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Who did Cain marry?

posted Feb 1, 2012, 12:02 PM by Tim Isbell   [ updated Feb 15, 2012, 5:42 PM ]
An acquaintance of mine asked me this question a few days ago.  I remembered sorting through it a LONG time ago so I told him to give me a few days to find my notes and we could meet for coffee.  I found the notes, spent some time refreshing my mind, and met my friend this morning at a local Starbucks.

You may wonder why I'd even have such an item in my notes.  Well, 35 years ago when I started getting serious about sharing my faith with unchurched people I noticed that some questions just keep coming up over and over again.  So I started cataloging Investigators' questions and writing down my "best" (at the time) responses.

Anyway, back "Who did Cain marry?"

Nobody knows the answer to this question for sure.  But let’s consider 2 options:

Option 1: Cain married an unnamed sister.

Genesis 4.1-16 says that Adam and Eve had 2 sons, Cain and Abel, and then Cain kills Abel. 

Genesis 4.17-24 says that Cain has sexual relations with his wife, without saying where she came from.  The rest of this passage describes the descendents of Cain. 

Genesis 4.25-26 says that God replaced Abel by giving Adam and Eve another son: Seth. 

Genesis 5.1-5 repeats the listing of Seth’s birth adding that Adam (presumably with Eve) had “other sons and daughters.”

All we can surmise from these texts alone is that maybe Adam/Eve had some daughters early enough that Cain married one of these.  You might say, “Yes, but the Bible doesn’t list any daughters of Adam/Eve until after it tells of Seth’s birth.”  While that’s true, ancient literature tends to report the male lineage much more often than the female lineage, so perhaps daughters were born earlier but since the key stories of Genesis 4 & 5 were about the sons, the existence of daughters never made it into the text – until Genesis 5.4.

Option 2: Cain married someone who was not exactly "human,” at least not in the sense of the “humans” God created in his image.

Genesis 6.1-8 has some very strange content that is impossible to interpret in any completely satisfactory way.  Essentially, these suggest that there were other creatures around at the time who were genetically similar enough to Adam/Eve to reproduce with Cain/Seth and their siblings.  It is unclear from scripture whether these were a sort of fallen angels, or some more primitive versions of Adam/Eve (such as Neanderthals).  Yeah, I know, sounds bizarre.  But so does Genesis 6.1-8.

I should say a bit more about the “more primitive versions” from the preceding paragraph.  It will cause many Christian readers to adjust their traditional understanding of God’s creation of Adam/Eve, but here it is.  Perhaps on the 6th day of creation, God breathed his image into a sub-human specie that he created on the 5th day.  Or, said another way: Maybe God used a creation from the 5th day as the physical/genetic “seed material” for Adam/Eve.  And, perhaps, this is what science terms as Neanderthals.

Option 3: Nobody knows.

The Bible is not primarily a history book, though it contains some history.  And it is not a science book, though it is quite consistent with much that we believe from science.  But there will always remain a sizable element of mystery in Christian faith.  After all, there's plenty of mystery in God's creation of Adam and Eve.  But if God can create the first couple and a way for them to procreate, surely he can create spouses for their children.

After we discuss all the many intellectual curiosities in scripture it is good to remember that the Bible's primary purpose is not to explain our curiosities.  The Bible's primary purpose is to tell us who God is, who we are, and how we are to relate with God and each other. 

Back to the starting question: Who did Cain marry? 

So far as I can tell, you can be an authentic Christian and hold the Option 1 view (Cain married a sister), either of the two subsets of Option 2 (a fallen angel or a beautiful (see Gen 6.2) but pre-human female from the 5th day of creation), or chalk it up to the "mystery" of Christian faith.  By this I mean there are many questions we'll never find the answer to in our lifetimes, but these need not keep us from following Christ.  After all, Christian faith is primarily about opening our hearts to a relationship with Christ, not about finding the answers to all our intellectual questions.  A real part of Christian faith will always be a "mystery."

My Christian Investigators FAQ list is available.

Remember that file I mentioned earlier?  The one where I catalog Investigators' FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)?  The Word file is available to view or download in the attachment on at the bottom of the Ordinary Practice Evangelism webpage.  It's a big file, and it's not polished for publication.  But you are welcome to it.  But if you are in relationship with investigators of Christian faith I'm pretty sure you'll find some helpful stuff in there.

By the way, the "Who did Cain marry?" question is in the section on Creation and other common Genesis questions.  The next question in that section is, "Where do the Neanderthals fit into the Bible?"  Yep, I got this from a few investigators, too.  I must admit that these are among the more esoteric questions I've dealt with.  Most of the file is full of more "normal" questions from actual investigators.  And, nope... I didn't make any of these up.