Where Did Cain Get His Wife?

wedding cakeI’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!” 

Good one.

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.” 

Wait.

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.”

11 thoughts on “Where Did Cain Get His Wife?

  1. Probably my favorite satirical take on the Cain-wife question is from Science Made Stupid’s “Descent of Man” section, which attempts a reasonable juxtapository compromise for creationism and evolution: http://www.besse.at/sms/descent.html

    (A skeptic’s work, so some caricaturish misrepresentation of matters of faith is made, but all in good humor.)

  2. Well there is another school of thought that says Adam is the generic name for man and EVE the generic name for woman.

    So God created MEN and WOMEN.

    That would answer that question.

  3. When I come across an question like where Cain get his wife, I turn to my long years of Sunday School training. I don’t know how or why, but I am sure the answer must be … “from Jesus” 🙂

  4. Like most of us, I have heard the question many times (especially from non-believers or doubter) about “Where did Cain meet his wife”? My answer may be too simple, however I always answer the question by stating “God made Adam & Eve, the earth and every other living being, therefore he has the power to make more people just like them”! He just didn’t feel the need to tell anyone as the story focuses on Adam & Eve. If we were to write a journal each day of our lives, I doubt if we would include “every” detail. : )

  5. Cain got his wife surely not an alien , or else we would see more strange than ET kind of creature that is accepted to be from mankind !
    If people would stop reading Scriptures like a simple letter today , they would understand there’s no contradiction on this matter.
    Cain didn’t repent of his murder until perhaps God confronted him. How long did God wait for him to repent ? Those span of years should be considered. From the Cain’s murder to his apprehension is it possible it took hundred years? And in hundred years can you imagine how the people will rapidly multiply?
    Solving such kind of issues in the Bible needs formula: Look what is known , and you will find out what is unknown.

  6. i read the account of cain in Genesis and I too wonfered where he found a wife. It says that after he killed his brother he was banished to the land of Nod where he knew his wife and they had a child. God had created other people in another land to increase the population.

  7. Other forms of mythology are much more diligent in answering such questions…fortunately education in the classics and mythology gives those who are so inclined the ability to see the similarities of those ancient texts and passages from the Torah. Otherwise, they who solely gain their perspectives from pulpit rhetoric are terribly limited and must rely on faith alone…which is a cop-out, saying to me that they are too lazy to objectively think for themselves thus losing all credibility.

  8. My aunt nell burnett had a very old southern babtist bible she read passages to family after supper. I distinctly remember phrase cain became so lonely that he knew wife of lower primate.I cant find this bible in her things now that she has passed on.has any one else read that passage?

  9. Rodney: I’ve never heard of that anywhere in any Bible; it’s not in there. If that is part of old time Southern Baptist “lore” I haven’t heard it either. It’s pretty shocking! I wonder where that idea came from or how it got into your Aunt Nell’s Bible?

  10. where it says in chapter 5 verse 4 that adam had more children it also says that he was 130 years old and it also says this after cain found his wife and if he knew his wife how could he if he was banished from his familly and if it was his sister he wouldnt have knew her right? i dont doubt my faith i just am curious as to how this works, i figure if i understand this i will understand the bible a lil more, if someone could reply with some info i would be thankfull

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