What is the

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Bible students for years have wondered about the mark of Cain. What did God place on or give him so as to warn OTHERS not to kill him? The scriptures in question are found in the fourth chapter of Genesis. We will examine some of the verses leading up to the mark so that we have the proper context to answer our questions.

In verse 9 of Genesis 4 God asks Cain where is his brother Abel. His now well-known response is 'Am I my brother's keeper?' God then confronts him with his grievous sin.

'Why have you done this terrible thing? Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground, like a voice calling for revenge. 11 You are placed under a curse . . . (Genesis 4:10-11)

What did God spare the life of Cain instead of taking it? One reason is that God had not yet given man a command not to murder another human. Such a command will be given by God, however, right after Noah leaves the ark after the flood waters subside (Genesis 9:6).

Another, and likely more important reason, Cain was allowed to live is so that other humans would be warned of God's view and judgment on sin. If he was put to death as a punishment that death would soon be forgotten (Ecclesiastes 8:10) and the lesson of what happened lost. He is, instead, cursed to wander the earth with no permanent home. His constant wandering (due to being a fugitive), coupled with a mark he will soon receive, will be a living testament to others not to repeat the same mistake.
13 And Cain said to the Lord, 'This punishment is too hard for me to bear. 14 You are driving me off the land and away from your presence. I will be a homeless wanderer on the earth, and anyone who finds me will kill me.' 15 But the Lord answered, 'No. If anyone kills you, seven lives will be taken in revenge.' So the Lord put a mark on Cain to warn anyone who met him not to kill him. (Genesis 4:13-15)
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Why would anyone greatly fear someone taking vengeance on them ("anyone who finds me will kill me") if, as some assume, no one else but Adam and Eve where living at the time? The Bible does not state Adam's age when either of his first two sons were born. Seth was born after the death of Abel when Adam was 130 years old. The youngest age at which the first patriarchs (Seth, Enosh, Cainan all the way to Noah) gave birth to their first son was sixty-five.

If we conservatively assume Adam had his first son at 65 then that would give Adam and Eve 50 years or more to procreate until Abel's murder. A footnote in the writings of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus states a very old tradition that said Adam had a total of thirty-three sons and twenty-one daughters. The number of Adam and Eve's children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, etc. that existed when Cain received his punishment would have been enough to warrant his concern.

Why did God issue a stern warning, through the mark, that if Cain is met by someone they should not kill him? It is because, in part, it would defeat God's judgment and the purpose why he was allowed the world's first murderer to live.

Speculations abound

The opinions and speculations about what was the Mark of Cain have varied greatly throughout the years. Different people and groups have argued that the special sign God gave to ward off humans from taking the life of the world's first murderer must have been:
  • A horn (either short or long)

  • Leprosy

  • Abel's guard dog

  • A special symbol or letter, or a letter used in God's name

  • A tattoo

  • Dark (e.g. black) skin

  • His own name

  • Circumcision

The truth is, the Bible simply does not clearly tell us what was the unique mark of Cain. Any conjecture, therefore, regarding this issue is ultimately based on opinion and not the word of God.

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