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Who Would Have Killed Cain?

by Daryl E. Witmer, AIIA Executive Director

In late October, 1998, we received an e-mail message from a good friend and supporter of AIIA. She’d just had a conversation with a high school teacher who stated that, in his opinion, there are numerous discrepancies in the Bible. She was soliciting our help in responding to one particular case which he had cited as an example.


The teacher said, “After Cain killed his brother Abel, he was banished from his home. Then he was marked by God so that he wouldn’t be killed himself (Genesis 4:15). But that raises the question – who would have even been out there to kill him? If it was his own relatives, were they banished as well, or did they leave by choice? And if they left by choice, then in what sense was banishment a punishment for Cain?”


The short answer to the question about who might have wanted to kill Cain as a result of his killing Abel is… “Lots of Abel’s relatives” (who were Cain’s relatives, too, of course) who would have understandably been very upset by what had just happened, and thus fully inclined to try to avenge the death of their father, grandfather, uncle, cousin, or whatever.

Here are a few things to keep in mind in an attempt to unravel this Bible ‘problem’:

The sequence of events outlined in Genesis 4 and 5 is not always necessarily chronological. The chapters track one story line and then flash back to pick up and track another. For instance, Seth’s birth is not mentioned until 4:25, but Cain’s marriage is mentioned in 4:17. Cain’s wife may have been either a sister born previous to, or after, Seth (who was the third son of Adam and Eve, but not necessarily the third/next child), or the daughter of one of his sisters.

Based on the estimates of commentator/scholar Adam Clarke, Abel was killed in the 128th year of human (world) history. By that time, according to Clarke, world population may have numbered over 420,000.

There is also the possibility that Seth and at least one sister had been born years before the death of Abel and/or the punishment of Cain. But because of the wording in 4:25 this does not seem as likely.

Adam and Eve were banished from Eden, but we must not assume (based on the Biblical record) that any of their immediate descendents, including Cain, were banished from their homes. Genesis 4:14 merely states that Cain, after he murdered his brother, would be “a vagrant and a wanderer.” Cain’s sentence involved tremendous vocational implications. The land would not produce for him (4:12) and evidently, primarily, for that reason he became an itinerant, scavenging what he could where he could. But at no time do we read that he was actually banished from his home. In fact, he may have occasionally revisited it as he tried to eke out a living here and there.

Therefore, the answer to the third question about why Cain’s inability to stay where he was constituted punishment even if other of his relatives were already living “out there” by choice seems self-evident. It was punishment for Cain precisely because it was a change that he didn’t want. Think about it. If you choose to live “on the road”, then living “on the road” will not be upsetting to you. But if another man who enjoys staying put is forced to be a traveling sales-man in order to make a living, then for that man living “on the road” will be vexing. Cain loved to farm, but because of his sin he was now unable to make a living from the land. He had to go “on the road.” In addition, of course, there were also other dimensions to his punishment, i.e. insecurity, fear.


Once the door is opened to any actual Bible discrepancy, there is no limiting the damage. The matter of what is and what is not true quickly becomes a subjective free-for-all, with each person making their own decision about what is or is not to be believed. In such a case, the Bible loses its authority and Christianity loses its base. If Scripture can be wrong in any place it can be wrong in every place and the entire foundation washes. Thankfully, that is not the case. There may be apparent discrepancies in the Bible, but there are no actual discrepancies. Plus – there are never any new allegations being presented, and the old ones have all long since been resolved by reputable scholarship. All that is usually required to uncover the solution to such “problems” is access to a few resourceful texts. Three that we’d mention here are: The Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties by Gleason Archer, When Critics Ask by Norm Geisler, and Hard Sayings of the Bible, edited by Walter Kaiser.