Twice in the past few weeks I’ve been asked, “Where did Cain get his wife?” The reason for the question is obvious to anyone who has read Genesis chapter 4. Genesis 4:1-15 speaks of a time when Adam and Eve and their two sons Cain and Abel were the only four people in existence upon the earth. Then Cain murdered Abel (4:1-8) and was sentenced by God to be a fugitive/vagabond upon the earth (4:9-15). But the next thing you know we’re told that Cain went and dwelt in the land of Nod (4:16), which was located to the east of Eden, and that he knew (in the Biblical sense) his wife, and that she gave birth to his son Enoch (4:17). Wait. What? When did Cain’s wife slip into the storyline of the human race?
There is really only one explanation for the origins of Cain’s wife. After Cain killed Abel, Adam fathered another son through Eve. That son’s name was Seth. Adam was 130 years old when Seth was born (Genesis 5:3), and Adam lived another 800 years after Seth’s birth (Genesis 5:4). Furthermore, over the course of those 800 years, Adam had untold numbers of not only sons but also daughters through Eve (Genesis 5:5). Obviously, at some point, Cain married one of his sisters.
For Cain to have done that, several years had to have passed between his murder of Abel and his marriage. The scenario involving the least number of years would have been for the sister to have been Adam and Eve’s first baby girl, her being born next in line after Seth. The girl would then have had to have reached a reasonable age for her to marry and give birth herself. Fifteen to twenty years would seem to provide a low-end ballpark range for how long Cain must have waited to marry and become a father. Of course the time elapsed could have been considerably longer.
And what was Cain doing during those years of waiting? No doubt he was fulfilling God’s prophetic words against him. We find those words in Genesis 4:12, where God says to him following Abel’s death, “A fugitive and a vagabond you shall be on the earth” (N.K.J.V.). While Genesis 4:17 does say that Cain built a city, he didn’t build it until after the birth of his son. As a matter of fact, he even named the city for his son: Enoch. Therefore, it seems perfectly logical to assume that Cain played his prophesied role of fugitive/vagabond prior to his marriage, the birth of his son, and the building of his city.
Someone might object to this whole explanation by citing the potentially debilitating effects of inbreeding. In answer to that, I’ll close this post by providing an extended quote from renowned pastor and scholar James Montgomery Boice. In Volume 1 of his excellent three-volume commentary set on Genesis, he writes:
I have taken part in a number of meetings growing out of the work of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, and at a number of them, where the doctrine of the full inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible has been upheld, there have been question and answer periods. I have been surprised to find that at most of these question periods someone sooner or later asks the age-old question: “Where did Cain get his wife?” Many people are interested in that man’s wife.
…Where did Cain get his wife? Well, if you turn over the page of the Bible to chapter 5, you find in verse 4 that “after Seth was born, Adam lived 800 years and had other sons and daughters.” Could Cain marry his own sister? Yes, he could — in those early days when the race had not yet suffered the pollution of the succeeding centuries. If you were going to drink directly from the Hudson river, would you not rather drink from it up in the Adirondack mountains where it is fresh and pure than down by New York City after it has picked up the pollution of the scores of cites along its banks? It is the same with the human race. Today close interbreeding brings out harmful genes and results in lower IQs, among other things. But in the early days it was no so. Abram married his half-sister Sarah, and before that Cain married his full sisters as did the others born in those days.