After telling us that God accepted and was actually pleased with Abel’s offering of the lamb of his flock, Genesis 4:5 tells us that God did not “regard” Cain’s offering from the ground. It says, “ but for Cain and his offering, he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.” Snoeberger gives us some interesting thoughts regarding the two sacrifices and the acceptance of one and the rejection of the other. He says that some early conservative scholars adopted an understanding of the Septuagint reading rather than the Masoretic Text reading, which suggests it involved the quantity of the sacrifices, not just the quality. Abel brought the right amount, but Cain fell short. This affirms that “Cain’s and Abel’s sacrifices establish tithing as early as Genesis 4.” The discussion includes Hebrews 11:4, where Abel’s sacrifice is called “better” than Cain’s sacrifice. The argument suggests that the verse might be translated as “Abel offered unto God a more abundant sacrifice than Cain.” The conclusion drawn from these combined readings, according to Snoeberger, is that Cain’s sin was explicitly a failure to give an adequate percentage of his income to God. The percentage, it is deduced, must be none other than a tithe. This understanding is not unreasonable, as it follows the reading of the LXX (Septuagint).”[1]

As much as Pastors around the world would like to preach that the tithe finds its origin in the first sacrifices of man, it’s not likely. But there was something different in their offerings that made one acceptable and not acceptable. Snoeberger gives some suggestions, “Other options include inadequate quality in the offering, deficient integrity in the offerer, or even the simple possibility that Abel was the object of God’s elective prerogative while Cain was not—the text does not specify.”[2]  We do know, however, from Hebrews 11:4, that Abel’s offering was offered “in faith” while Cain’s offering was not. One of the favored opinions among the commentators is that the real issue is the integrity of the offerer. Barker says, “… it seems clear from the narrative that both offerings, in themselves, were acceptable… they were both ‘firstfruits’ offerings; thus Cain’s offering of ‘fruits of the soil’ was as appropriate for a farmer as Abel’s ‘firstborn of his flock’ was for a shepherd.”[3]

The problem is that offerings from the ground are “thank” offerings, and blood offerings are guilt offerings. Horton says, “Already in Genesis 4, Abel brings the ‘the firstborn of his flock’ (the proper guilt offering), but Cain, ‘a worker of the ground,’ brought a portion of his produce (the proper thank-offering).”[4] No matter how you look at it, Cain’s offering obviously failed to meet some revealed requirement. A thank offering should be offered only after the “guilt” or “sin” offering has been made. I think Cain failed in that. As a Web blogger observed, “It is not hard to see …the seriousness of removing the significance of the shed blood and the element of substitution from the story of Cain and Abel. When we ignore the importance of the blood sacrifice in this earliest of stories, we remove from the Scriptures one of its strong points; namely, that from the very beginning, man was not only provided a way back to fellowship with God but that ‘way’ was consistent with what Jesus accomplished on the cross. Theologians, both old and recent, have established this as a sound and reasoned approach to these verses of the Bible.”[5]

[1] Snoeberger, Mark A. 2000. “The Pre-Mosaic Tithe: Issues and Implications.” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal Volume 5 5: 72–73.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Barker, Kenneth L., and John R. Kohlenberger III. 1994. Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Abridged Edition: Old Testament). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[4] Horton, Michael. 2011. The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.