Did Abel offer a "sin offering" for his sacrifice?

Should the word “sin” in Genesis 4:7 be “sin-offering” as some translators suggest?

The fact is that the same Hebrew word, "hattath”, may be rendered either “sin” or “sin-offering,” according to the context in which it occurs. In the Authorjsed Version it is given, “sin,” about 17 times, and as “sin-offering” about 120 times; while it is also in a few places rendered, “punishment” (for sin). All this is of interest, because it suggests that the sin, its punishment, and the offering which atones for it, are in a sense equivalent in value, since one word serves for all three.

But naturally the above fact makes it diflicult in a few passages to decide which rendering into English is the proper one. In Gen. 4. 7 the Newberry Bible gives, “sin offering” in its margin; and this rendering well agrees with the verb “lieth” which follows, for this, as the New- berry margin also points out, is a word used of animals “crouching” or lying down. It is the same Hebrew word that occurs in Genesis  49:14 of an ass crouching down under its load, and in Isaiah 17: 2 of flocks lying down to rest.

Of course, the distinction between the various kinds of offerings was not made known at that early time as it was afterwards in Leviticus. Yet God’s act in clothing Adam and Eve with coats of the skin of some animal was doubtless an object lesson to them of the necessity for blood- shedding, as pointing the way to remission of sins. Probably most of the sacrifices offered in times prior to Leviticus took in more aspects of truth than the one, and might be considered from different points of view.

If the verse be taken in this sense, the meaning would be, “If thou art a well-doer shalt thou not be accepted? but if not, a lamb or other animal is readily available, lying as it were at thy very door, to be made use of in offering for thy sin.”


On the other hand, in Cain’s previous “gift-offering” there was no acknowledgement of sinnership on his part. He had assumed the place of a “well-doer,” without having a right to it.

An interesting point which would follow on this view of the passage is that Cain, instead of shedding the blood of the readily available animal, that it might cry for mercy on his behalf, went out to shed his brother’s blood, which cried for vengeance on him (v. 10).

W.R.