Did Cain and Abel Tithe?


Did Cain and Abel Tithe?


Jesse Acuff, M.A. Rel.


There are several extant theories as to why tithing is required of modern day Christians. First and foremost among these is the over-used and much-abused story of Abraham tithing to Melchizedek following his return from the battle of the kings. The premise is that because Abraham “tithed” to Melchizedek long before the Mosaic tithing laws were instituted; this is proof-positive that the tithing laws were in force from the beginning. Secondly, Jacob is held up as the next best example that tithing was in effect before the Mosaic laws, but the perpetrators of this theory never teach that Jacob’s “tithing” was conditional, i.e., it conformed to the formula “if. . .then.” If the tithing law was in force for Jacob, he would never have told God that “if He (God) would do such and such, then He, (God) would be his (Jacob’s) God! If the tithing laws had been in force it would have been a no-brainer for Jacob. He would simply have obeyed the laws without question instead of bargaining with God! Thirdly, the very popular proof-text from Malachi 4 is held out as another reason that tithing is mandatory for modern day Christians when at best, any tithing alluded to in the passage is connected to agricultural products, not money. Aside from this, God was not speaking primarily to Israel but to the priests and Levites. There is not room in this article for me to deal with these three theories. They are best left to another occasion. Suffice it to say that none of these theories can be substantiated using Scripture as a guide. Largely, the explanations given as proof that tithing laws were in force before Moses, and therefore not subject to the abolishment of the “law written in ordinances” spoken of in the New Testament, lack any solid basis.

Undaunted by the absence of any real evidence for tithing before the Mosaic Law, there is at least one author who proffers a bizarre claim that Scriptural authority for tithing reaches back to the sons of Adam, namely Cain and Abel. He confidently asserts,

Scripture clearly reveals that tithing was in force from the beginning. And, the very way this law is introduced demands its revelation to man at the very beginning of creation.[1]

Notice the words “clearly reveals,” and “demands.” This is the author’s attempt to lay a false guilt trip on his readers and perhaps his congregants in order to get them to give him their money. His feeble attempt to prove his thesis does not hold up under close scrutiny. Just how, then, is the Scripture clear on this point and in what way was the “tithing law” introduced that it “demands its revelation to man at the very beginning of creation?” Supposedly, the proof is found in the sacrifices offered by Cain and Abel as described in Gen. 4: 3-7. Quoting these verses he lists three “facts” as proof:

(1) Cain and Abel did not conjure up the idea of giving to God. Cain was held accountable to God for his improper offering and the murder of his brother. There can be no sin without a law defining sin (Rom. 4:15; 3:20). Therefore, God had previously revealed to Cain and Abel His law regarding obedience to Him. Cain broke laws revealed from the beginning (emphasis added).

Notice that the author uses the word giving. Tithing does not fall under the category of giving, but obligatory contribution. In addition, he does not say that God had previously revealed the tithing law to Cain and Able but “His law regarding obedience to Him.” "His law regarding obedience to Him could have been anything but not necessarily tithing. In addition, he says that, “Cain broke laws revealed from the beginning.” The author does not explain what these laws were but subtly intimates that they were tithing laws, i.e., “his law regarding obedience to Him.”

Analysis: The author is correct when he states that man did not conjure up the idea of giving to God. He is also correct in declaring that God held Cain accountable for his improper “offering” and the murder of his brother Abel. However, he does not even come close to the truth when he implies that the “sin” that Cain committed in Gen. 4:3-7 was that he failed to properly tithe before the Lord by not “rightly dividing” what he brought to the altar. We can deduce from the passage only that the “law” that Cain broke was a command to bring to the altar not only a gift of the produce of the land, but also a sin offering that required the spilling of blood. The author intimates that the tithing law was in force by quoting Rom. 4:15; 3:20, but in doing so, he lifts the verses out of context and proof-texts to suit his agenda. Rom. 4:15 deals with faith and the Abrahamic Covenant, and Rom. 3:20 deals with justification by faith. These verses cannot be used to justify tithing for Christians today.

Genesis 4:3-7 does not mention or speak of tithing contrary to what our author says. It does, however, speak of “giving” and “offering,” both of which, in ancient Israel under the Mosaic Law, were voluntary, and if they were voluntary under the Mosaic Law, it follows that they were voluntary before the Mosaic Law was in force! The tithing law was never voluntary but was, rather, an obligatory command given to Israel through Moses. If tithing was in force from the beginning, why doesn’t the writer start there with Adam and Eve instead of 101 years later with Cain and Abel in order to prove his point? Why does Scripture never mention that Adam and Eve tithed to God. After all, they were placed in the garden to dress and keep it. The word “dress” according to Strong, is, (H5647 ‘a-bad—aw-bad' A primitive root; to work (in any sense); by implication to serve, till, (causatively) enslave, etc.) The word “keep,” from Strong, is, (H8104 sha-mar shaw-mar' A primitive root; properly to hedge about (as with thorns), that is, guard; generally to protect, attend to, etc.). There is some hint in these two words that labor was involved in “dressing” and “keeping” or tending the garden, which could have included “tilling” the ground thus producing an “increase,” so to speak, that would have required them to bring tithes to God, if tithing were in fact in force.

However, there is no hint of a tithing law in the creation account and no evidence that Adam and Eve ever tithed. According to the Book of Jubilees, Adam and Eve did not have a son until the third week of the second Jubilee.[2] In biblical reckoning of the Jubilee, this would be at least 53 years after Adam’s creation. By the time Cain slew Abel (the first week of the third Jubilee) at least another 48 years had elapsed.[3] That’s 101 years and there is no passage that clearly states that Adam, Eve, Cain, or Abel ever tithed before or after they were expelled from the Garden. If God revealed those laws from the beginning, why were they not codified and written down in the same way they were at Sinai? If the Ten Commandments were in force from the beginning, why did God not kill Cain for killing Abel? After all God must have revealed to Cain from the beginning, according to the author’s reckoning, that murder was a capital crime worthy of the death of the perpetrator. Yet there is nothing in Scripture that remotely speaks of death as the retribution for murder until it is revealed to Noah in Gen. 9: 6. “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.” Why did God not apply this law retroactively in the case of Cain if, as our author states, all these laws were in force from the beginning? We must consider the possibility that they were not. In the beginning, did Adam have neighbors he could bear false witness against, covet their wives, commit adultery with his neighbor’s wives, steal from them, or kill them, etc? You see, “in the beginning” there was just no need for such laws. And there was no need for tithing in God’s plan for that phase had not come into being, i.e., He had not fleshed it out although it was “with Him,” i.e., in His thoughts from the beginning. The problem is that man tends to look at conditions in the past with a jaundiced eye that interprets scripture based on 21st century morals and ideas. God reminds us,  “. . .My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Ps. 5:8). There is no hint of tithing in the author’s claim.

(2) Neither Cain nor Abel decided when to give to God. The time was predetermined. It was at the conclusion of an agricultural harvest season. “In the process of time”(Gen. 4:3) should be rendered “at the end of days.” It is the same basic word used in Deuteronomy 14:28, “at the end of three years thou shalt bring forth all the tithe of thine increase the same year. . .” Notice, all of what was required was to be brought at a particular time. Did Cain bring all that was required? Or, was a part lacking?

Analysis: The author’s presumption that Cain’s sacrifice came at the conclusion of an agricultural season is plausible, but weak. The term “at the end of days” does not necessarily indicate the end of an agricultural season. Keil and Delitzsch identify the phrase as “In process of time” (lit., at the end of days, i.e., after a considerable lapse of time),”[4] without assigning to it the conclusion of an agricultural season. Clark thinks that it is most probably the Sabbath and that the “gifts” and “offerings” were a part of the worship of the true God. “This worship was,” Clarke declares, “in its original institution, very simple. It appears to have consisted of two parts:

1. Thanksgiving to God as the author and dispenser of all the bounties of nature, and oblations indicative of that gratitude.

2. Piacular [atoning for sin] sacrifices to his justice and holiness, implying a conviction of their own sinfulness, confession of transgression, and faith in the promised Deliverer.

Heb_11:4, we shall see cause to form this conclusion (brackets added).”[5]

The important point here is that the gifts and offerings were a part of the worship of the true God. These were not tithes. The word for “tithes” is the Hebrew maaser or maasrah. The word used for “offerings” in Gen. 4:3-7 is the Hebrew minchah, In Heb.11:4, the word “offered” is prosphero, and the word “sacrifice” is thusia. None of these words correspond to maser/maasrah in the Hebrew or dekate in the Greek. The “gifts” that Cain and Abel brought to God were just that. Clark explains that the word minchah is revealed in Leviticus (2:1) as “an offering of fine flour, with oil and frankincense. “It was in general a eucharistic or gratitude offering, and is simply what is implied in the fruits of the ground brought by Cain to the Lord . . .”[6]

If then, the offering that Cain brought before the Lord consisted of fine flour with oil and frankincense; it could not have been a tithe. If it was generally a eucharistic or gratitude offering which was voluntary and not a specific command from God, it could not be a tithe for the tithe was obligatory under the Mosaic system and according to our unnamed author, presumably so from the very beginning. We can only conclude that, contrary to his interpretation, no tithe was involved in these acts of worship.

Our unnamed author asks if Cain brought all that was required, or, “was a part lacking?” We learn further from Keil and Delitzsch and Clarke that Cain did indeed leave out part of the sacrifice, but it had nothing to do with tithing or “rightly dividing” it, as it were. It had, rather, to do with a blood sacrifice that looked forward to the sacrifice of God’s Messiah. Notice that the KJV rendering of Gen. 4:3 uses the word “gift” instead of “offering” for the minchah. A tithe is not a “gift.” According to Kiel and Delitzsch:

Cain brought of the fruit of the ground a gift. . .to the Lord; and Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock [in addition to the minchah of fine flour, oil and frankincense], and indeed (vav in an explanatory sense, vid., Ges. §155, 1) of their fat,” i.e., the fattest of the firstlings, and not merely the first good one that came to hand. חלבים [richest or choice parts] are not the fat portions of the animals, as in the Levitical law of sacrifice. This is evident from the fact, that the sacrifice was not connected with a sacrificial meal, and animal food was not eaten at this time. That the usage of the Mosaic law cannot determine the meaning of this passage, is evident from the word minchah, which is applied in Leviticus to bloodless sacrifices only, whereas it is used here in connection with Abel's sacrifice. “And Jehovah looked upon Abel and his gift; and upon Cain and his gift He did not look”. . .The reason for the different reception of the two offerings was the state of mind towards God with which they were brought, and which manifested itself in the selection of the gifts. . .Abel offered the fattest firstlings of his flock, the best that he could bring; whilst Cain only brought a portion of the fruit of the ground, but not the first-fruits. . .The sacrifices offered by Adam's sons, and that not in consequence of a divine command, but from the free impulse of their nature as determined by God, were the first sacrifices of the human race. The origin of sacrifice, therefore, is neither to be traced to a positive command, nor to be regarded as a human invention (brackets added).”[7]

Clarke interprets verse four giving an explanation that makes a great deal of sense: “Dr. Kennicott contends that the words he also brought, (הביא גם הוא—hebi gam hu), should be translated, Abel brought it also, i.e. a minchah or gratitude offering; and beside this he brought of the first-born (מבכרות—mibbechoroth) of his flock, and it was by this alone that he acknowledged himself a sinner, and professed faith in the promised Messiah. To this circumstance the apostle seems evidently to allude, Heb_11:4: By Faith Abel offered πλειονα θυσιαν, a More or Greater sacrifice; not a more excellent,[8] (for this is not the meaning of the word πλειων), which leads us to infer, according to Dr. Kennicott, that Abel, besides his minchah or gratitude offering, brought also θυσια, a victim, to be slain for his sins; and this he chose out of the first-born of his flock, which, in the order of God, was a representation of the Lamb of God that was to take away the sin of the world; and what confirms this exposition more is the observation of the apostle: God testifying τοις δωροις, of his Gifts, which certainly shows he brought more than one. According to this interpretation, Cain, the father of Deism, not acknowledging the necessity of a vicarious sacrifice, nor feeling his need of an atonement, according to the dictates of his natural religion, brought a minchah or eucharistic offering to the God of the universe. Abel, not less grateful for the produce of his fields and the increase of his flocks, brought a similar offering, and by adding a sacrifice to it paid a proper regard to the will of God as far as it had then been revealed, acknowledged himself a sinner, and thus, deprecating the Divine displeasure, showed forth the death of Christ till he came. Thus his offerings were accepted, while those of Cain were rejected; for this, as the apostle says, was done by Faith, and therefore he obtained witness that he was righteous, or a justified person, God testifying with his gifts, the thank-offering and the sin-offering, by accepting them, that faith in the promised seed was the only way in which he could accept the services and offerings of mankind.”[9] If Dr. Kennicott is correct, and I believe he is, the “part that Cain left out” or failed to “rightly divide” as the author states in his next proof, was not part of a tithe, but the blood sacrifice of the firstlings, the best part of Abel’s flock, which Cain could have obtained from his brother to add to his minchah, and which looked forward to the blood sacrifice of Jesus the Messiah. Abel saw Jesus’ day in his mind’s eye. Cain did not; therefore, his sacrifice was not a tithe but a mere ploy to gain God’s continued favor without the benefit of faith.

(3) Both Cain and Abel brought an offering to God. Abel’s offering was accepted, but Cain’s was rejected as sin? Why? The Septuagint renders the last part of Genesis 4:7 as follows: “If thou didst rightly offer, but didst not rightly divide, didst thou not sin? Hold thy piece.” Cain did not rightly divide his increase! He withheld a portion which should have gone to God. If Cain were giving only a personal offering, God could not have labeled him a sinner for the amount he gave. The time was at the conclusion of the harvest. And tithes, not offerings, are divided from the whole.

Analysis:From what we have seen above, it was not a matter of not rightly dividing his increase, it was the fact that Cain did not bring the proper sacrifice and approached the worship of God with a cavalier attitude. His brother brought a sin-offering (the fat portions of his firstlings), he did not.  Clarke’s paraphrase and explanation of Gen. 4:7 sheds a lot of light on what God might really have said to Cain. There is no indication in explanation that God accused Cain of being a sinner. Rather, He informed him that there was still space for Cain to “repent,” so to speak, and do the right thing.

If thou doest well - That which is right in the sight of God, shalt thou not be accepted?. . .But if thou doest not well, can wrath and indignation against thy righteous brother save thee from the displeasure under which thou art fallen? On the contrary, have recourse to thy Maker for mercy;(לפתח חטאת רבץ—lappethach chattath robets), a sin-offering lieth at thy door; an animal proper to be offered as an atonement for sin is now couching at the door of thy fold (emphasis mine).

The words חטאת chattath, and חטאת chattaah, frequently signify sin; but I have observed more than a hundred places in the Old Testament where they are used for sin-offering, and translated ἁμαρτια [hamartia] by the Septuagint, which is the term the apostle uses, 2Co_5:21 : He hath made him to be sin (ἁμαρτιαν, A Sin-Offering) for us, who knew no sin. Cain’s fault now was his not bringing a sin-offering when his brother brought one, and his neglect and contempt caused his other offering to be rejected. However, God now graciously informs him that, though he had miscarried, his case was not yet desperate, as the means of faith, from the promise, etc., were in his power, and a victim proper for a sin-offering was lying (רבץ robets, a word used to express the lying down of a quadruped) at the door of his fold.[10]Cain withheld a portion of what should have been dedicated to God, but it was not a portion of a tithe, it was the sin or atoning sacrifice (Gr. hamartia), the fat or best portions of the firstlings that Abel brought along with the eucharistic or thank offering (minchah). The whole affair was based on voluntary giving, not obligatory payment.

The author of our “Scripture clearly reveals that tithing was in force from the beginning,” and “the very way this law is introduced demands its revelation to man at the very beginning of creation,” like many others of his ilk, either has not done his homework, or is deliberately misleading by innuendo. For the author to dogmatically insist that Cain was guilty of not properly tithing to God because he failed to bring a sin-offering is to misconstrue the Scriptures, is bad exegesis, and is ludicrous in the extreme. It is not surprising that he thinks this way for he teaches tithing to support his ministry, for which purpose the tithe was never commanded. But that is another subject altogether.


[1] Church of God, The Eternal, Tithing—Today?, www.cogeternal.org/text/TithToday.htm, p. 4.
[2] George H. Schodde, The Book of Jubilees, Artisan Publishers, Muskogee, 1980, p. 17.
[3] Ibid., pp. 17-18.
[4] Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Book of Genesis, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., Peabody, 2001, pp. 68-69.
[5] Adam Clarke, Clarke’s Commentary, The Old Testament, vol. 1, Ages Digital Library, Albany, OR., 1997, p. 77.
[6] Ibid.,
[7] Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Book of Genesis, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., Peabody, 2001, p. 68.
[8] The author of the article Tithing—Today? states on page 5 “Paul knew that tithe-paying was the issue between     Cain’s and Abel’s giving.” Paul knew no such thing. This passage speaks of faith, not tithing. The author again wrests the Scripture saying that the word “excellent” in Heb. 11:4 means “abundant.” Thus, he concludes, it was larger in amount than Cain’s. This seems to be the case, but this is not the meaning of the verse. Properly interpreted it should read, “Abel’s gift was greater in value in God’s eyes . . .” (Thayer, def. (2), Vincent, Barnes, etc.).
[9] Adam Clarke, Clarke’s Commentary, The Old Testament, vol. 1, Ages Digital Library, Albany, OR., 1997, p. 78.
[10] Ibid., p. 78.
Copyright © 2008 Jesse Acuff. All rights recerved.