Cain’s Wife Still On Trial

Photo of Darrow asking Bryan about Cain's wifeIn the infamous Scopes Trial, William Jennings Bryan (right) was grilled by ACLU lawyer Clarence Darrow (left) about where Cain’s mysterious wife came from. Bryan did not fair well. He had no idea where Cain could have found a wife, being that he was the firstborn of Adam and Eve and had just killed his only sibling. After the murder, the narrative has Cain fleeing to a land called Nod, where he took a wife, built a city and started a family. But where did this woman come from? Was there another human race in another land the writer of Genesis didn’t know about?  And who was Cain afraid of?  Did he fear his wife’s race?  And with all these discrepancies, how can we trust the book of Genesis?  Has the story been corrupted?  Can we really trust it as written?

The truth is, the above is not an accurate rendering of what the book of Genesis says about Cain’s wife.  He did not heed the first rule in defending the Bible—know what it says.  Here are portions of the trial transcript from 1925.

Q–You have given considerable study to the Bible, haven’t you, Mr. Bryan?
A–Yes, sir, I have tried to.
Q–Then you have made a general study of it?
A–Yes, I have; I have studied the Bible for about fifty years, or sometime more than that, but, of course, I have studied it more as I have become older than when I was but a boy.


Q–Mr. Bryan, do you believe that the first woman was Eve?
Q–Do you believe she was literally made out of Adams’s rib?
A–I do.
Q–Did you ever discover where Cain got his wife?
A–No, sir; I leave the agnostics to hunt for her.
Q–You have never found out?
A–I have never tried to find
Q–You have never tried to find?
Q–The Bible says he got one, doesn’t it? Were there other people on the earth at that time?
A–I cannot say.
Q–You cannot say. Did that ever enter your consideration?
A–Never bothered me.
Q–There were no others recorded, but Cain got a wife.
A–That is what the Bible says.
Q–Where she came from you do not know. All right.

Peter said, ….always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; (1Pet. 3:15). Yet nearly a century later, Christians are still confounded by this challenge regarding Cain’s wife. Even today, it’s difficult for many to explain how the origins story in Genesis makes sense. Hopefully, this article will change that for some.

Misconceptions about Cain’s wife

The problem in understanding the ‘Cain’s wife’ challenge always boils down to two misconceptions— 1) that Cain and Able were the only children of Adam and Eve at the time of the murder— 2) and that Cain went to Nod and “found” a wife there.  Neither of these ideas come from the text.

Gen. 4:10  And He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground.  11 So now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.  12 When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you. A fugitive and a vagabond you shall be on the earth.” 13   And Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is greater than I can bear!  14 Surely You have driven me out this day from the face of the ground; I shall be hidden from Your face; I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth, and it will happen that anyone who finds me will kill me.” 15   And the LORD said to him, “Therefore, whoever kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the LORD set a mark on Cain, lest anyone finding him should kill him. 16   Then Cain went out from the presence of the LORD and dwelt in the land of Nod on the east of Eden.  17 And Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. And he built a city, and called the name of the city after the name of his son—Enoch.

Adam had multiple sons and daughters

If the Genesis reader continues on, he’ll come to Noah’s genealogy in chapter 5 (the genealogy that links Noah to Adam). It’s here we learn Adam actually fathered multiple unnamed sons and daughters.

Gen. 5:3 And Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, and begot a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.  4 After he begot Seth, the days of Adam were eight hundred years; and he had sons and daughters5 So all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years; and he died.

This genealogy only mentions one of Adam’s sons by name—Seth. No others are given, as Seth is the one who links Adam to Noah’s ancestors.  But it is mentioned that Adam had other sons and daughters letting the reader know Seth was not an only child.

But it says all Adam’s other kids came after Seth!

At a cursory glance it may appear that Seth and the other named patriarchs were firstborns, and all their siblings were born after them, but there is nothing in this passage to indicate this. Noah’s genealogy in chapter 5 tells us 4 basic facts about each patriarch. 1) His age at the time his named son was born (the son that connects him to Noah), 2) the number of years he lived after that son’s birth, 3) the fact that he had other sons and daughters, 4) and the total number of years he lived.  This pattern is consistent for every patriarch (except Noah and his sons whose deaths are not yet recorded).

The mistake some make is linking the word “after,” which refers the patriarch’s remaining years, to the statement that they had a plurality of sons and daughters. “After he begot Seth, the days of Adam were eight hundred years; and he had sons and daughters. But there is no grammatical justification for this. In the hebrew there is no indication when these children were born in relation to the patriarch’s birth.  It merely states that he had other male and female siblings.

The mention of “other sons and daughters” follows the same pattern for each patriarch. After he begot (the son), the days of (the father) were (X) years; and he had other sons and daughters. The information is very generic, with no indication the named sons were firstborns. In fact, given the age ranges of the fathers at their son’s births, it’s all but certain the birth orders of these sons varied widely.  Adam was 130 when he fathered Seth, while Mahalalel was only 65 when he fathered Jared.  Methuselah was 187 when he fathered Lemech, while Noah was 500 when he fathered Shem.  Obviously not all of these were firstborns, and it even seems doubtful Jared was the the firstborn, though his birth is the earliest recorded in relation to his father’s age.  Sixty Five years seems a bit late to father a first child even by antediluvian standards, though there’s no way of knowing what was normative then.

Note also only boys are mentioned in the genealogy.  If all the other sons and daughters were born after the named son, this means a boy was born first in every case.  But is it really reasonable to believe none of these patriarchs fathered a girl first?  Fortunately, no statistical miracle is necessary when the text is read in a simple straightforward fashion—adding nothing to the information given. The simple implication is that every patriarch had multiple sons and daughters, both before and after the named son. Seth would be no exception.  Cain was not his only living older sibling.

Adam was over a century old at Abel’s death

Even more interesting is Adam’s age at the time of Abel’s murder.  It’s sometimes assumed both sons were relatively young when they had their confrontation, but the text gives evidence to the contrary.  Take a look at how old Adam was when Seth was born.

Gen. 5:3 And Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, and begot a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.

This is significant when you realize that Seth was designated as Abel’s replacement.

Gen. 4:25  And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth, “For God has appointed another seed for me instead of Abel, whom Cain killed.”

If Seth was born 130 years after Adam was created, and he was designated as Abel’s replacement, then Abel must have died only shortly before Seth’s birth. He would have had to have been the next born son after Abel’s death for Eve’s statement to make sense.  Implicitly, this means Abel, if born early on in Adam’s life, was well over a century old when his older brother killed him.  Regardless, Abel was killed nearly 130 years into human history—perhaps year 129 or 128.  He should have had dozens of siblings by that time.

Think about it.  If Seth was only the 3rd born to Adam and Eve, and yet wasn’t born until Adam was 130 years old, this would mean Adam and Eve only averaged 1 child every 43 years.  Remember, Adam was created a mature adult, ready to procreate from day 1 (Gen. 1:27).  Three boys in 130 years?  Does such a scenario seem remotely plausible?  What is more, Eve was formed directly by the hand of God (Gen. 2:21-22). Think she may have been a looker?  She, like Adam, would have been a genetic masterpiece.  Keep in mind also, there was no TV, internet, nor even a deck of cards to pass the time. Do you really believe Adam only got that twinkle in his eye every 43 years?  A simple examination of the text implies no such thing.  Adam and Eve had multiple sons and daughters before Abel’s murder.

Insights from jewish tradition

While not authoritative, Josephus—a first century Jewish historian—does gives us some insight into what the ancient Jews believed about the first couple and their family history.  According to his sources, Adam and Eve had a total of 33 sons and 23 daughters (Antiq. 1:68-3 notes).

He also mentions the early births of some daughters along with Cain and Abel.

Antiq. 1:52 Adam and Eve had two sons; the elder of them was named Cain; which name, when it is interpreted, signifies a possession. The younger was Abel, which signifies sorrow. They had also daughters.

This is not inspired revelation, but definitely compatible with what’s revealed in Genesis—especially considering Adam’s lifespan of 935 years.

But that means that Cain married his sister.  That’s incest!

The implication is that Cain’s wife was a sister or niece and it is true the Bible forbids us to marry siblings and close relatives. But this command came thousands of years later.

Leviticus 18:6 No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations. I am the LORD.

Originally, marrying a sister was not only lawful, but necessary. Even Abraham was married to his half sister, Sarah, daughter of his father Terah (Gen. 20:12). God likely restricted marriage later on in Moses’ time as the gene pool became corrupted, and birth defects became a higher risk.  But in the beginning, this was not an issue. Adam and Eve and their early descendants would have all been genetic masterpieces.

Cain’s wife was not found in the land of Nod

The other big misconception about Cain’s wife is that she was found by Cain in the land of Nod.  But the text never specifically states this.

Gen. 416  Then Cain went out from the presence of the LORD and dwelt in the land of Nod on the east of Eden.  17 And Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. And he built a city, and called the name of the city after the name of his son—Enoch.

There is no indication Cain met his wife after leaving the presence of God and traveling to Nod.  We’re merely told he knew his wife and built a city.  In fact, the text doesn’t even say he knew his wife in Nod.  It merely states he knew her (had sexual relations with her) and started a family.  The language is very simple and concise and nothing should be read into it.

Cain was already married when he murdered Abel

The more likely scenario is that Cain was already married and traveled to Nod with his wife.  For Cain at the time would have also been over a century old if he was Adam’s firstborn son, and there is some textual evidence to support this.  Notice what Eve says at the time of his birth.

Gen. 4:1 Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, “I have acquired a man from the LORD.”  2 Then she bore again, this time his brother Abel.

Cain’s name carries the meaning of acquisition, and Eve specifically states she acquired a male (eesh) from God. Rather than using a generic term, she used one that emphacized his gender. “I have acquired a man.”  While this leaves open the possibility a daughter may have preceded him, it still implies he was her first son, with Abel arriving soon after.

Being over a century old, Cain not only would have been married, but may have had several generations of descendants. After 100 years, how could this not be the case?  Depending on how long it took men and women to mature in those days, it’s possible he and Abel were patriarchs of sizable clans at that time, along with some of their other brothers.

Cain may have feared Abel’s descendants

Photo of Cain distressed after being banishedWith generational exponential growth, the number of Adam’s descendants on the earth at that time would have been in the thousands, conservatively.  Now it makes perfect sense why Cain was afraid.

Gen. 4:13 And Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! 14 “Surely You have driven me out this day from the face of the ground; I shall be hidden from Your face; I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth, and it will happen that anyone who finds me will kill me.”

Cain probably feared retribution from Abel’s children and grandchildren, and maybe even from his own!  I would imagine his own children were very fond of their uncle, Abel.  The communities at that time may have been large, but still would have been tight-knit.  Word of his deed would have traveled fast from village to village.  Imagine the outrage upon hearing about the murder of one of earth’s most beloved icons—especially at a time when no one had yet died of old age, and perhaps not at all.  Cain had very good reason to fear for his life. All would have known him and all would have hated him.  Without God’s protection, he wouldn’t have lasted long.

Gen. 4:15 And the LORD said to him, “Therefore, whoever kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the LORD set a mark on Cain, lest anyone finding him should kill him.

We don’t know exactly what this mark was, but his relatives did, and respected God’s will.

More insights from Jewish tradition

The biblical account gives us sufficient information to conclude that Cain was likely already married and traveled to Nod with his wife rather than finding her there.  Nevertheless, it is fascinating how well Jewish tradition corroborates this.  Josephus confirms Cain was indeed married at the time of his exile and that both he and his wife were sent away.  He also confirms Cain had multiple generations of children.

Antiq. 1:58 God therefore did not inflict the punishment [of death] upon him, on account of his offering sacrifice, and thereby making supplication to him not to be extreme in his wrath to him; but he made him accursed, and threatened his posterity in the seventh generation. He also cast him, together with his wife, out of that land.

….60 And when Cain had travelled over many countries, he, with his wife, built a city named Nod, which is a place so called, and there he settled his abode; where also he had children…

He later records that Cain built a city and sent word for his children (presumably his earlier born children) to join him there (Antiq. 1:62). None of this is inspired, but it does corroborate the inspired text nicely.

Always Be Ready

Looking back, wouldn’t it have been great if William Jennings Bryan knew his Bible better?  What if, heeding Peter’s admonition, he would have been able to explain to the jury at least some possibly scenarios of where Cain got his wife?  What if his testimony, instead, went something like this?

Q–Mr. Bryan, do you believe that the first woman was Eve?
Q–Do you believe she was literally made out of Adams’s rib?
A–I do.
Q–Did you ever discover where Cain got his wife?
A–Yes.  The record indicates Cain’s wife was the daughter or granddaughter of Adam and Eve.
Q–Really?  But doesn’t the Bible say Cain was the firstborn of Adam and Eve and had just killed his only sibling?
A–No, it actually doesn’t.  Genesis 5 says Adam had other sons and daughters besides Cain, Abel, and Seth, and there is evidence from the account that more than a century had gone by before Abel’s murder.
Q–100 years?
A–Yes.  According to Noah’s genealogy, Seth was not born until Adam was 130 years old.  Since Seth was said to be Abel’s replacement, he must have been born soon after Abel’s death.  Adam likely had many other children during that time, including many daughters.
Q–So Cain married his sister?  Isn’t that against Old Testament Law?
A–No.  That Law was not given to Moses until thousands of years later.  Early in human history, men married their close relatives often.  Even Abraham married his half sister.
Q–So there were plenty of women for Cain to choose from among Adam’s descendants?
A–Yes.  According to Jewish tradition, Adam had 56 total children, including 23 daughters.  The Bible doesn’t give an exact number, but since Adam lived over 900 years, that seems plausible.
Q–But I thought Cain found his wife in Nod?
A–No.  The text doesn’t say that.  It merely says he went to Nod and had relations with his wife.  There is no indication he found her there.  It’s more likely she went there with him.
Q–Cain was already married?
A–Yes. That seems to fit with the text much better.
Q–Hmmm.  So I guess Cain’s wife isn’t really that big of a mystery.
A–No.  Not really.
Q–Okay.  No further questions on this.  Let’s move on….

It’s difficult to say how much the above hypothetical performance would have changed the current creation/evolution debate.  But such a performance would have brought glory to God, and likely would have taken the ‘Cain’s wife’ objection completely off the table.

Further Reading

One Blood: The biblical answer to racism
Chapter 1: Cain’s wife

Feedback: Cain’s wife and brother-sister intermarriage

Always Be Ready


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