Friday, November 16, 2012

Where Did Cain's Wife Come From?

Q: Hi. Please tell me I'm not the first one to ask this:
When Cain killed Abel and God made him move away... the scriptures make it sound like he married someone already existing and not from Adam and Eve. What is your take?

A: No, you are not the first person to ask this! In fact, this question has been raised many times, perhaps none more famously than during the Scopes Trial, which was captured in this classic movie clip from the fictional reenactment of the trial called: Inherit The Wind.

It's a good question, and one that Christians ought to be able to answer better than in the above clip! In fact, that embarrassing answer would have been better had it only occurred in a movie. But it didn't. I believe that our culture is still feeling the impact of poorly defended biblical truth, especially as it relates to this realm of "Science vs. Bible."

So, you asked for my take -- here goes!

The Bible tells us some important information regarding Adam and Eve. First, Genesis 3:20, "The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all the living." (NET)

According to this passage, Eve is the mother of all the living, and this is translated from the Hebrew word kol which means, well, "all." Every living human being has their ancestral source in this first couple, which applies to Cain's wife, too!

This truth is reiterated in the New Testament writings as well:

From one man he made every nation of the human race to inhabit the entire earth, determining their set times and the fixed limits of the places where they would live... (Acts 17:26, NET, emphasis added)

So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all people because all sinned– (Romans 5:12, NET)

Adam (and Eve) are the source of all human beings, in all places, at all times. The population of the human race was drastically lowered at the time of the Flood (down to 8), and every current living person can trace their lineage all the back to one of the 4 couples on the ark.

So, where did Cain get his wife? She was one of the children of Adam and Eve (thus, Cain's sister) or possibly a grandchild of Adam and Eve (thus, Cain's niece).

The way the question was asked, at least in the Scopes Trial, demonstrates a level of ignorance on both the questioner and the answerer -- because they were operating on the assumption that there were just 4 people on earth at the time: Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel.

But is that what the Bible teaches?

Part of the hermeneutical (read: interpretive) problems that often arise is that assumptions are read into the text. Our task as handlers of the biblical revelation, however, is not to add our assumptions in, but to extract God's message out of the text as He intends it to be received.

So, where does the assumption enter in this case? It enters that we assume that since the Bible names 4 people, that there are only 4 people. But that's not a fair assumption!

If we simply allow the text to speak for itself, we see in Genesis 3:20 that Eve is the mother of all the living, that Adam and Eve had two sons (at least), named Cain and Abel, and that these two grew up and entered into some semblance of a profession (Abel, a shepherd, 4:2; Cain, a farmer, 4:3). After God was pleased with the offering of Abel and not Cain, Cain decided to murder his brother (4:8-9).

God's judgment upon Cain is to drive him out of the land (4:10-11) and cause him to be a homeless wanderer on the earth (4:12). So, out goes Cain into the land of Nod (in Hebrew, Nod literally means "wandering") in 4:16, and then in 4:17 there appears a new person in the narrative, Cain's wife!

Where should we suppose she came from? Should we assume, as some skeptics do, that there was another "race" or civilization of people who are living in the "land of wandering" east of Eden?

Or should we continue to take the details of the narrative as they've been given and say that this unnamed woman who was Cain's wife was part of "all the living" who were born to Eve just a few verses earlier?

It is not uncommon for the Scriptures to give general information with a lack of specifics about the number and names of children, especially as it relates to women (anyone catch the names of Ham, Shem, and Japheth's wives? About about Noah's wife?).

In fact, in the general overview that we are given regarding Adam and Eve's life we are told the following:

This is the record of the family line of Adam. When God created humankind, he made them in the likeness of God. He created them male and female; when they were created, he blessed them and named them "humankind." When Adam had lived 130 years he fathered a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and he named him Seth. The length of time Adam lived after he became the father of Seth was 800 years; during this time he had other sons and daughters. (Genesis 5:1-4, NET)

Read that passage very carefully. Adam and Eve are the parents of "humankind." Adam and Eve had (at least) 2 sons, Cain and Abel, in the first 130 years of their life. After Cain murdered Abel, they had a third son named Seth when Adam was 130 years old. Adam ended up living to be 930 years old ... and during this 930 years they had other sons and daughters.

How many?

What were their names?

When were they born?

The Bible simply doesn't tell us. We can be sure, however, that Adam and Eve had a bunch of kids - both sons and daughters - during their lifetime, and that no other people existed on the earth because Eve is the mother of all the living and it is through Adam and Eve that more humans come into existence, at least until their offspring start reproducing as well.

It is also important to note the way Genesis 4:17 records Cain's actions in the land of Nod: Cain had marital relations with his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. (NET)

If we assume that Cain "found" a wife, we are again reading something into the text and not out of it. The simplest explanation of what occurred is that Cain was kicked-out of the land of Eden, so he (and his wife) left for the land of Nod, and when they got there, Mrs. Cain makes her first appearance in the narrative because her participation in the "knowing" that results in Enoch's conception and birth is pretty important.

Biblical narrative often leaves characters out of focus unless and until their appearance is necessary. For example, compare the following accounts:

Now when evening had already come, since it was the day of preparation (that is, the day before the Sabbath), Joseph of Arimathea, a highly regarded member of the council, who was himself looking forward to the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate was surprised that he was already dead. He called the centurion and asked him if he had been dead for some time. When Pilate was informed by the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph. After Joseph bought a linen cloth and took down the body, he wrapped it in the linen and placed it in a tomb cut out of the rock. Then he rolled a stone across the entrance of the tomb. (Mark 15:42-46, NET)


After this, Joseph of Arimathea, a disciple of Jesus (but secretly, because he feared the Jewish leaders), asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission, so he went and took the body away. Nicodemus, the man who had previously come to Jesus at night, accompanied Joseph, carrying a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about seventy-five pounds. Then they took Jesus' body and wrapped it, with the aromatic spices, in strips of linen cloth according to Jewish burial customs. Now at the place where Jesus was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden was a new tomb where no one had yet been buried. And so, because it was the Jewish day of preparation and the tomb was nearby, they placed Jesus' body there. (John 19:38-42, NET)

In the re-telling of this same aspect of Jesus' burial, one account describes Joseph of Arimathea and makes it sound like he's alone, where the other talks about Nicodemus. Is this contradictory? No!

John has a purpose for telling us that Nicodemus is there - because Nicodemus played an important role throughout the Gospel of John - where Mark ignores his presence because if he mentioned him, everyone reading or hearing this account would of said, "Who?"

Mrs. Cain did not need to be a part of the story up until Cain (and his bride) found themselves in Nod. Once she was relevant to the story being told, the narrator tells us about her. If we were to ask the narrator - Moses - the same question: Where did Cain's wife come from?, I am inclined to believe that he would answer, "I already told you that Eve was the mother of all the living... she came from Eve just like everyone else!"

There is a final objection to this response that wasn't explicitly raised, but often comes up: Mrs. Cain couldn't be Cain's wife because God said you can't marry your sister!

But this is an anachronism. The Law to which these objectors refer to is thousands of years away from being given to Moses! If God intended for Adam and Eve to really be the parents of humanity, He would have expected that their offspring would have continued to reproduce with each other.

The genetic problems that arise as a result of persons too close in lineage reproducing wouldn't have affected them.

Anyway, I hope this helps clarify where Mrs. Cain came from!

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