Participation in Adam’s Sin–Real or Representative?

The Southern Baptist document we have been discussing states, “Each person’s sin alone [emphasis mine] brings the wrath of a holy God, broken fellowship with Him etc.” This statement effectively denies the doctrine of the imputation of Adam’s first transgression to all humanity. It is consistent with “the Baptist Faith and Message” which states, “Now all men inherit a life and background willing to sin. As a result, as soon as they are able to make right decisions and actions, they become sinners.” [italics mine] This statement would seem to deny not only that sinners are born with Adam’s guilt but also that we are born without his nature. To me, “willing to sin,” seems much weaker than bent on sinning. In contrast to this statement, the Psalmist wrote, “The wicked are estranged from the womb, they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies” (Psalm 58:3). The difference between these two views is illustrated by the revealing question, “Are we sinners because we sin, or do we sin because we are sinners?” The above statement appears to affirm the former and deny the latter.

I have no way of knowing whether the framers of the statement we are discussing thought deeply enough to consider the issue of the headship of Adam, but that discussion is certainly important to this issue. Without getting too far into the theological weeds, I want to comment a bit on the issue of Seminal Headship [or the realistic view] vs. Federal Headship [or the representative view]. The Seminal Headship view proposes that when Adam sinned, he WAS then entire race so that the entire race actually and consciously sinned when he sinned. It was not so much that he represented us, as it was that we actively participated in his first transgression. In reality, according to this view, there is no “imputation” of Adam’s transgression and guilt to his posterity. We are all actually guilty of that sin because we committed it with him.

The representative view is that God sovereignly appointed Adam the representative head of the entire race. If Adam remained in his original integrity, all his offspring would stand in him. If, Adam failed to obey God and fell from his original righteousness, all his offspring would bear his guilt and condemnation.

In my view, the greatest obstacle to the “realistic view” is that it fails to match the analogy Paul sets forth in Romans 5: 12-19. Consider that passage with me briefly. The first question one should ask and seek to answer in regard to that passage concerns its place in the overall context of Romans. What was the Apostle’s purpose in introducing the doctrine of original sin at this point? This question is especially difficult to answer if we should take the view that all sinners actively participated in Adam’s sin, since this would seem to militate against the doctrine Paul has been teaching, namely, justification through faith alone, based on the imputation of Christ’s righteousness alone.

The Context of the Passage

First, let’s consider the context of the passage and how it fits into the apostle’s overall argument. The general theme of this epistle is Paul’s justification of his Gentile mission. The good news he proclaims is God’s power for the salvation of sinners from every nation. To the Jew first, but also to the Gentiles. He is anxious to proclaim the gospel to all nations because all are equally guilty before God. In the first two and a half chapters, he labors to show the universal need of sinners for a declaration of righteousness before God. Then, in chapter three he begins to proclaim the good news that God declares sinners righteous in his sight apart from any righteousness or goodness of their own, solely based on the propitiatory sacrifice and imputed righteousness of Christ. He argues there is but one way of justification before God for Jews and Gentiles.

In chapter four he illustrates God’s method of justification and the nature of saving faith from the life and faith of the Patriarch Abraham. Then he concludes his treatment of justification by stating that just as righteousness was imputed to Abraham through faith, so God will impute righteousness to all who, like Abraham, believe his promise.

Chapter five begins an entirely new section in the epistle that continues to the end of the eighth chapter. His central theme in this section is the certainty of glorification for all who have been justified. He introduces this idea with the words “. . .and rejoice in hope [the confident and positive assurance] of the glory of God.”

In verses one through eleven, he argues that glorification is certain because the justified have a new relationship with God. No longer are we God’s enemies; we now have peace with God. If he loved us and gave his Son for us when we were enemies, “Much More” can we have confidence that he will preserve us now that we have been reconciled to him through Christ. Beginning in 5:12, he argues that we are certain of glorification because we have a new representative before God. As we shall see, his basic argument is that just as the actions of our first representative, Adam, rendered our condemnation certain as long as we continued in him, so the actions of our new representative, Christ, renders our justification and glorification certain since we are in union with him.

The argument is interrupted in chapters six and seven by Paul’s response to a series of objections to his teaching re: the freeness of justification. In chapter eight, he resumes his argument and concludes by informing his readers that in Christ there is no condemnation for the believer, there is no frustration of God’s eternal purpose, there are no successful accusations against God’s chosen ones, and separation from God’s everlasting love.

If we should take the seminal headship view, Paul’s teaching in verses 12-19 would not only appear gratuitous [Why would he introduce the doctrine of original sin at this point?], but antithetical to the argument he is persuing.

The Structure of the Passage

The structure of this passage is governed by a comparison interrupted by a parenthesis. The important structural words are “As” or “Just as” and “Even so. Paul begins the comparison in verse 12, then, before completing it he interrupts himself with a proof that people die, not because of personal transgression but because of Adam’s transgression. Even though between Adam and Moses there was no codified law and therefore no imputation of personal transgression, people still died. Obviously, they died, not because of their personal transgressions since there were none before the giving of the Law, but because of Adam’s transgression [I am not saying that sin did not exist during that period but that transgressions of a clearly revealed boundary did not exist, as in the case of Adam and those under the Law. It is codified law that gives sin the character of transgression].

I believe the phrase “whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam” v. 14, is an important one. If the realists are correct, the sinning of those between Adam and Moses was exactly like that of Adam since, according to their view, they actually and personally sinned when Adam sinned.

After stating that Adam was a “type” of Christ, he explains in verses 15 through 17 the ways in which Christ does not correspond to Adam. Then, in verse 18, he repeats the first phrase of the comparison, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men” and completes it with the words, “even so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” The words “the one” and “the many” in verse 19 are clearly words that indicate representative headship, the one acting for the many, not the many acting with the one. When Paul uses the words “all men” and “the many” in this context, he refers to all who are represented by their respective heads. In reference to Adam, “all men” refers to all he represented, all in Adam. In reference to Christ, he refers to all he represents, all in Christ. Consider also Paul’s words in 1 Cor 15 where he uses similar language. He writes, “. . .even so, in Christ, shall all be made alive.” He, then, explains what he means by “all,” when he writes, “Christ the first fruits, afterward, THOSE WHO ARE CHRIST’S at his coming.” I.e., the “all” refers to those he represents.

The Typical Correspondence Between Adam and Christ.

Biblical Types all have certain characteristics. If you are interested in studying types further, I would refer you to Appendix B of my book In These Last Days. You will find it in PDF format at http://www.new-covenant-theology.org. One characteristic of types is a necessary, theological correspondence between the type and its fulfillment. In reality, there is more dissimilarity between Adam and Christ than there is correspondence. But, there is one essential likeness that moved the apostle to write that Adam was a “type” or “figure” of the coming one. We see that correspondence in their representative characters. It is “the one” acting for “the many.”

The Apostle’s Conclusion Based on this Typical Correspondence

Paul’s conclusion, based on this typical correspondence, is that just as Adam’s one act of transgression brought certain guilt and condemnation to all in him by divine constitution, so Christ’s life and death under the law–His obedience–brings certain justification and life to all in him by divine constitution.

Douglas Moo was certainly right when he commented on verse 18,

. . .it is doubtful if eis can be taken to indicate an offer made to all people; certainly in the parallel in the first part of the verse, the condemnation actually embraces all people. But perhaps the biggest objection to this view [that what Paul is talking about is not actual justification but the basis for justification] is that it misses the point for which Paul is arguing in this passage. This point is that there can be an assurance of justification and life, on one side, that is just as strong and certain as the assurance of condemnation on the other. Paul wants to show, not how Christ has made available righteousness and life for all, but how Christ has secured the benefits of that righteousness for all who belong to him (Moo, Romans, p. 356).

If Christ secured a righteous standing for all in him by his act alone apart from any personal actions on their part, the corresponding thought would have to be that Adam secured the guilt of all his posterity by his one act alone, apart from any personal sin on their part. Conversely, if we should take the other view and if the correspondence holds, we must believe that we are justified, not by the obedience and righteousness of Christ alone, but by our participation with him in his obedience and righteousness. Of course, this would be impossible since there is no physical union between Christ and his people as in the case of Adam.

It seems to me we can only reasonably conclude that not only is Adam’s nature imparted to us, but his guilt is imputed to us as well.

17 Responses to “Participation in Adam’s Sin–Real or Representative?”

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