Interpreting other Bible passages (Part 1: Cain and Abel)

Image: Cain kills Abel by Palma Giovane, public domain
We've now covered all the major points in my interpretation of the Genesis creation story: the seven-day creation week is a prologue to the whole Bible. It employs an abstract, broad language to describe God's act of creation, and it's not to be taken literally. The purpose of this prologue is to declare a simple, profound truth: God created everything that exists, and he placed us humans at the apex of his work, as beings made in his image.

The concrete, "literal" story narrative then begins on Genesis 2:4, and this transition is marked by a clear change in the language. The stories that come thereafter should all be interpreted "literally" - so Adam and Eve were really tempted in the Garden of Eden by the serpent, and they fell by eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This happened several thousands of years ago - in accordance with the traditional dating of Adam and Eve, but long after the Big Bang and human evolution had already taken place as mainstream science describes.

Adam and Eve would then go on to become the spiritual ancestors to all of humanity. This does not mean that they were the first biological humans to exist, or the only humans around, or the only humans responsible for humanity's current genetic diversity. Rather, it means that Adam and Eve were a recent common ancestor to all humans, when tracing "ancestry" through spiritually formative relationships. As their descendants, we inherit from them the image of God and the consequences of their fall.

All of this is in excellent agreement with the Bible and mainstream science, as I have mentioned throughout this article series. It may seem like this model requires many additional components outside the text of the Bible, but this is perhaps only due to its unfamiliarity. My theory requires no more extra-biblical components than its rival interpretations, the extra-biblical components are simple and reasonable, and none of these components are of any practical, doctrinal significance. It therefore adheres to both the principle of parsimony, and the idea that important doctrines are based on simple interpretations.

To further demonstrate the agreement between my theory and the biblical data, I will comb through the remainder of the Bible outside the creation story, and test my model against the relevant passages. I will naturally focus on the book of Genesis. I intend to show that my theory explains many difficult Bible passages better than its rivals, and preserves all the important theological truths related to the creation story.

Right after Adam and Eve's exile from the Garden, we have the story of Cain and Abel. There are several tricky elements in this story, but they are all easily explained in my theory. I've already addressed the question of Cain's wife: my theory explains who she was in a straightforward, sensible way: she was just another biological human who was not descended from Adam and Eve. But if Adam and Eve were the only humans God created, that would mean that God intended humans to reproduce by incest from the very beginning, as a part of his "very good" plan.

Also consider: who is Cain afraid of? When God curses him to be a wanderer, he says that anyone he meets might kill him. This makes perfect sense if there existed other humans who were not the descendants of Adam and Eve. As merely biological humans, these people would simply act under their evolutionary impulses, and they'd easily become violent against those who were not in their family, clan, or tribe. Cain would be right to fear being sent out among them.

On the other hand, Cain's fears make little sense if Adam and Eve were the only humans God created. Who is Cain expecting to meet when he leaves his land? The land beyond their home should be devoid of people. Even if Cain met other humans who also somehow wandered off, they would still be family and Cain would have little reason to fear getting killed by them, even if he did kill Abel. You may say that Cain could be killed by his own family in retribution for Abel, but this is unlikely and not supported by the text: Cain's fear is about being sent off the land as a wanderer, and not about facing his family about Abel's murder.

There is also the fact that Cain built a city after his exile. Again, this makes little sense if the city is to be populated by other descendants of Adam and Eve, who are all Cain's close relatives at this point - the very people that he's suppose to be afraid of. Furthermore, "building a city" is not something that one person does by himself: Cain must have lead a group of people. So... Cain lead a group of his close relatives - who knew him to be a murderer - and got them to follow him into exile, build a city with him, then live with him? And aside from all that, how large could the human population have been at this point anyway? Was it large enough to justify a city?

Cain's city makes much more sense in my model: Cain, after getting cut off from his family, uses his advantages - such as his mark protecting him from harm, and his knowledge of spiritual matters - to become a leader of biological humans. Since he's cut off from his own family, and afraid of other family groups, he uses his leadership to build a city - where family or tribal ties are not particularly important. All this happens easily and naturally in my model.

After Cain's story is wrapped up, the Bible switches back to Adam and Eve, who have a new son named Seth. Seth then had a son named Enosh - which means that Seth had a wife. As I said before, this is not a problem in my theory, but it runs into the incest problem if Adam and Eve were the only humans God created.

At this point in the Bible, right after Enosh is introduced, there's this little-noted sentence: "At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord". What could this mean, if Adam and Eve were the only humans God created? Isn't Enosh a mere two generations from Adam? Wasn't Adam still around as the patriarch of the entire human race? Even the murderous Cain knew that God was real and had made sacrifices to him. Why would anyone NOT call on the name of the Lord before this time?

My theory deftly handles this troublesome little sentence: it means that people in general - humans who were not descended from Adam and Eve - began to call on the name of the Lord. Adam and Eve's spiritual influence had spread out to the people who were once merely biological humans, and they were now beginning to worship God. This makes perfect sense in my theory, as it's only what's naturally expected to happen.

Next week, I will continue this post, and consider my model in light of the remaining parts of Genesis, and other passages in the Old and New Testaments.

You may next want to read:
Interpreting other Bible passages (Part 2: Nephilim, Noah, etc.) (Next post of this series)
Common arguments about the creation account (Part 1)
Key principles in interpreting the Bible
Another post, from the table of contents

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