The origin of the soul.
Understanding the gospel through the headship of Adam.
A question which has likely evaded the evangelical vernacular is that of the origination of the soul of man. How is the human soul passed on between succeeding generations? This question is intimately connected with a similar query as to mankind’s culpability in the tragic sin of Adam. Was his transgression universal or individual, figurative or representative? The nature of this conundrum concerning man’s soul is associated with the vital doctrine of original sin.
The orthodox position is that Adam’s sin is pervasive, permeating every fiber of every human being since that cataclysmic afternoon in Eden. However, even within that theological paradigm, there are two prevailing perspectives which seek to explain mankind’s culpability and responsibility, that is, (1) federal headship and (2) natural headship. As Millard J. Erickson explains in his work on Christian Theology, both of these views contain a biblical basis for their proposed solution to the problem of Adam’s sin and its connection with the rest of humanity.
According to the federal headship perspective, human beings are regarded as corrupt, guilty, and culpable because Adam, who was ordained by God to serve as mankind’s incorporated representative, likewise, fell into corruption. This view is rooted in a predominantly creationist view of the human soul, which asserts that while human beings inherit their physical nature from their parents, the human soul is created by God. Adam, then, is not so much humanity’s father as he is humanity’s stand-in. The parallels between this perspective and the hope of the gospel are compelling, considering both are beholden to the notion of imputation, the former of original sin and the latter of righteousness.
However, according the view proposed under the heading of natural headship, human beings were, in a way, in germinal form “in” Adam. There is, therefore, a natural basis for the assertion that man is corrupt, guilty, and culpable because, in essence, man was there at the moment sin intruded into the created order. “Thus, it was not merely Adam but humans who sinned,” Erickson concludes (581). This perspective is informed by the traducianist understanding of the human soul, which says that human beings receive their souls from their parents, just like they do their physical nature. Consequently, as “sons of Adam” and “daughters of Eve,” human beings are the inheritors of the same nature which threw creation into chaos, as are every generation to come.
It would seem that while the federal headship perspective holds water in the metaphorical sense, its metaphysics do not seem to be supported by Scripture. Case in point, if God is still in the business of creating souls, this would appear to contradict the scriptural statement that his creative initiative was finished “on the seventh day,” on which “he rested . . . from all his work that he had done” (Gen. 2:2; cf. Exod. 20:11; Heb. 4:4). The view which composites natural headship and traducianism would assert that God’s action of forming man from the dust of the ground and breathing “into his nostrils the breath of life” was a unique action within creation, with the living soul of human beings being passed and propagated in every subsequent generation since (Gen. 1:28; 2:7; cf. Acts 17:26). This would seem to correspond with the rest of Scripture, especially Romans 5, which maintains that the woeful results of sin and death have “spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12–13; cf. Ps. 51:5; 1 Cor. 15:22; Eph. 2:3). And, accordingly, humanity is primed in collective desperation for the Second Adam’s triumphant reversal of the first’s fall.
Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2013).