The most reasonable answer to this old chestnut is that Cain married some other descendant of Adam and Eve's. If God created Adam and Eve to be the first truly human beings, then it seems most natural to conclude that God had meant for close relatives to pair off and form father-mother units in the early generations of humanity.
After all, given the fact that God created Adam and Eve, given the fact that they were exhorted and blessed with the words "Be fruitful and multiply", God would be quite a poor planner if the descendants of Adam and Eve could not find mates!
A common objection to the above (common) answer to the classic question is that up to Gen 4:17 no daughters have been mentioned, so where could Cain get his wife?
This objection might seem formidable at first but vanishes when the hidden assumptions behind the objection are made known:
- First it dogmatically assumes that the transition from 4:16 ("So Cain
when out from Yahweh's presence and lived in Nod, east of Eden") to 4:17
("Cain lay with his wife...") is one of an immediate chronological nature.
That is, the above objection assumes dogmatically that 4:17 happened immediately
within some close window of time with the events in 4:16.
To see that this dogmatism is not reasonable, observe that Adam's entire life has been compressed into 2:8-5:3. We have a very densely compressed narrative here in the early part of Genesis. Read 2:17 and then 2:18. Is it reasonable to be dogmatic that 2:18 happened right after 2:17?
Same question for the events of 2:18-21. We have no literary guarantee that the events of 2:21 happened immediately after Adam was done naming the animal kingdom. Nor do we have any right to dogmatism to claim that 4:1 immediately follows 3:24.
Given these facts, then, that the early chapters of Genesis are merely reporting key events in the early history of humankind, we have no right to take our biographical standards of "This happened, and then this other thing happened right after that, and then right after that something else happened, etc." and apply them to a Semitic document some 2500-3500 years old.
The reader is urged to ponder what a biography of his or her life would be like if one were only allowed, say 300 words. Surely one could not expect a smooth lineal flow of time for one person's life in 300 words. Now try restricting the creation of the Universe, the creation of life, the creation of man, and the early doings of humankind, to a few scant chapters.
- Second, it assumes that what happens in later verses must necessarily
occur after what happens in later verses. Adam is reported to have lived
930 years -- plenty of time for fathering many, many children.
In fact, Gen 5:4 reports that he had sons and daughters. This passage, being located in a summary account of the line from Adam to Noah, cannot be pinned down to a specific time posterior to Cain's exile and hence one cannot be dogmatic concerning the thesis that Cain could not have found a wife.
The passage 5:4 speaks of a process: Adam had sons and daughters (one can say a fair number of them -- but we have no idea how many as the text does not aim for completeness by listing everyone born). This is not the reporting of a punctiliar event, but instead is the reporting of a series of events. Thus, it is quite possible and reasonable to conclude that Adam had other children throughout Cain's duration.
What is more, the children of Adam and Eve would have their own children, and those children would propagate, and so on. Therefore, Cain would not at all be restricted to selecting a sister of his (a daughter of Adam and Eve) for a mate. He may have chosen a niece, a grand niece, a grand-grandniece, or so on.
Note that 4:17 does not specify precisely when Cain found a mate. It merely assumes that Cain had found a mate, and then the text does not provide an exact date or time relative to the other mentioned events when Cain found a mate.
Therefore, those who dogmatically claim that Cain could not possibly have found a mate are errant in their dogmatism. With respect to the text itself, there is no problem at all, as we have a highly probable solution to the classic question of where Cain got his wife.
Personally, the question of how someone visibly cursed of God could procure a mate is more interesting. The question of where Cain found a mate is best answered as the above states: he found a female descendant of Adam and Eve. But we do not know exactly how he managed to obtain his wife.
I would find it interesting to know just how he did it, but Scripture gives no clue as to how. Fortunately, a lack of knowledge concerning an interesting speculatory question such as is posed here does have anything to do with the validity of any argument for the existence of at least one genuine error in the original autographa. Culturally, however, it may well be that Cain would have obtained a wife as a slave.
In response to those who argue that such an answer involves "speculation":
- I contend that the explanation given above is reasonable and is based
on a near-obvious deduction based on the premise that (a) God created one
man and one woman, and (b) God blessed them with the exhortation to multiply.
Reasonable deductions are not guesses. A guess is a statement made without
any consideration of the strength or reasonability of the statement.
To call the classical solution a mere guess is really an intellectual dodge. Why blur the distinction between a guess and a reasonable deduction?
- The classical explanation is a reasonable deduction based on the Biblical data of (a) and (b). Nobody speculates the existence of propositions (a) and (b) in the text. Propositions (a) and (b) are in the text for all to read.
Such polemic does disservice to those who want a fair portrayal of the explanations, their strong points, and their weak points. Discussions of Scriptural issues can be profitable when emotions and quick dismissals are discarded for a sense of humility, reason, and an acknowledgement that in dealing with Scripture we are often in the same situation of a man trying to find out what a movie is about by seeing only a few minutes, seconds, or even a few frames, of a movie film.
A skeptical objection to the classic solution to the question of where Cain got his wife that I frequently find is that this relationship would be incestuous. In fact, most if not all of the early mate pairs would be incestuous. One critic asks:
In other words, our apologetic friends would have us believe that incest was not immoral until the family structure stabilized. Does that mean morality evolves and incest only became immoral at a certain point in history? That smacks of `situational ethics' which in other cases is the bane fundamentalists are so quick to decry. What is immoral at one time is not immoral at another.I agree with the first and third statements in this quote. See (a) and (b) above: God would not create one man, one woman, and exhort them to multiply unless their children intermingled and propagated humanity. Apparently, such actions were not sinful then. Let us turn to other statements in this polemic.
The last sentence is also quite true, for certainly, in Lev 18 is a set of laws against certain types of sexual relationships. Relationships between, say, brother and sister were permitted in the very early days of humanity (according to Genesis) but were not permitted in this code, which was given during the Exodus, long after Cain had been around.
"Does that mean that morality evolves and incest only became immoral at a certain point in history?". I can agree with the statement following the conjunction in his statement. But I can not agree with the claim that what we have here is a product of moral evolution. God permitted a certain action early on, now He no longer permits it. Those who would like to know why (and it is a good question) are invited to ask Him why. Those who would request justification from God for how he let humanity unfold itself are invited to correspond with me and enlighten me when He tells them the answer or explains everything to their satisfaction.
Another point worth mentioning is that the fact that God allows one thing at one time but later forbids it in no way increases the autonomy of man with respect to a moral law which is given from "outside" humanity. It does not logically follow at all that, even if God allowed certain behaviors on Tuesday and Friday but disallowed them the other days of the week (say), that we humans would have license to follow or not follow them as we please. If the moral law originates exterior to man (as Christians claim) then man cannot change the law, even if the law itself is changed by God.
A category fallacy is exhibited by comparing God's actions and counsel with "situational ethics -- which in other cases is the bane fundamentalists are so quick to decry." This is comparing the situation to where human beings decide what is ethical or moral (situational ethics) to a situation to where God decides what is ethical or moral (can, say, a brother and sister have sex?).