What does Hebrews 11:4 mean?
ESV: 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.
NIV: By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.
NASB: By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he was attested to be righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks.
CSB: By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was approved as a righteous man, because God approved his gifts, and even though he is dead, he still speaks through his faith.
NLT: It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did. Abel’s offering gave evidence that he was a righteous man, and God showed his approval of his gifts. Although Abel is long dead, he still speaks to us by his example of faith.
KJV: By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.
NKJV: By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.
Verse Commentary:
This passage focuses on examples of faithful obedience from the Old Testament, to show that God's favor was on those whose trust led to obedience. Abel was the second son of Adam and Eve, after his older brother Cain (Genesis 4:1–2). Both brought sacrifices to God, but Abel's was apparently a more sincere and acceptable sacrifice than Cain's (Genesis 4:3–5). Despite God's reassurances, Cain responded to God's rejection of his sacrifice by murdering his brother and attempting to hide the body (Genesis 4:6–10).

This makes Abel an interesting inclusion on this list. The pattern being shown here is that God will bless those who respond to Him in obedience—yet the opening example is the victim of Scripture's first recorded murder! However, this fits perfectly with the purpose of the book of Hebrews. Faith, as defined earlier, is a forward-looking trust that God will make good on His promises, even when that fulfillment is "unseen" to us. Abel obeyed God's commands, in faith, and was accepted by God. As the writer of Hebrews has shown, it is this trusting faith—not ritual actions—which brings God's commendation. Abel's sacrifice didn't cleanse him from sin (Hebrews 10:3–4); his faith in God is what saved him.

Despite suffering a violent end to his earthly life, God worked out everything for Abel's good (Romans 8:28–30), in an eternal sense. Abel was "accepted" by God, while his murderer was not. And, Abel's example of faith is still a potent lesson, despite the fact that he was killed for it.

Interestingly, the next figure mentioned as an example of faith is Enoch, a man who apparently was taken by God before experiencing physical death (Genesis 5:24). The contrast between these two lives is no accident. The writer of Hebrews is specifically pointing out that the circumstances of our earthly lives, even when they seem impossible to understand, are irrelevant to God's plans for us. He can, and will, fulfill His promises out of things unseen.
Verse Context:
Hebrews 11:4–16 gives examples of figures from the Old Testament who demonstrated faith in God and were blessed as a result. Persons such as Abel, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah are commended for their trust in God's promises. In particular, this segment of the book of Hebrews focuses on those who heard from God, obeyed, and were blessed. While their actions are important, the common theme of these early references is obedience to God when fulfillment of His promises seems distant. The following passage will explore a similar idea, but in the context of those who demonstrated faith in the face of more immediate hardship.
Chapter Summary:
True, godly faith is defined as trust, relying on God when looking to the future, and obeying even when we don't fully understand all details. The great figures of the Old Testament, such as Abraham, Moses, and David, all lived according to this type of faith. Ultimately, that means trusting God's intent to make good on His promises from an eternal perspective. The model of faith presented by those people, in light of the struggles they faced, ought to inspire Christians towards a more confident, purposeful faith.
Chapter Context:
Up to this point, the book of Hebrews has given extensive evidence proving that Jesus Christ, and the new covenant He brought about, is God's ultimate plan for mankind's salvation. Chapter 10 provided an additional warning about the danger of falling away from this truth. Chapter 11 begins by clarifying the meaning of the word ''faith,'' primarily by listing examples of Old Testament figures who exemplify it. The ultimate application of this knowledge should be a motivation to ''hold fast'' to the gospel, despite hardships. That encouragement is a major theme of chapter 12.
Book Summary:
The book of Hebrews is meant to challenge, encourage, and empower Christian believers. According to this letter, Jesus Christ is superior to all other prophets and all other claims to truth. Since God has given us Christ, we ought to listen to what He says and not move backwards. The consequences of ignoring God are dire. Hebrews is important for drawing on many portions of the Old Testament in making a case that Christ is the ultimate and perfect expression of God's plan for mankind. This book presents some tough ideas about the Christian faith, a fact the author makes specific note of.
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