Biblical Headship (01) - Adam and Christ
In the Bible the concept of “head” in a metaphorical, symbolic and typological sense is pervasive in Scripture. For example, from the very first mention of the promise of a Redeemer in Genesis 3:15 (the “protoevangelium”) we have the thought that Christ will crush the “head” of the serpent, Satan. This passage is actually the first use of the word “head.” But then throughout the text we have references to the representative and symbolic aspects of “head.” Leviticus 1:4 and other similar texts give the example of the worshiper who “shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, that it may be accepted for him to make atonement on his behalf.” The animal’s head becomes the focal point of the transfer of guilt. In Numbers 1:4, we find the concept in the family, “head of his father’s household.” In Deuteronomy 28:13 Israel is promised that they will be made “the head and not the tail ... if you listen to the commandments of the LORD your God.” In Joshua there is a more explicit development of the headship-related idea of responsibility: “his blood shall be on his own head . . . but anyone who is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head if a hand is laid on him” (Josh. 2:19).
Certainly much more could be adduced from the OT examples and the many references. But it is clear that leadership, authority, responsibility and position are all plain in the metaphorical uses of the word “head” (rosh in Hebrew). It is not surprising given this literary and conceptual background that in the NT Christ repeatedly is referred to as the “Head” (Greek: kephale) of the Church. Colossians 1:18, 2:10 - “He is also head of the body, the church ... and He is the head over all rule and authority.” But this Headship is not limited to the spiritual and invisible realm. It is paralleled in the world of marriage and family: 1 Corinthians 11:3 - “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.” Ephesians 5:23 - “For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church.”
Therefore, the themes that relate to headship are such matters as representation, imputation, guilt, condemnation, authority, succession, role distinctions, covenant mediation, responsibility and culpability. I realize these are all somewhat abstract concepts but they are very “real world” matters. Whenever a kid says “it’s not my fault” or a person in a uniform does something in terms of his or her office we are in the realm of the doctrine of headship. Whenever a wife says, “let me check with my husband,” - whenever a child says, “I need to talk to my dad first” (which should be a constant phrase of all teen daughters), whenever a husband signs a legal document in a family matter -- all of these are applications of the biblical concept of headship.
This biblical idea of leadership, specifically “headship” applies to marriage, raising children, and the church, and many aspects of society. We will begin getting the concept of headship by considering Creation, Fall and Redemption. The most important example of headship is the representative, covenantal headship of Adam and the last Adam, Jesus Christ which is highlighted in Romans 5:12ff. Paul draws three parallels between the representation of Adam and Christ: 1) What is “imputed” or charged from the obedience of each, 2) What such “obedience” “earns” (condemnation or justification), 3) What results from this: death or life.
Romans 5:12–19: Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned ... So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. 5:19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.
This passage moves from the Fall to the Future, from Creation to New Creation, from Death to Life. It starts with sin reigning and ends with the life “of the age to come.” Paul explains that “just as sin entered the world through one man [Fall of Adam] ... so death spread to all people because all sinned” (5:12). All sinned in Adam because we are included in the Adamic covenant of death. Just under the surface of the water here is Isaiah 53. The Suffering Servant “Israel” will “make many righteous, and bear their iniquities” (Is. 53:11ff). “But the gracious gift is not lik
Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D., is the pastor of All Saints Church in Lancaster, PA. He became a committed follower of Jesus Christ at age 20, discipled in the context of a University Navigator Ministry. As a result of personal discipleship he went on to study at Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.A., Columbia, SC, 1990), as well as a Ph.D. in education and philosophy... read more