Take the 2-minute tour ×
Christianity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Genesis 4 has always bothered me. The story of God accepting Abel's sacrifice and not Cain's has led me to wonder: How did they even know to sacrifice? Was this practice started by Adam? Or did God establish more of a law than just 'Don't eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil'? If God did establish further law then what was it and when did He establish it?

share|improve this question
Just a side note. Cain offered plants as his offering, which we know do not have any life blood. Where as able offered an animal, which has life blood. A sacrifice that does not contain blood is not a sacrifice. Thus God was not pleased with Cain's offering. –  Jonathon Byrd Aug 26 '11 at 14:37
@Jonathon: Not necessarily. There were several non-animal sacrifices prescribed in the Law of Moses, such as meal and drink offerings. –  Mason Wheeler Aug 30 '11 at 14:21
There is a period of time from the fall to Cain and Abel's sacrifices - at least long enough for Cain and Abel to be old enough to be tending flocks and tilling the earth. –  warren Sep 1 '11 at 15:57
@MasonWheeler However, I think traditionally those offerings were not on the same level as blood offerings. The Jews had/have different kinds of offerings. –  fredsbend Feb 25 '13 at 6:40

4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

That's a very good question. Clearly there are a lot of details missing from the earliest parts of the narrative. Remember that Genesis is traditionally attributed to Moses, who led the Israelites out of Egypt and gave them the Law of Moses. Storytellers tend to explain unfamiliar concepts and not waste time explaining familiar ones, so it's reasonable to infer that Adam and his family were under a commandment from God to offer sacrifices in a similar, if not identical, manner to the rules about sacrifices in the Law of Moses. Beyond that, the Bible is unfortunately silent.

share|improve this answer

A view that I osculate is that Abel knew the prophecy in Genesis 3:15 (NIV) which says:

And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

He likely had given much thought to that promise and believed that blood would have to be shed, someone would have to be ‘bruised in the heel,’ so that mankind might be uplifted again to the state of perfection that Adam and Eve had enjoyed before their rebellion. (Hebrews 11:4)

share|improve this answer
I do not think that word means what you think it means (osculate :) –  warren Sep 1 '11 at 15:55
@warren Inconceivable! –  bruised reed Jul 2 at 18:24

Perhaps animal life sacrifice was begun by God himself in:

All Scripture is quoted from the King James translation, unless otherwise noted.

Genesis 3:21 Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them.

Cain and Abel would have been familiar with this since an animal would also have to be sacrificed to make clothing for them, and at that time they were vegetarian, so there would have been no skins left from their food to make clothes for them.

There is probably no connection between Cain's giving of vegetation since he was the one who tilled, while Abel was the tender of the flock. Each was giving the fruits of their labor.

Since both were old enough to labor it is probable that many animals had been sacrificed to provide clothing for the whole family, and so animal sacrifice would already be somewhat justified in protecting them from the elements, and to hide their nakedness.

Also although it is not mentioned prior to this it is most likely that Adam and Eve had produced daughters by this time.

Genesis 5:3 through 5 And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth: 4 And the days of Adam after he had begotten Seth were eight hundred years: and he begat sons and daughters: 5 And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died.

A little math tells that the death of Abel took place sometime between Adam's creation and 130 years when Seth was born.

Hope this helps.

share|improve this answer
Abel kept flocks. If they were vegetarian then he would have kept flocks for some other purpose than eating. Killing just for the skins seems wanton. Killing only for the sacrifice as well, as the example in Leviticus is that they eat most of it. –  fredsbend Aug 30 at 22:55
@fredsbend Yes but both of those were in the law handed down to Moses, which took place after the flood when God had made man carnivorous. Cain slew Abel before the flood, and his keeping of the flocks could have been for milk. They might have at that time kept flocks for that reason, at least some reason had to arise for his keeping flocks otherwise the animals could forage for themselves, and they were not ejected from Eden so they would be under the care of God himself. –  Bye Aug 31 at 20:57
Keeping for Milk is a valid point and option. Good call. It still doesn't answer what they did with the sacrifice if they didn't eat it. –  fredsbend Sep 1 at 4:43
@fredsbend nor does the Bible as far as I know and any other answer would be pure conjecture on my part. –  Bye Sep 1 at 11:48
A sacrifice may have been offered as a burnt offering. The skin could have been used by the people and the meat offered to God. –  outXast yesterday

The evidence seems to be very strong that God had given laws other than the abstaining from eating of the two trees but it is not recorded. We know that Books such as Jasher and Enoch were not included in the Old Testament but referred to in the New. As for the laws that were given. Have you noticed the death penalty that was required for not keeping them? Breaking the laws, which they all had done, made it necessary that there be a sinless redeemer to die as a sacrifice for all;.. For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Rom 3:23

share|improve this answer
This is the start of a good answer. I think if you developed your thoughts further it would be better. Please edit in more, especially the evidence that you are referring to. –  fredsbend Aug 25 at 2:57

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.