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Here’s Why God Really Rejected Cain’s Sacrifice But Accepted That of Abel

by Dr. Eitan Bar
3 minutes read

The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. (Genesis 4:4)

The story of Cain and Abel is where we actually first meet sacrifices in the Bible (not Genesis 3). These brothers did not have any “Law” that they were following. Like many others in the Ancient Near East, they offered sacrifices to “stay on the good side” of God. These were the “snacks” they offered to God. Just like in Chapter 3, you have probably heard various traditions about why God accepted Abel’s offering but not Cain’s. The most prominent tradition is that Abel’s offering was accepted because it involved the death of an animal, while Cain’s was rejected because no blood was shed. Allow me to pick on John MacArthur once again, as he’s a great example:

We see that Abel did what God required…He brought the right sacrifice that was required by God…It was better because it was blood, and it was better because it was required as a sacrifice for sin.[i]

The first problem with MacArthur’s interpretation is the anachronism fallacy.[1] God did not require blood as a sacrifice for sin until thousands of years later, in the time of Moses. Moreover, the text offers no such explanation. But in any case, this sacrifice had nothing to do with forgiving sins. The second problem is that later in Leviticus chapter two, we see that God does, in fact, accept bloodless (non-animal) sacrifices without a problem. If the children of Israel were allowed to offer agricultural produce, why would God be so upset when Cain did so? The third problem is that the New Testament’s mention of the infamous story never suggested that bloodless sacrifice was the reason for God’s rejection of Cain’s offering.[2]

According to the text, the difference is that while Cain “brought some fruit,” Abel, on the other hand, brought his very best, “fat portions from some of the firstborns.” Fat firstborns? This is the “grade five Wagyu beef” of ancient times. These were the pampered cattle that enjoyed back rubs and played golf. The difference the text points out to the reader is not in the type of offering (blood vs. bloodless) but in the quality of it (“fat” and “firstborn” vs. just “some”). The distinction between the two offerings implies that Cain presented a generic gift, whereas Abel offered something of great importance—possibly the most significant gift he could give. The quality of the sacrifice is also something God will later emphasize in the Law to Israel.[3] So, in contrast with Cain, Abel brought his very best. At the same time, Cain probably saw some bananas starting to blacken and decided they shouldn’t go to waste. (If only he knew how to make banana bread…)

So, while Genesis chapter four introduces the first sacrifice, it had nothing to do with wrath, sin offering, and blood. Notice verse two: “Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.” Cain brought fruit because he was a farmer. It is no sin to be a farmer. But as a farmer, he, too, could pick the better portion of his fruits. But he didn’t. Therefore, God’s issue was not with blood but with the quality of the offering he was gifted with. So don’t bring your leftovers; bring your best!

This article is based on my new book, ‘The “Gospel” of Divine Abuse,’ available on this Amazon page.
free sample is available here.

[1] An anachronism is a chronological inconsistency of misplacing people, events, objects, language terms, and customs in the wrong periods. The common types of anachronism in theology are verbal expressions or philosophical ideas placed outside their proper temporal domain/time.

[2] Matthew 23:35; Hebrews 12:24.

[3] Leviticus 1:3; 2:1; 3:1; 22:21-22.

[i] John MacArthur, “Abel: A Primitive Faith,” Oct 25, 2009.

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Dr. Eitan Bar
Author, Theologian, Activist