A biblical novelist looks at Genesis - part 3
“By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.” Hebrews 11:4 I’m deliberately skipping Adam’s story to focus on the first person mentioned in the hall of faith in Hebrews 11. The man’s name was Abel, second born son of Adam and Eve, according to Genesis 4.
The writers of New Testament—Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, James, Jude, and the writer of Hebrews—as well as the words of Jesus—all refer to people of the Old Testament by name. Some quote the actual words they spoke. Others use their lives as examples to teach something new.
Some would argue that the stories in the Old Testament as simply that—stories, like the type Jesus told when He spoke in parables. But there is one clear difference in the stories of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible or Old Testament) and the parables of Jesus.
The stories of the Old Testament named the people involved. In His parables, Jesus did not use names. Neither did Nathan the prophet use a name when he spoke his “parable” to King David.
In a parable, Jesus would start something like this—“A sower went out to sow—or, The kingdom of heaven is like—or, What do you think? A man had two sons…” And so on. Nathan came to King David and said, “There were two men in a certain city…”
But when Jesus wanted to make a point about people from Jewish history, He named those people. He mentioned David’s actions, and compared himself to Jonah, and spoke of the fields in relation to King Solomon.
When Matthew wanted the Jewish people to understand that Jesus was the Christ and that He descended from King David, Matthew included Jesus' genealogy at the beginning of his book. He also often quoted Old Testament prophecies to show how Jesus had fulfilled them.
Peter spoke of Noah and Michael the archangel. Paul spoke of Adam and Abraham and Sarah and Hagar and Jacob and Esau. Jude spoke of Enoch and Adam. James spoke of Abraham and Isaac and Rahab.
And Hebrews gives us a lineage of faith in chapter eleven, which is where we meet Abel, the guy mentioned in Genesis, second son of Adam and Eve. The man who, in faith, offered a proper sacrifice to God. The man who was murdered by his brother.
All that to say—If Adam and Eve were not real people, then Abel did not exist, and his faith no longer speaks to us today. What difference does it make? Couldn’t a metaphor speak? Sure. But if you read the chapter, you can tell by the wording that the writer is telling stories of people he believes to be real. “Abel, though he is dead, still speaks.” A metaphor doesn’t die. People die. But though Abel is dead, his faith still speaks.
More on that faith tomorrow.