[This post was written by Mike Hazeltine and posted on the Theophilux.com web site.  Good source for interesting theological discussions.  Our own Danny Nelson moderates the site.]

A friend of mine wrote this recently. We have been talking about original sin, specifically the question of whether or not all humans are guilty because of Adam’s sin. Here are some interesting insights from my friend…

The doctrine of Federal Headship states that God holds people responsible for the actions of others who represent them. This is seen in the Augustinian doctrine of Original Sin in which the guilt of Adam’s sin is held against all his descendants, since he was the head of the human race. Of course if all mankind was born guilty, then so was Jesus the moment he became human. If this were true, however, Jesus could not save anyone. He would need a savior of his own.

The key verse that seems to suggest that the guilt of Adam condemns the world is Romans 5:18-19: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” The problem with this interpretation is that it leads to universalism: The one act of Jesus on the cross justifies all men. Men are not automatically justified, and they are not automatically condemned either. The action of Adam leads to people being made sinners in the same way that the action of Jesus leads to people being made righteous: By the free choice of people to either follow Adam into sin or trust in Christ for salvation.

Several have pointed out that it would be unjust for God to punish one person for the sins of others. In fact, God himself warns the Israelites: “In those days they shall no longer say: ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ But everyone shall die for his own sin” (Jer. 31:29-30; also Eze. 18:1-4). This would indicate that our sense of justice which leads us to reject the doctrine is informed by God’s own revelation of justice.

Some examples that could be cited to support federal headship might better be described as community responsibility. God will bring judgment on a nation if there is enough sin to deserve it. For instance, he would not allow Israel to conquer the land of Canaan until the iniquity of the Amorites was complete (Gen. 15:16). If there was enough community merit (righteous men), God would have spared the city of Sodom (Gen. 18:22-33). Whenever a nation is being judged, there are inevitably innocent people who suffer for the sins of others. The righteous are not generally separated from the wicked as they will be on the final judgment (Mt. 25:31-46). When God punished Israel and sent them into exile in Babylon, there were several innocent people like Ezekiel and Daniel who suffered as well. It is important to point out, however, that these were all temporal judgments. They had no eternal consequences, as the guilt of Adam would bring on all mankind if the doctrine of Original Sin were true. This makes these other examples quite different.

The classic example of federal headship is the case of King David. Because of David’s sin in taking a census, God sent a plague that killed 70,000 people (1 Chron. 21). But before we assume that these were innocent people paying for David’s sin, 2 Samuel 24:1 indicates that they were as guilty as their king: “Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”” It seems that David’s pride was shared by the entire nation and God used David’s action to humble the people.

Some may point to the example of Achan whose theft led to not only his death but that of his family as well (Josh. 7:19-26). Though the text does not explicitly say it, there is every reason to believe that his family was held responsible because they were complicit in the deed. After all, they lived together in the same tent. Another example suggests that if they were innocent they would have been spared. We have in mind the rebellion of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. They and all who sided with them were put to death (Num. 16:20-35). Years later, however, we learn that some of Korah’s descendents survived this judgment, no doubt because they would not side with Korah in his sin. The sons of Korah were even blessed to write some of the Psalms (Ps. 42, 44-49, 84-85, 87-88). So in families, children are never held responsible for the sins of their parents. If children sin as their fathers’ do, they will suffer the punishment of their parents (Ex. 20:5-6). It all depends on them. So the doctrine of Federal Headship, in addition to being unjust, seems to have no real support in the Scriptures.

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