Old Testament

The Pentateuch

What was the mark of Cain?

This phrase is often used incorrectly to suggest that someone bears stigma or punishment inflicted by God because of sin. Biblically, however, the mark of Cain was a symbol of God’s protection. After Cain killed his brother, Abel, God confronted him. “And the Lord said, ‘What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground! And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth. Cain said to the Lord, ‘My punishment is greater than I can bear! Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me.’ Then the Lord said to him, ‘Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.’ And the Lord put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him. Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” (NRSV, Genesis 4:10–16) As God did with Adam and Eve, so did God with Cain. God tempered justice with mercy.


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