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The Epistle of Jude: Against Gnosticism

Jesus' brother, Jude, wrote a letter to the Jewish Christian congregations in the first century, warning them about Gnosticism and also urging them to stand firm in faith against their Jewish critics.

Category - Bible Commentaries

Chapter 7

The Way of Cain

Jude 11 says,

11 Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.

The word “woe” comes from the Greek ouai, which is a primary expression of grief and means “alas, woe.” It is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew owy or howy, pronounced in a similar way as in Greek. The translation “woe” implies denunciation, but the word has a broader meaning that includes lamentation or admonition. Jude used the word not merely to denounce the Gnostics but to lament their error, to express his disagreement with their course of action, and to admonish them to repent.

Jude refers to three sad examples of men’s errors into which the Gnostics had fallen. The first is “the way of Cain.”

Cain’s Lack of Love

Cain was the first murderer in biblical history. Gen. 4:8 says, “Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.”

Cain was a farmer, while Abel was a herdsman or shepherd (Gen. 4:2). They had been given the revelation of offerings and sacrifices, even at that early date, being acquainted with the laws of labor that were given later in greater detail under Moses. So Cain offered “the fruit of the ground,” and Abel offered one of the “firstlings of the flock” (Gen. 4:3, 4).

Some have found fault with Cain’s offering because it was not a blood sacrifice pointing to Christ’s death on the cross. However, the boys were offering the first fruits of that which they were producing. In the laws of Moses, both types of offering were acceptable, though a blood offering exclusively was required to cover sin. We find that God accepted Abel’s offering but “had no regard” for Cain’s offering (Gen. 4:5). In other words, God did not send fire to consume his offering. The Genesis account gives no specific reason.

We are given a reason in 1 John 3:11, 12,

11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, 12 not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil and his brother’s were righteous.

So Cain’s “deeds were evil,” and apparently, he was jealous of his brother’s righteous character. He resented his brother when God accepted Abel’s offering but not his own.

How to Present an Acceptable Offering

Jesus gave some advice about offerings in the “Sermon on the Mount.” Matt. 5:23, 24 says,

23 Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.

One’s offering may be perfect in itself, but if one’s heart is not right, the offering is polluted. Even before Cain offered, his heart was not right with his brother. He did not rise up and kill his brother on a sudden surge of hatred and jealousy. His murderous act was the outworking of what was already in his heart. Hence, his offering was defiled and profaned by the disease in his own heart.

Many years later, the prophets denounced Israel’s offerings for the same reason. Isaiah told Israel in Isaiah 1:13-15,

13 Bring your worthless offerings no longer; incense is an abomination to Me, new moon and Sabbath, the calling of assemblies—I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. 14 I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feast; they have become a burden to Me. I am weary of bearing them. 15 So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood.

In other words, their deeds were evil and their lawless hearts defiled their sacrifices, even if their offerings met the physical requirements of the law. One’s offerings are representations of one’s heart, and if the heart is defiled, the offerings are defiled as well and have no value in the eyes of God. The way of Cain, then, is to do religious things without a cleansed heart.

Jesus pronounced “woe” upon the Pharisees for doing this very thing. Matthew 23:25-28 says,

25 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. 27 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Jesus was telling them to cleanse their hearts so that their deeds (temple service) might be acceptable to God. The temple priests had killed the prophets for the same reason that Cain had killed Abel (Matt. 23:31, 34, 37). Their descendants, the religious men in Jerusalem, had followed the way of Cain by first hating and then crucifying Jesus (Acts 2:36; 7:52).

Jesus’ parable of the vineyard in Matt. 21:33-44 shows that they crucified Jesus, not because they failed to recognize Him, but because they knew that He was the Son of God. Matt. 21:37-39 says,

37 But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” 38 But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and seize his inheritance.” 39 And they took him, and threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.

By this parable, Jesus revealed that the chief priests would recognize that He was indeed the Son of God and would crucify Him in order to usurp the “vineyard” (Kingdom) for their own use. Abel was but the first of a long line of martyrs that reached a climax with Jesus’ martyrdom and this hatred and violence has continued until today. So we find that Cain knew who Abel was, and he killed his brother accordingly, motivated by hatred and jealousy.

To our knowledge, the Gnostics had not killed any Christians in the first century, but yet they were following “the way of Cain” by pretending to be true believers while having unclean hearts. Both the Gnostics and the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem had unclean hearts.

Jasher’s Account

There have been at least two spurious books in the past, claiming to be the original Book of Jasher. However, there is also one that is at least more authentic. A very old copy of Jasher, very nearly illegible by that time, was found in Venice in 1613 in a rabbi’s office. It was translated into English and published in 1840.

Though I believe it contains portions that were added later, I believe that this copy is mostly authentic, because it contains details of chronology and events that establish the principle of Cursed Time. In those days the author probably could not have known about 414-year cycles of Cursed Time, and certainly any recent forger would not have had this revelation. For this reason, I give credence to this version of Jasher with only a few reservations about certain passages. I treat it as a credible history book but would not try to insert it into the Bible nor give it the same level of inspiration as Bible books.

The Book of Jasher (mentioned in Joshua 10:13 and again in 2 Samuel 1:18) tells us in Jasher 1:16,

16 And unto Cain and his offering the Lord did not turn, and he did not incline to it, for he had brought from the inferior fruit of the ground before the Lord, and Cain was jealous against his brother Abel on account of this, and he sought a pretext to slay him.

Bringing “inferior fruit” to God as an offering is the equivalent of bringing blind sheep (Mal. 1:8) as an offering to God. Sacrifices were supposed to be unblemished, because they represented the perfect offering that was yet to come in the Person of Jesus Christ. To present an inferior sacrifice was to testify falsely in the divine court that they wanted or preferred an imperfect messiah. Such a desire also exposed the defiled condition of their hearts and revealed their own blindness. In other words, blind people offer blind sacrifices to God.

Jasher also says plainly that “Cain was jealous against his brother Abel.” This is consistent with the apostle’s suggestion of Cain’s jealousy (1 John 3:12).

The Gnostics were clearly jealous of the apostolic power to impart the Holy Spirit to believers. Simon Magus, the founder of Gnosticism, was proud of his own power (Acts 8:9, 10), and when he saw the works of the apostles, he offered them money to be given the same gift (Acts 8:18, 19). Peter renounced him, of course, because he saw in Simon “that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity” (Acts 8:23).

It is not difficult to see in Simon a spirit of jealousy toward the apostles, especially after his offer was rejected. This spirit of jealousy later characterized the entire Gnostic movement, for they attempted to supplant true Christianity as if the Holy Spirit had been imparted to them. Jude saw this spirit in them and attributed it to “the way of Cain.”