Federal and Natural Headship


Most people balk when they are first confronted with the biblical teaching that all humans sinned in Adam. Their initial reflex seems to be, “How can God hold me accountable for something that Adam did?” This intuitive reaction to the doctrine of original sin is so consistent that it might just lead to the suspicion that most people are born Pelagians.

The two principal theories that attempt to answer this question are called federal headship and natural headship. To most people, the theories are hardly more comprehensible than the doctrine itself. Federal headship states that God sovereignly appointed Adam as the representative head of the human race, so that whatever obedience or disobedience Adam chose would be imputed to his posterity. Natural headship states that all of the human race was somehow in Adam, participating in his sin.

Most people can’t help thinking that federal headship is unfair. This supposed unfairness, however, evaporates pretty quickly once the theory is understood. Everybody understands that some people have to make choices for other people, and that sometimes these choices are matters of life and death. For example, small children are not allowed to decide for themselves whether they will receive an inoculation or other painful procedure. They do not have the maturity to make a wise choice. Parents are tasked to make the decision for the child, and a good parent will make the choice that mature persons would make for themselves if given the choice. Certainly Adam was in a better position to choose to obey God than any of his posterity. It makes sense that God would permit Adam to choose for all of his children. No evidence exists that any of Adam’s children would have made a better choice. In fact, none of them ever does.

For most people, natural headship is even less comprehensible. The theory teaches that the entire human race was somehow in Adam and sinned with him. Unfortunately, this articulation conjures up all the wrong images. People see themselves as microscopic homunculi situated within Adam’s body during the temptation, perhaps jumping up and down in anticipation of the sin and cheering him on in high, thin voices. Envisioned this way, the theory is easy to reject—but it is not really so ludicrous.

Natural headship grows out of the conviction that the human race is more than simply a collection of individuals. One must not define humanity by identifying recognizable human beings and then posit the race as an abstraction of these particular individuals. This approach would almost certainly overlook human persons who do not share the most recognizable properties. Those with genetic abnormalities could easily be classified as non-human, as could embryos. In fact, the so-called “pro-choice” movement took exactly this approach when attempting to justify abortion on demand. Who could believe that a tiny blob of tissue constituted a human person? The results have been disastrous.

The correct approach is to begin with the idea that the human race is a real thing. All those who proceed from the race are human beings, whether they share the more obvious characteristics of people or not. An embryo in the womb is a human being whether or not it looks like a miniature adult. Human nature pertains first to the race and only subsequently to individuals.

Perhaps an analogy can be found in the body, which comprises trillions of cells. Babies have very small bodies. Over time, those bodies grow to many times their original size: a seven pound baby may end up as a three hundred pound man. Not only do the cells multiply, but cells are regularly sloughed off and replaced by other cells. Most of the cells in the body are probably replaced (on average) every seven to ten years. Yet the body at eighty is numerically identical with the body at eight days—it is the same body. The identity of the body does not depend upon the continuity of the individual particles of which it is made.

At the present moment, the human race includes around seven billion living individuals. In 1999 it numbered about six billion. During the intervening years, upwards of 50 million people died each year, while about 135 million were born. The race now includes around one and one half billion people who were not part of it in 1999. It has lost half a billion people who were part of it at that time. But here is the important thing: it is still the same race.

Baby Boomers who grew up during the 1960s can remember when the human race included only three billion people. Nearly half of those are now dead—most of the generation that lived through the Depression and fought World War II is gone. Something like five billion people have been born into the race since the beginning of the 1960s. But it is still the same race. The integrity of the race does not depend upon the identity of the people whom it comprises.

In 1350 the total human population around the globe numbered about 370 million. Reeling from famines and plagues, the human race was much smaller than it is now. It included only a fraction of the number of individuals who now compose it. But it was the same race.

During the Middle Ages, humans numbered in the millions. At some point before that, the human race numbered in the hundreds of thousands. At one time, the race must have numbered in the hundreds. After the flood, the human race included only eight individuals. But at each stage, it was the same race.

If we trace human history back far enough, we shall make an important discovery. At one time, the human race consisted of a single individual, Adam. He stood in a unique position. Adam was not merely a solitary person. He was the entire human race. In some sense, all of the human race was in him, summed up in his being, because the race was the same race. All of his natural descendants emerged not only from him as an individual, but also (and more importantly) from him as a race.

When Adam acted, the entire race acted. When Adam chose, the entire race chose. When Adam sinned, the entire race sinned. This does not mean that all of his billions and billions of offspring were somehow individually present. It does mean that all of Adam’s descendants are included in the human race, and when Adam sinned, he was the same race.

God did not merely assign Adam’s choice arbitrarily to other people. No, in a meaningful sense we were in him, acting with him, sinning with him. We were not there as individuals, but as part of the undifferentiated essence of the human race. His guilt was not only personal, it was the guilt of the race. Whoever is Adam’s natural descendant—whoever is purely and simply a human being—must necessarily have been in him, participating with him.

“Because of this, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread unto all humans, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). The text does not say that all were charged with one man’s sin. It says that all sinned. It could not be otherwise, for all were in him and all participated in his choice. McGuffey’s reader got it right: “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all.”

George Herbert (1593-1633)

As men, for fear the starres should sleep and nod,
And trip at night, have spheres suppli’d;
As if a starre were duller then a clod,
Which knows his way without a guide:

Just so the other heav’n they also serve,
Divinities transcendent skie:
Which with the edge of wit they cut and carve.
Reason triumphs, and faith lies by.

Could not that Wisdome, which first broacht the wine,
Have thicken’d it with definitions?
And jagg’d his seamlesse coat, had that been fine,
With curious questions and divisions?

But all the doctrine, which he taught and gave,
Was cleare as heav’n, from whence it came.
At least those beams of truth, which onely save,
Surpasse in brightnesse any flame.

Love God, and love your neighbour. Watch and pray.
Do as ye would be done unto.
O dark instructions; ev’n as dark as day!
Who can these Gordian knots undo?

But he doth bid us take his bloud for wine.
Bid what he please; yet I am sure,
To take and taste what he doth there designe,
Is all that saves, and not obscure.

Then burn thy Epicycles, foolish man;
Break all thy spheres, and save thy head.
Faith needs no staffe of flesh, but stoutly can
To heav’n alone both go, and leade.

[node:bio/kevin-t-bauder body]

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James K's picture

Kevin, does Rom 5:12 say when the all sinned?

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

paynen's picture

Dr. Bauder this is a subject that has expressed a large amount of interest to me. Historically in church history inherited corruption and imputed guilt have been tied very closely and most who I talk to seem to say that the possible views out there are Natural/Seminal headship, Federal headship, or a view that states that mankind at birth is either good or a blank slate and we are just influenced by Adam's sin (such as the pelegian view.) But after a lot of study and though I don't think that is necessary. Imputed guilt and sin nature/inherited corruption are clearly different issues. Ryrie does a very good job of explaining this in his Basic Systematic Theology. Romans 5 is a very difficult passage to understand and I think a lot of that has to do with Paul trying to understand and explain the genetic effects of Adam's sin in the New Testament era. I think it is very clean that Adam's sin effected the human race. Sin's corruption of the genetic code gave us total depravity and each person a sin nature. We all as Romans 5 puts it are born spiritually dead. Yet we as Adam's decedents did not experience spiritual death as Adam did. We were born in the state of being spiritually dead. We are not being punished. Only Adam was guilty of original sin and only he was punished. But as his offspring we are affected by that sin. We are born into the state of being spiritually dead, similar to how a child whose father had aids is born in the physical state of one who has aids. We are separated from God because of our genetic state as sin. Being a sinner in direct fellowship with God would be agonizing, due to God's holiness. Physical death is actually only partially a punishment, in fact one could consider it the mercy of God. If Adam an Eve were left in the garden and were continued to be allowed to eat of the tree of life they would continue to exist today in a depraved and corrupt physical body. In Romans 5 we became sinners based on the fact we have a sin nature.


So when do we become guilty of our own sin? I would say very early. I believe due to our corruption and sin nature as soon as we have the ability to think coherently we will sin, this in my view is before birth and very early after conception. Yet I would say that even though one is a sinner, one will not be sent to hell before he has the ability to understand the gospel of Christ (the age of accountability.) So in short one become guilty of sin sometime between conception and the age of accountability and probably very early in that time period. Does that leave the possibility open that someone could die without sinning. It does in my view leave a very small window for death to occur before one sins within the womb, but it is impossible for one to die without a corrupt sin nature. I would also say that an individual begins sinning so early in the conception process that the time between conception and sin is almost immeasurable.


This theory is very young in its process of development and I continue to hash and think it out all the time. And I am sure there are many things that I haven't thought of, but I look forward to responses that will help stimulate or dissuade my thoughts on this view.

CAWatson's picture



I don't think that the tree had anything to do with physical life. The spiritual death that occurred in the garden manifested itself in a very real geographical sense - mankind was cast from the garden - from the real presence of God (sanctuary language). The physical death did not occur for hundreds of years later. I think what you'll find is that the two trees were simply symbols - they did not have magical powers in and of themselves. The only reason that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because it was forbidden to partake. The knowledge of good and evil was experiential - an experience that they lacked before they partook. The tree of life is the same kind of symbol - in the presence of God there is life. 


In terms of how sin is passed on, I believe that sin is passed on from generation to generation, as well as instantly from Adam. Be careful not to read in contemporary ideas of genetics into your theology. Mingling science and theology - and allowing science to strongly affect an interpretation (as a hermeneutical rule) will end you up in some interesting positions. 

paynen's picture

There is no reason to not take the Garden narrative as completely literal. Spiritual Death happened at being separated from God. and Physical death happened due to not eating from the tree, but not until Cain killed Abel, and Adam and Eve died of old age.


The entire view of Natural Headship and Tradutianism (The belief that the soul is genetic) includes a contemporary understanding of genetics and is a widely held view. Also most of those who believe in the direct imputation of Adam's sin do not believe that one inherits the guilt of sin from generation to generation, only Adam's sin is imputed.

cdbrauns's picture

Dr. Bauder,

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this incredibly important subject. One of the reasons I wrote my recent book, Bound Together: How We Are Tied to Others in Good and Bad Choices (Zondervan, 2013) is that I do not think we have given nearly enough attention to thinking about how we were "bound together" with Adam's sin nor how believers are united to Christ.

In my book, I considered both the realist and federal positions regarding the transmission of Adam's sin. Ultimately, I agree with Moo and Lloyd-Jones that the two positions need not be seen as mutually exclusive:

"While the realist view leaves us with some mystery as to precisely how we are united with Adam, our inability to plumb the depth of this truth does not negate the fact that it is true. And though the federalist view rightly emphasizes Adam as our representative covenant head, it needs the balance of the realist position because our union is about more than just representation; it is also a vital and organic reality."


Dr. Chris Brauns


Daniel720's picture

CAWatson wrote:

The physical death did not occur for hundreds of years later. I think what you'll find is that the two trees were simply symbols - they did not have magical powers in and of themselves. The only reason that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because it was forbidden to partake.

What do you mean there by 'magical powers'?

My own sense-making on that passage differs markedly from yours. To date, a central sense I get from the passage is that the fruit of the Tree Knowledge of Good and Evil was not perfectly suitable for consumption by the unfallen human physiology, such that that imperfection, if consumed by such a human, necessarily would introduce actual microbiological disorder to that human's physiology, eventuating in complete physical death. In short, that that fruit was poison.

I note that God did not say, "Don't eat that fruit, or I shall kill you." Rather, God makes a general statement: "If you eat that fruit, you're going to die".

And, for me, the context of that general statement is a full context: both physical and spiritual: in regard not only to food, but to what God said about that particular instance of an otherwise apparently perfectly good food (I assume that to Adam and Eve it must have looked no less good for food than the fruit of any of the other trees, else God would not have made any effort to warn them of it). So, for me, I think that the interpretation of that general statement likewise is a full interpretation.

So, I'm thinking that if God had simply said, "If you eat that fruit, it will kill you", then the matter would be simply physical death. But, God said, "You shall not eat it, for if you do, then you'll die." In the very context of food, that says to me that not only is that particular fruit itself not suitable for consumption by the unfallen human physiology, but that God Himself has made the effort to make known to them that the fruit of that one tree is the exception to the general statement that "the fruit of all the kinds of trees in this garden is your food."

So, to me, it seems not only a false dichotomy, but a suspect precedent, to say that the fruit of that one tree cannot have been poison; that there was absolutely nothing wrong with that fruit itself; that God is the sort of Guy who so enjoys bossing us around that He actually would make a perfectly good food which He nonetheless forbids us to eat.

If that's the kind of guy God is, then why didn't He just make a lot more of that particular kind of tree, so that for every place in the garden where Adam and Eve went, they had one or more of that kind of tree 'staring at them'?

Notice, if you will, that the Other Exceptional Tree was in the center of the garden along with that Bad Tree. There were only two Exceptional Trees. So, while the rest of the garden was full of only Trees of General Food, there was in the center of the garden a Tree of Special Food and a Tree of Bad Food. So, only in order to partake of the Tree of Special Food did Adam and Eve have called to their minds the Tree of Bad Food: "we must not eat it, or we'll die; So, we won't eat it."

It seems they never got to the point of asking God why He even made such a tree.

And, in any case, they seem not to have acted as disinterested judges when the serpent offered them his own clever, preemptive interpretation: "Psst! The reason God told you not to eat it is because God wants to keep you naive and stupid and blindly loyal; because, in fact, that fruit has the power to make you equal to God in determining what is good and what is bad!"

But, if all of what the serpent said was true, then why did God bother not only to make that tree, but even to put it where humans could get at it to eat it? My answer is that the measures taken to prevent foolishness in a given kind of creature is necessarily never foolproof, so that, in face of the worst scenario with kind of that creature, the possibility of the lesser foolishness is best put out in the open in order to preempt the universal realization of the greatest foolishness.


So, for my own mind, I think that to say that 'The only reason that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is because it was forbidden to partake' is entirely too reductionist, too non-dymanic, too defensively concerned about avoiding even any seeming circularity.

I think that a similarly defensive concern is found in defining God's omnipotence as 'greater than the law of identity'; that God's omnipotence cannot be defined save contingent on the Christian's sense that the unbeliever's logic can seem sound: that a definition of God's omnipotence must be defined as an ontological non-mutuality between Divine Goodness and Divine power, so that, for example, God seems to be lacking for His very ontological necessity: that He is short in both power and choice in face of His 'inability to have made a prior choice about His very existence and nature'. For example, in Farrington; Problems Arising From An Inconsistent View Of God, Heythrop Journal: Farrington grants that God is, at least initially, perfect in Knowledge, Beneficience, etc., and he wishes to preserve God's perfect goodness as something with which he can identify. But, then, he contrarily reasons that both God's own 'logic' and God's own power must be anti-rational lest humans become proud of their own rational faculties. Such contrary reasoning presupposes that God's own ontology must be defined, at least fractionally, in view of a contingency such as human pride-of-mind. As if the integrity of God's very being needs to be protected from that pride since a human himself can feel his own mind genuinely threatened by the logic of that pride in others.


The next word you read is true (and now it's the seventh-to-last word).

Daniel720's picture

paynen wrote:

,...but it is impossible for one to die without a corrupt sin nature.

I'm not clear what all you mean by that. I assume you mean, at least,  that (in my own more-or-less vague wording) it is impossible for complete physical human death ever to occur without there existing a physical corruption to the original unfallen human physiology.

The reason I mention this is because I assume that Jesus's own body was subject to the general forces of a cursed Creation, including not only attaining physical maturity within two (rather than seven), decades, but potentially growing 'old' and dying according to the natural order of the fallen state of Creation. If this my assumption is correct, and if Jesus had no sin nature (by having not been conceived from Adam), then there is something about having an inherited connection to the physically fallen Adam that makes us literally 'conceived in sin'; such that we, unlike Jesus, have a predisposition to sin. By this account, then, Jesus' own humanity (despite being in a body that, given enough time, would have died of old age) merely was that of the pre-sin Adam.



The next word you read is true (and now it's the seventh-to-last word).

paynen's picture

What I meant there is that although my view leaves the possibility open for someone to die without sinning (however unlikely). All individuals will die with a corrupt sin nature even if they do die without sin.


I believe Jesus himself received "genetics" effected by total depravity. Yet due to His Deity the sin nature was either useless or completely obliterated due to the presence of Deity. In my mind this is a necessary part of our unity in Adam. I do not think Total Depravity is a male "gene." This is kind of silly. It is complete speculation based on the perceived need to prevent the imputation of sin onto Christ. My view eliminates that issue altogether. This is why paternal sin genetics is an issue.


Also the idea that sin is tied to the man is dangerous. Due to many advances in science we have stories like this.


It seems they are very close to being able to achieve this and the view of the paternal tie to sin, could in theory produce individuals without sin natures. Now you can say this will never work, and say that God would never allow that, and that is possible, but you are at that point presuming that God would not allow something He has never spoken about in His word. Remember the idea of the paternality of sin is not biblical but theological and completely man derived. Most who believe in Seminal Headship believe sin was not imputed to Christ just due to God not choosing to impute it, which is a much safer and fairer view.

CAWatson's picture

The death that was promised was not physiological, nor would the tree necessarily cause physiological problems - this cannot be surmised from the text. It can be, however, surmised by attempting to place modernist understandings and tendencies on the text. If eating is certain, than death is certain. This is how the command reads in the Hebrew text. The immediate result of eating the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was to move from theoretical knowledge of good and evil to experiential knowledge of good and evil. The consequence was death - which began on the day that they partook by a removal from the garden (and thus from the presence of God - i.e. spiritual death), and a certain eventuality of physical death. 


From another perspective, consider the the nature of the covenant-like aspects of Genesis 2 (I am a dispensationalist who has no problem with an Adamic covenant). Covenants are either bilateral or unilateral that are cut by oaths sworn and include responsibilities by both parties. It appears from the text that Adam has a choice - a red pill/blue pill choice. On the one hand, Adam can refuse to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or, on the other hand, he can choose to eat of the fruit of that tree. If he refuses to eat when the temptation comes, his untested created holiness (for without holiness or some sort of innate righteousness, a man cannot have a relationship with God) becomes tested, and his relationship with God becomes based on merit - a theoretical possibility before the fall. If, however, he eats, he loses his untested created holiness/righteousness and his relationship with God is cut off because of that loss (in this sense, in a very literal way - he is physically removed from the garden - physical death is thus only a shadow of spiritual death - spiritual death is the original death).


So the test came in the form of a law - do not eat - with the unspoken promise of blessing, and the spoken promise of curse. Adam ate, and thus as the federal representative of humanity and the physical father of humanity, all men came under that curse and condemnation of death (first spiritual, and second physical). The knowledge of good and evil was experiential knowledge - whereas once man did not experience good and evil (but evidently knew what the words meant - as well as the word "death"), man had never truly experience evil (and can one understand goodness without understanding evil first? Perhaps not in our contemporary situation). Neither had mankind ever experienced death until that point. And so afterwards, mankind "knew" death. 

So what made the consumption of the plant wrong? Botanical toxins? "Bad food?" I don't think so. What made the consumption of the plant wrong was that the sovereign creator of the universe forbade mankind to eat of that plant. If I command my daughter not to eat a cookie sitting on a plate on the counter, and she chooses to eat of it, she has sinned , but it was not because the cookie was bad. In fact, the cookie itself was "good for food, and pleasant to the eyes." What made eating the cookie wrong was that father forbade the eating of the cookie - and she chose to be defiant to that law. 

paynen's picture

Although I do not think that the food of the tree was some kind of poison that gave physical death. I do think one must consider that there was some literal effect on Adam and Eve that they experienced due to its conception. I believe in granted upon them an understanding of good and bad, to where as previously all they knew was God's commandment. I think in some way God had a literal reason that they should not eat of it. It wasn't just a test. Yet it is very clear that both spiritual death and later physical death where not direct results of eating the fruit. They were a consequence of Sin. Sin can not be present with the Lord, So God had to remove them from His presence. And by God's taking away of the tree of life, which I do think granted eternal life. God allowed mortality of the human race to prevent them from experiencing eternity in a sinful state.

James K's picture

As to the original post, there were simply too many assumptions to take it as a strong positional argument.  Exegesis should rule theology, and exegesis was precious in the article.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

paynen's picture

James K wrote:

As to the original post, there were simply too many assumptions to take it as a strong positional argument.  Exegesis should rule theology, and exegesis was precious in the article.


Although I agree with you, to be fair to Dr. Bauder, one must understand that theology always works in a system. There is no complete system of theology that works together purely by exegesis. All systems have wholes in their web of the system that must be filled in based on logical reasoning and what the rest of one's system of theology congruently fits. Headship is one of those issues. Augustine was the first to seriously consider this issue and brought about the idea and need of headship based on the perceived guilt that death is a punishment forwith everyone must have guilt in order to fairly receive. Since then some form of headship has been a standard view in Church history. I believe that death being a punishment that we must have something on our account to receive is unnecessary.  Death is something passed onto us, because of our post fall genetic state. We are no longer genetically the same as the original man created. Adam and Eve died spiritually, No one sense has ever died spiritually because we are born in the state of being spiritually dead, we become spiritually alive at salvation (although still not completely restored to the original state till we receive our new bodies). The punishment was to Adam that he would become spiritually dead and because he became spiritually dead we inherited that state genetically. The same is true for physical death, except physical death was in my mind mercy that we would not have to spend eternity inside corrupt human flesh.

AJWhit's picture

Paynen wrote:

I do not think Total Depravity is a male "gene." This is kind of silly. It is complete speculation based on the perceived need to prevent the imputation of sin onto Christ.


I have often struggled with this concept myself and wondered if there really is such thing as a "sin gene" passed through the father at conception.  It seemed to make sense that in a view of inherited guilt, wherein Christ's miraculous virgin birth exempted him from being guilty of Adam's sin, that the man must by his lack of participation in Christ's conception be responsible for passing the guilt of sin to his offspring.  Even recently, Paynen and I had a conversation in person in which he asked me my understanding of original sin (which I've termed "inherited guilt" to avoid confusion with other understandings of the term "original sin"), and the supposed "sin gene" produced by the male was the exact argument I used to defend what I believed was the legitimacy of this view.  However, the bbc article to which Paynen refers us presents, in my view, potential evidence to negate such an understanding of the transmission of sin from Adam to us today.  I quickly add the article itself admits that the scientists' manipulation of female somatic cells waits to bear bona fide results (and that the bbc article was written over a decade ago with no follow-up that I'm aware of appears telling); nevertheless, I believe the transmission of guilt from Adam to present day can be explained without having to defend it this way.

In his work Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem's chapter entitled "Sin" explains the concept of inherited guilt in a way I believe remains consistent with the teaching of Scripture.  He says, "Paul explains the effects of Adam's sin in the following way . . . 'Therefore . . . sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned' (Romans 5:12).  The context shows that Paul is not talking about actual sins that people commit every day of their lives, for the entire paragraph (Rom. 5:12-21) is taken up with a comparison between Adam and Christ."  

A knowledge of Greek, according to Grudem, is helpful here, because the word for "sinned" (hemarton) is in the aorist, which within a historical narrative indicates a completed past action.  Grudem says, "Here Paul is saying that something happened and was completed in the past, namely, that 'all men sinned.' But it was not true that all men had actually committed sinful actions at the time that Paul was writing, because some had not even been born yet, and many others had died in infancy before committing any conscious acts of sin.  So Paul must be meaning that when Adam sinned, God considered it true that all men sinned in Adam" (p. 494).  I realize a tremendous amount of weight (in fact, it would seem the major thrust of such an argument) lies in this particular understanding of the term "sinned," but I believe it is compelling nonetheless.  

On a side note, I realize Paynen would disagree with Grudem's mention that infants do not commit any conscious acts of sin (a statement on which I provide no comment, though I believe Romans 9:10-11 may swing the argument into Grudem's favor), but on the flip side I would like to caution Paynen to be careful of endorsing a sort of "blank slate" conception regardless of how relatively, even infinitesimally, early the infant is able to sin in order for him to be responsible for his own, not Adam's, guilt.  This sort of view leaves open the door for the infant to die prematurely and thus be responsible for his own guilt, which may or may not be present yet (?)  John 3:18 says, "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only son of God" (ESV).  I admit one can argue that on the one hand it may be hard to prove an infant has the ability to accept or reject Jesus Christ, but on the other hand, the verse seems to make clear that one is "condemned already;"  I believe this can be understood in not just the sense of human decision but also in an ontological sense (meaning here, inherited guilt).  In other words, one is condemned not only because he has refused to believe in the name of Christ, but also because of the reality he is human and thus has been condemned from the very beginning.  It seems that Romans 9:21-23 supports this.  The verses say, "Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— (bold mine)"  These verses must be understood in light of election, in that both the vessels of wrath and the vessels of mercy were wrought in sin (Psalm 51:5 supports this view for a "vessel of mercy," King David, being wrought in sin). 

Anyway, to get back to defending inherited guilt and avoiding the issue of the "sin gene," Grudem suggests that "our legal guilt is inherited directly from Adam and not through a line of ancestors" (p. 494).  He brings up some good points to develop this statement further, but I will stop here.  I look forward to feedback!

TylerR's picture


Dr. Bauder,

For me, it has been an issue of whose sin I am responsible for. These are my thoughts:

Federal Headship holds sin to be a legal responsibility. Adam sinned, therefore the entire race is responsible for the guilt of his sin. Not our own sin - Adam's sin.

Natural Headship: “It holds that God imputes the sin of Adam immediately to all his posterity, in virtue of that organic unity of mankind by which the whole race at the time of Adams transgression existed, not individually, but seminally in him as its head" (Strong's definition). 

I take Rom 5:19 to mean that Adam's offense constitutes us as sinners, not that we are guilty for his particular sin. Adam's very nature of untested holiness was sullied by the fall, and he passed this corrupt nature onwards to his children. 

Adam was not merely a progenitor, but, as it were, a root, and that, accordingly, by his corruption, the whole human race was deservedly vitiated (Calvin). 

I also see an issue with the Federal Headship theory and the origin of the soul.

Creationism: Many Reformed folks (who likely hold to Federal Headship) would hold the creationist view of the origin of the soul. This views holds that the soul is created by God at the moment of conception. The problem for me is that this makes God responsible for the creation of sinful souls.

Tradicianism: This view sees the whole human race immediately created in Adam and physically propagated from him by natural generation.

At this point we're getting pretty deep in the weeds, but it is important. Here is my summary:

Federal Headship: Guilt imputed to whole race, souls created at conception, therefore God creates sinful souls. 

Natural Headship: Adam's sin imputed to entire race, who is the root of the whole human race. The whole race was seminally present in him, therefore this corrupt nature was merely transmitted onwards and is being transmitted still. 

Dr. McCune, for one, disagrees with the Natural headship view. I believe his Systematic has some of the more recent criticisms of the view (vol. 2, pg 74-78), particularly arguing against Strong. It is worth looking at. Interestingly, he does hold to traducianism . . . !

Interesting stuff!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

TylerR's picture


Bro. Paynen:

I am intrigued by this:

Sin's corruption of the genetic code gave us total depravity and each person a sin nature

I believe sin is tied to the soul, which is not a tangible thing to grasp hold of. Can you Scripturally tie sin to genetics, somehow? 

I am also disheartened by this:

So in short one become guilty of sin sometime between conception and the age of accountability and probably very early in that time period. Does that leave the possibility open that someone could die without sinning. It does in my view leave a very small window for death to occur before one sins within the womb, but it is impossible for one to die without a corrupt sin nature. I would also say that an individual begins sinning so early in the conception process that the time between conception and sin is almost immeasurable.

You are tying sin to action. You are assuming sin is consummated when one acts, whenever that is. Sin is not an act, it is a state of being - a nature. All people are by nature the children of wrath (Eph 2:3). Saving faith in Christ, however, transfers us from the headship of Adam to the Headship of God (Rom 6:1-14). This is quite important. Sin is a state of being - not an act. Faith transfers us from one dominion to another.

I believe you are operating on a false assumption of what sin is. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

paynen's picture

Although my view still has some questions to answer, because as far as I know I'm the only one I can find who has really thought through it, I have garnered acceptance that my view is at least legitimate. All have a sin nature regardless of God's imputation of Adam's sin.


You are right Tyler that sin is tied to the soul, but according to the traducianist view the soul is passed through genetics, so sin is still genetic.


Basically in my view what is passing on to other man is a sin nature or state of being. Yet as far as one's own personal sin actions, they are not responsible for Adam's sin. Yet one thing you did say could actually be quite helpful with my view. I do not believe infants are a blank slate as AJ said. My struggle with infants is when are they guilty of their own sin? Is the fact that we are born spiritually dead with a sin nature enough for us to merit condemnation? So for when a infant or unborn child is in existence, but has not committed his own sin, but is still spiritually dead because of the effect of total depravity on his soul? Could that be enough to condmen us? Yet by God's grace he allows all of man kind who die before they reach the age of accountability to be washed in the blood of the Lamb? Therefore those so young to be even unborn can be washed of their sin nature that condemns them even when there is no acts of sin on their account?


I rather like that thought and I will continue to meditate on it and bounce the idea off of others.


And one last issue I don't believe Christ's headship, the imputation of His righteousness, or our unity with him, has any dependency on a headship of Adam that imputes his sin on to us. In my mind Adam is our head because he is the first man. I believe that due to Adam's actions all mankind was corrupt with a sin nature that condemns all men to hell, this describes our unity in Adam as we are all men who share genetic information. All our souls were created in Adam. The fact that we are so corrupt requires the imputation of Christ in order for us to be rescued, this gives us a unity in Christ as we share in His inheritance.

TylerR's picture



You are a bright guy and I appreciate your willingness to think deeply about issues most Christians would find boring! However, I must caution you to avoid these statements:

as far as I know I'm the only one I can find who has really thought through it

You know that is not true . . .

For infant salvation, I would encourage you to read Augustus Strong's Systematic on this matter. It is old enough that you can probably find it online for free if you Google it. I have this to offer on the subject, briefly:

- Children are innocent of responsibility for their sin; in a state of untested or unconfirmed holiness in a manner similar to Adam and Eve pre-fall.

- God can work salvation even in infants (Lk 1:15)

- Some Israelites were too young to transgress before the penalty of the wanderings in the wilderness (Deut 1:39)

- God had mercy on Nineveh infants and possibly the mentally handicapped (Jonah 4:11)

- Infants are guilty in Adam, yet innocent of responsibility. They display naiveté in moral matters

- How can infants be judged according to deeds they haven’t committed? (Mt 16:27; Rev 20:12). They are certainly guilty, but in a state of innocence.

- David’s belief he would see his infant son again (2 Sam 12:22-23) compared with his inconsolable grief over Absolom’s treachery and death (2 Sam 18:33).

Finally, I offer a remark or two on this:

And one last issue I don't believe Christ's headship, the imputation of His righteousness, or our unity with him, has any dependency on a headship of Adam that imputes his sin on to us

I believe you mis-understand me. Rom 6 is not talking about a mere change of intellectual disposition - it is speaking of a complete change of nature. It is discussing positional sanctification, a forensic standing with God, in a manner almost identical to justification. Union with Christ, via the indwelling Holy Spirit, is the grounds for positional sanctification. It is the mark or guarantee of this new standing before God. That is why I emphasized that in Christ we are transferred to different owners - Satan to God. Anybody who iis not part of the body of Christ remains under the dominion of Satan. That is why infants are sinful - it is not an act, it is a natural state. An overt act is merely the practical outworking of a rebellious disposition which already existed. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

DavidO's picture

Infants are guilty in Adam, yet innocent of responsibility.

For as in Adam, all die . . .

. . . Death passed upon all men . . .

Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

 . . . except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.


I don't see how those passages allow for temporary "saved' status for infants.


I do see how Luke 1:15 allows for a sovereign God to impart faith to one we might never suspect could possess it. 

TylerR's picture



I don't see how those passages allow for temporary "saved' status for infants

My apologies - I was speaking of salvation of infants who die. My fault.


Regarding the salvation of infants who die:

I admit this is a logical deduction from the facts, some of which I presented briefly above. I find it compelling that we are all judged for our works in the end, yet infants do not commit any "bad deeds" to be held accountable for. In this manner, they are guilty yet innocent of personal responsibility. I compared it to pre-fall Adam. I also cited a few instances where God shows divine forbearance on account of infants too little to be held personally responsible for their sinful nature.

I believe it is a logical deduction that God is gracious to save those little ones before the age of accountability, whenever that is. I believe it is different for each individual person, and only God knows when this is. 

I confess it is a deduction, not a clear cut case. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

paynen's picture

Thanks Tyler. Just a couple things, when I said That as far as I know I'm the only one who has thought this view through, I was talking about my denial of the imputation of Adams guilt to his descendents without denying of total depravity. I have been thinking through my position for about 3 years. I was uncomfortable with the Imputation views of headship and begin studying the passages and theology behind it. I began comparing it with pelegian, arminian, and other similar views. I came to a realization that what all the views had in common they all combined imputed guilt with total depravity and sin nature. With the imputed guilt views accepting the whole package and the other views denying the whole package. I then wondered if that was actually necessary or not. I began speaking with my professors and found that it wasn't. Ryrie makes a clear presentation of that in his Basic Theology. Over the past couple years developing my view and bouncing it off others. I've scoured the internet for people who have discussed similar views, as well as asking our local church historian professor if there were any similar views he knew of, both without luck. That is what I meant by that statement, not anything about views of infants in heaven. My discussion of that was just based on how that ties into my view.

as far as the second part, I don't think I misunderstood you. I agree with everything you said, my point was that everything you just said is not dependent on the imputation of Adam's sin. Some have attempted to claim that I am denying our unity in Christ and our state of being before God after salvation as well as many of the other things you discussed, because I am denying the imputation of Adam's sin. My point was the connection of imputation of Christ's righteousness is not dependent on imputation of Adam's sin.

I apologize for being confusing with the discussion of infant salvation. I am primarily discussing my views on headship, and the inclusion of infant salvation issues is only a important tangent due to how my views on headship effect that issue. I will try to be a bit more clear from this point to distinct tangential issues from the discussion at hand.

TylerR's picture


You wrote:

I was uncomfortable with the Imputation views of headship and begin studying the passages and theology behind it. I began comparing it with pelegian, arminian, and other similar views. I came to a realization that what all the views had in common they all combined imputed guilt with total depravity and sin nature. With the imputed guilt views accepting the whole package and the other views denying the whole package. 

I want to understand you. Could you explain your view, perhaps using bullet points or something similar? If your paragraphs get too long, I can't follow! I don't understand your position at all right now. Try for a single summary statement each on (1) imputation and (2) sin and go from there!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

paynen's picture

I will put together a more formal positional post , I am currently posting from my phone due to absence from my PC. I may also just post a new thread, as I think I've already hijacked this thread more then I should.

paynen's picture

I will put together a more formal positional post , I am currently posting from my phone due to absence from my PC. I may also just post a new thread, as I think I've already hijacked this thread more then I should.

TylerR's picture


Imputation of sin is germane to this thread. Just keep it here. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

AJWhit's picture


I apologize for misrepresenting what I termed your "blank slate" view.  I reread your passage at the top and now understand you to mean that we have inherited a sinful nature from Adam, and thus experience total depravity, but that this does not necessarily mean we are guilty of Adam's sin.  This is far from the "morally neutral" state of existence I suggested.  I echo Tyler's thoughts and think you should give a summary statement of your position.  I too am finding it challenging to follow.

I would also like to encourage you to use more Scripture to support your view.  It becomes difficult if not impossible to evaluate these statements, or any statements, if they are not connected to verses.

I just have one question: How would you explain Romans 5:12, "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned—"?  Can the "all sinned" genuinely be understood only in terms of total depravity which we inherit through Adam, or must it encompass something beyond that?  When did "all sin?"  If we accept your position that we are not guilty of Adam's sin, this verse can only mean that at some point in our depravity all of us will have eventually sinned, and thus be held accountable.  Can this meaning be understood in the text?  I am not trying to lead you, but I am sincerely interested in how you would develop this thought.

TylerR's picture


I'm not following your remarks on total depravity. Perhaps we're talking past one another. Total depravity refers to the extent we are effected by sin. Here is my definition:

Total Depravity: Man, in his fallen state, is totally depraved and dead in trespasses and sin (Eph 2:1-9), in willful rebellion against God (Rom 1:18-32) and unrighteous before God (Rom 3:9-20; Eph 4:17-19). Total depravity does not suggest man is incapable of noble, charitable or valiant acts, but merely that there is absolutely nothing meritorious in man’s fallen state that God can find pleasure in or accept. 

This is the linchpin for really understanding the grace of God in salvation.  

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

AJWhit's picture

Yes, that's how I understand total depravity.  Personally, I would add the idea that every part of man's nature has been corrupted by sin: his thoughts (Romans 1:28), his heart (Jeremiah 17:9), his will (Proverbs 14:12), etc., so that man is utterly incapable of coming to God through any part of his being, but anything beyond what you have adequately mentioned is unnecessary to develop for the discussion.

Basically, I am trying to understand how Paynen interprets Romans 5:12 apart from the "all sinned" meaning we were physically in Adam when he sinned, and thus sinned with him and must face the same consequence for sin that he did: death.  

In trying to see this from Paynen's perspective, it would seem that the "all sinned" can only mean that our inevitable choice to sin, manifested by way of our total depravity, will lead us to do exactly that: sin.  This hopeless condition of ours is what brings about the consequence of death, not our guilt tied into Adam.  (If I am misrepresenting Paynen, I hope he will correct me)

However, according to this verse, I am arguing that death is a result of our guilt of original sin (we participated with Adam), while Paynen must argue that death is simply a result of our inherited sin nature from Adam, a nature which is most clearly pictured in our total depravity.  I am not against this view per se (I am not exactly sure how it can be defended biblically), but I would like to see how Paynen might develop it.  He must, however, begin with an explanation of the "all sinned."

paynen's picture

Hey, guys I was not next to my PC all day, but here it goes.



First off the simplest way for me to describe my view is to say I believe in Natural Headship without imputed guilt. Now I will look at some Scriptural Issue, Logical/Theological Issues, and Implications.


• First off there are only two passages that really support Imputed Guilt are the very last sliver of Romans 5:12 and the passage in Hebrews 7. As many of those who believe in Natural Headship already throw this verse out as it tends to just muttle up the issue due to the needed exclusivity of Adam's imputation.
• "For all have sinned" The Greek words: Epi = for, Pas = All, Hamartano = Have sinned, the words literally translated say For All Sin (Aorist). Hamartano could potentially be translated Have become sinners. Not over a period of time, but at a certain point. It is usually not translated that way, but it is within the possibility of the word's translation. This also fits along with verse 19 which says have become sinners, or were made sinners. Although it does use different Greek words to do so.
• But in all reality that is not proof for anything, it just helps to muttle up the whole interpretation of Romans 5. Which in my mind makes sense. Paul was trying to explain the effects of Adam's sin (which those of us who believe in Traducianism that would make sense. The effect of sin was upon every aspect of the human race and those effects where passed on through genetics. This would be difficult for even an inspired Paul from the New Testament age to completely understand let alone explain it to others. (Scripture still infallible just not readily clear to our limited sinful minds) So because of the level of confusion let us pull out one of the most important rules of exegesis and that is to interpret difficult passages of scripture with more clear ones.
• Scripture is very clear that we are not responsible or guilty of our ancestors. Ezekiel 18:20 specifically says that we will not be guilty of our ancestors' sins.
• Now many say that we were all in Adam when he sinned and therefore in someway had personal responsibility in Adam's sin. I think this is a difficult conclusion to come to for two reasons. 1 Romans 5 really isn't clear enough to get that idea. 2. Almost all theologians who hold the view of imputed guilt find that this is the only case it happens. (why many throw out Hebrews 7) For example My children are not responsible for all my sin even though all my ancestors are in me. This is in my mind an inconsistency that is illogical to who God is.
• Clearly a majority of this view is based in logical conclusions based on the need for us to have guilt for the punishment of death, but in the next section I will discuss several logical reasons why that is not needed

• Many have a presupposition that imputed guilt is inseparably connected to total depravity and a sin nature. This is not so. I will not discuss it here but one can read Ryrie's "Basic Theology" if they wish to see anything on that. So this does not require us to be Pelegians if we deny imputed guilt.
• Let us return to Romans 5 for a second and contemplate what it means to be a sinner. Tyler discussed earlier that sin is not only an action, but also a state of being. When Adam sinned it is clear that the rest of the human race would be effected by this, total depravity and a sin nature comes on the scene (I believe your discussion of total depravity and sin nature as far as defining them are sufficient so I will not discuss them here.) Lets for a second hold the presupposition that I am correct and that Adam's sin is not imputed. Well we were still all genetically changed at the point of Adam's sin. Adam was now spiritually dead and this trait would be passed onto all his children. We were now at that point all sinners. Not because of any action, but because that was our state of being. (If you were born in Argentina, you would be at the point of birth an Argentinean even though you have yet to make any action proving your Argentineanness, so since we were conceived in the state of sin, we are conceived as sinners without having made any action proving our sinfulness)  We all had a sin nature and were all totally depraved even though we did not yet exist as a human being. All men have become or were made sinners.
• So can those who die without their own person sin on their account go to heaven? I would say no. As they still have a corrupt sin nature/soul. Everyone regardless of the sin on their account has fallen short of the glory of God. They have a sin nature and are incapable of entering into the presence of a Holy God without the washing of the blood of Jesus Christ. (This is where the tangential discussion of where infants go when they die comes in.)
• One of the primary arguments I have heard for the NEED of imputed guilt is because we have to have some reason for a just God to deliver us the punishment of death. Yet, we are not being punished for anything. We are born into a spiritually dead state. The punishment of spiritual death of the human race is on Adam and Adam alone. Yet sin doesn’t happen in a bubble. It is clear throughout scripture that those around people who sin often face hardships and difficulties relating to other’s sin. Genesis 49 we see that as punishment for their actions against those who raped Dinah, Simeon and Levi would not get inheritance in the land. This causes the scattering of their decedents throughout the land. It works in reverse as well. As due to the Levites standing with Moses after the golden calf episode in exodus they were awarded with the priesthood which was then extended to their decedents.
• Death is also not only a negative thing that we all face. Separation from God is surely better then fellowship with him in a sinful state. His holiness would be like a burning fire. Physical death is necessary because eternity in decrepit and corrupt bodies would not be merciful.

• Basically when all is said and done you really just end up with the traditional natural headship view minus imputed guilt. Most practical out workings are pretty much the same. I feel the view is much more consistent with Scripture, God’s character, and just logic all around.
• We must also remember that as much arguing done about Natural Headship we still don’t have any additional information or support about it since Augustine. Everything we have today so far is basically the same stuff that Augustine had. Most other areas of theology have at least grown in the understanding of the doctrine and usually have changed over the years as we come to better understandings of God and the world around us.
• The only other thing this majorly effects is the doctrine of Infant salvation, which we’ve discussed.
• Another thing this helps with is with this view you don’t have to answer the doctrine of imputation of Adam’s sin effect Christ. If no one was had Adam’s sin imputed Christ didn’t either. But it is clear that Christ’s body was effected by total depravity, even though His deity destroyed the sin nature He would of inherited, the other areas of His humanness were still affected to some extent.

I think that is the extent of everything for now. I would eventually like to write an article about it. I look forward to your thoughts on the theory.



paynen's picture

Sorry, it is not much of a Summary Statement except in perhaps the first and last line, but I tried to make it organized and complete as I could at this time.


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