I’ve been doing a storytelling series on Wednesday nights called, “In the Beginning: Seminal Stories from the Book of Genesis.” I’m always surprised by the number of people who show up for these Bible stories at Richmond’s First Baptist Church. Maybe they just love the Bible that much, or maybe everybody loves a good story. These are good ones: the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and Noah and the Ark.
When I finished the story of Cain and Abel last week I asked if there were any questions. Bernard Peatross raised his hand and asked where all these descendants of Adam got their wives from, especially Cain. You can understand why he might ask. If Adam and Eve were the only people on earth, and they had these two sons named Cain and Abel, and Cain killed Abel out of jealousy and was banished by God, then how do you explain the next part of the story, which says, “Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch” (Genesis 4:17).
Wife!? What wife? Where did he get a wife?
That’s what Bernard wanted to know, and he may have had an ulterior motive. Bernard is a sweet, elderly man who has learned how to roll napkins into beautiful paper roses that he douses with perfume and gives away to women. “Where did Cain get his wife?” he asked, as if he had more than an academic interest in the question. I joked that maybe Cain had gotten her from a mail-order catalogue, but Bernard was too quick for me. He shot back with, “Or from e-Harmony.com!”
But after the session I talked with Danny Taylor, who wanted a real answer. He said someone had told him that Cain had married his sister, thereby committing incest. He was concerned about this. How could it be in the Bible? I hadn’t remembered that Cain had a sister, actually, but there it was in chapter 5, verse 4: “He [Adam] had other sons and daughters.” “Did Cain marry one of those daughters?” Danny asked. “Was that incest?” I pointed out that the Bible doesn’t tell us that Cain married his sister; it just says that he knew his wife and she conceived and bore Enoch. I told Danny we have to pay close attention to the what the Bible says, but sometimes we have to pay even closer attention to what it doesn’t say.
I followed up on this in my opening comments last night. I said, “We want to know where Cain got his wife. We’re curious about that. We’d like an answer. But the Bible seems to have no interest in that question. It just says, ‘Cain knew his wife.’ So, what do we do? We start looking around in the Bible for answers. We discover that Adam had other sons and daughters. We put two and two together. Cain must have married his sister! And before we know it we have assumed that Cain committed not only murder but incest.”
I think we need to realize that if we have a problem with where Cain got his wife it only means that we have a problem. The Bible doesn’t. We bring to it our modern, Western questions and this ancient text just shrugs its shoulders. We insist on answers and it remains silent. But it’s not the Bible’s problem: it’s ours. And maybe we should say it just that way—that we have a problem with the question of where Cain got his wife but the Bible does not. That’s not a question it has any interest in answering.
“So,” I said, in conclusion, “you can do what I do. When you have questions like this you can jot them down on your ‘List of things to ask God when I get to heaven.’ You can write: ‘Where did Cain get his wife?’ And then you can stick that list in your pocket and hope that when you get to heaven…
…you’re wearing those pants.”