T. PIERCE BROWN
For about fifty years we have been hearing that Cain and Abel are wonderful examples of false and true worship. We intend to continue teaching that. However, there are some assumptions that are almost always made, of which we need to be aware. Perhaps there is always some danger in making assumptions, but the danger is multiplied ten-fold when we are not aware that they are assumptions. It is increased another ten-fold when we build a doctrine on the assumption.
The following is usually the teaching we have heard and done about Cain and Abel. God had commanded an animal sacrifice. Abel brought what God had commanded. Cain brought what he wanted. He worshiped God according to the dictates of his own conscience. So God rejected his offering and accepted Abel’s. Conclusion: All acceptable worship must be in spirit and in truth. It must be in faith, or as God directs.
Since the conclusion is unquestionably right, and can be proven independently of Cain and Abel, we see nothing dangerous in the teaching. We do see something dangerous in the habit of making assumptions and formulating doctrines based upon them. Let us examine the usual reasoning — assuming we did any reasoning, instead of simply swallowing undigested the conclusions of Campbell, Lard, Lipscomb or some other teacher.
Assumption: God had commanded for both of them an animal sacrifice. Question: How do you know, since the Bible does not say so? Usual answer: God had either told what to offer, or he had not. If not, Cain’s offer would have been as acceptable as Abel’s. So he must have told them what to offer. Second, we are told in Hebrews 11:4 that “by faith, Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.” Since faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Rom.10:17), if God had not given a commandment, there could not have been an offering by faith. Ergo, since God accepted Abel’s animal sacrifice, that is what God had commanded of both.
We realize that since that conclusion has probably seldom, if ever, been questioned by conservative, sound gospel preachers since the days of Campbell or Lard, to question its validity may be counted by some as heresy. But in the interest of encouraging open Bible study, that is a risk we shall have to take.
Let us start by gladly admitting that since faith comes by hearing God’s Word, to offer anything in or by faith demands that one have and hear God’s Word. That is one good reason why instrumental music in worship, or bread and water on the Lord’s Table cannot be justified. But the assumption that cannot be proven is that God had commanded both of them to offer the same kind of sacrifice at that time. The fact that one was offered by faith does not mean that faith is only involved with the kind of offering made. Faith is also involved with the amount or quality or any other aspect that God may specify. Behind the assumption that God commanded both to offer the same kind of offering is another one (usually unrealized), that since God at some time specified a lamb for a sin offering, and since sin was mentioned somewhere in the passage, God had commanded these offerings for sin, and nothing but a bloody sacrifice would suffice. The reasoning that is used to uphold these assumptions goes along the same line as before. Since Abel’s was accepted, he must have offered what God told him to. Since Cain’s was not accepted, he must have offered what God had not specified. Note carefully: If it could be proven that faith relates only to what, but not necessarily to when, where, how, how much, or why, then that might be valid reasoning. Since the opposite is true, and faith relates just as much to when, where, how, how much and why as it does to what, the reasoning is invalid, and the conclusion is but an assumption, usually not recognized.
In order to indicate the insidious nature of the assumption more clearly, let us make two other comparable statements: Since Abel’s offering was accepted, he must have offered the quality of offering demanded of God. (Can anyone question the truthfulness of that statement?) Then, since Cain’s offering was not accepted, he must have offered a quality inferior to what God specified. This reasoning is just as valid as the usual reasoning on the kind of offering.
Look at two other comparable statements; Since Abel’s offering was accepted, he must have offered the amount God had decreed, if God decreed a certain amount. One can be just as certain that God decreed a specific amount as that He decreed a certain kind. Since it was by faith, and faith comes by hearing, God must have told him the amount. Since Cain’s offering was rejected, he must have failed to bring the correct amount.
Notice that all three groups of statements are based upon assumptions. The usual assumption we make is that God had commanded both to offer the same KIND of offering. The second example was with the assumption that God had commanded both to offer the same quality of offering. The third example is with the assumption that God commanded both to offer a certain quantity or amount of offering.
What we are doing now is asking you to examine candidly and carefully your assumptions, and ask yourself why you think one more valid than another. You hear two men preach. You want to know which one, if either, to accept. One says, “I am sure, without any possibility of error, that the mistake of Cain was that he offered the wrong KIND of sacrifice, for I KNOW that God had commanded both of them to offer the same KIND.” The second says, “I am sure, with no possibility of error, that Cain’s mistake was that he offered the wrong AMOUNT, for I KNOW that God had commanded a certain amount from each.” Both preachers know that faith comes by hearing God’s word. Both know that Abel’s offering was by faith, so he must have heard God’s word and obeyed it. Both know that Cain’s was not by faith. The problem comes when one ASSUMES he knows what area was covered by faith without finding proof for it in the Bible.
We need to realize that even if a certain conclusion is true, the reasoning by which we reach that conclusion may be invalid and the conclusion is not thereby proven to be true. Let me illustrate by using one or more syllogisms.
Major premise: 1. Abel offered his bloody sacrifice by faith (Heb. 11:4).
Minor premise: 2. Faith comes by hearing God’s word (Rom.10:17).
Conclusion: 3. Therefore, Cain was commanded to offer the same kind of offering Abel was.
Even if you never heard of a non sequitur and would not know one if you met it in the middle of the road, you can probably tell that something is wrong with that conclusion. The conclusion should be: Therefore, Abel’s offering was what God told him to offer. But whether God had told Cain to offer the same thing can not be determined by that syllogism, nor from any other, nor from any Bible statement. We usually assume, however, that the conclusion is true.
Since some of our readers may really love syllogisms (whether valid or not), let us offer some more:
Major premise: 1. Abel’s offering was accepted.
Minor premise: 2. All acceptable offerings must be of the same kind.
Conclusion: 3. Therefore, Cain’s offering was rejected because it was of a different kind.
The minor premise can be proven to be false, and surely needs no discussion at this point. So the conclusion is invalid, even if it is true. If Cain’s offering was rejected because it was the wrong kind, we need more proof than that. Now let us throw out that minor premise and substitute one that is true.
Major premise: 1. Abel’s offering was accepted.
Minor premise: 2. All acceptable offerings must be of the best quality we can bring.
Conclusion: 3. Therefore, Cain’s offering was rejected because it was not of the best quality.
The conclusion may be true, but it has no connection with the major and minor premise and the syllogism is therefore invalid. The conclusion should be: Therefore, Abel’s offering must have been of the best quality. Notice one more syllogism:
Major premise: 1. Cain’s offering was NOT by faith.
Minor premise: 2. To be “by faith” involves only the kind of offering, never the quality or amount.
Conclusion: 3. Therefore, Cain’s offering was of the wrong KIND.
Surely one does not have to be a graduate student in logic to see that the error of the minor premise invalidates the syllogism. The truth is that the expression “by faith” includes “WHAT” if God specified what, whether it be gopher wood, a lamb, or singing. “By faith” includes quality if God specified quality, whether “firstlings and the fat thereof” or any other. “By faith” includes “amount” if God specified amount, whether “tithe” or any other. After studying it for about half a century, I have no way of knowing for sure that God had NOT commanded each of them to bring the best he had, whatever it was, and/or a certain amount of it! You do not either, even if you have assumed you did all your life.
Furthermore, we find that the primary meaning of the term “pleion,” translated “more excellent” in Hebrews 11:4 is “greater in quantity” and the secondary meaning is “greater in quality!” As far as we have been able to discover, in all of the 61 times it is used in the New Testament, not ONE of them has any necessary connection to the KIND of thing, but always to the QUANTITY or QUALITY of the thing.
We believe that the language of the Old and New Testaments shows that we have as much right (probably more) to use it to teach a lesson on giving — that Cain’s sacrifice was rejected because it was not the right AMOUNT — as we do teach a lesson on the right KIND of offering.
Instead of having to throw away any old sermons you may have had about this, why not just broaden, deepen, and strengthen the lessons you can prove from the Bible. For example: When God specifies a KIND of offering, service, or material, only that KIND is by faith, and acceptable. Whether “kind” relates to lamb, from the heart, gopher wood, singing, or anything else, this principle is true. When God specifies a QUALITY (the best) only that quality is by faith, and acceptable. When God specifies an AMOUNT (give liberally, for example) anything else is not by faith.
Since we do not know for sure in what exact area of faith Cain was deficient, let us teach that about which we ARE sure. He failed by not acting in accordance with God’s directions to him — whatever they were, and whether or not they were the same as those given to Abel. No matter how strongly he felt, assumed, or thought, his worship was rejected because it was not an act of obedient faith. Yours and mine must be of that kind in order to be well pleasing to God.