Was Cainan the Son of Arphaxad?
by Eric Lyons, M.Min.
Luke 3:36 is the only verse in the Bible where one can read of the patriarch Arphaxad having a son named Cainan. Although another Cainan (the son of Enosh) is mentioned seven times in Scripture (Genesis 5:9-10,12-14; 1 Chronicles 1:2; Luke 3:37), outside of Luke 3:36, Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, is never mentioned. He is omitted in the genealogies of Genesis 10 and 11, as well as in the genealogy of 1 Chronicles 1:1-28. When the son of Arphaxad is listed in these genealogies, the name always given is Salah (or Shelah), not Cainan. According to some skeptics, either Cainan’s omission from the genealogies in Genesis and First Chronicles represents a genuine mistake, or Luke was in error when he wrote that Arphaxad had a son named Cainan.
One important thing that we learn from the various genealogies throughout Scripture is that sometimes they contain gaps—gaps that are intentional and legitimate. Thus, just because Luke 3 contains a name that is not recorded in Genesis 10 or 11, or in First Chronicles 1, does not necessarily mean that someone made a mistake. The fact is, terms such as “begot,” “the son of,” and “father”—which often are found in genealogies—occasionally have a much wider connotation in the Bible than might be implied when such words are used in modern-day English. Jacob once called Abraham “father,” even though Abraham was really his grandfather (Genesis 32:9). About 2,000 years later, the Pharisees also referred to Abraham as their “father” (John 8:39). The term “father” in these passages obviously means “ancestor.” In the first verse of the New Testament, Matthew wrote of Jesus as being “the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Obviously, Matthew knew that Jesus was not an immediate son of either David or Abraham; he simply used these words in the same flexible way that the ancients frequently used them. [Later in his genealogy, Matthew intentionally omitted some other names as well (e.g., Joash, Amaziah, and Azariah; cf. Matthew 1:6-16; 1 Chronicles 3:11-12). We do not know for sure why Matthew did not include these names in his genealogy (most likely it was for memorization purposes). However, we can be certain that if these gaps represented a legitimate discrepancy, the Jews would have brought it to the attention of Christians 2,000 years ago when they sought to discredit Jesus’ royal lineage.]
The simple fact is, just because one genealogy has more (or fewer) names than another genealogy does not mean that the two genealogies contradict one another. The controversy surrounding Luke 3:36 is readily explainable when one considers the flexibility that the ancients employed in recording the names of “fathers” and “sons.”
Still, the insertion of the name Cainan in Luke 3:36 may have a far different explanation— one that (in my mind) is more plausible, yet at the same time is more complicated to explain, and thus less popular. It is my studied conclusion that the “Cainan problem” is the result a scribal error made when copying Luke’s gospel account.
Realizing that the New Testament originally was written in Greek without punctuation or spaces between words, the insertion of the name Cainan easily could have crept into Luke’s genealogy. Notice what the original text (in agreement with Genesis 10:24, 11:12, and 1 Chronicles 1:18,24) might have said:
If a scribe happened to glance at the end of the third line at toukainan, he easily could have written it on the first line as well as the third. Hence, instead of reading of only one Cainan, what we read today is two Cainans:
As you can see, it would not be difficult for a weary scribe to copy “Cainan” inadvertently from Luke 3:37 as he was copying 3:36 (see Sarfati, 1998, pp. 39-40; Morris, 1976, p. 282).
Although some apologists reject the idea that the insertion of Cainan in Luke 3:36 is a copyist’s error, the following facts seem to add much credence to this proposed solution.
As stated earlier, this part of Luke’s genealogy also is recorded in Genesis 10:24, 11:12, and in 1 Chronicles 1:18,24. All of these Old Testament passages, however, omit the Cainan of Luke 3:36. In fact, Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, is not found in any Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament.
Cainan is omitted from all of the following ancient versions of the Old Testament: the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Syriac, the Targum (Aramaic translations of the Old Testament), and the Vulgate (a Latin translation of the Bible completed sometime between A.D. 382 and 405) [see Hasel, 1980, pp. 23-37].
Cainan’s name is absent from Flavius Josephus’ patriarchal listing in his historical work, Antiquities of the Jews (see Book 1, Chapter 6, Sections 4-5).
The third-century Christian historian, Julius Africanus, also omitted Cainan’s name from his chronology of the patriarchs, and yet he had copies of both the gospels of Luke and Matthew (see his Epistle to Aristides, chapter 3, in Ante-Nicene Fathers).
The earliest known copy of Luke (a papyrus codex of the Bodmer Collection dated between A.D. 175 and 225) does not contain this Cainan (see Sarfati).
Many are quick to point out that the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) mentions the name Cainan, and thus verifies that he was the son of Arphaxad, just as Luke 3:36 indicates. The problem with this line of defense is that the oldest Septuagint manuscripts do not include this reference to Cainan (Sarfati, 1998, p. 40). Patrick Fairbairn indicated in his Bible encyclopedia that this Cainan does “not appear to have been in the copies of the Septuagint used by Theophilus of Antioch in the second century, by Africanus in the third, or by Eusebius in the fourth” (1957, p. 351). He goes on to state that it also was left out of the Vatican copy of the Septuagint (p. 351). That “Cainan” was a later addition to the Septuagint (and not a part of it originally) also is evident from the fact that neither Josephus nor Africanus mentioned him, and yet all indications are that they both used the Septuagint in their writings. [They repeat too many of the same numbers of the Septuagint not to have used it.] Thus, as Larry Pierce concluded, “It appears that at the time of Josephus, the extra generation of Cainan was not in the LXX [Septuagint—EL] text or the document that Josephus used, otherwise Josephus would have included it!” (1999, p. 76). As Henry Morris concluded in his commentary on Genesis: “[I] t is altogether possible that later copiers of the Septuagint (who were not as meticulous as those who copied the Hebrew text) inserted Cainan into their manuscripts on the basis of certain copies of Luke’s Gospel to which they then had access” (Morris, 1976, p. 282).
Although it may be appropriate to view Luke 3:36 as supplementing the Old Testament genealogies, when all of the evidence is gathered, it appears that the name Cainan in Luke 3:36 was not a part of God’s original Word, but is the result of a copyist’ s error. And as we have discussed in other articles, errors made by copyists do not represent legitimate Bible contradictions. [Click the link for more information on copyists’ errors].
“The Extant Writings of Julius Africanus” (1971 reprint), Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), pp. 125-140.
Fairbairn, P. (1957 reprint), “Genealogies,” Fairbairn’s Imperial Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 2:351.
Hasel, Gerhard F. (1980), “Genesis 5 and 11: Chronologies in the Biblical History of Beginnings,” Origins 7:23-37, [On-line], URL: http://www.ldolphin.org/haselgeneal.html.
Josephus, Flavius (1987 edition), Antiquities of the Jews, in The Life and Works of Flavius Josephus, transl. William Whiston (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson).
Morris, Henry M. (1976), The Genesis Record (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Pierce, Larry (1999), “Cainan in Luke 3:36: Insight from Josephus,” CEN Technical Journal, 13:75-76.
Sarfati, Jonathan D. (1998), “Cainan of Luke 3:36,” CEN Technical Journal, 12:39-40.
Sarfati, Jonathan D. (no date), “How do You Explain the Difference between Luke 3:36 and Genesis 11:12?” [On-line], URL: http://www.answersingenesis.org/docs/3748.asp.
Lyons, Eric (2007), “Inspired Writers and Competent Copyists,” [On-line], URL: http://apologeticspress.org/articles/608.