What is Federal Headship?

Question
What is Federal Headship?
Answer

Romans 5:13-14 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

In Romans 5:12-21, Paul teaches that God deals covenantally with the human race under the concept called "Federalism." Essentially, Federalism of Federal Headship has to do with representation; that is one person acting on behalf of another. The American legal system uses a similar concept called, "A Power of Attorney"; a written authorization to allow one to represent another for some legal matter. Biblically, the entire human race is summarized in the two Adams: (1) the first Adam in the Garden was the Federal Head of the entire human race under the covenant of works (Gen. 1-2) and (2) the second Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:45, 47), is the Federal Head of all believers under the covenant of grace (Rom 5:12-21).

The entire human race is naturally born under the Federal Headship of the first Adam in the Garden. In Genesis, we observe that Adam was in covenant with God. While the word "covenant: is not used until Genesis 6, all the essential parts of a covenant are present in Genesis 1-2: (1) the parties: God and Adam (Gen 1:28-30; 2:15-17); (2) a legally binding promise: eternal life (Gen 2:9; cf. 3:22); (3) a condition: perfect obedience (Gen. 2:17); and (4) a penalty: spiritual and physical death (Gen 2:17). Adam was in covenant with God (Hos 6:7; Hebrew, "ke Adam"; cf. Job 31:33 uses the same phrase). In Hosea 6:7, we observe that Israel's transgression of the covenant is just as seriousness as Adam's transgression of the covenant of works.

Note: The most common object to Federalism is that Gen. 1-2 don't mention the word "covenant." This is the word-concept fallacy. Students of Scripture should understand that concepts can be present in Bible texts without the specific words we normally use to describe them. For instance, Isaiah 1:10-15 speaks of "hypocrisy," but the word is not used in this set of verses (pericope). If I mention the words, "touchdown, 6 points" field goal, 3 points," "pass," "run," and "goal posts" most people would rightly understand that I was speaking of the game called "football," though I never used the term.

So, Adam represents the entire human race (Rom 5:12-21). When the first Adam in the Garden sinned (Gen. 3), sin fell upon "all" mankind (1 Cor 15:22; cf. Isa. 24:5-6; except Christ, who was born of a virgin and therefore is sinless - Matt 1:18; Luke 1:34-35; 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 Pet 2:22; 1 John 3:5). In his active obedience, Christ, the second and last man Adam (1 Cor 15:45, 47), accomplished what the first Adam in the Garden failed to accomplish. He fulfilled the entire Law (Matt 5:17). It is only after one is regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit (John 3:1-8) that they become born of God, and Christ becomes their Federal Head.

The rejection of Adam's covenant headship leads to an abandonment of the doctrine of Christ's headship (Rom 5:17). If Adam did not represent all men as Paul teaches, then Christ cannot be the Savior of all the elect. If one rejects Adam's headship of the human race, then they necessarily reject Christ's sacrifice as well.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).