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Genesis 4 Summary - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Ch. Gen 4:1-16. The Narrative of Cain and Abel. (J.)

The vivid interest, which this section inspires, sometimes causes it to be forgotten that we have here the only tradition relating to the family life of Adam and Eve.

The narrative, as we have it, is evidently intended to describe the spread of sin, its hereditary character, and its issue in violent deeds and death. It is conceivable that J preserved other ancient narratives in which the Hebrew folk-lore recounted the sayings and doings of the first family and their descendants. They might have answered the questions which the gaps in the present narrative inevitably raise; e.g. what was the origin of sacrifice ( Gen 4:3)? why was Cain’s sacrifice rejected ( Gen 4:5)? whose vengeance did Cain fear ( Gen 4:14)? did Cain confess his deed to his parents? who was Cain’s wife ( Gen 4:17)? who lived in the city which Cain built ( Gen 4:17)? As it is, such questions are incapable of being answered, except by conjecture. Only such portions of the Hebrew folk-lore have been incorporated from the J source of narrative as seemed likely to serve the religious purpose of the book.

Our curiosity remains unsatisfied. The narratives, more especially in the early part of Genesis, obviously make no claim to be regarded as complete. They are brief, disjointed, and fragmentary excerpts from Hebrew tradition, recording the popular belief respecting the infancy of the human race.

In its original setting, the narrative of Cain and Abel may have been intended to give an account of the first murder, and to supply the origin of blood-revenge. At any rate, the absence of any reference to Adam and Eve between Gen 4:2 and Gen 4:24 is very noticeable.

1, 2. The birth of Cain and Abel.

3 7. The sacrifices of Cain and Abel: Abel’s accepted, Cain’s rejected: Cain’s anger; Jehovah’s remonstrance.

8 15. Cain’s murder of Abel: the curse of Jehovah: Cain’s fear, and the sign of Jehovah for his protection.

16. Cain an exile.

Consult other comments:

Genesis 4:0 - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Genesis 4:0 - Commentary on the Holy Bible by Thomas Coke

Genesis 4:0 - John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible

Genesis 4:0 - Matthew Henry's Whole Bible Commentary

Genesis 4:0 - Jamieson, Fausset and Brown's Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

Genesis 4:0 - English Annotations on the Holy Bible by Matthew Poole

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges