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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Where Did Cain Get His Wife- Some Literalist Problems

A strict adherence to an overly literal interpretation of the Bible often causes more interpretive problems than it solves.  Take for example the age old question, “Where did Cain get his wife?” (Genesis 4:7) The Young-Earth-Ken Ham-Creationist types insist that Cain married his sister (or possibly a niece.) 

“We’re not told when Cain married or many of the details of other marriages and children, but we can say for certain that Cain’s wife was either his sister or a close relative.” Ken Ham

This may answer the question, but it creates more problems than it solves; now we have to deal with a couple of biological and moral conundrums.

This overly literal reading of the Genesis story is problematic biologically because incestuous marriages often produce children with genetic defects.  But of course, our literalists have an answer for this.  They claim that “There were no genetic imperfections at the beginning of the human race…Genetic defects resulted from the Fall and only occurred gradually over long periods of time (Geisler, Howe, 38).”[i]

How can they know this? Were they there?  There’s nothing in the literal text to say that genetic imperfections appeared only very gradually after the Fall.  They’re just making stuff up as they go along.

But the more problematic area is moral.  If we allow that Cain married his “sister or a close relative” (and what would you like to bet that the literalists will NOT allow that this close relative could have been his mother?)  then we have the moral problem of incest.  This is a no-no in God’s law (and is taboo in most cultures around the world).  Again the literalists have an answer – though not a very good one.

They claim that “there was no command in Cain’s day not to marry a close relative.  This command (Lev. 18) came thousands of years later in Moses’ day (c. 1500 B.C.) (Geisler, Howe, 38).”

But (and this is a big but) there was no command against murder in Cain’s day either.  How can he have been held guilty for that but not incest? 

An overly literalist interpretation creates more problems than it solves. For every question they answer with their twisted reading, another three problems are created.

[i] Geisler, Norman & Howe, Tomas When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties, Victor Books, Wheaton, IL 1992.

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