Where Did Cain Get His Wife?: What About Inbreeding?
by Rich Deem


Cain's Wife?

After Cain was sent into exile east of Eden for killing Abel he found a wife and built a city. Even if Cain married one of his sisters, doesn't this produce theological and biological problems?

Rich Deem

The Bible indicates that Adam and Eve's first son, Cain, slew his younger brother Abel because of jealousy over the acceptance of his brother's offering over his own. Immediately after being banished to the east in the land of Nod, Cain found a wife and raised a family and founded a "city" called Enoch. If Cain was the firstborn of Adam and Abel the second, then how could Cain have found a wife and built a city?

Creation of humanity

The Bible describes the creation of humanity in Genesis, the first book. According to the chapter one account, God created male and female human beings in His image.1 Chapter two of Genesis goes into more detail about the creation of mankind. According to the narrative, God created Adam, the first man,2 then, some time later, created Eve.3 Adam and Eve sinned and were banished from Eden.4 They produced two sons, Cain and Abel.5 Both Cain and Abel presented sacrifices to God, but Cain's was rejected,6 because he expended a half-hearted effort.7 So, Cain became angry and murdered his brother in a fit of jealousy.8

Cain is exiled

God confronted Cain about the murder of Abel and banished him to the east of Eden. The problem arises in the next verse, where suddenly Cain is married and builds a city:

The assumption seems to be that Cain and Abel were the first two children of Adam and Eve. Although Cain does seem to be the firstborn, the text is not clear that Abel was the second born, but only that he was the second son.5 Later, the narrative indicates that Adam and Eve produced "other sons and daughters."9 So, it is possible that Adam and Eve produced daughters between the births of Cain and Abel. It is also likely that others sons and daughters were produced after the birth of Abel. We don't know how old Cain and Abel were when Cain murdered his brother,  but they seem to be at least young adults, since they are both engage in a trade for their living.5 The second thing one notices is Cain's seeming paranoia about being found and revenge being taken against his for killing Abel.10 The only way this makes sense is if the brothers and sisters of Abel were upset that Cain had killed their brother. Although the period of time between the birth of Cain and the death of Abel is not given in the Bible, it would seem that this period was probably over 100 years, since the birth of Adam's next son, Seth is said to have occurred when Adam was 130 years old.11 Adam and Eve could have produced many daughters during that period of time.

Cain builds a "city"

So, the Genesis narrative suggests that Cain had other brothers and sisters when he was exiled by God. One of those sisters married Cain (or more likely had already been married to Cain when he killed his brother), became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch somewhere east of Eden. The next problem that arises is the claim that Cain "built a city." To us, in the 21st century, this evokes images of skyscrapers and high density housing. However, the original Hebrew word, translated "city," merely had the meaning of a place that was guarded by a watch or with a wall.12 At its minimum, the Hebrew root referred to an encampment or post. So, it is entirely possible that Cain could have built such a "city."

Theological problems

Skeptics have pointed out that the only viable solution to the problem of Cain's wife (Cain marrying his sister) suffers from theological problems, since close relations were not allowed to marry according to Jewish law.13 However, all of these events happened before the law was given. According to the Apostle Paul, when there is no law, there can be no violation of the law or sin.14 So, since the law against incest was not given until thousands of years later, there was no theological problem with Cain marrying his sister.

Genetic problems

Many skeptics object to the idea that Cain married his sister from a scientific viewpoint, since inbreeding leads to the expression of detrimental recessive mutations. This is why punctuated equilibrium does not represent a viable evolutionary mechanism, since species sorting does not really lead to the formation of new species, but to the extinction of the current species.15 However, scientists have developed completely inbred strains of mice whose individuals are all genetically identical. The process involves selecting out the defects. The resulting strains of mice are regularly interbred and do not suffer from any defects (although scientists also raise strains of inbred mice that possess a single genetic defect, for study). In the same way, I believe that the first two humans were created without genetic defects. Inbreeding among their offspring did not lead to defects until many generations later as spontaneous mutations accumulated. At that point, God instituted laws against incest to minimize the expression of genetic mutations that had developed within our species.

Conclusion Top of page

Is has been shown that the Bible's claim that Cain, the first offspring of Adam and Eve, could have found a wife is found to be plausible if he had chosen among one of his sisters (and he probably had already done so before he murdered Abel). Since there seems to have been at least 100 years between the birth of Cain and the death of Abel, Adam and Eve would have had plenty of time to produce daughters for Cain to choose from. Brothers and sisters marrying seems to be a theological problem, since the Bible is quite clear that one should not marry a close relative. However, the Jewish laws were not instituted until thousands of years later, so there would have been no prohibition against such marriages at that time. Skeptics also say that such interbreeding would have produced a genetically crippled population. However, if God had created human beings, as the Bible says, then it would be expected that they would have been created without genetic defects. The accumulation of detrimental mutations would taken many generations, at which time God instituted the laws against incest to protect against the majority of these defects.

References Top of page

  1. Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth." (Genesis 1:26-28)
  2. Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. (Genesis 2:7-8)
  3. Then the LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him." Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. (Genesis 2:18-22)
  4. Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever"-- therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:22-24)
  5. Now the man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said, "I have gotten a manchild with the help of the LORD." Again, she gave birth to his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. (Genesis 4:1-2)
  6. So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. (Genesis 4:3-5)
    By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks. (Hebrews 11:4)
    For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother's were righteous. (1 John 3:11-12)
  7. Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it." (Genesis 4:6-7)
  8. Cain called Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. (Genesis 4:8)
  9. Then the days of Adam after he became the father of Seth were eight hundred years, and he had other sons and daughters. (Genesis 5:4)
  10. "Behold, You have driven me this day from the face of the ground; and from Your face I will be hidden, and I will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me." (Genesis 4:14)
  11. When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth. (Genesis 5:3)
  12. Brown-Driver-Briggs' Hebrew Definitions:
    ‛ı̂yr/‛âr/‛âyar עיר/ער/עיר (Strong's H5892)
    1. excitement, anguish
      1. of terror
    2. city, town (a place of waking, guarded)
      1. city, town
    Part of Speech: noun masculine
    A Related Word by BDB/Strong’s Number: from H5782 a city (a place guarded by waking or a watch) in the widest sense (even of a mere encampment or post)
    Same Word by TWOT Number: 1587a, 1615
  13. Incest (sexual relations with close family members, including your mother, sister, niece, aunt, daughter-in-law, and sister-in-law) is prohibited:
    • "'No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations. I am the LORD. Do not dishonor your father by having sexual relations with your mother. She is your mother; do not have relations with her. Do not have sexual relations with your father's wife; that would dishonor your father. Do not have sexual relations with your sister, either your father's daughter or your mother's daughter, whether she was born in the same home or elsewhere. Do not have sexual relations with your son's daughter or your daughter's daughter; that would dishonor you. Do not have sexual relations with the daughter of your father's wife, born to your father; she is your sister. Do not have sexual relations with your father's sister; she is your father's close relative. Do not have sexual relations with your mother's sister, because she is your mother's close relative. Do not dishonor your father's brother by approaching his wife to have sexual relations; she is your aunt. Do not have sexual relations with your daughter-in-law. She is your son's wife; do not have relations with her. Do not have sexual relations with your brother's wife; that would dishonor your brother. Do not have sexual relations with both a woman and her daughter. Do not have sexual relations with either her son's daughter or her daughter's daughter; they are her close relatives. That is wickedness. Do not take your wife's sister as a rival wife and have sexual relations with her while your wife is living.'" (Leviticus 18:6-18)
      "Cursed is the man who sleeps with his sister, the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother." Then all the people shall say, "Amen!" Cursed is the man who sleeps with his mother-in-law." Then all the people shall say, "Amen!" (Deuteronomy 27:22-23)
  14. There is no sin when there is no law:
    • For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; (Romans 2:12)
    • for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation. (Romans 4:15)
    • for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. (Romans 5:13)
  15. See General Rebuttal to the Theory of Evolution.

Last Modified August 15, 2009


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