Pastor David B. Curtis

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Cain, the First Murdered

(1 John 3:10b-12)

Delivered 12/15/19

We are continuing our study of 1 John this morning and will be looking at verses 10b through 12 of chapter 3. Let me just say here how grateful I am for your faithfulness to join us each Sunday to hear the teaching of the Word of God.

Last week we looked at verse 12 and the unbiblical doctrine of the serpent seed. Later I’ll show you another text that further refutes these claims. Today we want to back up to verse 10 where we ended in a previous study.

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. 1 John 3:10 ESV

As I have been saying in our study of 1 John 3:4-10, I prefer the Christian Standard Bible translation here over the ESV:

This is how God’s children and the devil’s children become obvious. Whoever does not do what is right is not of God, especially the one who does not love his brother or sister. 1 John 3:10 CSB

Notice that the ESV adds the word "practice" and renders this verse as "whoever does not practice righteousness." This is based upon the use of present tense forms of the verbs in 3:6-9 concerning sinning. It is argued the tense denotes habitual sinning. The adding of the word "practice" is not justified by Greek grammar. As has been pointed out by more than one competent Greek scholar, the appeal to the present tense invites intense suspicion. No other text can be cited where the Greek present tense, unaided by qualifying words, can carry this kind of significance. It is my opinion that the CSB got it right by translating it, "Whoever does not do what is right."

I need you to remember here that the verse divisions are not inspired. They were added later. The verse divisions are helpful, but here I think they got it wrong.

"This is how God’s children and the devil’s children become obvious"—it is my opinion that the section we have been looking at (1 John 3:4-9) concludes with the first half of verse 10. I think it is preferable to take the last half of the verse as beginning a new section.

What the first half of verse 10 is saying is that we can tell the children of God from the children of the devil by their faith. The children of the devil sin in that they do not believe in the Christ of the Bible. The children of God are made evident by their faith in Christ. This ends this section.

Then 10b says, "Whoever does not do what is right is not of God, especially the one who does not love his brother or sister"—with this last half of verse 10, John begins a new discussion of love. This section marks the beginning of the second major part of 1 John 3:11–5:12. The similarity between 3:11 and 3:23, both of which mention the command to love one another, form an inclusion, suggesting that 3:11-24 should be regarded as a single unit. In biblical studies, inclusio is a literary device based on a concentric principle. It is also known as bracketing (or an envelope structure), which consists of creating a frame by placing similar material at both the beginning and end of a section.

"Whoever does not do what is right is not of God, especially the one who does not love his brother or sister"—what exactly is this saying? Not doing what is right and not loving means that that person is "not of God." Can we agree on that? That’s what it says. But what does it mean? Most would say that this means that they are not Christians. This is how the NIV translators saw it:

This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.  1 John 3:10 NIV

So, the NIV translators have taken the phrase, "not of God," and have translated it as "not God’s child." The ESV, YLT, CSB, NASB, BSB, LEB, KJV, JUB, and the ASV, to name a few, all have "not of God."  The NIV paraphrases the text but misinterprets it at the same time! There is nothing in this text about not being a child of God. How could you love a brother or sister if you were not a Christian? You would have to be a child of God before you could hate a brother or sister in Christ. An unsaved man has no Christian brother to hate.

The phrase "is not of God" does not mean "not born of God." John is using "not of God" here to refer to fellowship. The one who does not do what is right is not "abiding in Christ," especially the one who does not love his brother or sister.

The absence of "love" for one's "brother" Christian shows that the individual "who does not love" is not in fellowship with God. "Love" is the most important particular manifestation of righteous behavior (Matt. 22:37-39).

I have been saying since we started our study that this epistle is written to those who have trusted Christ. John’s purpose in this epistle is to instruct his readers on how to have fellowship with Yeshua and the Father.  But most see this epistle as a series of tests to show who is saved and who is not. If that is your framework, than when John says, "Whoever does not do what is right is not of God, especially the one who does not love his brother or sister," you would take that to mean that the unloving person is not a Christian.

John MacArthur, who holds the view that this book is a test of who the true believers are, writes, "Here is one of John’s key determining factors to identify true Christians. When someone claims to be a Christian, someone claims to be in union with God and union with Jesus Christ, possessing eternal life, we are instructed here to examine the character of their love life, for therein lies the proof of their claim. Christians who are genuinely born of God manifest that transformation by means of righteousness and love." 

MacArthur further says this: "It is impossible for a true believer not to love other believers." S. L. Johnson, commenting on this text, writes, "So to not love the brethren is evidence that we are not truly the children of God."

These men are contending that if you are a believer, it is impossible for you not to love other believers. Hold that thought and look at how Paul describes love:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV

I guess we could put it like this:  A true believer is patient and kind, does not envy or boast, and is not arrogant or rude. A true believer does not insist on his own way, is not irritable or resentful, does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. A true believer bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Now remember, if you are a believer, it is impossible for you not to love other believers. So, let me ask you the following questions. Are you sure you are a Christian? Are you always patient and kind to others? I think you get my point. This Lordship teaching causes so many of God’s children to doubt their salvation. Believers, a true Christian can at times fail to love his brothers and sisters. That is precisely why John keeps bringing up this theme of love and tells his readers to love each other.

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 1 John 3:11 ESV

"For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning"—the word "message" here is from the Greek word aggelia which means; "message, announcement, news." Earlier John wrote:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 1 John 1:5 ESV

The structural parallel between 3:11 and 1:5 points to a relationship between the two verses. The one who loves his fellow Christian resides in the light. To be in the light is to be in fellowship with God.

"For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning"—what "beginning" is he talking about?  We could go back to Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18. Both say that the Israelites were to love one another.

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:18 ESV

You could sum up the Old Covenant Law in two commands: (1) Love God and (2) Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:34-40; Romans 13:8-10). But 3:11 looks at the experience of the readers ("that you have heard from the beginning"), and it seems much more likely that "the beginning" is a reference to the beginning of Yeshua’s self-revelation to his disciples in the course of his earthly life and ministry. This is consistent with earlier usages of the phrase in 1 John 1:1 and 2:7;

Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. 1 John 2:7 ESV

The "message" that John and his followers had "heard from the beginning" was Yeshua’s command to His disciples to "love one another" as He had loved them (John 13:34-35; 15:12).

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. John 13:34 ESV

The command to love is not new. What, then, is so different about our Lord's command here that He can call it "new?" The new part is "Just as I have loved you."  The sacrificial work of Yeshua on the cross of Calvary is the "new" standard for the Christian's love for fellow believers. They had seen His love for them during His entire earthly ministry and most recently in His washing of their feet; but they would only understand its depth through the Cross.

"We should love one another"—why does John tell his readers this if as MacArthur says, "It is impossible for a true believer not to love other believers." Why tell them to love one another when they could not help but do so? The New Testament, which was written to believers, is full of commands to love each other. Why? We need to be told to love because we so often do not.

Let’s talk about love. A lot of people do not really know what biblical love and how it is to experience it in their own lives. Sadly, some of the most perverse practices that are known to man today are now being described as "love." Things that God has declared to be an abomination and has condemned and pronounced His judgment upon, such as sodomy and homosexuality, people are describing as love.  An egregious example is "same-sex love."

There are others who see love as agreeing with everyone, being cordial, harmonious, even with others whose cultures and beliefs perhaps do not agree with yours. And too often you accept them and are content to live and let live.

If we take all of those modern definitions of love, we can see that there is a common principle: Love in some shape or form is something that gives you self-gratification.

You might say, "I love chocolate." Or you might declare, "I love the beach." A woman might say, "I love shopping." Or a guy might say, "I love hunting." What they are describing are things that make them feel good. In other words, people get a measure of self-gratification from doing them. 

What does it mean when people say that their marriage or their relationship is over because they have "fallen out of love"? Clearly, it means that they are not getting out of that marriage or relationship what they feel is their right to have.  In other words, the relationship is not making them feel good.

Now that is NOT the Bible's definition of love. It is not something that revolves around self or self-gratification. On the contrary, everything that can be biblically described as true love involves the foundational aspect of self-sacrifice.

The love of God that has been displayed and manifested for us in Christ is the love that we ought to show to one another. Again, we could remind ourselves of what John said in chapter 2 and verse 6:

whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. 1 John 2:6 ESV

John had seen the love of Christ demonstrated that night in the Upper Room, when Yeshua took the basin of water and washed the disciples’ feet. He then heard Yeshua say "A new commandment I give to you"(John 13:34-35).

Then John saw the supreme demonstration of Christ’s love when He willingly went to the cross to die for our sins. When John speaks of love, he points us to the supreme example of Yeshua laying down His life for us (3:16). Thus a helpful definition of biblical love is this: Love is a self-sacrificing, caring commitment that shows itself in seeking the highest good of the one loved.

Biblical love requires continual effort because at the heart of loving others is the putting of the other person ahead of yourself. That is always a huge battle. For this reason, the New Testament as a whole and John in this letter never tire of exhorting us to love one another. He has already reminded his little children of Yeshua’s old-new commandment (2:7-11). He will yet devote the major part of chapter 4 (verses 7-21) to this theme. In fact, six times in 1 and 2 John, he refers directly to Yeshua’s command that we love one another (1 John 3:11,23; 4:7, 11,12; 2 John 5; plus the allusion in 1 John 2:7). That is a lot of reminding about love to people who are, according to MacArthur, incapable of not loving.  As I stated earlier, he wrote that "It is impossible for a true believer not to love other believers."

What John means by loving one another is first spelled out negatively in the next verse and then positively later in this passage (vv. 16–18).

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. 1 John 3:12 ESV

This is the only explicit reference to the Tanakh in John’s epistles, and John’s only use of a proper name other than references to Christ or God. I am sure that almost everyone is familiar the story of Cain and Abel, at least in that they know that Cain killed his younger brother. But why did he kill him? Let’s look at the text. John has in mind Genesis 4:1–25 which contains the account of Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam and Eve.

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, "I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD." And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. Genesis 4:1-2 ESV

Much of what I want to share with you on these two verses comes from Jeff Benner, founder of the Ancient Hebrew Research Center (www.ancient-hebrew.org).

Let’s look at the use of names. The Hebrew word for "name" is shem which literally means "breath or character." In Hebrew thought, one’s name is reflective of one's character. Therefore, the Hebraic meanings of the names of "Cain and Abel" are windows into their characters. Cain is from the Hebrew קין (qayin) which means "to acquire or possess something". And Abel is הבל(havel) which means "to be empty, often translated as vain or vanity in the sense of being empty of substance."  So, Cain is a possessor, one who has substance, while Abel is empty of substance.Cain is what we would call "a man of character," but Abel is "vain."

In the normal Hebraic accounting of multiple births, both the conception and the birth of each child are mentioned. We see this in Genesis 29:32-33.

And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben, for she said, "Because the LORD has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me." She conceived again and bore a son, and said, "Because the LORD has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also." And she called his name Simeon. Genesis 29:32-33 ESV

Twice more it says, "And Leah conceived and bore a son, Reuben. She conceived again and bore a son, Simeon." Notice that there are four conceptions and four births. But notice how it is worded in Genesis 4:1-2.

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, "I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD." And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. Genesis 4:1-2 ESV

Notice that there is only one conception, but two births. The Hebrew word for "again" is asaph, meaning to add something. In this case, the birthing of Abel was added to the birthing of Cain. Cain and Abel were twins. Adam Clark writes, "From the very face of this account it appears evident that Cain and Abel were twins. Cain was the first-born, Abel, his twin brother, came next."

This verse destroys the serpent seed doctrine. It clearly says that "Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain." Adam was Cain’s father. Not only that—Cain and Abel were twins. Both were the sons of Adam and Eve.

In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. Genesis 4:3-5 ESV

Notice the stylistic variation in the order of the brothers in this passage: "Cain…Abel…Abel…Cain." The order of the brothers is as expected when the sacrifices are offered, but it is reversed when God responds. Both in style and in content, in God’s regard, Abel comes first—and Cain comes last. The normal hierarchy of the firstborn and younger child is turned upside down.

This reversal—the ascent of the youngest—is a frequent motif in the Bible, particularly in Genesis, where the younger child is consistently raised above his or her siblings: Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Rachel over Leah, Joseph over his brothers, and Ephraim over Manasseh.

They both bring an offering to Yahweh. We often assume the first commands by God were given to Moses at Mt. Sinai, but this is evidently not the case. God gave his commands, or at least some of them, to Adam and Eve and their children. Notice what Yahweh says to Noah:

Then the LORD said to Noah, "Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate, and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate, Genesis 7:1-2 ESV

Anything strike you as interesting in these verses? How did they know "clean" and "unclean" animals? The Law wasn't given until fourteen hundred years later. These men knew Yahweh; they had been given laws. They were in a covenant relationship with Him.

And it is apparent from the narrative in Genesis 4 that Abel obeyed those commands, but Cain did not.

The LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it." Genesis 4:6-7 ESV

Yahweh tells Cain that if he does well, he will be accepted. But he does not listen.

Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Genesis 4:8 ESV

This is the first murder in the Bible. Sibling rivalry is a fact of life. When Hamlet’s uncle Claudius murders his own brother in order to become king, he confesses: "Oh, my offence is rank. It smells to heaven. It hath the primal eldest curse upon it, A brother’s murder." (William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 3)

The "primal eldest curse" is, of course, the biblical curse of Adam and Eve’s Cain, who slew his brother Abel. This family didn’t have a happily ever after story.

Why did Cain kill Abel?

According to one Midrash, it all boils down to what has caused much strife in families throughout the ages, namely, the division of property and inheritance.

Seeing that they were the only two humans around, Cain and Abel decided to divide "ownership" of the world. One would take all the lands and things that grow from it, while the other would take movable objects such as animals and the like. Thus, one became a farmer and the other a shepherd. It came to pass, however, that Cain said to Abel, "The land you stand on is mine," Abel retorted, "What you are wearing is mine." One said: "Strip"; the other retorted: "Fly off the ground." It was out of this quarrel that Cain rose up and murdered Abel. [Midrash Bereishit Rabbah 22:7; see also Midrash Tanchumah 1:9.]

The Midrash explains that Cain ultimately killed Abel over either money, a woman, or theology.

Why did Yahweh accept Abel’s offering but not Cain’s?

Some say that Cain brought vegetables while Abel brought a blood sacrifice. The problem with this is that even during the Temple times God accepted sacrifices made from vegetation, or meal offerings (see Leviticus 2).

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (Chief Rabbi of Great Britain) states, "The offering was a gift. When a gift is rejected, there are two possible reactions: If you, the giver, ask what went wrong and you try to do better, you were genuinely trying to please the other person. If you become angry with the recipient, it becomes retrospectively clear that your concern was not with the other but with yourself."

We can speculate all day because the text in Genesis 4 really does not tell us why Yahweh accepted Abel’s offering and not Cain’s. The writer of Hebrews, however, tells us.

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. Hebrews 11:4 ESV

These two boys bring an offering to God, one is accepted and one is rejected. Why? The writer of Hebrews tells us that Abel's sacrifice was "more acceptable." This is from the Greek word pleion which means "greater or more important sacrifice." Why was Abel's sacrifice better? It was better because it was offered in faith. That is the thrust of the entire chapter. The thing that sets these brothers apart is faith!

To do something by faith you must do it in response to and according to a word from God. It was by faith because he brought it in response to God's Word. He must have believed something that God had revealed to him.

and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, Genesis 4:4 ESV

The separate mention of the "fat" tells us that the lamb had been slain. It was not intrinsic merit in the firstling of the flock above the fruit of the ground. It was faith in God's appointed means that made the difference. Abel understood one of the greatest truths a man can know—the way in which it is necessary to approach God. He understood that God is approached only through faith.

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Hebrews 11:6 ESV

There are a lot of people today who think they can approach God in their own way, just as Cain did. Abel illustrates to us the way of faith:  We can only approach God through faith in the person and work of Yeshua.

Hebrews 11:4 goes on to say, "through which he was commended as righteous." What is the antecedent of "through which"? It is not "sacrifice," but rather is "faith." It was through his faith that he was righteous. The author of 1 John gives the reason for this murder. Cain’s deeds were evil, but his brother’s were righteous. Cain is an example of unbelief (Heb. 11:4).

Hebrews 11:4 says, "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice." And Paul tells us that "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." So Abel must have heard some word from God, some way or other. Cain’s disobedience came from a lack of faith which resulted first in disobedience and then in hatred.

There is no question in my mind that Cain had been commanded to bring an animal sacrifice just as his brother had done. The reason God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and not Cain’s was because Cain did not bring what He had asked for.

Cain and Abel had the same parents, Adam and Eve. They were raised in the same home. They had the same influences. We can presume that Cain had a godly upbringing.  Their parents, after all, had walked and talked with Yahweh in the cool of the day and their parents had certainly told their boys all they knew about God. That should have equipped Cain to love and serve Yahweh, but he chose not to.

How did Cain kill Abel?

The book of Jasher says, "And Cain hastened and rose up, and took the iron part of his ploughing instrument, with which he suddenly smote his brother and he slew him, and Cain spilt the blood of his brother Abel upon the earth, and the blood of Abel streamed upon the earth before the flock." (Jasher 1:25)

Our text in Genesis really does not tell us how Cain killed Abel. I’m sure that a democrat would make a case for his using an AR-15. But I think that our text in 1 John sheds some light:

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. 1 John 3:12 ESV

The Greek word for "murdered" here is sphazō which means "to butcher (especially an animal for food or in sacrifice). This Greek verb occurs in the LXX in a number of settings involving sacrifice (e.g., Isaac in Genesis 22:10, Judges 12:6). It is used in Leviticus 1:5 to refer to the slaying of sacrificial animals.  Sphazō is used in classical Greek to refer to the slaughtering of victims for sacrifice by cutting their throat, cutting their jugular. It was as if Cain said, "Oh, okay, God, You want a sacrifice? A proper sacrifice has to have bloodshed.  Well, here’s a sacrifice for you" (and he cut his brother’s throat). The first murder was committed in the way they were taught to worship.

Why did Cain kill Abel?

In the biblical story, Cain has several motives for murdering his brother Abel. The most obvious motives are envy and jealousy over the fact that God accepted Abel’s offering over his. Let me give you a definition of envy: discontent or uneasiness at the sight of another's excellence or good fortune, accompanied with some degree of hatred and a desire to possess equal advantages.

I wonder whether we really appreciate the seriousness of how bad envy and jealousy can be among God's people. John likens it to murder. The murder of Abel by Cain right at the beginning was the first act of murder.

"Who was of the evil one"just like "not of God" in verse 10, this does not mean "not born of God." So here "of the evil one" does not mean born of the evil one. This description has no parallel in the Genesis account, but in some Jewish texts (e.g., the second-century-b.c. T. Benjamin 7:1–5 and the first- or second-century-a.d. Apocalypse of Abraham 24:3–5) the murder of Abel by his brother Cain is regarded as an act inspired by the devil/Beliar.

The word evil is ponēros in the Greek and it means evil. This grammatical construction could be masculine singular (the evil one) or neuter singular (of evil). In the immediate context, this imagery serves to illustrate 1 John 3:8: "the one who practices sin is of the devil." This is also similar to John 8:44 where Yeshua told his adversaries "you people are from your father the devil… he was a murderer from the beginning." In both Jewish and early Christian writings, Cain serves as a model for those who deliberately disbelieve.

Now the false teachers in John's day were advocating that the problem for all mankind is ignorance. In other words, people need to learn more, and they need to get a special knowledge from God. According to John here, ignorance is not man's chief problem.  On the contrary, it is rebellion and sinfulness in their heart towards God.

Cain serves here as the negative example not to follow. Instead of loving his Abel, he did the opposite and brutally murdered his brother. According to the author of 1 John he did so because his deeds were evil, but his brother’s were righteous. Again we find the stark contrast between righteous and evil deeds, just as we have seen before in the contrast between light and darkness (John 3:19-21).

Since hatred is the opposite of love, we may define it as a selfish, insensitive attitude that shows itself in the disregarding of others’ good as one seeks his own interests. The world is motivated by self-interest. Self-sacrifice, to the world, is crazy.

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