1. The REALITY of Adam's Covenant Headship: Adam was the covenant representative for us all
Adam was representing the entire human race when he sinned in the garden. We see this most clearly in Romans 5:12-21, where Paul shows us that when Adam sinned, he acted on behalf of all men in such a way that his actions had direct consequences for us all. Paul declares in this passage:
Verse 12: “through one man sin entered into the world. . and so death spread to all men,”
Verse 15: “by the transgression of the one the many died,”
Verse 16: “the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation,”
Verse 17: “by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one,”
Verse 18: “through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men,”
Verse 19: “through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners,”
In other words, Adam wasn't just a single individual acting for himself in the test God gave him. It wasn't just his own destiny that was at stake in obeying God's command or disobeying it—the destiny of the entire human race was at stake. When Adam sinned, he brought condemnation and death not just to himself—but to the entire human race. When Adam fell, all of humanity fell with him: “The very truth is, Adam by his fall threw down our whole nature headlong into the same destruction, and drowned his whole offspring in the same gulf of misery, and the reason is, because, by God's appointment, he was not to stand or fall as a single person only, but as a common public person, representing all mankind to come of him. . .and as that covenant which was made with him, was made with the whole of mankind; even so he by breaking covenant lost all, as well for us as for himself.”1
We see this in the following ways in particular. . .
A) Adam's CORRUPTION was IMPARTED to us all when he sinned:
Adam was created “upright” (Ecclesiastes 7:29). Before Adam fell in the garden, he had no sin. He loved God with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength. But when Adam disobeyed God, a radical change took place—he became morally corrupt. And ever since Adam's fall, every single one of us has been infected with this moral corruption from birth. We are not born more or less innocent until we, like Adam, make the decision to sin against God. No—ever since the fall of Adam, every single one of us is born with moral corruption. Every single one of us is born with a heart that is deeply infected with the poison of sin. This is what we call original or inherent sin.2
This is what Scripture is describing when we read in Genesis 6:5, “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” That wasn't just talking about the days of Noah—it's a synopsis of the human race. This is why Jesus taught that men “love the darkness rather than the Light” (John 3:19). The truth is, every single one of us is born with a heart that loves sin rather than God.3
Again: we're not sinners because we sin; rather, we sin because we are sinners. We aren't sinners because we have all sinned against God; rather, we sin against God because it's our nature to sin. Sinfulness isn't a condition we contracted the first time we sinned, rather sinfulness is a disease we were born with; our particular sins are just the symptoms of that disease. Scripture teaches that because Adam fell, every single one of us has been born with the poison of inherent corruption.
B) Adam's GUILT was IMPUTED to us all when he sinned:
When Adam fell into sin, the whole world fell with him into moral corruption. But much more than just that happened in the fall. We looked briefly at Romans 5 earlier. But it's important for us to know that while Adam's fall into sin infected the entire human race with moral corruption, that is actually not what Paul is focusing on in Romans 5. In Romans 5:12-19, Paul is not talking about how we are inherently corrupt because of Adam's sin. He's rather talking about how we are judicially guilty because of Adam's sin. In Romans 5, Paul is not talking about how Adam's corruption was imparted to us. He's actually talking about how Adam's guilt was imputed to us.
In this passage in Romans, Paul's saying that the entire human race was condemned when Adam sinned. Not just corrupted—but condemned. In other words, Adam's sin was judicially reckoned to all men when he disobeyed God's command. As the covenant head of the human race, Adam represented all men in such a way, that through his sin, all humanity has been plunged along with him into guilt and condemnation. When he was condemned, we were condemned with him. His sin is reckoned to every one of us; his transgression is legally charged to our account. He sinned, but we are guilty with him; he transgressed, but we are condemned with him. What Paul is saying here is that before you and I ever sin personally, we stand condemned before God solely on account of Adam's sin. We are inherently corrupt because the nature of Adam was imparted to us. But we are judicially condemned because the transgression of Adam was imputed to us.
C) Adam's PUNISHMENT was DEALT OUT to us all when he sinned:
Actually, these two truths of inherent corruption and imputed guilt fit closely together. Think back to what God had said to the man before the fall in Genesis chapter 2. The Lord had told Adam that, “from the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). And despite what the serpent had told Eve, that's exactly what happened. And, as it turned out, death didn't just come to Adam; it came to us all.
Now, part of this was PHYSICAL DEATH. Adam would now die physically, and all humanity with him. This is emphasized in Genesis 5, where we read the constant refrain: “and he died. . . and he died. . .and he died. . .” So yes, Adam's sin brought physical death—not just to himself—but to every one of us.4 Physical death has come upon the world as punishment for Adam's sin.
But when God said this to Adam, He wasn't just talking about physical death. He was talking about SPIRITUAL DEATH.5 Adam would die spiritually. And do you know what inherent corruption is? It's spiritual death: The inherent corruption that came upon Adam when he fell into sin was spiritual death. The punishment for Adam's sin wasn't just physical death, it was spiritual death. And so it is for us in Adam. In other words, Adam's corruption was imparted to us because Adam's guilt was imputed to us. Moral corruption is the penalty for imputed sin:6
2. Some ILLUSTRATIONS of Adam's Covenant Headship: How to understand covenant headship
The fact that Adam was a covenant representative for the entire human race may sound like a foreign or strange concept to our ears. But it's really not something that ought to sound foreign or strange to us at all. There are actually a lot of parallels to help us understand the idea of covenant headship:
A) From OUR WORLD . . .
*Your NATIONALITY: We do not determine our nationality. We personally have nothing to do with whether we are born Indian or Bangladeshi or American or Mexican; it's just the way it is.
*Your GOVERNMENT: The congress or parliament represent the people, and it is their decisions that determine what happens to everyone who lives under them. When your leaders decide to go to war against another country, you are part of it whether you like it or not.
*Your HOUSEHOLD: The father, as head of the house, makes decisions that will dramatically affect—not just himself—but the entire family. He is the “covenant head” for the whole family.
B) From THE SCRIPTURES . . .
*Ham, Canaan, and the Canaanites (Genesis 9:20-27): It was Ham who sinned against his father Noah in Genesis 9. But instead of cursing Ham, Noah curses his son Canaan—and not only him—but the nation that would come forth from him (the Canaanites; cf. chapter 10). Though Ham was the one who was guilty, Canaan is the one who is cursed. In the biblical narrative, Canaan himself is presented as innocent--but he finds himself cursed on account of the sin of his father.
*Pharaoh and the Egyptians (Exodus 1-11): It was Pharaoh who sinned by hardening his heart against the Lord—but all the people of Egypt suffered because of his sin—both through the devastation the plagues wreaked on the land and the final plague of the loss of the firstborn.7
*Achan and his family (Joshua 7:22-26; 22:20): Though it was Achan alone who stole the bar of gold during the conquest of the land in the days of Joshua, it was the entire nation that was reckoned guilty: “Did not Achan the son of Zerah act unfaithfully in the things under the ban, and wrath fall on all the congregation of Israel?” Further, it's not just Achan, but his whole family—his sons and daughters along with him—who were punished for the sin he alone had committed.8
*The Amalekites in the days of Samuel (1 Samuel 15:1-3): Here we see that these Amalekites were to be held fully responsible and slaughtered—men and women, children and infants—not for their own sin—but for the sin of their forefathers hundreds of years earlier (1 Samuel 15:1-3).
*Seven descendants of Saul in the days of David (2 Samuel 21): Israel had made a covenant with the Gibeonites in the days of Joshua, but when Saul was king he violated the covenant by seeking to kill them. To satisfy justice, seven of Saul's descendants are given over to the Gibeonites to be hanged—not for crimes they themselves had committed—but for the crime of Saul their forefather.
*The disobedient kings of Israel (1 Kings 14:7-10): God tells Jeroboam, king of Israel, that because of his sin, his entire line would be wiped out (14:7-10). Jeroboam alone sinned, but his descendants would be punished together with him. The Lord then proceeds to declare the same truth to Baasha, king of Israel (1 Kings 16:1-4), and to Ahab, king of Israel (1 Kings 21:20-22).
*The leprosy of Naaman (2 Kings 5:27): After the Lord had healed Naaman's leprosy through Elisha, and refused to take any money in return, Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, went after Naaman trying to get the gold his master had refused. When he returns home, Elisha tells him that the leprosy of Naaman would now cling not only to Gehazi but also to his descendants forever.
*The gallows of Haman (Esther 7:10; 9:13-14): Haman was the enemy of God's people during the days of Esther who had constructed a gallows in order to hang righteous Mordecai. But his plan backfires. And when justice comes for Haman, it is not only Haman himself who is hanged, but his ten sons are hung with him—again, not for their own sin—but for the sin of their father.
*Daniel's accusers and the lions' den (Daniel 6:24): After the Lord preserves Daniel in the lions' den and he is drawn out, it is not only those who had maliciously accused him that are thrown into the den, but also their wives and children. Again, they were not being punished for their own personal sin—but rather for the sin of their covenant representatives (their husbands and fathers).
3. Answering OBJECTIONS about Adam's Covenant Headship: “Is it fair?”
It's often objected that the human race being punished for Adam's sin isn't fair. It simply wouldn't be fair of God to punish all of us for the sin of one man. To this objection we may say the following:9
A) We had the absolute best chance possible in Adam: Adam was the greatest human chance we had—much greater than anyone else. He was better equipped to come out victorious for all those he represented than any other person that has ever lived. You and I had a much, much, much better chance of keeping the Covenant of Works with Adam representing us than anyone else in our present condition. So God was gracious in even giving us the representative that He gave us.10
B) We're in no place to argue about sin: We're not innocent victims in the matter. Our sin is not just original, but it is quite actual. Yes, it's true that Adam's sin was imputed to us. But the guilt of sin was not just passively imputed to us. Every time you and I sin, we do so willingly, freely, actively taking part in it ourselves. So then, we're not innocent victims of Adam's sin; we are just as guilty.
C) We're in no place to argue about fairness: If we are going to talk about what's fair and what's not fair, the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ to sinners is the most unfair thing that has ever happened in the universe. What wasn't fair wasn't the imputation of sin—it was the imputation of Christ's righteousness. That's what isn't fair; because with Adam God operated exclusively on justice; but with us, in Christ, He operates upon sheer grace. If you are a believer in Jesus, Christ received the justice that you deserved, and you received grace that you had no business receiving. So, if we're going to allow God to operate that way in imputing righteousness to us in Christ, is it right to say He can't operate that way in imputing sin to the world? If we happily allow Him to do it in the Covenant of Grace, is it right for us to object that He did it the same way in context of the Covenant of Works?
D) We're in no place to argue with God: It's not wise to question God in an accusing way. Who are we to question God? Job tried this once, if you remember, and when God finally answered him, his response was to shut his mouth and lie in the ashes. Remember again, Paul imagines people having this same objection (IE, that's not fair) in his discussion about election in Romans 9. He imagines people objecting that it's not fair that God chooses some and doesn't choose others, and Paul's words there are simply: “who are you, O man, who answers back to God?. . .does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?” In other words, God does what He pleases; and it's right, whether we like it or not.11
E) We can trust in the character of God: Our duty is to submit to God with reverence and worship. And we can do this all the more knowing God's character. We're not submitting to a cruel tyrant the way a wife submits to an abusive husband or the way that poor women and children are being forced to submit to ISIS in Iraq. We are not even submitting to a good earthly father the way a child does to his father who is seeking his best interests in love. We are submitting to our heavenly Father, who always does what is right, who always does what is good; who is “righteous in all His ways and kind in all His deeds” (Psalm 145:17). Whenever we approach mysteries like this, we have to ground ourselves in the character of God. We may never fully, in this life, know why God has done something, but we can rest in who we know God to be. And this is what we have to do here.
1 Edward Fisher, The Marrow of Divinity, p34. As also A.W. Pink put it: “God did not act with mankind as with a field of corn, where each stalk stands on its own individual root. Rather He has dealt with our race as with a tree—all the branches of which have one common root. While the root of a tree remains healthy and unharmed, the whole of it flourishes. But if an ax strikes and severs the root, then the whole of the tree suffers and falls—not only the trunk but all the branches—and even its smallest twigs wither and die. Thus it was with the Eden tragedy.” (Pink, The Total Depravity of Man).
2 Vos puts it this way: “And here the rule holds that originally in Adam the actus [act] determined the status, but that subsequently for all his posterity status has determined actus.” (Dogmatics, V2, p25). And again, “With us, the disposition determines the deed, both in the natural state and in regeneration; with Adam, the deed determined the disposition.” (p53).
3 This is what we call Total Depravity. Total Depravity means that there is no spiritual good in us. It means that all of us are by nature both enslaved to our sin and in love with our sin; both unable and unwilling to love and follow God. “By it is not meant: 1) “That everyone is as bad as he can be or become.” 2) “Nor does it mean that the sinner carries about no knowledge of the will of God in his conscience.” 3) “Nor thereby is it meant that the one man cannot be more selfish than [an]other.” 4) “Sin has different forms in which it can manifest itself. No one ever has displayed all these forms in himself.” (Vos, pp57-58).
4 “'But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shall not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shall surely die' (Gen. 2:17). . .That death which now seizes fallen man is no mere natural calamity, but a penal infliction. It is not a 'debt' which he owes to 'nature,' but a judicial sentence which is passed upon him by the divine judge. Death has come in because our first parent, our federal head and representative, took of the forbidden fruit, and for no other reason.” (Pink).
5 Actually, it seems that the Lord was talking mostly or primarily about spiritual death. As Dr. S. Lewis Johnson points out: “Now God said, Adam, on the day that you eat of that fruit you will die. . .But he was just the same person physically afterwards as before apparently, but he had died. God said he died. 'In the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die.' It is clear he didn't die physically, so, he must have died spiritually.” (Sermon: The Imputation of Adam's Sin).
6 Vos puts it this way: “Original pollution, inherent corruption, was both for Adam and for us a punishment for the first sin. For Adam it appeared immediately; for us it can only appear when our persons come into being.” (Reformed Dogmatics, V2, p34). Don't panic if this doesn't make perfect sense yet. We'll see the following chart again in Lesson 3 and will study this more in detail then: the names of the two views are mediate (top) and immediate (bottom) imputation.
7 See also 2 Samuel 24:15-17 and Israel suffering because of the sin of king David.
8 This whole passage (Joshua 7) contains imagery of Adam's sin in the garden. Besides what was mentioned above, we could note that the Lord speaks of Achan's sin as transgression His covenant (vv11,15), reminding us of Hosea 6:7 which almost certainly refers back to Adam. Further, the way Achan later confesses his sin sends us back to the first sin in the garden, in that the 3 verbs Achan uses (saw, coveted, took; Joshua 7:21) are the same 3 Hebrew verbs used to describe Eve's falling prey to the serpents lies in Genesis 3:6. Further, as a result of his one sin all the people become “accursed” (vv11-12; cf. Gal.3:10).
9 Much of this is gleaned from Ligon Duncan's course on Covenant Theology.
10 Perhaps a comparable modern illustration would be Messi, Neymar or Ronaldo taking a penalty kick on your behalf.
11 Ligon Duncan says it this way: “Youre not in a position to judge. You are standing in the dock. You are standing before the bar of Gods justice. Youre not here to judge the judge. You cant extract yourself from this situation. But let me say this. He is so sovereign that even if it were unfair, there would be nothing that you could do about it. Because Hes the judge, Hes in charge, thats just the way it is.” (From his Covenant Theology course).