Gen 4:3-7 details the account of Cain and Abel's offerings to God. Why did God accept Abel's Sacrifice but not Cain's? I have come up with the following possibilities but not sure which is right.

  1. God cursed the ground and thus sacrifices from it where not acceptable as an offering. (Gen 3:17)
  2. God showed through his sacrifice of an animal for Adam and Eve's covering that only blood would be acceptable for a sin offering. (Gen 3:21)

These first two seem to be supported by the fact that God asks Cain, "If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?," posed as a rhetorical question, making the answer seem obvious. However, if this is true, what had Cain been offering all along, given he was a farmer? Surely this wasn't the first time they were bringing a sin offering?

  1. The text does not say, therefore we do not know.
  • you're right. The sheep also came from the ground. "e named him Noah, 1 saying, “This one will bring us comfort 2 from our labor and from the painful toil of our hands because of the ground that the Lord has cursed.” Noah = "rest" ; Blood is life. Abel offered something pure, in an unclean world. Life is not the product of human hands. – Betho's Dec 17 '19 at 21:06

Jews reject the argument that Cain's sacrifice was insufficient because it did not involve blood, and they have some good arguments. Leviticus clearly spells out various "grain offerings," and there is even one example of a "sin offering" where the poor people were allowed to offer grain instead of an animal sacrifice. (See Lev. 5:11-13.)

The traditional Jewish answer to this question is that Abel offered "the fat portions," I.e., the BEST, of his produce, while Cain gave with a different attitude. While I am not Jewish, I have been persuaded by this answer.

Here is a hypothetical to see which answer is correct: let's keep the attitudes the same Nd change the sacrifices. If Cain brought an animal sacrifice with a grudging, ungrateful attitude, would he be accepted? I don't think so--sin was crouching at his door. If Abel brought one of the grain offerings listed in Leviticus, with the same righteous heart, would he be accepted? I think so.

Therefore it would seem that Abel was accepted for bringing his best portions with the right heart, and Cain was rejected for his sin, not his choice of sacrifice.

  • Since levitical laws were not in place at the time, does it fit the argument? If it's true that Abel was accepted for bringing the fat portions, why couldn't Cain present his in grain also? If it was just a heart issue, it'd put the "fat portions" view of the offering out of consideration, nullifying the traditional Jewish view. Also, why would Cain's heart change all of a sudden, unless maybe, in the course of time, he got tired of asking his younger brother for an animal sacrifice, as I doubt this was their first rodeo with regard to giving sin offerings. Thoughts? – user2544542 Mar 1 '15 at 15:14

The writer of Hebrews analyses why Abel's sacrifice was accepted and Cain's wasn't.

Hebrews 11:4 By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.

The difference between the two sacrifices was that Abel brought his sacrifice in genuine faith whereas Cain did not.

  • Correct answer +1 . Both Abel and Cain new the reason they were outside the Garden, but possibly Abel showed and gave more though to the promise : Genesis 3:14-15 (NRSV) 14 The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animal and among all wild creatures upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head,and you will strike his heel.” – Ozzie Nicolas May 16 '18 at 20:01

Restatement of the Question: Why was Abel's sacrifice considered 'greater', 'more', or 'above' Cain's? Was it because they were different types of sacrifice, or was there something else at work?

Historically, there is a great amount of speculation regarding this passage, but this answer is constrained to Scripture only :

Answer 1: Because Cain was unjustified to doubt God. Following his offering, Cain allowed his hope in God to falter--where Abel trusted. It was not the type of offering that was offered that affected God; but rather, God was affected by the state of Cain's heart--after Cain had made his offering :

Cain's loss of "confidence/hope"--after the offering--was not justified. And, Scripture shows that God pointed this out to Cain :

Genesis 4:6, NASB: Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?

Even so, God still remained faithful, and proceeded to teach and advocate for Cain, forewarning Cain about the imminent threat of evil, and the necessity to overcome it :

Genesis 4:7, NASB: If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

The Nature of the Sacrifice was, and is, Irrelevant to God:

There simply are no bases in the text to justify an interpretation that God favors one type of sacrifice more than another--except God does favor sacrifices of the "heart" more-so than any physical sacrifice :

Scripture explicitly contradicts the idea that God favors any form of earthly sacrifice:

NASB Psalms 50: 7-8, & 14: Hear, O My people, and I will speak; O Israel, I will testify against you; I am God, your God. I do not reprove you for your sacrifices, And your burnt offerings are continually before Me. ... Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving And pay your vows to the Most High;

Proverbs 21:3, NASB: To do righteousness and justice Is desired by the Lord more than sacrifice.

With Cain's state of mind/heart, he could not possibly be thanking God, offering to God a sacrifice of praise/thanks--which is what God desired; because, "giving thanks" implies acknowledgment and trust that what was given is good, but Cain doubted, having fear, and losing hope :

NASB Gen. 4:5-7: but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard, [lit. God did not see or look upon]. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. 6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

Cain's Sacrifice May have actually been Greater:

... if not for his state of heart afterwards.

Cain was wrong to lose hope, and perhaps should have taken comfort in the fact that God did not "look upon him, or his sacrifice"--sometimes, this can actually be a good thing :

This is what Cain did not understand. And, because of this, he erred in losing hope, becoming disheartened, when he could have rather been confident in the mercy and sovereignty of God.

The English Translation of "וַיִּ֣שַׁע" as "more good", "favorable, kindly, mercifully, etc," is not necessarily correct, but rather it may be more correct to interpret the phrase literally as "to look upon", i.e., as "God looked upon Abel's sacrifice, but not Cain's."

In fact, there is Scriptural Basis to believe it is good when God looks away :

Job 7:17-21, NASB: What is man that You magnify him, And that You are concerned about him, That You examine him every morning And try him every moment? Will You never turn Your gaze away from me, Nor let me alone until I swallow my spittle? Have I sinned? What have I done to You, O watcher of men? Why have You set me as Your target, So that I am a burden to myself? Why then do You not pardon my transgression And take away my iniquity? For now I will lie down in the dust; And You will seek me, but I will not be.

Job 14:4-6, NASB: You also open Your eyes on him And bring him into judgment with Yourself. Who can make the clean out of the unclean? No one! Since his days are determined, The number of his months is with You; And his limits You have set so that he cannot pass. Turn Your gaze from him that he may rest, Until he fulfills his day like a hired man.

Answer 2: Because God is Sovereign - NASB Ex. 33:19: And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.”

This second answer is not satisfactory, because it is not "internally consistent" with the rest of Scripture, and doesn't offer much insight. This explanation paints God as an arbitrary dispenser of Justice--but if nothing else, God is always portrayed as acting in wisdom, mercy, and truth--never arbitrary in judgment.

  • Wow!!! It's insights like these that compelled me to join StackExchange! – Adinkra Jul 8 '16 at 20:22

The way I’ve read this passage and the question associated with it, is that the emphasis falls on God first looking at the sacrificer and then at the sacrifice. God looked at Abel and after weighing his heart, God had regard for Abel, even before God looks at the sacrifice.

“So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering;” ‭‭GENESIS‬ ‭4:3-4‬

First God checks the heart and then the sacrifice. God does the same with Cain and had his heart been right God would have had regard for Cain also and his sacrifice.

but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell.” ‭‭GENESIS‬ ‭4:5‬ ‭

It’s the heart that counts, the motivation. It’s therefore clear that murder was in Cain’s heart long before Cain’s sacrifice was rejected, the rejection was merely Cain's tipping point.

“But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”” ‭‭1 SAMUEL‬ ‭16:7‬ ‭

It seems that Abel was truly considerate of his sacrifice, it meant something to him

“For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” ‭‭PSALMS‬ ‭51:16-17‬ ‭

And lastly one more reason why Abel’s sacrifice was accepted, it cost him something. Cain didn’t bring the first fruits of the ground, Cain sacrificed fruits of the ground verse3, they could have been the previous year’s fruits, the left overs, we don’t know their condition but we know that Abel sacrificed a firstling, Abel put God first, prioritizing God, nor giving God the left overs or the lame. David said it best.

“However, the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price, for I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God which cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.” ‭‭2 SAMUEL‬ ‭24:24


In addition to the Genesis account, there is other relevant scriptures (ESV)

Heb 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.

By faith -- faith in what? Faith in God or faith in the word of God. Both brothers demonstrated faith in God in that they offered sacrifices to God. But had God instructed them to bring an animal sacrifice, only Abel had faith in the commandment, whereas Cain substituted his judgment for the word of God.

1Jn 3:10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. 11 For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 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.

John explains the difference between good and evil. If you are good, you will practice righteousness. And what is righteousness, acting in accordance with the will of God -- which we know because he has revealed his will. John identifies the difference in the two brother as simply evil vs. righteous. Had God not revealed what his will was, God would be arbitrary and capricious is accepting one and rejecting the other. Had God revealed his will, it is just for God to judge them accordingly.

God is not the author of confusion. He is a righteous judge. The only logical conclusion is that God revealed his will to both brothers and Abel obeyed but Cain did not.

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