When people consider Genesis as fact or creative narrative, the issue of Cain and the source of his wife is a common question raised by Christians and skeptics alike. Can anyone effectively answer this one? ◊
I’ve had this very good question posed to me by another Christian: “If you take the Bible literally that Adam and Eve were the first humans, and they bore Cain and Abel, where did Cain’s wife come from? There had to be other humans at the time, right? Am I missing something here?”
This question is very legitimate and should be addressed. It’s actually impacted the faith of many people over the years as it plants seeds of doubt in the veracity of the Bible. For many, it supports the notion that Genesis is figurative or poetic literature rather than literal – at least through the first 11 chapters.
This very question: Where did Cain get his wife? is the question that unnerved a national Christian political leader who famously could not answer it in a very public forum. It is a favorite question that skeptics love to ask because it does so often stump Christians and cast doubt on the integrity of the whole Bible.1
The whole episode plays out in Genesis chapter 4. After Adam and Eve have been banished from Eden for their disobedience, they conceive a firstborn child, Cain, and then his brother, Abel (Genesis 4:1-2). The Bible does not say how much time passes before these children are born. Nor are we told how old they were when jealousy and rage lead to the killing of Abel at the hands of his older brother (Genesis 4:8). Cain is then driven away from the presence of the Lord, east of Eden.
Then the Bible states that Cain had sexual relations with his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch, and he built a city. (Genesis 4:17) But how could this be?
This seems to be a real problem if one wants to take the Bible seriously. A wife suddenly appears out of nowhere? It would seem that the Bible storyteller got his facts mixed up and is caught in a troubling contradiction. Or even worse, if it was even somehow one of his cousins then the act of incest presents a behavioral sin and moral contradiction that Christianity will be difficult to overcome.
It is a tough question. Even the great Christian politician and orator William Jennings Bryan couldn’t answer this very question on the witness stand at the famous Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925 and was ridiculed by defense attorney Clarence Darrow and the public media. His humiliation sparked a changing tide in the public battle of evolution vs. creation in the public schools. Skeptic Carl Sagan posed the same question in his book Contact and it was voiced by actress Jodie Foster in the movie version.
What follows here is how William Jennings Bryan should have answered the question. And how any Christian should be equipped to answer, if posed this question.
Adam and Eve had Cain and Abel, and then another son, Seth, in addition to “other sons and daughters” when Adam was 130 years old. There is no mention how much time passed between the death of Abel and then Cain taking a wife and building a new settling area. Both Cain and Abel could have been well into adulthood. The killing of Abel therefore could have happened when the sons were in their 50’s and 60’s, in the years just prior to Adam’s 130th year.
And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called him Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another child instead of Abel, for Cain slew him.”…After Seth was born, Adam lived 800 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Adam lived a total of 930 years, and then he died. (Genesis 4:25, 5:4-5)
How many other sons and daughters is not noted in Genesis; however, two ancient Jewish books written about the time of Christ, The Book of Jubilees and the Works of Josephus, state that Adam and Eve were in Eden for 7 years and that their first sons were born between year 64 and 77, seven years apart. Josephus footnotes that tradition says Adam had 33 sons and 23 daughters.2
There have been ample sophisticated math models to calculate the human population growth rate given the genealogies we are presented with in Genesis chapter 5. Since the time of Cain’s death (not Abel) it is speculated that the population after several hundred years was several million people.3
Here is my own simplified math model of the years up to Adam’s death and the estimated global population:
- Adam and Eve’s 150 Year – Assume conservatively that Adam and Eve had 5 more children starting with Seth between year 130 and 150. Estimated population = 8 (6 offspring, including Cain, plus Adam and Eve)
- 170th Year – Then assume that in 20 years that original family produced just 5 more children. (Note: the gene pool was pure at that time so there was no risk of genetic mutation. Also, there was no classified sin of incest at the time – the Law of Moses was handed down by God on Mount Sinai in 1500 BC.) Estimated population = 13
- 180th Year – Then assume that just 3 couplings produce 5 more children each over the next 10 years. (Yes, brothers with sisters and then eventually with cousins, nieces, nephews, and grand-nieces and nephews. We are all descendants of Adam and Eve.) Estimated population = 28
- 200th Year – Then assume conservatively that just another 5 couplings over the next 20 years produce 5 children each. Estimated population = 53
- 300th Year – Then assume this same growth rate every 20 years. Estimated population = 1696.
If you even then slow down this exponential growth rate and just have the population double every 50 years, then by Adam’s 500th birthday the population would exceed 27,000 people. By his 700th year, over 430,000; at the time of his death, at age 930, the global population would easily exceed 7 million people.
(To give you more time context, Noah, the builder of the Ark, was a contemporary of Adam, being born just decades before Adam’s death. As told in the Bible, the world was getting wicked and there were few followers of God, save Noah. Noah was 600 years old when the Flood came.)
So yes, assuming Cain lived a long life of several hundred years (and recall that God states that Cain was not to be harmed in Genesis 4:15), one can see that after a relatively short time following Cain’s murdering of Abel, there were plenty of women of child-bearing age (say age 14+) that Cain could have chosen from as his wife.
Can you now explain the origin of Cain’s wife?
To Seth, to him also a son was born; and he called his name Enosh. Then men began to call upon the name of the Lord. – Genesis 4:26
1 This article has been updated from an original Biblical Viewpoint entitled So Where Did Cain’s Wife Come From? by Michael Griego, Biblical Viewpoint, October 24, 2014.
2 How Many Children Did Adam and Eve Have? in Creation Moments, https://creationmoments.com/article/how-many-children-did-adam-and-eve-have/
3 For some heady extrapolations of world population since Adam, see World Population Since Creation, by Lambert Dolphin, a retired Stanford Research Institute physicist, http://www.ldolphin.org/popul.html, 1987, 2007, 2019.