One theory of the Fall suggests that Adam was our representative in Eden, and that we therefore share the guilt for his sin. There are, however, some very natural questions that can be raised here: what authority Adam had to represent us and how he came by that authority is mysterious; we might also doubt whether the notion of representation on which the theory relies makes any sense at all.

The analogy of the government of a democracy representing its electorate has been offered in an attempt to elucidate the representation by Adam of all of humanity. When a government acts, it acts for the people. When a government declares war, it is the whole country, not just parliament, that enters into battle.

This analogy, though, is not especially helpful. It is reasonable to think that the government’s power to represent its citizens, such that it has, is grounded in the consent of the majority of the electorate, yet none of us consented to be represented by Adam. If the authority were not grounded in consent, then a ruling despot would be acting for his people just as much as a ruling president. This, though, would be in breach of the principle that we can only be held responsible for things that we control. The people of a despotic regime, unlike those of a democracy, have no control over who rules them, and so cannot be held responsible for their ruler. Whatever the means by which Adam is thought to have gained the authority to act for us, then, it is not the means by which a democratically elected government gains the power to represent its people; Adam was not elected.

More importantly, even governments do not have the degree of power of representation that must be attributed to Adam to make sense of our inheriting his guilt in this way. When elected officials act badly we feel angry. If, though, elected officials represent us as this theory holds that Adam represented us, then we ought not to feel anger but shame, for we share the responsibility for the actions of our governors.

The only real alternative to this foundation for the notion of representation is the idea that Adam was a representative sample of mankind, that as he sinned, so it was demonstrated that each one of us would also have sinned had we been in Adam’s place. Strictly speaking, this theory does not transfer one sin to many people, but instead convicts each of us of our own hypothetical sin. As we would sin, given the chance, we stand convicted as if we had done so. Again, though, this is problematic. A hypothetical sin is not a sin at all, and we cannot be condemned for what we have not done.