The Wartburg Project

November 22nd, 2023

56. Where did the name "Cainan" come from in Luke 3:36?

The name Cainan in Luke 3:36 does not appear in the parallel genealogy in the Old Testament in Genesis 10 and 11. Where did the name Cainan come from?

Luke 3:36 raises a very difficult textual question. The textual evidence for including the name Cainan in the text of the New Testament is extremely strong. The textual question arises because the name Cainan is not found in the parallel genealogy in the Hebrew Old Testament. It is found in some Christian versions of the Greek Old Testament in Genesis 10:24 and 11:12, but these versions of the Greek Old Testament were produced by the same copyists who produced our major manuscripts of the Greek New Testament. Commentators often blithely say that a New Testament author is using the Septuagint in cases in which is it equally possible that the copyist of his edition of the Greek Old Testament was making use of the New Testament as he evaluated variants in the text. See the comments on the Greek Old Testament in Appendix 1.

Therefore, one possibility is that Cainan was accidentally introduced into the text of Luke 3:36 from Luke 3:37 and from there it was transferred into Christian manuscripts of the Greek Old Testament. The papyrus codex of the Bodmer Collection labeled p75 (believed by some to be the earliest extant copy of Luke and dated between 175 and 225 AD) does not have Cainan, so there is some evidence that Cainan may a be textual error that occurred very early in the transmission of Luke’s Gospel. The historians Josephus and Africanus also do not use Cainan in their genealogies. If this explanation of the reading Cainan is correct, it is one of very few copying errors which occurred early enough to be supported by a majority of early Greek manuscripts. Another way in which commentators address the problem is to suggest that the absence of Cainan from the Hebrew version of the genealogy is evidence that that genealogy is abridged. See the footnote on Genesis 11:13 for further discussion.

Readers of the Bible should retain a healthy degree of skepticism about statements about textual variants in the Bible which they find in various resources. Often there are contradictions among the commentators, and the manuscript evidence is not readily available for verification. Though this is one of the most difficult variants in the New Testament, neither Metzger’s textual commentary nor the Concordia Commentary on Luke even deal with the issue. The main lesson to learn from this is that you should take textual statements that you read with a grain of salt and evaluate them cautiously.