THE FEDERAL HEADSHIP OF ADAM

AND THE IMPUTATION OF HIS SIN TO ALL

 

By Bill McDaniel

 

Romans 5:12-19

 

        There are two very important passages in scripture that lead us into the full truth of the fall of man, and the extent of Adam’s sin. The first is Genesis 3, where is given the account of the fall of our first parents. Human nature corrupted in Adam and Eve, and that corruption is passed to every offspring. None come into the world innocent or holy, but are born in sin and shapen in iniquity. A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit. (Psalms 51:4-5  John 3:6  Romans 3:10-18).

          The second passage of great importance is Romans 5:12-19. Let us be sure we have understood the full impact of what Paul is saying. Pay special heed to the words in vs. 12, “all have sinned”. In the margin of my bible is added “in whom”. How are we to understand Paul’s saying, “all have sinned”? Does he mean it in the same sense as in Romans 3:23? Does he speak of personal acts of sin in 5:12? Does he charge everyone with committing acts of sin, personal acts of sin, as being the cause of death? What is the reason that death has passed upon all? Paul makes the definite connection between death and sin. He says, “Death passed upon all, for that all have sinned”. This is a result of sin entering the world by one man, who is Adam.

          This passage teaches the imputation of Adam’s sin to every member of the human family. The sin of Adam is the sin of all. All have sinned in Adam. As Levi paid tithes in Abraham (Hebrews 7:9), so all sinned in Adam. Not only so, but the sin of Adam is imputed to every son and daughter of Adam. The imputation of Adam’s sin to all is the immediate ground of their condemnation, just as their connection to Christ is the immediate ground of the justification of the elect. See Romans 5:17-18. The comparison is made to give the ground of condemnation and justification.

          Paul therefore is not speaking of personal sin (or sins) in vs. 12, but of the sin of Adam imputed to all. If Paul were speaking of personal sins as the ground of death, he need not give the lengthy digression in vs. 13-17. The parenthetical digression is a full explanation of what Paul intends us to understand by “all have sinned”. He shows that the universal reign of death can only be accounted for by the imputation of the one (the first) sin of Adam. The careful reader will notice that throughout this discussion Paul has in mind one man and one sin.

          Let us see that Paul speaks of one sin and one man throughout this passage. In vs.14, he speaks of Adams transgression”, singular and not plural. In vs. 15, Paul speaks of “the offence”, and again “the offence of one”, which he says lead to the death of many. In vs.16, “the judgment was by one to condemnation”. Then focus on the first half of both vs.17 and vs.18. “For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one”, and “therefore by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation”. The clear truth here is that the one sin of the one man Adam came upon all to condemnation. In vs.19, we have it again; “For by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners..”. In scanning this passage we see how Paul speaks of the one sin of Adam. He calls it “transgression” in vs.14, “offence” in vs.15, vs.17, vs.18, and “disobedience” in vs.19. In all of this, he has the one sin of the one man Adam in his eye.

          This universal reign of death cannot be accounted for on the premise of any transgressed, revealed law to mankind. For in vs.14, he selects the period before the law was given, the period from Adam to Moses. He even notes that where there is no law, there is no transgression. Sin brings death, and sin is the transgression of the law. Adam’s sin was a transgression of the law (commandment) which God gave him in the garden. Thus the universal reign of death is the result of Adam’s sin, which is put to the account of every offspring of the first pair. All sinned in Adam. His sin is the sin of everyone. This is the doctrine of original sin. We received a double blow in Adam. His guilt is imputed and his corrupt nature is passed to all his children. We do not first have to commit a personal sin to be under condemnation. We are so by the imputation of Adam’s sin to us.

          What is the just cause why God may impute the one sin of Adam to the whole race? There must be a proper ground for God to charge all Adam’s offspring with his sin. The answer is, there is a federal oneness between Adam and all mankind, whereby his act (sin) is put to the account of all. This is God’s sovereign design. All do not stand individually, but all sinned in Adam. There is no such thing as “an age of accountability”, when we become for the first time a sinner in the sight of God by some personal, willful sin.

          Any objector to such an arrangement should remember that it is Christ acting in our behalf that saves us. Each does not negotiate their own reconciliation to God. Christ, acting as our great federal head, rendered to God obedience which is imputed to the account of the elect. If one rejects the Lord’s Christ acting on our behalf, they know nothing of the Gospel.

          There is much rich material available on this subject. One of the better works on Adam’s sin imputed to all is the work by John Murray, The Imputation of Adam’s Sin.