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The tale of Adam and Eve’s sons, Cain and Abel, doesn’t occupy much space in the Bible. Their story takes up one chapter, with some genealogical details in the following. Despite this, the phrase “Cain and Abel” is known in our culture, and we have a good idea of what it means. Let’s examine what the Bible says about these brothers and their siblings.

Who were Cain and Abel?

Genesis 4 tells us that Adam and Eve had two sons after their exile from the Garden of Eden, Cain and Abel. We know that Cain was the first son, but the Bible doesn’t specify when Abel was born. In adulthood, the brothers took differing career paths. Genesis 4:2 informs us that Cain was a farmer, and Abel became a shepherd. At some point, both brothers gave offerings to God from their produce. Abel gave sections of firstborn lambs, while Cain gave crops. God accepted Abel’s offering but disapproved of Cain’s offerings. Genesis 4:5 tells us that Cain was jealous and upset with Abel, and as a result, God warned Cain to be careful, telling him that he would be accepted if he did the right thing.

The Bible says that one day, Cain asked Abel to take a walk in the field, where he killed Abel. God took a similar approach to the one he used with Cain’s parents in Genesis 3:9 after they ate the forbidden fruit: He approached the wrongdoer with a question, in this case, asking Cain where his brother was. Genesis 4:9 tells us that Cain asked a question in return, responding with, “I don’t know, am I my brother’s guardian?”

God scolded Cain for his actions and told him from that point, he would homelessly wander the earth. Cain said he couldn’t bear the punishment of wandering forever and that someone who found him could kill him. God comforted Cain, telling him that He would punish anyone who killed him seven times over and marked Cain so anyone who tried to kill him would be warned, as detailed in Genesis 4:15-16. After this, Cain had a son named Enoch, founded a city, and had several descendants who developed skills like forging metal, playing music and nomadic herding.

Who was Cain’s wife?

The Bible doesn’t explicitly say who Cain’s wife was. The only possible answer is that Cain’s wife was his niece, sister, or great-niece. The Bible also doesn’t tell us how old Cain was when he killed Abel, but they were likely grown adults. Adam and Eve had given birth to more children than Cain and Abel at the time of Abel’s death, as detailed in Genesis 5:4. The fact that Cain was afraid for his life after killing his brother indicates that many other children or grandchildren of Adam and Eve lived at the time. Cain’s wife was likely Adam and Eve’s daughter or granddaughter.

Since Adam and Eve were the first human beings, their children had no choice but to intermarry. God allowed inter-family marriage until later when the population was big enough to make intermarriage unnecessary, as explained in Leviticus 18:6-18. The reason that incest today typically results in genetic abnormalities is that when two people of comparable genetics have kids together, there’s a high risk of their recessive traits becoming dominant.

When people from different families reproduce, it’s improbable that both parents will have the same recessive traits. The human genetic code has become damaged over the centuries as genetic defects have amplified, multiplied and passed down from generation to generation. God perfectly designed Adam and Eve, and their lack of genetic defects enabled them to have a superb quality of health than we do today. When sin first came to the world through Adam and Eve’s defiance against God, it brought disease, sickness, and a compromised bloodline for their descendants. Their kids had few, if any, genetic mutations. Therefore, it was safe for them to intermarry.

Why did God allow incest in the Bible?

There are several examples of incest in the Bible. The most common are the children of Adam and Eve, Abraham marrying his half-sister, Sarah, Lot and his daughters, and David’s son Amnon, who married his half-sister Tamar. However, it’s vital to note that one of the involved parties was an unwilling participant in two of these examples, specifically with Tamar and Lot. It’s essential to distinguish between incestuous relationships before God’s command against them in Leviticus 18:6-18 and incest that happened after God’s command.

Until God forbade it, it wasn’t incest. It was simply marrying a close relative. It’s undeniable that God permitted “incest” in humanity’s early centuries. Since Adam and Even were the only humans on earth, their children had no choice but to marry and have children with their close relatives and siblings. The second generation had to marry their cousins, like Noah’s grandchildren had to intermarry amongst their cousins following the flood. One reason that incest is strongly discouraged today is the knowledge that reproducing between closely related people has a higher risk of genetic abnormalities. However, this wasn’t a risk in the early days of humanity because the human genetic code was essentially defect-free.

Another consideration is that incest today typically involves a powerless or pre-pubescent victim, and the perpetrator abuses their authority with the goal of unilateral sexual pleasure. By that definition, biblical “incest” has nothing in common with modern-day incest. For example, there was no power difference between Cain and his wife, and the goal of Abraham and Sarah’s marriage was to start a family. Intermarriage among family members was necessary in the generations after Adam and Noah and wasn’t a sinful distortion of sex.

By the time of Moses, the human genetic code had become contaminated enough that close intermarriage was no longer necessary or safe. So God ordered against sexual relations with siblings, parents, half-siblings, and aunts/uncles. Not until many centuries later did humanity discover the genetic reason that incest is unwise and unsafe. Genetics wasn’t a problem in the early centuries of society, and the marriages between Adam and Eve’s children weren’t abuses of authority or selfish pursuits of sexual gratification. Cain found his wife because she was his relative, but marriages between relatives were standard practice. However, God decided to outlaw this practice once the human population was big enough.

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