James Hastings Dictionary of the NT: Abel

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James Hastings Dictionary of the NT: Abel


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ABEL ( äֶáֶì , Ἄâåë ).—. The name occurs in the Gospels only in Mat_23:35 || Luk_11:51, where Jesus declares that the blood of the prophets will be required of this generation. The passage is one of a series of invectives against Pharisaism, collected in Matthew 23, parts of which are preserved in Luke 11, 13, 14, 20, 21. Abel is named as the first of the long line of martyrs whose blood had been shed during the period covered by the OT, the last being Zachariah (which see). ‘In both cases the ἐêæÞôçóéò is indicated: “the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground” (Gen_4:10); “the Lord look upon it, and require it” (2Ch_24:22).’ In St. Matthew the words are addressed to the Pharisees in the 2nd person: ‘that upon you may come every righteous blood [.e. the blood of each righteous person] shed upon the earth, from the blood of Abel the righteous, until the blood of Zachariah … etc.’ In St. Luke the passage is thrown into the 3rd person: ‘that the blood of all the prophets which hath been shed from the foundation of the world may be required of this generation, from the blood of Abel until the blood of Zachariah … etc.’

The description of Abel in St. Matthew as ‘the righteous’ is noteworthy, and should be compared with Heb_11:4. In the story of Abel nothing whatever is said as to his moral character; the contrast between him and his brother lay in the fact that ‘Jehovah had respect unto Abel and to his offering; but unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect.’ The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews says that it was faith which led Abel to offer the more excellent sacrifice; but wherein the excellence consisted the narrative of Genesis does not explain. But the expression ôïῦ äéêáßïõ seems to reflect the Pharisaic conception of righteousness as that which ‘consisted primarily in the observance of all the rites and ceremonies prescribed in the law’ (cf. Luk_1:6). Abel’s offering must have been preferred presumably because it was in some way more to God’s liking—more correct. This, however, was not consonant with Christ’s idea of righteousness—‘except your righteousness shall abound beyond that of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven’ (Mat_5:20). It may be concluded, therefore, that St. Luke has preserved the more original form of Christ’s words, and that ‘the righteous’ is an addition in Mat_23:35 due to current Jewish conceptions.

2. It is possible that Christ had the story of Abel in mind when He spoke of the devil as being ‘a murderer ( ἀíèñùðïêôüíïò ) from the beginning,’ i.e. the instigator of murder as he is of lies (Joh_8:44). But the passage may be a reference to the introduction of death into the world by the fall of Adam.

3. In Heb_12:24 the ‘blood of Abel’ is contrasted with the ‘blood of sprinkling’ under the new dispensation. In Gen_4:10 God says: ‘Hark! ( ÷åֹì ) thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground,’ .e. it pleads for vengeance. But the blood of sprinkling ‘speaketh something better’ ( êñåῖôôïí ëáëïῦíôé ): it is the blood shed in ratification of a New Covenant, whose mediator is Jesus.

Literature.—The most recent commentaries on Matthew and Luke (ad locc.); Wright, Synopsis of the Gospels in Greek, p. 232; Sanday-Headlam, Romans, pp. 28–31, on äßêáéïò and its cognates; Driver, Genesis (in Westminster commentaries); Dillmann, ‘Genesis,’ in Kurzgef. exeget. Handb. z. AT [English translation by Stevenson, Edinburgh, 1897]; Marcus Dods, ‘Genesis’ in Expositor’s Bible.

A. H. M‘Neile.