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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

04 November 2005

Abel as Martyr

Q: In a sense, can Abel be considered a martyr?

Chagall: Cain and AbelA: I think that Abel (Genesis 4:1-16) was a martyr. By literal translation and in the broad sense, “martyr” means “witness.” This is exactly what his acceptable sacrifice did: It witnessed to a living faith in God. In the narrow sense, the Christian Church identifies martyrs as those who die because they confess the true Faith in the face of opposition. Abel died because of his faith (and the lack of such faith in Cain), so I would consider him a martyr in that aspect also.

The case for Abel as martyr is strengthened by his inclusion in Scripture’s great “Faith Chapter,” Hebrews 11. Verse 4 says, “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.” Is not this what we would call a martyr?

To emphasize Abel’s ongoing witness (martyrdom), we note how Hebrews 12:1-2 summarizes all the faithful named in the previous chapter: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Theology and hymnody also pick up on this picture of Abel. The hymn “Glory Be to Jesus” sings of the blood atonement made by Christ throughout its length. Abel’s blood demanded retribution and testifies to the God-given faithfulness which allowed him to offer a pleasing sacrifice and then suffer death at the hands of his brother Cain. Meanwhile, the blood of Christ demands forgiveness and testifies to His Father that our sins are paid for and we are freed from sin“s bondage, as stanza 4 notes:

Abel’s blood for vengeance
Pleaded to the skies;
But the blood of Jesus
For our pardon cries.

God answered the first call by confronting Cain and banishing him. He answered the second by raising His Son from the dead and — through Christ — promising that all who believe in His atoning sacrifice will be raised to eternal life.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.


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