Cain’s Apostasy

Let me invite you to turn in your Bibles to Genesis 4. For those that were not with us last week, my name is Michael Dewalt and will be teaching for the next 4-weeks on a biblical theme called, apostasy. I want to go back to deal with one question that I felt during the week was not covered as well as I should have. I will do so briefly now, then we will come back to the reading of Genesis 4, and get into this weeks lesson/lecture. The question was asked last week how an apostate and a heretic were different and if they are? I had in my mind define heretic according to the following, “Opinion or doctrine not in line with the accepted teaching of a church; the opposite of orthodoxy.”[1]

I am going to continue with what I believe to be the correct definition of a heretic[2] and spend the next five minutes in trying to explain its relationship with apostasy. However this can be done in two ways.

  1. Church/confessional heresy – which I was focusing upon last week.
  2. Damnable heresy – which Drew made mention of last week.

Let me give you one example #1 of what some of them would say is a heretic.

  • Belgic Confession says X, Y, Z. –> you disagree with X –> Your dismissed form the Denomination.

However you can see that although one may disagree with one confessional issue, he is still yet not an apostate. Last week when asked the question, this was what I had thought of because of a few friends who have dealt most recently with their churches over these issues – this however is not what I believe to be a true heretic.

A heretic is a person believing in or practicing religious heresy that is contrary to what makes up the gospel and he is damnable for it. It is a person holding to a view, doctrine, theology that is at odds of what is Biblical. So let’s take a look once again quickly at what this would look like remembering what Owen said about apostasy last week. (o) The center being the gospel, and the outside ring being the rest of the doctrines which make up the Christian faith.

  • Person #1 –> denies virgin birth –> he is a heretic of the denom. & an apostate
  • Person #2 –> denies male eldership and demands his wife becomes an elder –> is a heretic of the OPC denom. –> not an apostate…
  • Person #3 –> denies sub. Atonement, is he a heretic, is he an apostate?
  • Person #4 –> denies the singing of hymns, is he a heretic, is he an apostate?

Why is person #1 an apostate – Because he denies the essential truths, which make up the gospel? Remember Owens views of apostasy -To deny that which makes up the gospel. Can one still be a believer and believe women eldership is okay? Yes.

How does this differ from being an apostate? Remember apostasy is a larger picture of leaving the Christian faith. It encompasses false teachers, ignorant people of the gospel, false religions that claim to know God, and heretics that believe in false doctrine that changes the gospel. It is important to understand that a heretic is just a form of apostasy, like a false teacher. I hope I have help explained this better. We are going to move on and I will keep that question and answer time for us at the end like last week, and I will plan to do so every week for us to have discussion and work out our thoughts with one another.

Now go ahead and please follow along as I read from Genesis 4. Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.” And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”

Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the LORD said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” Then the LORD said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the LORD put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him. Then Cain went away from the presence of the LORD and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

This is the Word of God. Here we have the first account of an apostate from the covenant. I wanted to look at apostasy and the Old Dispensation, due to the time of the class, we are only going to spend the rest of this class looking at Cain’s apostasy.

Introduction to Apostasy in the Old Dispensation

There are a number of themes throughout the Old Testament, but some are more easily seen than others. One reason that certain themes gain more attention than others is because of their reputation through the history of the Old Testament. Major themes that are easily seen include: covenant, grace, man, sin, atonement, redemption, exodus, exile, land, worship, Law, kingdom, and Messiah. However, there is one theme that is weaved in and out of God’s covenants with mankind, like that of the other major themes, yet is not treated the same. Apostasy in the Old Testament may not be one of the most popular themes, let alone even a fully devolved theme, but it was the theme of Israel time and time again. Looking back through the lens that the New Testament[3] gives us on the theme of apostasy, one can easily see Israel’s apostasy over and over both corporately and individually throughout all of the Old Testament. Even more so in how at times individual apostasy can lead to corporate apostasy.

Although the theme of apostasy finds its fullness in the New Testament, one simply cannot leave out the development and examples of it in the Old Testament. Sadly, the Old Testament gives constant examples of both corporate and individual apostasy.  These are seen throughout the Old Testament covenants. There is one exception, however, which is found in the covenant of creation in Genesis 2; for Adam was not an apostate.[4] But from that point on—after the fall of mankind in Genesis 3—it seems as if God came into covenant with man, and man came into covenant with apostasy. From Adam in Genesis 3:15, to David and the kingdom in 2 Samuel 7, each of the next five covenants in the Old Testament have apostates that played a prominent role in the history of mankind—namely Israel—cursing their lineage throughout history. Let’s see who you came up with this past week and if you did your homework or not… (Draw Chart)

Edenic Covenant


Cain the Apostate, Land of Nod apostasy

Noahic Covenant


Ham the Apostate, Land of Canaan apostasy

Abrahamic Covenant



Mosaic Covenant


Israel in the Wilderness apostasy

Davidic Covenant


Jeroboam the Apostate & the 10-tribes apostasy

God Himself, time and time again, came into covenant with mankind and there were always both those that obeyed and followed Him, and those that broke off and lived according to their own desires, which God Himself allowed. Just as there were those who represented the covenant on mankind’s side—Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus in the New Covenant—there were also covenant breakers who represented mankind’s rebellion against God like we have just made mention of. To look at it another way: just as the covenants were given to men whom God had planned, in order to progress the plan for redemption for God’s people, there were also men—whom God planned—that would break the covenant and fall away from the LORD into apostasy. This is one area of biblical theology that needs more attention; that is, the progression of the covenant breakers that apostatized from the LORD through the Old Dispensation.[5]

Our Test Case: Cain 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. Some scholars (Dr. Herion) make for the argument that God did not accept Cain’s offering simply because it was from the ground which God had cursed.[6] Some (Dr. Herion) scholars either forget, or simply do not use, the Old Testament’s commentary—the New Testament to interpret the Old.[7] Unlike Dr. Herion’s reasoning, or anyone else’s reasoning, ideas, thoughts, or studies, the writer of the book of Hebrews has already answered the most important question of Gen. 4 (Dr. Herion’s so-called profound question), “Why did God reject Cain’s offering?”[8] (Dr. Herion) 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 in Gen. 4? 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, (what passages do you think will help shed light this morning on Gen. 4) 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.”

The answer of Cain’s apostasy 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 how that Cain’s offering was not accepted, and how he was an apostate of the covenant. How anyone 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’s lack there of 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, the 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 on 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 the theory/idea that Cain’s offering was not accepted for any other reason, but so does Genesis 3:14. Some would argue 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 Anyone (Dr. Herion) else that agrees with this view, not see that both the animals and the ground were cursed? And that even more so, the animals were above everything else? If one’s (Dr. Herion’s) argument were to exist, wouldn’t have Abel’s sacrifice not have 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. For Cain’s individual apostasy would only create a corporate apostasy in his linage.

Lastly 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 three 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 John 3:12) and three he confessed in believing the God of Israel, because he would have never offered a sacrifice if he had not believed there was a God.

In ending I want to make mention, last weeks lecture is up on the blog if you would like to read, as well as the Hebrew and Greek biblical terms used for apostasy throughout the Bible can be found under the “writings” section in the Th.M. section. Like that of last weeks, this weeks lecture will be on the blog tomorrow for those that want to sit down and read through it and so will the paper that goes along with this lecture. All right folks, with that said we have come to the Q&A period, we only have about 10-15 minutes so with that said, who has the first question?

[1] Chad Brand, Charles Draper, Archie England et al., Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 751.

[2] A term derived from the Greek word hairesis, originally an opinion or way of thinking. It was used as a designation of a sect, party, or philosophical school. It is used in this sense of the Sadducees and Pharisees in Acts 5:17 and 15:5. Later Christian usage (from late second century a.d.) understood ‘heresy’ to indicate deviation from the accepted teaching or practice of the dominant Christian community. Something of this sense may be found in the treatment of Christians as a ‘sect of the Nazarenes’ in Acts 24:5, 14 and 28:22, where Christianity is opposed by Jewish religious authorities. Paul used the word for an internal faction within the Christian community (Gal. 5:20; 1 Cor. 11:19).

[3] Cf. The number of passages in the New Testament warning against and dealing with apostasy: Matthew 7:21-23; 10:33; 24:24; Luke 8:5-15; John 15: 1-8; Acts 5:5; 10; 8:13, 20-24; Romans 8:13; 11:20-22; 1 Corinthians 9:27; Colossians 1:21-23; 1 Timothy 1:18-20; 4:1; 5:8, 11-12; 2 Timothy 2:11-13, 17-19; Hebrews 5:11-6:12; 10:19-39; James 5:19-20; 2 Peter 2:20-22; 1 John 5:16-17; Revelation 3:5; 22:18-19. It is through these passages the theme/doctrine of apostasy is fully built, which gives one a lens with which to look back through the Old Testament for apostasy. After seeing the full flow of apostasy, one can go back to the Old Testament and see the roots of apostasy in Israel’s history.

[4] Adam – Adam did break covenant, and because of that the promise of physical death would occur. However, Adam did come back into covenant with God and followed him outside the garden in the Covenant of Grace.

[5] Old Dispensation: meaning the Old Testament administration of the Covenant of Grace in the 5 Covenants given to mankind. Edenic, Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic.

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

[7] 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 their theology, and 3. Simply, I’m a Christian and evangelical, so I must.

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


2 Comments on “Cain’s Apostasy”

  1. K says:

    Why is the opposite of orthodoxy heresy? I thought it was hetrodoxy.

  2. I think our definitions of orthodoxy may be different, but maybe I am wrong. All of these words take sitting down and clarification due to the changing of them over the last 300-years.

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