Federal Headship

by Matt Slick

Federal Headship is foreign to the modern mind, but it is a biblical concept.  It is the teaching that the father is the one who represents his family, his descendants.  Proof of this can be found in Heb. 7:8-10.

"Here mortal men receive tithes, but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives.  9 Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak, 10 for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him."

Levi was a distant descendant of Abraham, yet it is said that Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek even though Levi hadn't yet been born.  How is this so?  It is because Abraham represented his descendants.  We know that Levi did not physically carry out the act of paying tithes to Melchizedek, but we know that Abraham did.  Therefore, this passage teaches the representative nature of Abraham over his descendants.  Without this understanding of this passage, it would not make any sense. 

Federal Headship also finds its place in the Epistle of Romans when Paul says in Rom. 5:12-14,

"Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned-- 13 (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.  14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come."

In these verses we see deep theological truths.  When Paul says in verse 12 "because all sinned," he is using what is called the aorist indicative in Greek.  This means that it is an action is completed in the past.  Therefore, there is a logical implication that we can draw from this.  Wayne Grudem in his systematic theology says

"But it was not true that all men had actually committed sinful actions at the time that Paul was writing, because some had not even been born yet, and many others had died in infancy before committing any conscious acts of sin.  So Paul must be meaning that when Adam sinned, God considered true that all men sinned in Adam."1

Also, please consider these two quotes dealing with Federal Headship.

"The federal headship view considers Adam, the first man, as the representative of the human race that generated from him.  As the representative of all humans, Adam’s act of sin was considered by God to be the act of all people and his penalty of death was judicially made the penalty of everybody."2 

"The federal headship of Adam presupposes and rests upon his natural headship.  He was our natural head before he was our federal head.  He was doubtless made our federal representative because he was our natural progenitor, and was so conditioned that his agency must affect our destinies, and because our very nature was on trial (typically if not essentially) in him.  Whatever, therefore, of virtue in this explanation the natural headship of Adam may be supposed to contain the federal theory retains."3 

Therefore, it should be clear that Federal Headship teaches that Adam represented us; and when he fell, we fell. 

That's not fair!

But some may object and say that this is not fair.  They will say that we should not be held responsible for Adam's sin because we didn't commit his first sin--he did. We are not held responsible for Adam's sin.  We are affected by Adam's Original sin in two main ways. 

First, original sin is the teaching that Adam's first sin brought to us both guilt and a fallen nature.  He brought us guilt in that he represented us; and when Adam died, we died in him.  1 Cor. 15:22 says, "In Adam all die.  In Christ all shall be made alive."  Second, since Adam is our ancient biological father, we inherit his sinful nature.

Third, to deny Adam's representative headship logically leads to a denial of Christ's representative headship on the Cross.

Jesus represented His people

1 Cor. 15:45 says, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul. The last Adam became a life-giving spirit."  The "last Adam" is a reference to Jesus because of the similar relationship that exists between Adam and Jesus.  That is, both Adam and Jesus are representative heads.  Please consider 1 Cor. 15:22 that says, "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive."  This is teaching us that Adam and Christ are heads of groups.  Notice "in Adam" and "in Christ" are referencing our position in relationship to both of them.

If Adam did not represent mankind, then Jesus could not represent the Christians when He died on the cross.  As Adam's offense resulted in condemnation to all people, so also, Jesus' sacrifice results in justification for those who believe in Him (Rom. 5:18).  It is because of Federal Headship--legal representation--that we are able to be saved at all.  As Adam's sin was imputed4 to us because of the Fall, our sin was likewise imputed to Jesus on the cross; and Jesus' righteousness is imputed to us when we receive Him.  In other words, if it was not for the biblical idea of Federal Headship (of one person representing others), then Jesus could not have represented us on the cross.  If Jesus did not represent us on the cross, then it could not be said of us that " . . . you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God." (Col. 3:3); and, "Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him," (Rom. 6:8).

Jesus represented us so completely on the cross that it can be said that we have died with Him.  If it were not for Federal Headship, this would not be possible; and we could not have died to sin.

Conclusion

Federal Headship is a biblical concept with some very important ramifications.  Because of the biblical concept, we are able to enjoy salvation; we have died to sin, and we can rest in Christ who represented us before the Father in His satisfaction of the Law of God.

 

This article is also available in: Español

  • 1. Grudem, Wayne; Systematic Theology, Zondervan publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Page 494.
  • 2. Walvoord, John F., and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Scripture Press Publications, Inc.), 1983, 1985.
  • 3. Hodge, A. A., Outlines of Theology, (Escondido, CA: Ephesians Four Group), 1999.
  • 4. To impute means to reckon to another's account, to credit to another's account.

 

 

 

 
 
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