First in a series on covenant theology
Headship is an important concept in Scripture, and few would argue that the Bible teaches there are two heads: Adam and Christ. Headship is, to use the vernacular, a package deal. What we get by being under one head or another is passel of things that, in some cases, are mutually exclusive. To be in Adam means to be under the condemnation of sin and death, to be in Christ means to be free from condemnation. It is therefore important to understand the concept of headship, as other things in Scripture (covenant, for example) are often bound up with it.
Headship in Scripture
Scripture teaches that all mankind is under one of two heads: Adam or Christ. To be in Adam, we need do nothing, for all mankind descends naturally and physically from Adam. When Adam sinned in the garden, the effect of it was passed on to his descendants—all of us. The latter part of Romans 5 sets this forth. Sin came into the world through one man (v. 12) Many died through one man’s trespass (v. 15) because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man. (v. 17) and finally, one trespass led to condemnation for all men. (v. 18)
What is clear from these verses is that Adam was acting representatively, as the head of a race. No one escapes the condemnation and death of being under the headship of Adam, since we get it by simply being human. The other head spoken of in Romans 5 (and elsewhere) is Jesus Christ. Paul contrasts the sin of Adam with the righteousness of Christ. He speaks of the “free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.” (v. 15) and that “the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.” (v.16) Finally, Paul speaks of the “one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” and that “by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” (v. 18-19)
The Headship of Christ
Christ, too, acted as head, for the effects of his righteousness flow to all those who are in him and under him. The difference is that while we are naturally (we are born) under the headship of Adam, we are only supernaturally under the headship of Christ. (We must by born-again.)
1 Corinthians 15 is the other place where Paul expounds on the truths of headship. He says that “as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” (v. 22) and he culminates in the comparison and contrast between Adam and Christ.
The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Cor. 15: 45-49)
Some have doubted this, or resisted it, saying that it is unjust to be counted a sinner just because of lineage. We should not have guilt imputed to us only because we are human! But this works both ways. The imputation of righteousness is a matter of headship, too. We get the benefit of that righteousness by being “in Christ” and under his headship. It is imputed to us, given to us, being something that we do not have in ourselves. In other words, if we accept that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us, Scripture likewise teaches that Adam’s guilt is imputed to us.
The Implications of Headship
They two heads differ in origin (earth/heaven) and they differ in kind (natural/spiritual) but they are also similar, that is, Paul refers to Christ as the second Adam. This is because he, too, acts representatively for believers. And our identity is tied to our head. Being in Christ means new life, new hopes, new power, and ultimately a different destination from those in the first Adam. Those in Christ possess all these things, but it is also clear that we still retain something of the Adamic. We are to reckon, or count ourselves to be dead to sin but alive to God. We are to put to death what is earthly in us. (Col. 3:5) Recall that Paul has said the first man is of the earth.
But it is also clear that being in Christ, our new head, means that we need not live under the power of the Adamic. Paul wrote to the Colossians in a parallel to what he wrote to the Ephesians. To the Ephesians he said “Put off the old man” but the Colossians he (fittingly) views as being with Christ in the heavenly places, seated with him. Thus he says “seeing that you have put off the old man with its practices and have put on the new man.” He views them as having already done it, having reckoned upon their identity as under the headship of Christ. This is where every Christian needs to live: in the knowledge and enjoyment of being in Christ, and recognizing all that it implies. Confusing what properly belongs to one head, instead of another, leads to invalid conclusions. Next I’ll look at some of the variety in covenant views during the early years of the Reformation