Was Cain or Seth Adam’s Firstborn Son?
by Eric Lyons, M.Min.
Even the most casual of Bible students are aware of the fact that the first son of Adam and Eve mentioned in the Bible is Cain. After noting that God banished the first couple from the garden of Eden following their sin, Genesis 4:1 indicates, “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, ‘I have acquired a man from the Lord.’” The births of Abel and Seth are also mentioned in Genesis 4 (though the amount of time that lapses is unknown). One thing that Genesis 4 clearly teaches: Seth was born sometime after Cain and Abel. After Seth’s birth, Adam stated: “God has appointed another seed for me instead of Abel, whom Cain killed” (4:25). Clearly, Cain had already murdered Abel by the time Seth was born.
In Genesis 5, however, in “the book of the genealogy of Adam” (from Adam to the patriarch Noah), Seth, not Cain, is listed as Adam’s son. According to University of Houston Bible Professor Steven Dimattei, Genesis 5:3-4 “clearly implies that Seth was the first born” (2013). Allegedly, in Genesis 5, “the genealogical list is enumerated from father to son; there is no mention of the female, and each son is depicted as the first son, who then further fathers a son…. [I]n this author’s genealogy there is no mention of Cain and Abel,” rather “Seth, like Enosh Kenan, Mahalalel, etc., is presented as the first son” (Dimattei, 2013).
As with so many “Bible discrepancies,” Dr. Dimattei’s assertion that there is “tension” between the fourth and fifth chapters of Genesis is based solely on the assumption that the sons listed in Genesis 5 were all firstborn sons. The fact is, however, the text never explicitly states, nor does it imply, that the sons listed were the “firstborn” of their fathers. One would think the first obvious clue that Genesis 5 is not implying the births of firstborn sons would be that only four verses before noting “Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, and begot a son…and named him Seth” (5:3), the text mentions two of Seth’s older brothers (Genesis 4:25). What’s more, when Genesis 5 indicates that “Seth lived one hundred and five years, and begot Enosh” (vs. 6), or that “Enosh lived ninety years, and begot Cainan” (vs. 9), etc., there is nothing in the text that proves these were firstborn sons. They may have been, but they may not have been. Interestingly, not only is the first son mentioned in Genesis 5 clearly not a firstborn son (5:3), the chapter concludes by mentioning that “Noah was five hundred years old, and Noah begot Shem, Ham, and Japheth” (5:32), yet Shem apparently was not Noah’s firstborn, though he is listed first (cf. Genesis 7:6; 8:13; 11:10). Nor is the text implying that Noah’s sons were triplets, anymore than Genesis 11:26 implies that Abraham was a triplet (cf. Genesis 11:32; 12:4; Acts 7:4; see Lyons 2004).
The fact of the matter is, the emphasis in Genesis 5 is on those who would “call on the name of the Lord” (4:26), including Enoch, who “walked with God” (5:22,24), and Noah, who was a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5) during a time when “the wickedness of man was great in the earth” (Genesis 6:5). Concurrently, Genesis 5 also emphasizes the Messianic lineage from Adam through Shem. [NOTE: Interestingly, many prominent sons in the genealogy of Jesus were not firstborn sons (e.g., Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, etc.).]
While some may see “tension” between Genesis 4 and 5, and while others may see a “clear contradiction” between the two chapters, when we carefully consider the biblical text, its truthfulness is clearly seen: (1) Cain and Abel were older brothers of Seth, and (2) the sons listed in Genesis 5 were not necessarily firstborn sons. Bible students must be careful making assumptions about the text.
Dimattei, Steven (2013), “#7. Who is Adam’s first son: Cain or Seth? (Genesis 4:1 vs Gen 5:3),”Contradictions in the Bible, January 7, http://contradictionsinthebible.com/who-is-adam-first-son/.
Lyons, Eric (2004), “How Old was Terah when Abraham was Born?” http://www.apologeticspress.org/AllegedDiscrepancies.aspx?article=758.