Whenever I speak to somebody who is antagonistic to Christianity or religion in general one of the top questions asked is who did Cain marry? It’s a legitimate question and difficult to answer because the Bible does not say. What the Bible records is problematic because it only says that Adam and Eve had three sons. Cain killed Abel and it wasn’t till after this that the third son Seth was born. The Bible records that Cain was sent away from his family, before Seth was born, to a place called Nod and he married and lived amongst a large group of people (where’d they come from?)
I usually start my answer off with a dating joke. I mean really, talk about slim pickings! Cain’s eHarmony profile must have been a wreck! All joking aside, where do we go from here?
There are a couple of questions behind the question that we must look at before answering the actual question. First, the Bible does not mention any the names of women born to Adam and Eve. Did Cain sleep with Eve? Did Adam have another wife? Did Cain have a sister and sleep with her? Next, where did all of those people come from in Nod? Also if Cain married his sister or a niece isn’t incest against God’s law? Finally what does this say about the reliability of Scripture? Was Cain a real person? Was Adam and Eve? All of these questions are behind the actual question and while it’s fun to joke about it the answers have serious implications for the rest of Scripture.
There is a great website called Reasons to Believe (RTB) and they have given this question some thought in great detail. Let’s start with the population issue. The author Hugh Ross states:
The first step in the solution of this problem is to recognize that Adam and Eve had many more children than Cain, Abel, and Seth. Genesis 5:4 says that “after Seth was born, Adam lived 800 years,” and that “he had other sons and daughters.” In fact, the genealogy of Genesis 5 records that every descendant of Adam down to Lamech had “other sons and daughters.” These other sons and daughters were born to men even older than 187 years. Considering the long life spans recorded in Genesis 5 and assuming that couples remained reproductive for about half their lifetime, the possibility existed for a veritable population explosion. In fact, the world’s population could have approached a few billion by the time of Adam’s death at the age of 930 (see table).
Expected Population Growth in Adam’s Lifetime According to Genesis 5, life spans from Adam to Noah averaged 912 years. Each of the patriarchs mentioned had “other sons and daughters” in addition to the sons recorded by name. The table calculations are based on:
- life span = 900 years,
- first child comes at age 50,
- child bearing years =500, and
- one child every 5 years during child bearing years.
year reproducing couples children born total population 0 1 0 2 50 1 0 2 100 1 10 12 150 6 30 42 200 21 100 142 250 71 352 494 300 247 1210 1704 350 852 4180 5884 400 2942 14,450 20,334 450 10,167 49,892 70,226 500 35,113 172,358 242,584 550 121,292 595,378 837,962 600 418,980 2,056,530 2,894,492 650 1,447,245 7,103,862 9,998,364 700 4,999,176 24,538,536 34,536,930 750 17,268,444 84,762,338 119,299,368 800 59,649,613 292,790,780 412,090,500 850 206,045,003 1,011,374,120 1,423,465,830 900 711,732,063 3,493,544,650 4,917,014,660
So based on the table if Cain waited maybe 200 years to get married he would have had sisters to marry (an issue will get to next) and if he had waited another 200 years a few thousand people could have already been born and migrated east of Eden. It is also possible that Cain married before he was banished to Nod because the text does not tell us. RTB points out that archeological evidence seems to point to a population explosion soon after man first appeared on the scene and this would seem to match up with what Genesis tells us and also what Genesis leaves out.
So Cain and Able possibly married a sister? How do we answer that one?
Given that we are all descended from Adam and Eve, either Cain or one of his brothers must have married a sister. This would seem to violate the commands recorded in the book of Leviticus forbidding marriage between brothers and sisters. The Levitical laws, however, must be considered in their proper historical context.
Though the book of Genesis condemns sexual relations between children and their parents, it nowhere prohibits a man from marrying his sister or niece. Abraham, for example, married his half-sister without compunction. Not until the time of Moses were laws established forbidding a man from marrying a sister or niece. The timing of this command makes perfect sense biologically, for genetic defects as a result of intra-family marriage would not begin to crop up until after the first few dozen generations.
So there you go. It’s an interesting take on a difficult issue and a starting point for finding an answer to some of the difficult questions in Scripture! As a plug, make sure to check out Reason to Believe’s website for more helpful articles about the difficulties in the book of Genesis!