Cain’s Apostasy and the Edenic Covenant

Genesis 3:15 would have given Adam hope that mankind would be given a redeemer because of his sin for all of humanity. It is in Genesis chapter three where the beginning of a number of major Old Testament themes begin, which are heavily talked about, written on, spoken of, and debated time and time again (such as the themes mentioned in this introduction). But by Genesis chapter four, the theme of apostasy roots itself deeply into the history of mankind, and from then on would never leave man alone. From this point on, every time God would make a covenant with man, man would then continue to break covenant with God constantly throughout Old Testament history.

By Genesis four, just years after the fall of man, comes a lineage of mankind that would plunge into following the way of Cain; that is, apostasy. As mentioned before, Dr. Herion makes his argument that God did not accept Cain’s offering simply because it was from the ground which God had cursed.[1] Like Dr. Herion, other scholars either forget, or simply do not use, the Old Testament’s commentary—the New Testament.[2] Unlike Dr. Herion’s reasoning, or anyone else’s reasoning, ideas, thoughts, or studies, the writer of the book of Hebrews has already answered Dr. Herion’s so-called profound question, “Why did God reject Cain’s offering?”[3] Dr. Herion and many Old Testament scholars miss Cain’s apostasy because they seemingly think it is not permissible to use what has been given to us in the New Testament. Like many issues and theological themes which begin in the Old Testament, the New Testament helps shed light on answering the many questions that arose over 6,000 years before it. If one was to ask such a question like Dr. Herion did—“Why did God reject Cain’s offering?—what would your answer be? Would you look only at that text? Would you only look at that book of the Bible? Or would you look at what is spoken of Cain’s life? To such a question, I can think of two passages that are helpful to answer it: Hebrews 11:1-7 and 1 John 3:12. The writer of Hebrews states in 11:1-7:

“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 Dr. 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 Dr. Herion’s question. How Dr. Herion, or anyone for that matter, 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. This is why Cain is the first apostate in history. With parents of the covenant, he was born and raised into the covenant that God had made with Adam, in which Cain left, and did not have faith in.

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 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 that 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 of the book of 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. Likewise, we see 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.

Here is it important to mention that Genesis 4 is not shedding light into why the sacrifice was not accepted, as it is written more for the pivotal point that the line of the wicked (Cain) and the line of The Lord’s people (Seth) was split. However, God did not let the question go unanswered; for when the history of redemption is reviewed by the writer of the book of Hebrews, as we saw earlier, the answer is clearly because Cain did not have faith. In this, not only does the writer of Hebrews destroy Dr. Herion’s theory/idea, but so does Genesis 3:14. Dr. 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 Dr. Herion, or anyone else that agrees with his view, not see that both the animals and the ground were cursed? And that even more so, the animals were above everything else? If Dr. 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.

It was Cain that had no faith in his sacrifice of “the fruit of the ground,” that would be honoring to the LORD. Even Cain himself knew from the beginning of his sacrifice that his fruit would have never been acceptable to the LORD. This shows his lack of faith; faith that one day a redeemer would come to save mankind, which was promised to his father Adam. As Genesis 4:3-4 says, “And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.” Because Cain did not have faith that a redeemer—Christ—would come to save humanity, his individual apostasy became corporate apostasy that not only affected himself, but his lineage and his land in Nod.

The other text in the New Testament that sheds light upon Cain’s apostasy is 1 John 3:12, which says, “We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.” Describing Cain as being “of the evil one” (that is, Satan) clearly shows us that Cain was a follower of Satan and therefore an apostate of the LORD. As John writes to his audience and describes to them what they are to avoid, he does not explain that Cain’s offering was cursed because it was from the ground, or that he happened to not know what to offer the LORD. Rather, John deliberately describes Cain as evil, and that his deeds which were not acceptable to the LORD are not what a Christian is to follow.  Thus, we are left with two major conclusions about Cain’s apostasy: One, he had no faith (Hebrews 11:4); and two, his intentions were nothing but evil before the LORD through the murder of his brother and as he never asked for forgiveness (1 John3:12).

[1] Herion, “Why God Rejected Cain’s Offering: The Obvious Answer,*” pp. 52-54.

[2] I use the New Testament to help interpret the Old Testament for three reasons: 1. Jesus Christ did in the gospels, 2. The New Testament writers, namely Paul, did in his theology, and 3. Simply, I’m a Christian and evangelical, so I must.

[3] Herion, “Why God Rejected Cain’s Offering: The Obvious Answer,*” pp. 52.


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