Genesis 4:8: Why did Cain Murder His Brother? -- By: Callie Joubert

Journal: Conspectus
Volume: CONSPECTUS 26:1 (Sep 2018)
Article: Genesis 4:8: Why did Cain Murder His Brother?
Author: Callie Joubert

Genesis 4:8: Why did Cain Murder His Brother?

Callie Joubert


Abel Cain Envy Murder Passions

About The Author1

Callie Joubert

PHD (UK-ZN); DPhil (UJ); MPhil/ BPhil(US); BA (UNISA); Dipl in Theology (TCSA). Callie is a Postgraduate research supervisor at the South African Theological Seminary.


The literature on Genesis 4:1−16 advances several reasons why Cain murdered Abel. The majority of commentators believe that Cain killed him because of anger, jealousy or envy. Some suggest that the murder is to be explained by Cain’s depression. Those who believe that Cain was jealous of Abel often confuse jealousy with envy. Then there are those who oppose the idea that Cain killed Abel out of envy, and suggest that God was capricious to reject Cain’s offering. The aim of this paper is to make sense of these divergent views. First, it establishes with whom Cain was angry and why he got depressed. The thesis is that Cain got angry at God and not Abel, and became depressed because he realised that he could not obtain what he desired (God’s favour) on his own terms. It then clarifies the conceptual connection between envy, covetousness and jealousy, and argues that Cain murdered Abel because he envied, resented and hated him for his character and spiritual qualities, and because he lost honour and esteem. It concludes, in contrast to critics, that God was not capricious when he rejected Cain and his offering.

This article:

1. Introduction

The Christian scriptures are an inexhaustible resource for the study of human feelings. That is hardly surprising, given the role that the passions and affections (emotions) play in our everyday relationships, not only interpersonally, but also our daily living in relation to our Maker. Scripture reveals that people are subject to joy and depression, to anger and fear, to sadness and grief. That is because we are self-conscious and goal-seeking creatures; we can recognise what frustrates our desires and purposes, and we can reflect on them and the loss of what we value. Because we are by nature social creatures, we are given to love, affection and loyalty, hence also subject to anger, envy, hate, hostility, jealousy, resentment, sorrow, guilt, shame, remorse and regret. Thus, and most importantly, in displaying our feelings, we reveal ourselves – what kind of person we are, what we care about, how much we care, and what ...

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