Hebrews 11:4
By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.
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(4) A more excellent.—The Greek literally means that Abel’s sacrifice was “more than” Cain’s (comp. Hebrews 3:3, “more glory”; Matthew 6:25; Luke 11:32, et al.). The word “sacrifice” (which, as is the case with very many words in this chapter, is taken directly from the LXX.) has not its special sense (see Note on Hebrews 10:5) in the narrative of Genesis 4; for the offerings of the two brothers are there designated by the same name, both in the Hebrew (“offering”) and in the Greek (“sacrifice”). Hence, apart from the first words, “by faith,” there is nothing here said to explain the superiority of Abel’s offering; though one who believes sacrifice to have been of Divine institution, and who notes the close connection between God’s word and the actions of the men whose faith is here recorded, may hold it probable that Abel’s obedience was manifested in his mode of approaching God.

By which he obtained witness.—Probably, “through which faith,” but the Greek may also mean through which sacrifice. The witness (Hebrews 11:2) is that borne by God in His acceptance of the offering (shown by some visible sign); we might also add that such a testimony to Abel is implied in the reproof of Cain (Genesis 4:7), but the following words, “God bearing witness over” (or in regard to)his gifts,” show what was chiefly in the writer’s thought. Such acceptance implied Abel’s righteousness and thus testified to his “faith.” It is remarkable that in three out of the four places in which Abel is mentioned in the New Testament this epithet is used (Matthew 23:35; 1John 3:12). In the later Jewish tradition (contained in the Targum of Jerusalem) the brothers are represented as types of faith and unbelief; and in Hebrews 11:10, “thy brother’s blood” (Hebrew, “bloods”) is expanded into “the blood of the multitude of the righteous who were to arise from thy brother.” In this clause the authorities for the Greek text are much divided. One reading, “he testifying over his gifts to God,” has the support of the three oldest MSS., but can hardly be correct.

And by it.—Better, and through it (his faith). The reference is to Genesis 4:10, “the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground” (see Hebrews 12:24); hence, as Calvin remarks, “he was plainly numbered among God’s saints, whose death is precious in His sight.”

Hebrews 11:4. By faith — In the divine command or appointment, signified unto him by some supernatural revelation, and by faith in the future Redeemer; Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice — The firstlings of his flock, implying both a confession of what his own sins deserved, and a desire of sharing in the great atonement; than Cain — Whose offering testified no such faith, but was merely a bare acknowledgment of God as the Creator. Macknight, after Kennicott, translates πλειονα θυσιαν, more sacrifice, observing, “In this translation I have followed the critics, who tell us that πλειονα, in the comparative degree, signifies more in number rather than more in value.” Accordingly it is said, (Genesis 4:4,) Abel ALSO brought of the firstlings of his flock, and of the fat thereof; “that is, beside the fruit of the ground, which was one of his gifts, he also brought the fattest of the firstlings of his flock; so that he offered a sin-offering as well as a meat or bread-offering, and thereby showed both his sense of the divine goodness, and of his own sinfulness. Whereas Cain, having no sense of sin, thought himself obliged to offer nothing but a meat-offering; and made it, perhaps, not of the first-fruits, or of the best of the fruits.” By which faith Abel obtained both righteousness, and a testimony of it, God testifying visibly that his gifts were accepted. Moses does not say in what manner God testified his respect to Abel and his offering, but from Cain’s being very wroth, as we learn Genesis 4:5, we may believe it was by some outward visible sign. And as in after-times God testified his acceptance of particular sacrifices by sending down fire upon them to consume them, it is probable that he bore witness to Abel’s in that way, thus giving a token that justice seized on the sacrifice instead of the sinner. It is of importance to observe, that God’s acceptance of Abel’s sin-offering is a proof that propitiatory sacrifices were of divine appointment, otherwise his offering, being will-worship, must have been offensive to God, and rejected. Besides, as Hallet justly observes, flesh not being permitted to be eaten by men till after the flood, Abel must have thought it unlawful to kill any animal, unless God had ordered it to be killed as a sacrifice. And by it — By his faith; he, being dead, yet speaketh — That a sinner is accepted only through faith in the great Sacrifice. See notes on Genesis 4:3-5.

11:4-7 Here follow some illustrious examples of faith from the Old Testament. Abel brought a sacrifice of atonement from the firstlings of the flock, acknowledging himself a sinner who deserved to die, and only hoping for mercy through the great Sacrifice. Cain's proud rage and enmity against the accepted worshipper of God, led to the awful effects the same principles have produced in every age; the cruel persecution, and even murder of believers. By faith Abel, being dead, yet speaketh; he left an instructive and speaking example. Enoch was translated, or removed, that he should not see death; God took him into heaven, as Christ will do the saints who shall be alive at his second coming. We cannot come to God, unless we believe that he is what he has revealed himself to be in the Scripture. Those who would find God, must seek him with all their heart. Noah's faith influenced his practice; it moved him to prepare an ark. His faith condemned the unbelief of others; and his obedience condemned their contempt and rebellion. Good examples either convert sinners or condemn them. This shows how believers, being warned of God to flee from the wrath to come, are moved with fear, take refuge in Christ, and become heirs of the righteousness of faith.By faith Abel offered - see Genesis 4:4-5. In the account in Genesis of the offering made by Abel, there is no mention of "faith" - as is true also indeed of most of the instances referred to by the apostle. The account in Genesis is, simply, that Abel "brought of the firstlings of his flock, and the fat thereof, and that the Lord had respect to Abel and his offering." Men have speculated much as to the reason why the offering of Abel was accepted, and that of Cain rejected; but such speculation rests on no certain basis, and the solution of the apostle should be regarded as decisive and satisfactory, that in the one case there was faith, in the other not. It could not have been because an offering of the fruits of the ground was not pleasing to God, for such an offering was commanded under the Jewish Law, and was not in itself improper. Both the brothers selected what was to them most obvious; which they had reared with their own bands; which they regarded as most valuable.

Cain had cultivated the earth, and he naturally brought what had grown under his care; Abel kept a flock, and he as naturally brought what he had raised: and had the temper of mind in both been the same, there is no reason to doubt that the offering of each would have been accepted. To this conclusion we are led by the nature of the case, and the apostle advances substantially the same sentiment, for he says that the particular state of mind on which the whole turned was, that the one had faith, and the other not. "How" the apostle himself was informed of the fact that it was "faith" which made the difference, he has not informed us. The belief that he was inspired will, however, relieve the subject of this difficulty, for according to such a belief all his statements here, whether recorded in the Old Testament or not, are founded in truth. It is equally impossible to tell with "certainty" what was the nature of the faith of Abel. It has been commonly asserted, that it was faith in Christ - looking forward to his coming, and depending on his sacrifice when offering what was to he a type of him.

But of this there is no positive evidence, though from Hebrews 12:24, it seems to be not improbable. Sacrifice, as a type of the Redeemer's great offering, was instituted early in the history of the world. There can be no reason assigned for the offering of "blood" as an atonement for sin, except that it had originally a reference to the great atonement which was to be made by blood; and as the salvation of man depended on this entirely, it is probable that that would be one of the truths which would he first communicated to man after the fall. The bloody offering of Abel is the first of the kind which is definitely mentioned in the Scriptures (though it is not improbable that such sacrifices were offered by Adam, compare Genesis 3:21), and consequently Abel may be regarded "as the recorded head of the whole typical system, of which fist was the antitype and the fulfillment." Compare notes, Hebrews 12:24. "A more excellent sacrifice." Πλείονα θυσίαν Pleiona thusian - as rendered by Tyndale, "a more plenteous sacrifice;" or, as Wicklift renders it more literally, "a much more sacrifice;" that is, a more full or complete sacrifice; a better sacrifice. The meaning is, that it had in it much more to render it acceptable to God. In the estimate of its value, the views of him who offered it would be more to be regarded than the nature of the offering itself.

("By offering victims of the choice of his flock, Abel not only showed a more decided attachment to God, but there is great reason to suppose (as Abp. Magee on Atonement, p. 52, shows) that his faith was especially superior, as being not only directed to God alone (recognizing his existence, authority, and providence) but also to the Great Redeemer, promised immediately after the fall, Genesis 3:15 whose expiatory death was typified by animal sacrifice, by offering which Abel had evinced his faith in the great sacrifice of the Redeemer, prefigured by it: and then he obtained that acceptance from God, and witnessing of his offering, which was refused to Cain; see more in Macknight and Scott" - Bloomfield.

By which - By which sacrifice so offered. The way in which he obtained the testimony of divine approbation was by the sacrifice offered in this manner. It was not "merely" by faith, it was by the offering of a sacrifice in connection with, and under the influence of faith.

He obtained witness that he was righteous - That is, from God. His offering made in faith was the means of his obtaining the divine testimonial that he was a righteous man. Compare the notes on Hebrews 11:2. This is implied in what is said in Genesis 4:4. "And the Lord had respect unto Abel and his offering;" that is, he regarded it as the offering of a righteous man.

God testifying of his gifts - In what way this was done is not mentioned either here or in Genesis. Commentators have usually supposed that it was by fire descending from heaven to consume the sacrifice. But there is no evidence of this, for there is no intimation of it in the Bible. It is true that this frequently occurred when an offering was made to God, (see Genesis 15:17; Leviticus 9:24; Judges 6:21; 1 Kings 18:38), but the sacred writers give us no hint that this happened in the case of the sacrifice made by Abel, and since it is expressly mentioned in other cases and not here, the presumption rather is that no such miracle occurred on the occasion. So remarkable a fact - the first one in all history if it were so - could hardly have failed to be noticed by the sacred writer. It seems to me, therefore, that there was some method by which God "testified" his approbation of the offering of AbeL which is unknown to us, but in regard to what it was conjecture is vain.

And by it he, being dead, yet speaketh - Margin, "Is yet spoken of." This difference of translation arises from a difference of reading in the mss. That from which the translation in the text is derived, is λαλεῖ lalei - "he speaketh." That from which the rendering in the margin is derived, is λαλεῖται laleitai - "is being spoken of;" that is, is "praised or commended." The latter is the common reading in the Greek text, and is found in Walton, Wetstein, Matthzei, Titman, and Mill; the former is adopted by Griesbach, Koppe, Knapp, Grotius, Hammond, Storr, Rosenmuller, Prof. Stuart, Bloomfield, and Hahn, and is found in the Syriac and Coptic, and is what is favored by most of the Fathers. See "Wetstein." The authority of manuscripts is in favor of the reading λαλεῖται laleitai - "is spoken of." It is impossible, in this variety of opinion, to determine which is the true reading, and this is one of the cases where the original text must probably be forever undecided.

Happily no important doctrine or duty is depending on it. Either of the modes of reading will give a good sense. The apostle is saying that it is by faith that the "elders have obtained a good report" (Hebrews 11:2); he had said (Hebrews 11:4), that it was by faith that Abel obtained the testimony of God in his favor, and if the reading "is spoken of" be adopted, the apostle means that in consequence of that offering thus made, Abel continued even to his time to receive an honorable mention. This act was commended still; and the "good report" of which it had been the occasion, had been transmitted from age to age. A sentiment thus of great beauty and value may be derived from the passage - that true piety is the occasion of transmitting a good report - or an honorable reputation, even down to the latest generation. It is what will embalm the memory in the grateful recollection of mankind; that on which they will reflect with pleasure, and which they will love to transmit to future ages. But after all, it seems to me to be probable that the true sentiment in this passage is what is expressed in the common version, "he yet speaketh." The reasons are briefly these:

(1) The authority of manuscripts, versions, editions, and critics, is so nearly equal, that it is impossible from this source to determine the true reading, and we must, therefore, form our judgment from the connection.

(2) the apostle had twice in this verse expressed substantially the idea that he was honorably testified of by his faith, and it is hardly probable that he would again repeat it so soon.

(3) there seems to be an allusion here to the "language" used respecting Abel Genesis 4:10, "The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground;" or utters a distinct voice - and the apostle seems to design to represent Abel as still speaking.

(4) in Hebrews 12:24, he represents both Abel and Christ as still "speaking" - as if Abel continued to utter a voice of admonition. The reference there is to the fact that he continued to proclaim from age to age, even to the time of the apostle, the great truth that salvation was only "by blood." He had proclaimed it at first by his faith when he offered the sacrifice of the lamb; he continued to speak from generation to generation, and to show that it was one of the earliest principles of religion that there could be redemption from sin in no other way.

(5) the expression "yet speaketh" accords better with the connection. The other interpretation is cold compared with this, and less fits the case before us. On the faith of Noah, Abraham, and Moses, it might be said with equal propriety that it is still commended or celebrated as well as that of Abel, but the apostle evidently means to say that there was a voice in that of Abel which was special; there was something in "his" life and character which continued to speak from age to age. His sacrifice, his faith, his death, his blood, all continued to lift up the voice, and to proclaim the excellence and value of confidence in God, and to admonish the world how to live.


4. more excellent sacrifice—because offered in faith. Now faith must have some revelation of God on which it fastens. The revelation in this case was doubtless God's command to sacrifice animals ("the firstlings of the flock") in token of the forfeiture of men's life by sin, and as a type of the promised bruiser of the serpent's head (Ge 3:15), the one coming sacrifice: this command is implied in God's having made coats of skin for Adam and Eve (Ge 3:21): for these skins must have been taken from animals slain in sacrifice: inasmuch as it was not for food they were slain, animal food not being permitted till after the flood; nor for mere clothing, as, were it so, clothes might have been made of the fleeces without the needless cruelty of killing the animal; but a coat of skin put on Adam from a sacrificed animal typified the covering or atonement (the Hebrew for atone means to cover) resulting from Christ's sacrifice. The Greek is more literally rendered [Kennicott] by Wycliffe, "a much more sacrifice"; and by Queen Elizabeth's version "a greater sacrifice." A fuller, more ample sacrifice, that which partook more largely and essentially of the true nature and virtue of sacrifice [Archbishop Magee]. It was not any intrinsic merit in "the firstling of the flock" above "the fruit of the ground." It was God's appointment that gave it all its excellency as a sacrifice; if it had not been so, it would have been a presumptuous act of will-worship (Col 2:23), and taking of a life which man had no right over before the flood (Ge 9:1-6). The sacrifice seems to have been a holocaust, and the sign of the divine acceptance of it was probably the consumption of it by fire from heaven (Ge 15:17). Hence, "to accept" a burnt sacrifice is in Hebrew "to turn it to ashes" (Ps 20:3, Margin). A flame seems to have issued from the Shekinah, or flaming cherubim, east of Eden ("the presence of the Lord," Ge 4:16), where the first sacrifices were offered. Cain, in unbelieving self-righteousness, presented merely a thank offering, not like Abel feeling his need of the propitiatory sacrifice appointed on account of sin. God "had respect (first) unto Abel, and (then) to his offering" (Ge 4:4). Faith causes the believer's person to be accepted, and then his offering. Even an animal sacrifice, though of God's appointment, would not have been accepted, had it not been offered in faith.

he obtained witness—God by fire attesting His acceptance of him as "righteous by faith."

his gifts—the common term for sacrifices, implying that they must be freely given.

by it—by faith exhibited in his animal sacrifice.

dead, yet speaketh—His blood crying front the ground to God, shows how precious, because of his "faith," he was still in God's sight, even when dead. So he becomes a witness to us of the blessed effects of faith.

The Spirit beginneth here to illustrate his description of faith, by induction of instances throughout the former ages of the church to the time of these Hebrews; and he begins with believers in the old world before the flood. Faith is the same Divine grace as described before, only here to be considered as fully receiving of God’s will in Christ as to sacrificing work, and remitting such affections and operations to God in it as were agreeable thereunto.

By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain: Abel, the younger son of Adam, an eminent believer, whose faith orders him and his worship, the first martyr for religion in the world, Luke 11:51, who sealed the truth of God with his blood; he, in the end of days, that is, the sabbath, Genesis 4:3,4, brought a bloody sacrifice of the fattest and best of the flock, and offered up to the Divine Majesty, the true and living God, his Creator and Redeemer, to atone him for his sin; having a regard to, and faith in, the great sacrifice of the Seed of the woman, for him in fulness of time to be offered up, and of which his was but a type. This sacrifice was fuller of what God required in offerings, than Cain his elder brother’s, not, it may be, for external price, but internal worth. Cain offered the fruits of the ground, such as God afterwards required in the ceremonial law, but he was not sensible of the guilt and filth of sin, and of its demerits, nor desirous to remove it in the due way and order appointed, as appears by his murdering of his brother after: Abel’s sacrifice was better, more excellent, because more fully agreeable to God’s will for purging and pardoning sin, full of self-denial and abasement for sin, and faith in Christ’s sacrifice.

By which he obtained witness that he was righteous; by which sacrifice of faith he had testimony that he acknowledged himself a sinner, that had need of the blood of Christ to sprinkle him; yet he was righteous by the righteousness of faith, Romans 3:22,25,26, which is upon Abel, as all other believers, Philippians 3:9. And this testified to his soul, by God’s Spirit, that he was justified and sanctified, and so eminently righteous; and it was mainfested to others, Christ himself, God-man, witnessing of it, Matthew 23:35.

God testifying of his gifts; God himself witnessed from heaven to the truth of his state, by accepting of his person and sacrifice, and giving a visible sign of it, so as Cain could observe it, and be displeased at the difference God made between him and his brother, Genesis 4:4,5,7; likely it was by sending fire from heaven, and consuming Abel’s sacrifice, as he did others afterwards, Leviticus 9:24 Judges 6:19,21 1 Kings 18:38 2 Chronicles 7:1; and by it testified him to be righteous.

And by it he being dead yet speaketh; by his faith, though murdered out of this world, and his place here knows him no more, and with a design that he should never speak nor be spoken of more, yet he now speaketh, i.e. liveth, Matthew 22:32, and testifieth to God that he is true, and the only true God to make souls happy. He, in his example, and his record in Scripture, bespeaketh all that read his story to imitate him in his faith and worshipping of God, and his patient martyrdom for God and his gospel worship through Christ. And by his blood he crieth for justice against his murderer, as Genesis 4:10; see Hebrews 12:24; and its joined with the rest of the martyrs of Jesus, impleads God’s righteous vengeance to be executed on their bloody persecutors, Luke 11:51 Revelation 6:10,11. By reason of his faith he is spoken of throughout all generations, recorded among the excellent sons of God, and renowned in the church to this day. Such a force hath faith to eternize the persons of believers in acceptance with God through Christ, their wrongs, injuries, and blood on God’s remembrance, and their names in heaven and the church below.

By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain,.... The apostle proceeds to examples of faith, and begins with Abel: it may seem strange that Adam and Eve are not mentioned; this omission is not because they were not believers; but either because of the fall and ruin of mankind by them; or because the apostle speaks only of such who had received some eminent testimony by faith, and therefore passes by many believers, and hastens to Abraham, the father of the Jews. The superior excellency of Abel's sacrifice to Cain's, lay both in the matter, and in the manner of it; the one was offered heartily to the Lord, the other only in show; the one was offered in faith, the other not; Abel looked through his sacrifice to the sacrifice of Christ, not so Cain. Abel's sacrifice was a lamb, a type of Christ, the Lamb of God; a firstling, a figure of him who is the firstborn of every creature; one of the fattest of his flock, expressive of the excellency of Christ; and this was offered up at the end of days, as Christ at the end of the world; and the superior excellency of the sacrifice of the one to that of the other, appears from God's regard to the one, and not to the other, Genesis 4:3 from whence it may be observed, that sacrifices were of divine institution, and were very early types of Christ; and that there always were two sorts of worshippers, spiritual and carnal ones, whom God can distinguish, for he seeth not as man seeth; that the acceptance of persons is in Christ, and is previous to their offerings; that whatsoever works do not spring from faith are unacceptable to God; that no dependence is to be had on birth privileges, or outward actions; and that electing and distinguishing grace very early took place, and appeared.

By which he obtained witness that he was righteous; not righteous by his offering, nor by his faith, but by the righteousness of Christ, which his faith in his sacrifice looked unto; though it was by his faith that he obtained, or received a witness in his own conscience, from the Spirit of God, testifying that he was a justified person; and in consequence of this, he had an outward testimony bore to him in the Scriptures, that he was a righteous person hence he is called righteous Abel, Matthew 23:35.

God testifying of his gifts: not of his own gifts, temporal or spiritual, but of Abel's gifts, which he offered to the Lord; that is, his sacrifices; of these he testified, when he showed respect either by an audible voice, declaring his acceptance of them; or by sending down fire from heaven, upon his sacrifice, which in later times was a symbol of acceptance.

And by it, he being dead, yet speaketh; good men die, and some of them die a violent death, as did Abel, yet he speaks in the Scriptures, which have a voice in them, Luke 16:29 or by his blood, which calls for vengeance; or rather by, or because of his faith, though he is dead, "he is yet spoken of", as the word may be rendered.

{4} By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.

(4) Abel.

Hebrews 11:4. The example of Abel. Comp. Genesis 4:3 ff.

Πίστει] belongs to the whole statement: πλείοναθεῷ. The conjoining of the same merely with πλείονα (Bisping) has against it the analogy of the following instances, and would weaken the force of the emphatically preposed πίστει. The dative, however, indicates, as Romans 11:20 and frequently, the cause or occasion. See Winer, Gramm., 7 Aufl. p. 202 f. By reason of his faith (or because he had faith) Abel offered to God a greater sacrifice than Cain; i.e. the faith of Abel, which was wanting to Cain, was the cause that in the estimation of God Abel’s sacrifice had greater value than that of Cain.

πλείονα θυσίαν] a greater sacrifice, namely, in a qualitative respect, thus a better, more excellent one. Comp. Hebrews 3:3; Matthew 6:25; Matthew 12:41-42, al. The quantitative acceptation (Valla: plus hostiarum; Erasmus, Clarius: copiosiorem hostiam; Zeger: abundantiorem) finds no point of support in the narrative of Genesis, and would unsuitably accentuate a purely external feature.

παρὰ Κάϊν] is by Grotius and others made equivalent to παρὰ τὴν τοῦ Κάϊν, which is admissible, it is true, but not at all necessary. On παρά after the comparative, see at Hebrews 1:4.

διʼ ἧς ἐμαρτυρήθη εἶναι δίκαιος] By it he obtained the testimony that he was righteous.

διʼ ἧς] sc. πίστεως, not θυσίας (Cramer). For the πίστις is the main idea in the whole description, and διʼ ἧς ἐμαρτυρήθη manifestly glances back at ἐνταύτῃ ἐμαρτυρήθησαν, Hebrews 11:2.

ἐμαρτυρήθη] Of whom? Not of Christ, by virtue of the declaration Matthew 23:35 (Primasius, Faber Stapulensis, Justinian), but of God; as, accordingly, the author himself adds, more nearly defining the ἐμαρτυρήθη: μαρτυροῦντος ἐπὶ τοῖς δώροις αὐτοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ] in that, namely, God gave testimony in respect of his offerings. What is meant is the testimony given in the fact that God looked with satisfaction upon Abel and his sacrifice (comp. LXX. Genesis 4:4 : καὶ ἐπεῖδεν ὁ θεὸς ἐπὶ Ἄβελ καὶ ἐπὶ τοῖς δώροις αὐτοῦ), thus, in point of fact, recognised him as a δίκαιος (comp. Matthew 23:35 : Ἄβελ τοῦ δικαίου, and 1 John 3:12).

καὶ διʼ αὐτῆς ἀποθανὼν ἔτι λαλεῖ] and by virtue of the same (namely: his faith, not: his sacrifice) he yet speaks after his death.

ἀποθανών] is a purely parenthetic member: although he has died, and forms with ἔτι λαλεῖ an oxymoron. Hardly is it in accordance with the intention of the author to comprehend in one ἀποθανών and διʼ αὐτῆς. In addition to the ordinary one, this explanation also is proposed by Oecumenius, in referring the pronoun back to the θυσία by which the violent death of Abel was occasioned; it is followed by Bengel, with the difference that he supplements διʼ αὐτῆς by πίστεως, and will have διά taken in the sense of κατά or ἐν.

ἔτι] is not the temporal: still, adhuc (Theodoret: μέχρι τοῦ παρόντος), so that λαλεῖ would signify: he speaks to us of himself and his faith or piety (Theodoret: τὸ δὲ ἔτι λαλεῖ ἀντὶ τοῦ ἀοίδιμός ἐστι μέχρι τοῦ παρόντος καὶ πολυθρύλλητος καὶ παρὰ πάντων εὐφημεῖται τῶν εὐσεβῶν; Heinsius, Bengel: loquitur de se et sui similibus contra Cainos, al.), or: he summons posterity to the imitation of his faith (Chrysostom: ὁ γὰρ παραινῶν τοῖς ἄλλοις δικαίοις εἶναι, λαλεῖ; Cornelius a Lapide, Valckenaer, Kuinoel, Paulus, Klee, Bloomfield, and others). Rather is ἔτι employed, as Romans 3:7 and frequently, in the logical sense, and serves for the emphasizing of the contrast: “even being dead,” or: “notwithstanding he is dead, he nevertheless speaks,” while λαλεῖ is to be regarded as the more vividly descriptive pracsens historicum (Winer, Gramm., 7 Aufl. p. 250), and is to be referred to the thought that the shed blood of Abel called to God for vengeance, and God, listening to this cry, was concerned about the slain Abel, as though he were still living. For manifestly, as appears also from the parallel Hebrews 12:24, there is an allusion in λαλεῖ to the words, Genesis 4:10 : φωνὴ αἵματος τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ σου βοᾷ πρός με ἐκ τῆς γῆς.

Hebrews 11:4. πίστει πλείονα θυσίαν.… “By faith Abel offered to God a more adequate sacrifice than Cain.” πλείονα literally “more,” but frequently used to express “higher in value” “greater in worth,” as in Matthew 12:41-42. πλεῖον Ἰωνᾶ ὧδε, Luke 12:23; Revelation 2:19. Does the writer mean that faith prompted Abel to make a richer sacrifice, or that it was richer because offered in faith? Many interpreters prefer the former alternative; [“Der grössere Wert seines Opfers ruhte auf dem Glauben, der Herzenshingabe, die ihn das Beste der Herde wählen liess” (Kübel).] and the choice of the word πλείονα is certainly in favour of this interpretation. διʼ ἧδ ἐμαρτυρήθη … “through which he was certified [or attested] as righteous”. It is questioned whether ἧς is the relative of θυσίαν or of πίστει. The succeeding clause which states the ground of the attestation, ἐπὶ τ. δώροις, determines that it refers to θυσίαν. God bore witness ἐπὶ τοῖς δώροις αὐτοῦ, which is explained in Genesis 4:4 where it says ἐπεῖδεν ὁ θεὸς ἐπὶ Ἄβελ καὶ ἐπὶ τοῖς δώροις αὐτοῦ. God looked favourably on Abel and on his gifts. How this favourable reception of his offering was intimated to Abel we are not told; but by this testimony Abel was pronounced δίκαιος, not “justified” in the Pauline sense but in the general sense “a righteous man”; as in Matthew 23:35 ἀπὸ τοῦ αἵματος Ἄβελ τοῦ δικαίου. But this is not all that faith did for Abel, for καὶ διʼ αὐτῆς ἀποθανὼν ἔτι λαλεῖ, “and through the same he, though dead, yet speaks,” i.e., speaks notwithstanding death. His death was not the end of him as Cain expected it to be. Abel’s blood cried for justice. The words of Hebrews 12:24 are at once suggested, αἵματι ῥαντισμοῦ f1κρεῖττον λαλοῦντι παρὰ τὸν Ἄβελ, where the blood of sprinkling is said to speak to better purpose than the blood of Abel. This again takes us back to Genesis 4:10. “The voice of thy brother’s blood cries to me from the ground.” The speaking referred to, therefore, is not the continual voice of Abel’s example but the voice of his blood crying to God immediately after his death. Cf. Psalm 9:12; Psalm 116:15. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” In the case of Abel, then, the excellence of faith was illustrated in two particulars, it prompted him to offer a richer, more acceptable offering, and it found for him a place in God’s regard even after his death.

4. By faith Abel] Intending, so to speak, “to pluck only the flowers which happen to come within his reach, while he leaves the whole meadow full to his readers,” he begins to cull his instances from the world before the flood. His examples of faith fall into five groups. 1. Antediluvian (4–6). 2. From Noah to Abraham (7–19, including some general reflexions in 13–16). 3. The Patriarchs (20–22). 4. From Moses to Rahab (23–31). 5. Summary reference to later heroes and martyrs down to the time of the Maccabees (32–40).

more excellent] Lit., “more “or “greater.”

a more excellent sacrifice than Cain] This we learn from Genesis 4:5, but we are not told the exact points in virtue of which the sacrifice was superior. We may naturally infer that Abel’s was a more carefully-chosen and valuable offering, but especially that it was offered in a more sincere and humble spirit of faith and love.

he obtained witness] By God’s sign of approval (Genesis 4:4; LXX.). Hence he is called “righteous” in Matthew 23:35; 1 John 3:12. The Jewish Hagadah was that God had shewn His approval by fire from heaven which consumed Abel’s sacrifice.

testifying of his gifts] Rather, “bearing witness to his gifts.”

and by it] i.e. by his faith.

he being dead yet speaketh] Another reading (D, E, I, K) is “though dead, he is still being spoken of.” But the allusion seems to be to “the voice of his blood” (Genesis 4:10), as seems clear from the reference in Hebrews 12:24. No doubt it is also meant that he speaks by his example, but there seems to have been some Jewish Hagadah on the subject, for Philo says “Abel—which is most strange—has both been slain and lives” (Opp. i. 200). He deduces from Genesis 4:10 that Abel is still unforgotten, and hence that the righteous are immortal.

Hebrews 11:4. Πλείονα) a more excellent, preferable, and on that account more highly esteemed. Each of the brothers followed his own mode of life in offering the sacrifice. But Abel conducted himself more righteously in the kind of sacrifice which he offered. The husbandman, Cain, brought an offering of the fruits of the earth: Abel, a pastor of sheep, brought of their firstlings and fat. Here, then, the latter took the best which he had,—a thing which the former is not said to have done. At the same time the offering of Cain merely implied a confession of obligation; the sacrifice (victima) of Abel, a confession of sin and a desire of atonement. This was quite consonant with faith.—παρὰ Κάϊν, than Cain) who was defective in faith, and therefore without the Divine testimony.—διʼ ἧς, by which) He obtained by faith both righteousness and the testimony of righteousness, Hebrews 11:7.—μαρτυροῦντος, testifying) For ἐπεῖδεν, God looked upon, had respect to, Genesis 4:4, by a certain sign, which was also seen by Cain.[69]—διʼ αὐτῆς, by it) faith; construed with ἀποθανὼν, being dead [having died in it. But Engl. Vers. construes it with speaketh]; comp. Hebrews 11:13; for διὰ has the same meaning as κατὰ or ἐν; 1 Timothy 2:15.—λαλεῖ, speaks) speaks of himself, and those like himself, against the followers of Cain; ch. Hebrews 12:24.

[69] This probably refers to the consuming of Abel’s sacrifice by fire from heaven, which was not extended to Cain’s.—TR.

Verse 4. - By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which (i.e. faith, not sacrifice, "faith" being the ruling idea of the whole passage) he obtained witness (literally, was witnessed of) that he was righteous, God testifying of (literally, witnessing upon, or, in respect to) his gifts: and through it (faith) he being dead yet speaketh. In the traditions preserved in Genesis of the dim and distant antediluvian period, three figures stand out prominently as representing the righteous seed in the midst of growing evil - Abel, Enoch, and Noah. These are, therefore, first adduced with the view of showing that it is in respect of faith that they are thus distinguished in the sacred record. With respect to Abel, it is not necessary to inquire or conjecture whether the bloody character of his offering is to be considered as constituting its superior excellence. The record in Genesis simply represents the two brothers as offering each what he had to offer in accordance with his occupation and pursuits, the only difference being that Abel is said to, have offered his firstlings and the fat thereof, while nothing is said of Cain having brought his first fruits or his best. Then, in the account of the result, we are only told that unto one the LORD had respect, and not to the other, without mention of the reason why. It is usual to find a reason in the nature of Abel's offering as signifying atonement, and to suppose his faith manifested in his recognition of the need of such atonement, signified to him, as has been further supposed, by Divine command. This view of the intention of the narrative is indeed suggested by the description of what his offering was, viewed in the light of subsequent sacrificial theory; but it is not apparent in the narrative taken by itself, or in the reference to it in the passage before us. The acceptableness of the offering is here simply attributed, as of necessity, to the faith of the offerer, without any intimation of how that faith had been evinced. And with this view of the matter agrees the record itself, where it is said that "unto Abel and his offering the LORD had respect;" i.e. to Abel first, and then to his offering - the offering was accepted because Abel was, not Abel on account of his kind of offering. "Crone quod datur Deo ex dantis mente pensatur... Neque enim sacrum eloquimn dicit, Respexit ad munera Abel et ad Cain mqnera non respexit, sed prius air quid respexit ad Abel, ac deinde subjunxit, 'et ad munera ejus.' Idcirco non Abel ex muneribus, sed ex Abel munera oblata placuerunt" (St. Gregory, quoted by Delitzsch). "And he being dead," etc., refers plainly to Genesis 4:10, "The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground." The same voice of innocent blood, which appealed at the beginning of human history to the God of righteousness, cries still through all the ages; it sounds in our own cars now, telling us that faith prevails on high, and that "right dear in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints." Cf. Hebrews 12:24 for an allusion again to the cry of the blood of Abel. The word αλεῖν is there also used, supporting the reading λαλεῖ, rather than the λαλεῖται of the Textus Receptus here. Hebrews 11:4Abel offered unto God (Ἄβελ προσήνεγκεν τῷ θεῷ)

For the phrase see Hebrews 9:14.

A more excellent sacrifice (πλείονα θυσίαν)

Greater in value in God's eyes. For πλείων in this sense, see Hebrews 3:3; Matthew 6:25; Luke 11:31; Luke 12:23. In Paul never in this sense. Others explain a more abundant sacrifice, referring to the material character of the offerings. See Genesis 4:4. But the difference between the offerings of Abel and Cain, considered in themselves, is largely a matter of speculation, and, as Lnemann justly remarks, such an interpretation accentuates unduly a purely external feature.

By which he obtained witness (δι ἧς ἐμαρτυρήθη)

Lit. was witnessed to, as Hebrews 11:2. The pronoun which may refer either to the sacrifice or to faith. Better the latter, as is apparent from Hebrews 11:2, and probably from Hebrews 11:7, although the relation there is somewhat different.

Righteous (δίκαιος)

Abel is called righteous by Christ himself. Matthew 23:35. Comp. 1 John 3:12. See on Romans 1:17.

God testifying of his gifts (μαρτυροῦντος ἐπὶ τοῖς δώροις αὐτοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ)

Defining more specifically the general was witnessed to. God bore witness by his acceptance of the gifts. Ἐπὶ marks the fact on which the witness was based.

Yet speaketh (ἔτι λαλεῖ)

Comp. Genesis 4:10. Still, although ages have passed since his death. Comp. Hebrews 12:24. Not that his voice still cries to God (so Bleek and others), but that by his faith he still speaks to us in the O.T. Scriptures, though dead. Const. ἔτι yet with λαλεῖ speaketh; not with being dead, in the logical sense, "even being dead," as Romans 3:7.

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