What is “federal headship”?


I really enjoy the content you put out. Very straight and to the point. What do Calvinists mean when they talk about "federal headship?" I’ve heard someone mention this in a podcast in an episode on Calvinism. I had not heard the expression until listening to the podcast.


Calvinists believe that Adam's sin was passed down to all of mankind. This has led to several theories concerning how that passing down of sin took place. Federal Headship claims that Adam stood as a representative of mankind; thus, his sin was imputed to everyone. They based this on "So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men" (Romans 5:18). This same theory also claims that when Christ died, he also represented mankind as a second Adam and by his sacrifice salvation was given to all men. However, Romans 5:18 doesn't say that the condemnation of all men came about because Adam represented all mankind. This is just a way some Calvinists try to explain how their belief worked.

This belief fails because if Adam represented every human, then since Christ is a son of man and a descendant of Adam (Luke 3:23-38), he should also have been guilty of sin. Yet, Jesus was the perfect sacrifice who was without sin (I John 3:5). If Jesus was the representative of all mankind to give everyone salvation, then everyone should be saved. After all, if Adam's act was universal, then so should Jesus' act. However, Jesus was clear that most will not be saved (Matthew 7:13-14).

What is overlooked is that Paul said why sin was universal. "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned" (Romans 5:12). Essentially, sin a communicable disease of the spirit. It rapidly spreads from one person to another because each person makes the wrong choice at some point in their life. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Notice that the charge is that all of us have acted sinfully. This then explains Jesus's freedom from sin. He alone consistently chose not to sin.

While salvation is available to everyone through Jesus' sacrifice, it is not universally accepted by everyone. "For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous" (Romans 5:19). Notice Paul's use of "many" instead of "all." "Many were made sinners" but not all because Jesus did not sin. "Many will be made righteous," but not all because people have to accept the gift of salvation that Jesus is offering, and not everyone will do so.

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