1 John 3:12

Friday, 24 April 2020

…not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous. 1 John 3:12

Greek scholars and commentators almost universally note the strange grammatical construction of John’s words. There is no “who” in the original, and there is no pronoun before “the wicked one.” It is said to be irregular and almost ungrammatical. However, John is making the definite article into a demonstrative pronoun. Young’s Literal Translation says, “not as Cain – of the evil one he was.”

Stating the position of Cain in this way has, unfortunately, led many Christians into very sloppy theology. They claim that Satan actually had sex with Eve and Cain is the offspring of this union. An entire theology is built up from this type of thinking which leads into a very poor hermeneutic in much of the rest of the Bible. The point John is making is that Cain, instead of following the truth of God, followed the way of the devil.

Adam and his wife were deceived by the devil and fell. However, Adam later believed the truth of God’s word concerning the coming Messiah by faith, and the Lord clothed him and his wife – a picture of salvation. But as a lesson for all people who come from Adam, the story of Cain and Abel is immediately introduced. One son continued in faith and presented an acceptable offering to God. The other, despite offering to God, did not do so in faith. The Lord accepted Abel’s offering, but He rejected Cain’s.

This lesson was given to show exactly what John had just referred to in verses 3:7-11. One is either in Christ and his works are acceptable, or he remains of the devil and his works are not acceptable. This has nothing to do with Cain being born of a union between the devil and Eve. Rather it is a truth that affects all people on earth who descend from Adam. Cain was “of the wicked one” and his heart and actions reflected his position in the devil.

He failed to live in faith, “and murdered his brother.” The account is recorded in Genesis 4 –

“Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.” Genesis 4:2-5

Many commentaries are put forth attempting to explain why the Lord accepted Abel’s offering and why He rejected Cain’s, but they are unnecessary. The Bible explains why –

“By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.” Hebrews 4:4

Abel’s offering was one of faith. It is the consistent message of Scripture. One cannot work his way into pleasing God. Only by faith in God’s word and in His promises can one be pleasing to Him.

John next demonstrates this by using the concept of works. He asks, “And why did he murder him?” The word translated as “murder” is only found in the writings of John. It is used twice in this verse, and eight times in Revelation. It signifies to butcher, particularly an animal for food or as a sacrifice.

Cain treated his brother as an animal for sacrifice, maybe thinking that he could make up for his own failed offering by offering a man – his own brother – instead of the fruit of the ground. But he did so out of jealousy concerning his brother’s offering. In this, he only sinned more. As John says, “Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous.”

What works? It was the offerings presented to the Lord. But the works themselves show why they were or were not accepted. It is because of the faith that either accompanied them, or that was lacking in them. Abel’s works were based on his faith and extended from that faith. Cain’s works were not works of faith, and thus they were works of pride, of self, and of earning God’s favor through personal merit. The Lord rejects such works because they are of the devil.

This is the same lesson that James conveys in James 2. James is not speaking of works being a natural result of saving faith, and thus an evidence of it. Rather, he is speaking of works (if they exist) being works of faith. Only deeds of faith are acceptable to God.

Life application: Cain is the first human ever recorded as being born, and he was a murderer. The Bible records that he “was of the wicked one,” meaning the devil. Jesus said elsewhere –

“You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.” John 8:44

The devil “was a murderer from the beginning.” Jesus was indicating that it is through the work of the devil that death came into the human experience. This doesn’t mean only physical death – a result of the removal of the tree of life. It also, and more specifically, means spiritual death.

This spiritual death occurred when Satan enticed Adam and Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Just as Satan is a murderer, so Cain, who followed the path of the devil, became one. John says Cain killed his brother “because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous.”

We must remember that the offering of Abel was one of faith. The type of offering made no difference – both types of offerings are later required under the Levitical law. Instead, what matters to God is that the offering then, and our offerings now, must be of faith.

Lord, we pray that you will accept our offerings based on the faith we place behind them. Though we may not be rich by the world’s standards, we know that You will accept whatever amount we give when it is done with the proper attitude and in recognition of who You are, what You have already done on our behalf, and of what You have promised for us into the future. May it be so, to Your glory alone. Amen.








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