If you’ve been with us the last week or so, we’ve been wondering about the first people in the Bible. The question has been posed, were Adam and Eve really the first people? The subsequent question wondered just who Cain feared after committing fratricide. My conjecture has been that there were other people on the earth aside from the “first family,” that this makes the best sense of the biblical presentation.
A quick buzz through Cain’s story may illuminate the idea. It may also raise new questions, which isn’t bad.
After Cain is banished from his homeland, he complains that in the wandering to which he is now doomed, he will inevitably be killed by someone (Gen 4:14). One commenter last week supposed that this was likely a reference back to Adam & Eve, that in their anger, they would take vengeance on their son Cain. One could certainly understand the first parents being upset with their firstborn, but I don’t think it’s his folks that Cain fears. Consider that Cain is being driven from his homeland. The implication is that he would likely not encounter his family again.
But the Lord promises protection for Cain, placing some kind of mark on him that would warn would-be killers. Like a brightly colored beetle, anyone who saw Cain would know this guy is likely poisonous. In this protection, God promises that any killer of Cain would receive vengeance sevenfold (4:15). How can one be avenged seven times if there are only a few people on the earth? It would seem an empty promise if Adam & Eve were the only people Cain had to worry about.
Eventually, Cain’s story continues as he and his wife (From where did she come?) have their first son, Enoch (4:17). At the time, Cain was constructing a city. But one has to wonder for whom he was building this city. If in the land of Nod only Cain and his wife and newborn were residing, why the need for anything more than a single house? Though this city of Enoch was likely a far cry from Manhattan, it would seem safe to suppose that more than one family lived there in more than one building.
From there Cain essentially leaves the narrative. Details are naturally scarce in Scripture, though the questions must arise. Does it make the best sense, given the textual evidence, for Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel to have been the only humans on the planet at the time? Or does it make better sense to suppose that others were already on the earth, for whatever reason? Are there other alternatives that would better explain these narratives? Is the purpose of this opening section of Scripture to explain what we commonly think it explains? Is the Bible even concerned to answer these types of questions?