posted Oct. 2, 2003

Editors note: Due to two related questions being asked at the same time. I am posting both.

QUESTION:   Where did Cain get his wife, since he was a son of Adam and Eve??

    Thanks for a very important and appropriate question. Many apologists and columnists who deal with Bible questions, especially from skeptics, say that this is actually the number one question they get. So it was only inevitable I would get it eventually. This woman, and debates about her existence, was even brought into the famous Scopes trial (as "proof" the Bible was not to be taken at face value); mentioned in the play/movie "Inherit the Wind"; and in agnostic Carl Sagan's book/movie "Contact." And as mystifying as this question seems at first, the answer is simple and fairly obvious; though for some it raises (unnecessarily) further complications.

The dilemma: Cain, the first son of the first parents (Adam and Eve), is mentioned in Genesis 4:17 as having a wife! Where in the world did he get her? The main solutions you often hear circulate around these two scenarios:

1.) This craziness proves that the Bible is fallible and untrustworthy.
2.) He found a wife who belonged to another race (one not born of Adam and Eve), either in the land of Nod (where he is reported to have sojourned in Genesis 4:16-17..but note, though a wife is mentioned at this point, the text nowhere connotes that he met her there); or from some "other-worldly" race, such as the Nephilim (Gen 6:4, Num 13:13).

Not many make the logical, and I believe correct, leap to what should be the "final answer" of Scenario #3: ....(hold your breath; roll the drum and then read):

... he married his sister!

"Whoa, Nellie!, " some are objecting. Wouldn't that be incest, and therefore create another dilemma regarding Cain breaking a law of God? No. When you think about it, what other choice did Cain have but to marry a sister? Who else was there? (I am making a crucial assumption that there is only one "race" of humans, and that everyone is eventually related to Adam and Eve..if some see that as quaint and fundamentalist. so be it!) God did not specifically "outlaw" marriage with close relatives until 2500 years spelled out in Lev. 18-20. And the classic reasons given against marrying a sister have to do with genetic complications and risk. But how pure would Adam and Eve's genes have been? By Moses' time, you can understand how that had changed.

Note that Cain was not the only child of Adam and Eve..only the first. We know two brothers were born soon after Cain; Abel in 4:2 and Seth by 4:25. But now some are asking the next necessary question: OK, Where did Cain get a sister, then? Well, contrary to popular (mis)understanding (and sometimes skeptical conspiracy), the Bible (check Genesis 5:4) DOES flat-out say that Adam and Eve had other children:
"After Seth was born, Adam lived 800 years, and had other sons and daughters."

Now, some are saying (I hear you!) :"Ah, I can see that, but considering the long life spans of the day; and the potentially large number of children eventually born to Adam and Eve, couldn't Cain have, if he waited long enough, married a niece?" Yes, fair reader, fair insight. I think that is possible; and I have no problem if that is your conclusion. But I believe that it was actually a sister is a safer bet, due to how early on in the story Cain's "marriage" seems to occur. (However, if this lessens your nervousness about incest; since a niece is more distant than a sister; note that the biblical inunctions regarding incest do indeed include no marriage to an aunt, uncle, or brother's wife..Lev 18:7-17; 20:11-12,14,17,20-21; Deut. 22:30; 27:20,22,23).

Below is a link to a helpful response to this question from ChristianAnswers.Net, which basically agrees with my answer, but also sheds probable light on some other "complications" that may be triggered here. By the way, for such a "controversial" question, one will be hard-pressed to find a Bible-believing commentator who doesn't point out that the answer I gave is a "no-brainer" (which is why I could come up with it, you say :).....)

Christian answers

Finally, as you may have found out; as helpful and biblical as it is to study such dilemmas in order to strengthen and defend our faith; giving "reasons for the hope within", there is no arguing with a hardened skeptic. But rejoice in the fact that we do have a Bible and a God that can be trusted. Both will withstand any questioning and test; even if the wrestling is uncomfortable and stretching. Though our faith is "beyond reason", it is not unreasonable. Believe it!

      I have fallen in love with my third cousin. I have read and re-read Leviticus Chapter 18 and the relationships mentioned in this chapter are not cousin type relationships. Yet everyone I speak to, says that it is wrong. Can you provide any guidance in this matter.
    Thank you.

     Thanks for asking. I tremble at giving "marital advice" online. So let me say that in principle, the marrying of a third cousin is nowhere specifically disallowed in Scripture, or seen as incestuous. So, as "weird" as it may sound to some, it cannot be forbidden by Scripture. What is clear is that by Moses' time, sex and marriage with parents, stepmothers, siblings, half brothers or sisters, granddaughters, daughters-in-law or sons-in-law, aunts , uncles or brother's wives were forbidden: Lev 18:7-17; 20:11-12,14,17,20-21; Deut. 22:30; 27:20,22,23.

To be honest, you should weigh the potential problem to you of any (inevitable) social stigma of those who do find that you are married to a cousin. That does not mean the stigma or lack of understanding should bother or deter you, if the two of you are destined for each other; just that it should be considered in the mix and conversation, in the crucible of the discernment and ultimate decision being honed. And the culture or country you live in may inevitably catapult this factor into a heavier-weighing one.

And on more of a gut and subjective level, it might "feel" or "seem" to me, too strange or incestuous to marry anyone as close as a second cousin; though I admit that is not Scripturally forbidden; and may be just a function of my particular family situation and my country's culture. I don't know what it feels like to have to even ask the question you honored me by asking me.

Please see this link to my previous column on Cain marrying his sister for more detail. Let that really be the bulk of my detailed answer.

But let me also say that whether or not this third cousin is the right choice for a spouse is another question altogether. So just because there is no technical reason to not marry her due to incest guidelines and religious mores; that does not mean that one should marry anyone in the "unforbidden" category. Just because she or he is theoretically in the pool of "legal" candidates, doesn't mean they could or should legally win the election. That should have gone without saying, but I didn't want it to.
And you may in fact have to check the laws of the state, province or nation you live in; though I am unaware of any jurisdiction where marriage to third cousins are against laws of the land.

So holy discernment and God's best to you as you may be moving into a new season of life.

This question is a helpful one to cause us to ask the hard but vital question of what is culture and what is commandment. I recommend everyone take the Paul Hiebert survey here as honestly as possible.

And Holy Spirited discernment to all our readers as you do so.

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