Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
December 8th, 2014 by Joel Watts

The Federal Headship of Adam

I am not a Calvinist, nor one who believes in St. Augustine’s error. Rather, I believe we can theologically explain the transmitted nature of sin better. However, in reading a particular book, the federal headship view was mentioned (sort of). I wanted to invite consideration and thoughts:

Transgression of the covenant commandment would result in death. Adam chose the course of disobedience, corrupted himself by sin, became guilty in the sight of God, and as such subject to the sentence of death. And because he was the federal representative of the race, his disobedience affected all his descendants. In His righteous judgment God imputes the guilt of the first sin, committed by the head of the covenant, to all those that are federally related to him. And as a result they are born in a depraved and sinful condition as well, and this inherent corruption also involves guilt. This doctrine explains why only the first sin of Adam, and not his following sins nor the sins of our other forefathers, is imputed to us, and also safeguards the sinlessness of Jesus, for He was not a human person and therefore not in the covenant of works.1

Is Adam our representative in that one particular sin?

I’m going to go ahead and give away my view of Adam. I think the story is representative of Israel’s choice to have a king, which is a federal representative in the ancient world. When the King chose to break the covenant, then all Israel fell. This was the original intent.

For now, I don’t have to justify this with St. Paul’s view…

….however, if I had too, I would say St. Paul sees Adam as the federal representative of the people of God made that by the covenant. Christ makes a new covenant that undoes the sin (the violation of the political treaty) of Adam and thus makes a new, unbreakable covenant.

But I could be wrong.

  1. L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 242–243.
Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

6 Responses to “The Federal Headship of Adam”
  1. Know More Than I Should says

    Theological federal headship is de facto sippenhaft. It is a common practice in totalitarian regimes to blame relatives for the crimes committed by a family member. At it core, guilt by relation is little more than a subset of guilt by association.

    Following the logic of biblical sipenhaft, because Adam had no horizontal familial relationships other than Eve, the blame had to be spread vertically to his descendents.

    It might be worth pointing out that North Korean godfather Kim Il-sung claimed to have Presbyterian ancestors. If true, instruction in the concept of biblical federalism might go a long way in explaining that hermit kingdom’s practice of assigning guilt to three generations.

    Before becoming fascinated by politics, Joseph Stalin studied to become an Orthodox priest. Likewise, Adolph Hitler likewise considered the priesthood in his youth. Both went on the practice sippenhaft as despots.

    • That is interesting – the NK bit.

      Federal kingship is ANE – it allowed the king to represent the people(s) to the gods and vice versa. it’s an ancient practice, upset greatly by the prophets who wrote to the people directly, bypassing the king

      • Know More Than I Should says

        Positioning a ruler as an intermediary between the god(s) and the people is a great way impose authoritarian rule. Instead of admitting laws are the product of human whims, they become divine mandates. Thus, violators are subject to eternal damnation after having their heads lopped off. It’s a great way to discourage dissent.

  2. I would think that perhaps brother Ezekiel might have something to say that could stand federal headship and who is guilty on its….(pun intended) head–see Ezek 18. Might there be a difference between individual guilt and corporate consequences caused by another?

    So…Jesus was not a ‘human person’…?? Hmmm Heb 2:14; Lk 24:39??

Leave a Reply, Please!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: