foundation stone, to which I alluded above, must now be considered. That foundational issue regards God’s covenant with man.

[1] Gen. 1:1-31; 2:7.

[2] Rom. 1:3; 9:5; 1 John 4:1-3.

[3] Rom. 12:1-2; Eph. 5:15-17; 2 Tim. 3:16-17.

[4] John 17:15; Job 14:5; 2 Cor. 5:9-10.

[5] 2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23: Luke 16:22-23. On the doctrine of hell, see: Gary North, Heaven or Hell on Earth: The Sociology of Final Judgment (forthcoming).

[6] 2 Chr. 16:9; Psa. 33:13-15; Prov. 15:3; Acts 17:28; Heb. 4:13. No U. S. Supreme Court “right-to-privacy” decision can alter this truth.

[7] Psa. 24:1; 115:16; Prov. 15:3; Dan. 5:23; Acts 25:24-31; Rev. 4:11.

[8] The Greek translation of the Old Testament is called the Septuagint, and is often abbreviated: LXX (the Roman numeral for seventy [sept]). It is a translation of the original Hebrew, which was done in the second century B.C., supposedly by seventy (actually seventy-two) Jewish elders. See: the second century B.C. writing Letter of Aristeas and Augustine, The City of God 18:42. (Septuagint is almost always mispronounced; the proper pronunciation is to accent the first syllable, not the second: SEP-tu-a-jint.) The ancient Hebrew title for Genesis is B’reshith, which is the first word in Gen. 1:1 and is translated “in the beginning.”

[9] The term geneseos occurs frequently in Genesis as a heading to various sections. See: Gen. 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12; 25:19; 36:1; 36:9; 37:2.

[10] The root of the Greek term (gen) is found in many English words, such as “genes,” “generation,” “genealogy,” and even my own name, “Gentry,” which means “a well born person.” All of these English terms have something to do with beginnings.

[11] Gen. 1:26,31. That each of the six days of creation was a literal twenty-four day and not a day-age, as some neo-Darwinian Christians argue, is demanded by the following exegetical evidence: (1) “Day” is qualified by “evening and morning” (Gen. 1:5, 8,13, 19, 23, 31), which specifically limits the time-frame. (2) The very same word “day” is used on the fourth day to define a time period that is governed by the sun, which must be a regular day (Gen. 1:14). (3) In the 119 instances of the Hebrew word “day” (yom) standing in conjunction with a numerical adjective (first, second, etc.) in the writings of Moses, it never means anything other than a literal day. Consistency would require that this structure must so function in Genesis 1 (Gen. 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31). (4) Exodus 20:9-11 patterns man’s work week after God’s original work week, which suggests the literality of the creation week. (5) In Exodus 20:11 the plural for the “days” of creation is used. In the 702 instances of the plural “days” in the Old Testament, it never means anything other than literal days. (6) Had Moses meant that God created the earth in six ages, he could have employed the more suitable Hebrew term olam.

[12]  See: Francis Nigel Lee, Culture: Its Origin, Development, and Goal (Cape May, NJ: Shelton College Press, 1967); Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, [1898] 1961); Henry R. Van Til, The Calvinistic Concept of Culture (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1959); Francis Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live’: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture (Old Tappen, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1976).

[13] The first entry under “culture” in OED reads: “I. Worship; reverential homage.” It also directs attention to the entry “cult,” where the Latin cultus (“worship”) is dealt with. The idea of “culture” is closely related to religious activity. The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, 2 vols., (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), 1:622.

[14] Rom. 1:1-2; Gal. 3:8; Heb. 4:2 speak of the “gospel” in the Old Testament. God has always saved man by His grace, apart from works and based on the work of Jesus Christ.

[15] See for example the recent works by Hal Lindsey, The Road to Holocaust (New York: Bantam, 1989), pp. 272ff.; Dave Hunt, Whatever Happened to Heaven’ (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1988), pp. 225ff.; and H. Wayne House and Thomas D. Ice, Dominion Theology: Blessing or Curse? (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1988), pp. 150ff.

[16] C. F. Keil and Franz Delitzsch, The Pentateuch in Commentary on the Old Testament

(Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, rep. 1975), 1:64.

[17] Translation of the American Standard Version (1901) and the Revised Standard


[18] See also John 17:4; Heb. 1:3.

[19] 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15; Eph. 2:15; 4:24.

[20] John 1:3, 10; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16-17.

[21] Gen. 8:21; Psa. 51:5; 58:3; John 3:6; Eph. 2:1-3.

[22] 1 Cor. 15:45; Matt. 28:18, 20.

[23] John 1:12-13; 3:3; Jms. 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23.

[24] Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:24.