Sometimes it seems like a biblical phrase is missing: “And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him” (Gen 4:8 KJV). Literally, the phrase is even more awkward: “And Cain said to Abel his brother. And it came to pass.”
Some translators soften the awkwardness by changing “And Cain said to Abel” to something like “Cain spoke to Abel”—thereby removing our expectation. But what did Cain say to Abel? We could surmise that he said, “Let’s go out into the field.” And that’s exactly what some translations include.
These translations include “Let’s go out into the field.”
DARBY, YLT, RSV, NIV, NRSV, HCSB, NLT, NIRV, GOOD NEWS, NET, TNIV, NCV. 1
These translations don’t.
KJV, ASV, NKJV, ESV, NASB, GW, TANAKH, MESSAGE.
Ancient manuscripts of the Bible are like snowflakes—no two are alike—hence the differences in English translations. The English translations that include “Let’s go out into the field” note that it occurs in ancient Bible translations: Greek, Syriac, Latin and Samaritan Hebrew. On the other hand, the KJV and many subsequent translations followed the traditional Hebrew text, known as the Masoretic Text. But which one is the Word of God? And why is there a difference in Gen 4:8?
It’s possible that the phrase “Let’s go out into the field” was added by a scribe to fix the awkwardness. But it’s also possible that an ancient translator had a Hebrew text that actually included “Let’s go out into the field.” That would mean that at some point a scribe copying the Masoretic Text made a mistake. Here’s how it could have happened.
ויהי בהיותם בשדה
And when they were in the field …
“Let’s go out into the field.”
ויאמר קין אל הבל אחיו
And Cain said to his brother Abel,
Reading right-to-left, the scribe, copying letter-by-letter, copied the first ו (waw)—the Hebrew word for “and.” But when he glanced back to the original page, his eye skipped to the other ו (“waw”). Consequently, “Let’s go into the field” was skipped.
The difference in the English translations isn’t a matter of right or wrong; it’s one of preference.
Some English translations go with the traditional Hebrew text and others choose to incorporate other ancient versions.
The miracle of the Bible is that God preserved His Word throughout history. The essential message is unchanged: It transcends time, culture, and language—speaking to each of us.
Ancient Versions of the Old Testament
Greek Septuagint. Started in the third century BC.
Hebrew Masoretic Text. The textual tradition that is the basis for most English translations, like the KJV. Dates back to at least the time of the Dead Sea Scrolls—ca. 250 BC–70 AD.
Latin Vulgate. The Latin translation of the fifth century AD church.
Samaritan Hebrew Pentateuch. Only Genesis–Deuteronomy. Also dates back to at least the time of the Scrolls.
Syriac Peshitta. Syriac is an ancient, widely spoken language. This translation was completed in the third to fourth centuries AD.
1. The YLT includes the phrase in italics.↩