My Response to Dr. Gary Herion’s Article on Why God Rejected Cain’s OfferingPosted: February 18, 2010
You can read Dr. Herion’s Article: Gary A. Herion “Why God Rejected Cain’s Offering: The Obvious Answer,*” Fortunate the Eyes that See: Essays in Honor of David Noel Freedman In celebration of His Seventieth Birthday, ed. Astrid B. Beck, Andrew H. Bartelt, Paul R. Raabe, and Chris A. Franke. (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1995), pp. 52-65.
Gary A. Herion is a professor of Religious Studies in the Humanities Department at Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York. Herion teaches on a number of different levels at The Hartwick College Religion Department; ranging from Introduction courses such as Understanding Religion and Introduction to the Bible; Intermediate courses such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament and New Testament; to several Advanced courses like Jesus in Myth, Tradition and History, Hebrew Storytelling, The Prophets of Israel, and Paul’s New Testament Writings. Herion has also contributed to two well-known books in his field (and editing one of them): The Anchor Bible Dictionary published by Doubleday in 1992, and Ancient Israel’s Faith and History: An Introduction to the Bible in Context, published by Westminster John Knox Press in 2001. However, it is the book that Herion contributed to in 1995, published by Eerdmans, entitled, Fortunate the Eyes that See: Essays in Honor of David Noel Freedman In celebration of His Seventieth Birthday that caught my eye while reading it. In this book, Herion wrote an article entitled “Why God Rejected Cain’s Offering: The Obvious Answer.*” It is in this article that Herion defends his belief that the rejection of Cain’s offering was simply because it was from the ground.
Amongst his vast field of religious studies, Herion spent some time studying under David Freedman during his graduate work, and was also his coworker on the Anchor Bible Dictionary. His involvement in so many areas – from introduction courses of religion, to teaching both the Old and New Testament full-time, to in-depth classes about the Torah, the Gospel, Jesus, and the prophets – seems to me, vast as the ocean. Although he is so knowledgeable in such a variety of fields, this particular article is focused upon the field of Old Testament Biblical Theology, and he wrote it not from the angle of a Jew or Christian, but simply a scholar of the Holy Bible. However, doing so, he lacks one of the major important presumptions that Christians carry when coming to Old Testament biblical theology—that is, using the New Testament to help interpret the Old Testament. Herion seems to use the Old Testament alone when dealing with God, and because of that he is somewhat mislead in his view of the character of God and the theology of the Old Testament because he does not allow the whole of the Canon to speak for how God works with mankind. This is easily seen in his article “Why God Rejected Cain’s Offering,” because the answer to this question does not lay in the Old Testament, but rather in the New Testament where God later revealed it.
Herion breaks down his defense—that the ground was the reason why Cain’s offering was not accepted—by looking at what he calls the thematic elements in the text. This includes looking at the man, soil, and the geography of Eden in Genesis 2; the fate of the man and the soil in Genesis 3; Cain, Abel, and the soil in Genesis 4; and Noah and the soil in Genesis 5, 8, and 9. Herion’s reason behind breaking his article down in such sections is to prove and give his explanation to the question which is the title of his article: “Why God Rejected Cain’s Offering.” Herion begins his article stating the problem of there being no answer in the given text of the narrative in Genesis 4. Although this may be true of the text, it is not true of the whole Canon. He takes the stand that Genesis 4 does not give an answer, but the surrounding texts make “The Obvious Answer” clear to the reader. Herion then goes from identifying what he thinks is a problem (God giving no answer to Cain), to then defending his own answer to it, gleaning from Genesis 3, 5, 8, and 9. Herion tries to show how the ground being cursed in Genesis 3:17-19 is the “obvious answer.” From here he then looks to the post chapters (after Genesis 4), dealing with why the flood came and the affects in Genesis 8 and 9—that is, how the ground has affected that before God’s sight. Although some of what he says is true, he still misses the fact that it is not simply because of the ground’s curse, because did not the animals have a curse as well? The article tries its best to contribute to his mentor and friend in an area in which people are restless in finding reasons in Genesis 4 only; however, overall, the article is a laugh at best.
If one was to write an article that was to be a contribution to a 600-page book for my 70th birthday, I would be quite thrilled and honored. However, if one did so with their theological conclusion in the article being dead-wrong, I wouldn’t be very happy, nor would I even want the article to be “in honor” of me. Herion titles his article, “Why God Rejected Cain’s Offering: The Obvious Answer*” and it is that subtitle that is the biggest problem of his article. I, like Herion, think the answer of “Why God Rejected Cain’s Offering” is very “obvious” as well, but somehow did not come up with the same “answer.” But then it was the “*” that caught my attention when skimming down through the different articles in the table of contents.
Mr. Herion begins his article defending the “*” in his title. He starts by saying,
“It may seem arrogant to subtitle an article, “The Obvious Answer.” Indeed, if there remain any great unanswered questions in biblical studies, surely on of them has been: “Why did God reject Cain’s offering?” If the answer to this question is obvious, why have scholars during the past two millennia not seen it?”
Yes, it is very arrogant to subtitle your article “The Obvious Answer,*” but it is even more so ignorance than arrogance to say, “if there remain any great unanswered questions in biblical studies, surely one of them has been: “Why did God reject Cain’s offering?”” The last time I checked, the answer was given crystal clear by God Himself to the writer of the letter to the Hebrews in chapter 11 to the very question Herion addresses. Hebrews 11:1-7 states;
“11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 11:2 For by it the people of old received their commendation. 11:3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.11:4 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. 11:5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. 11:7 By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.”
Although the answer to Herion’s question is found mainly in verse four (“By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain”), it is important to see the overall focus of the whole passage, and to notice how exactly Hebrews 11 sheds light on answering Herion’s question. How Herion cannot see clearly why God did not accept Cain’s offering is beyond me. The writer here says explicitly, “Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain;” but why is it more acceptable? The answer is given in the beginning of the verse—“By faith.” So it was because of Abel’s “faith” that God accepted his sacrifice, and it was by Cain having no faith that God did not accept his offering. Any other answer contrary to that, which is given here in Hebrews 11:4, is false and should not be accepted.
We see in Hebrews 11:1 that those who had faith also had their assurance in the things to come. In 11:2 we see the author shedding more light on the center of the passage (faith), stating that it is by faith that one has their assurance of the things hoped for; or on the other hand, receives their condemnation by not having faith. In 11:3 we see that God created everything not out of a matter, but out of non-matter, and it is the faith of the person that leads to understanding such truth. Following this, the first example the author of Hebrews has for us in 11:4 is that of Cain and Abel’s offerings telling us that God accepted Abel’s because of his faith, and that he was commended as righteous and his gifts were accepted. To what kind of faith Abel had, the author does not leave room for more questions or multiple answers. In every way the faith which Abel had was a saving faith; and through this faith, he still speaks. In summary, the acceptance of the offering was evidence of God’s acceptance of the person, which “still speaks.” The story of Abel’s faith as recorded in the Bible, still speaks to generation after generation, and still to this day. This mention of Abel’s faith indicates that from the very outset of human history, some Old Testament figures were saved by means of faith in a sacrifice, which was a foreshadowing to the future sacrifice of Christ. This is why I made mention to reading not only Hebrews 11:4, but all of Hebrews 11:1-7. The author Hebrews reminds his readers by saying, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The question is not merely “Why God rejected Cain’s offering,” but “What saved Abel?” What saved Abel was his faith in giving his sacrifice, as a foreshadowing of the coming sacrifice of Jesus Christ. To answer Herion’s question, it is because Cain did not have faith—that is, faith of a coming sacrifice for mankind to which he would have known from his covenant parents Adam and Eve.
However, what is even more provoking than claiming that the question does not have an answer, is Herion’s statement, “I do not claim to have found the answer myself.” Really, if you do not know the answer or claim to, than why write a 13-page article, giving 4 proofs to defend the answer? And on top of that, why subtitle the article “The Obvious Answer” when you said you “do not claim to have found the answer.” Herion goes on in the article to describe the event which shed light on answering his question when a first year student at Hartwick College asked him the very question, “Why did God reject Cain’s offering?” He answered like always, “the text really does not tell us.” My response to that is simply that the text in Genesis 4 is not shedding light into why the sacrifice was not accepted, as it is more to the pivotal point in which the line of wicked (Cain) and the line of Seth (The Lord’s people) spilt. However, God did not let the question go unanswered; for when the history of redemption is reviewed by the writer of Hebrews, as we saw, the answer is clearly because Cain did not have faith.
Herion then gives the reason why it is he wrote the article saying that a student said out-loud one day in his class, “I thought it was because of Cain offered produce from the ground, which in the preceding chapter had been cursed by God.” Herion says to that, “he was delighted to encounter the haggadic tradition… This confirmed my suspicion that the solution is indeed so obvious and simple that either an American high school graduate or a medieval Jewish exegete could apprehend it.” Just before, Herion stated that he did “not claim to have found the answer,” and yet he nevertheless continues to defend his position that the lexical and thematic elements in namely Genesis 4 (but also throughout Genesis chapters 3 to 9) give us the “obvious answer” to why God rejected Cain’s offering. Herion makes mention that “viewing the curse in this way, we have glossed over the effect that the curse had on the character who pronounced it – God,” thus setting the stage for what he planned to defend in his four sections mentioned before.
In this, not only does the writer of Hebrews destroy Herion’s idea, but so does Genesis 3:14. Herion is arguing the whole time that the ground was cursed in Genesis 3:17-19; yet in Genesis 3:14 the animals were cursed also. Genesis 3:14 reads, “The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.” Did Herion not see that both the animals and the ground were cursed, yet the animals were above everything else? If Herion’s argument were to exist, wouldn’t have Abel’s sacrifice not been accepted either? For both were cursed at the fall of mankind. When seeing this, that all of creation at man’s fall was cursed—mankind, animals, and the ground—then only the writer of Hebrews’ answer stands: that Cain was without faith in his sacrifice, and because of that, God did not, nor would he ever, allow any sacrifice.