Cain’s Wife: A Touchy Subject

Submitted by James on Sun, 05/23/2010 - 05:05

One of the most frequently raised challenges to the feasibility of biblical history is the question, “Where did Cain get his wife?”  In other words, how could all humans come from an original mother and father, when this would obviously involve the incest of their children?  Somewhere, a man would have to marry his sister – and that’s immoral!  (Right?)  Isn’t that a huge blunder for a moral creator God to set up the human race so that fulfillment of his command, “be fruitful and multiply” would require an immoral act?

 Well of course – accept that in the beginning, brothers marrying sisters was not immoral.  I hope I have not offended anyone with that statement.  Let me further elaborate on why it was different in the past.  Right now, the biggest problem with brothers marrying sisters is that their children will be highly defective.  You see, for every single genetic trait, a child receives one gene from his mother, and one from his father.  Now, many of these genes are messed up from copying mistakes over many generations.  So, a child may receive a messed up gene from his father that codes for his ear to develop a deformed shape and grow in the middle of his cheek.  But the gene he receives from his mother happens to be in good shape.  What happens is that the genes he receives from his mother “cover up” the bad information he inherited from his father, and his ears are only slightly crooked, rather than highly deformed.

 But if, on the other hand, a child’s mother and father were siblings, they would very likely have many of the same bad genes, since they are so closely related.  This child would inherit multitudes of pairs of bad genes, with no good genetic information to cover up the mistakes.  He would be very deformed, and probably very sick – in all likelihood the child would die within a few years after his birth due to serious medical conditions.

 But in the past it was different.  God made Adam and Eve perfect.  They had no mistakes in their genes.  Their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren had practically no bad genes in their systems.  Thus, in the beginning, brothers could marry sisters with no adverse effects.  This is why around 2000 years after Creation Abraham could marry his half-sister.  In fact, it is not until God gave the Law in Moses’ time that brother-sister unions were banned; by this time the genetic risk was too great.  So, to sum up, brother-sister unions were permissible, good, and even necessary in the beginning.  Today, it is immoral; God has banned the practice for our own safety.

 Believe it or not, this is a touchy subject.  In today’s age, the thought of a brother-sister union tends to gross us out.  “Inappropriate” is a mild word that comes to mind.  I remember, as a counselor at New England Frontier Camp (a Christian camp for boys), a group of campers wandered how the Bible could be true if brothers had to marry sisters to produce the rest of us.  As I was explaining it to them, an older counselor (who, in retrospect, I realize was a very immature individual) told me to stop because he thought the topic was inappropriate.  I strongly disagree with that one counselor’s assessment.  But the incident did increase my awareness that for some people, talking about how brothers could marry sisters in the beginning is an awkward subject.

 Why do I bring this up?

 Because I’m writing the Érenyel.  I’m hashing out a fictional world with its own history.  Like Tolkien did with middle-earth.  And I’m facing the same kind of scenario that happened in the beginning of our own world.

 It is interesting to see how Tolkien handled the issue of descent and incest.  With the elves he avoided the issue by starting with a whole troop in the beginning; likewise with men and dwarves, although their history is clouded.  In fact, in Tolkien’s Middle Earth it is simply assumed that incest is BAD, with no explanation as to how it became so.  He even has a tragic story where a man inadvertently marries his sister, and when they discover their mistake they both commit suicide.

 Again, you ask, why do I bring this up?

 Because, I answer, soon you will deal with brothers marrying sisters in the history of Arah, as written down in the Érenyel.  And I want you to not be grossed out, and understand that this is how it was with our own earliest ancestors; I also want you to understand that I am not advocating incest.

 There.  I spoiled part of the Érenyel, in order to prevent confusion and offence.  I’m going to let this sit a few days before posting the next chapter of the Érenyel.




We've talked about this multiple times as a family and with others.

I'm excited to see how you're going to handle it in the Érenyel.

The tale of Turin may be the only reference to incest, but Maeglin wants to marry his cousin Idril. Also, this is interesting.

Formerly Kestrel

Also, Kestrel, I don't understand why you and other people insist on saying that cousins marrying cousins is incest. God did not prohibit that. That's just silly to say that that is incest.

The best stories are those that are focused, unassuming, and self-confident enough to trust the reader to figure things out. --

If what you say is true, Laura Elizabeth, then what about Seth, who WAS a godly man? Yes, it became a moral law as well as a common sense one, but again--this was generations after the Fall, when men who had never walked with God had degenerated spiritually as well as physically.

 Very well-handled, James. This is indeed, for some inexplicable reason, a huge "don't-go-there" topic for many people that I have talked to, and it's good to see someone who can handle the matter so well while still addressing the core issue.

Brother: Your character should drive a motorcycle.
Me: He can't. He's in the wilderness.
Brother: Then make it a four-wheel-drive motorcycle!

I have studied this out myself before in the past and I agree with everything you've stated. It took a few thousand years for genetic mistakes to become common enough to make marrying first cousins and closer to become dangerous.

"Sometimes even to live is courage."

I'm not sure that I agree with you, James. In the Bible, when it prohibits the marriage of brothers and sisters, it is a moral law and not just a social law. Read Leviticus 18:9,11. I think it's pretty clear that the problem with that kind of marriage, like the problem of any other relationship like that, is moral, and not just genetic. Those laws are listed right alongside those against fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, and so on, marrying. I think we must be very careful not on this subject. Perhaps Cain did marry his sister. Was he right in doing so? We know that he was not a godly man. I think it's very possible that he did so, but doing it would not make it right. Do you see what I mean? If we open the door for this to just be a protection against genetic mutations, instead of a command against immorality, then we open the door for a lot of other things. In fact, it looks very much like liberalism to me. Just be very, very, very careful.

The best stories are those that are focused, unassuming, and self-confident enough to trust the reader to figure things out. --

  That's all right, Laura, you don't have to agree with me.  I don't hold it against you.

But I must ask you a question.  Do you believe that we are all descended ultimately from Adam and Eve, and ultimately from no one else?  I believe we are required to believe this, otherwise we have problems explaining how we are all sinners (being all descended from Adam).  Are you willing to believe that there were other people, not descended from Adam and Eve, from whom Adam and Eve's children could find husbands and wives?  Do we have people in our ancestry not related to Adam and Eve?  It's the only other alternative, because logically there is no way for two original people to "be fruitful and multiply" unless somewhere, a brother marries his sister.

You have only four choices.

1.  Acknowledge that, in the beginning, at least one brother had to marry his sister to produce other people who weren't brothers and sisters.

2.  Deny that a brother ever HAD to marry his sister (whether he actually did or not), and acknowledge that there were other people not descended from Adam in the world (or that God would have created them eventually).

3.  Come up with another explanation (a logical impossibility).

4. Refuse to come to a conclusion, which would be shirking your duty to search for the truth.

I also want to address your point about the law against brother-sister unions being a law against immorality; I agree with you; it is, and I'm sorry if I gave the impression that I thought otherwise.  I'll explain further later, but first I'd like to understand your view of the points I've just raised.  What was God's intention for the reproduction of mankind from one man and one woman?

"The idea that we should approach science without a philosophy is itself a philosophy... and a bad one, because it is self-refuting." -- Dr. Jason Lisle