Posted by: paulgarner | January 11, 2012

Cain’s wife

Who was Cain’s wife? I know, that old question, eh? The standard creationist response – and I think the obvious deduction from Scripture – is that sibling marriages must have taken place in that first generation (Gen. 3:20; 1 Cor. 15:45; c.f. Gen. 5:4). But a while ago I got involved in a discussion with someone who claimed that this idea was a young-earth creationist invention and that no-one before Ken Ham came along had ever suggested such a thing.

Of course, that was nonsense. I responded by pointing out that a number of commentators as far back as the fourth century had made exactly the same deduction. Even a cursory examination of the sources available to me has yielded the following:

Methodius of Olympus (died c.311), The Banquet of the Ten Virgins; or Concerning Chastity, 1.2:

For truly by a great stretch of power the plant of virginity was sent down to men from heaven, and for this reason it was not revealed to the first generations. For the race of mankind was still very small in number; and it was necessary that it should first be increased in number, and then brought to perfection. Therefore the men of old times thought it nothing unseemly to take their own sisters for wives, until the law coming separated them, and by forbidding that which at first had seemed to be right, declared it to be a sin, calling him cursed who should “uncover the nakedness” of his sister; …

John Chrysostom (c.347-407), Homilies on Genesis, 20.3:

But perhaps someone will say: How is it that Cain had a wife when Sacred Scripture nowhere makes mention of another woman? Don’t be surprised at this dearly beloved: it has so far given no list of women anywhere in a precise manner; instead, Sacred Scripture while avoiding superfluous details mentions the males in turn, though not even all of them, telling us about them in rather summary fashion when it says that so-and-so had sons and daughters and then he died. So it is likely in this case too that Eve gave birth to a daughter after Cain and Abel, and Cain took her for her wife. You see, since it was in the beginning and the human race had to increase from them on, it was permissible to marry their own sisters.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430), The City of God, 15.16:

As, therefore, the human race, subsequently to the first marriage of the man who was made of dust, and his wife who was made out of his side, required the union of males and females in order that it might multiply, and as there were no human beings except those who had been born of these two, men took their sisters for wives – an act which was as certainly dictated by necessity in these ancient days as afterwards it was condemned by the prohibitions of religion.

Theodoret of Cyrus (c.393–457), The Questions on the Octateuch Volume I: On Genesis and Exodus (HT: Todd Wood):

Whom did Cain marry?
His sister, of course. At the time, this was not an offense, no law forbidding it, especially since there was no other way to provide for the increase of the race. … [God] formed one man from the earth, created one woman from him, and filled the whole world with their offspring. To achieve this goal, he allowed intercourse of brother and sister in the beginning, but when the races had increased, he made this kind of marriage unlawful.

John Bunyan (1628-1688), An Exposition on the First Ten Chapters of Genesis, And Part of the Eleventh:

Cain’s wife was his sister, or near kinswoman; for she sprang of the same loins with himself; because his mother was “the mother of all living” (Gen 3:20).

Evidence is no match, though, for a closed mind and the person I was sparring with persisted in stating that the idea was original with Ken Ham. However, for those with open minds I thought these extracts from Christian commentators on the identity of Cain’s wife might be of interest.

Oh, and if you happen to know of any others, please get in touch. I’d love to add them to the list.


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