Evidence #267 | November 8, 2021

Wordplay on Cain

Post contributed by


Scripture Central


Book of Mormon authors repeatedly associated Cain with a desire to get gain, a concept linked with the etiological meaning behind his name.

Throughout the Book of Mormon, secret combinations1 are frequently associated with the pursuit of wealth and power, often described simply as getting “gain.”2 In Ether 8:22, for instance, Moroni ominously warns, “whatsoever nation shall uphold such secret combinations, to get power and gain … shall be destroyed.”3 Moroni notes that these combinations were had among the Jaredites, and that they were “given by them of old who also sought power, which had been handed down even from Cain, who was a murderer from the beginning” (Ether 8:15).

Cain and Abel. Image via Robert T. Barrett.

This connection is noteworthy because the biblical etiology (origin) of Cain’s name itself evokes the concept of “gain.” Concerning his birth, Eve declared, “I have gotten a man from the Lord” (Genesis 4:1). According to Matthew Bowen, the Hebrew word for “gotten” (qānîtî) in this passage can also be understood as “I have gained,” or “I have acquired.”4 Eve’s explanation corresponds closely with what appears to be the root word behind Cain (*qyn), which can mean “to ‘forge’ or ‘work in metal,’ a concept related to ‘create’ in the sense of forming or fashioning.”5

Unfortunately—and rather ironically—Eve’s apparent joy at having gotten a son from the Lord would eventually be turned into sorrow at what Cain sought to get through Satan. The Book of Moses records, “And Cain said: Truly I am Mahan, the master of this great secret, that I may murder and get gain. Wherefore Cain was called Master Mahan, and he gloried in his wickedness” (Moses 5:31). Bowen explains,

In making this declaration, Cain “re-motivates” the meaning of his own name: he is no longer “gotten” from the Lord or “gained”/“procreated” with the Lord’s help (Genesis 4:1Moses 5), but is now the “master” (“creator,” “possessor,”) of secret murder to “get gain.”6

It appears that Book of Mormon authors were well aware of this re-motivated meaning.7 One line of evidence comes from the consistency with which secret combinations are associated with various efforts to “get gain.”8 Some passages, however, go beyond casual allusion and make the connection with Cain explicit. In addition to the example quoted earlier (Ether 8:15), we see this dawn out in Helaman 6, where the narrator reports in verse 17 that the people “began to seek to get gain that they might be lifted up one above another; therefore they began to commit secret murders, and to rob and to plunder, that they might get gain.” Then, a few verses later, the record states:9

Now behold, those secret oaths and covenants did not come forth unto Gadianton from the records which were delivered unto Helaman; but behold, they were put into the heart of Gadianton by that same being who did entice our first parents to partake of the forbidden fruit—Yea, that same being who did plot with Cain, that if he would murder his brother Abel it should not be known unto the world. And he did plot with Cain and his followers from that time forth. (vv. 26–27)

Another line of evidence comes from the way that secret combinations are often associated with the imagery of blood or voices of slain prophets or saints crying from the earth.10 Again, to use Ether 8 as an example, Moroni declared, “And whatsoever nation shall uphold such secret combinations, to get power and gain, … shall be destroyed; for the Lord will not suffer that the blood of his saints, which shall be shed by them, shall always cry unto him from the ground for vengeance upon them” (v. 22). Such descriptions correspond with the accounts in Genesis and the Book of Moses, where the Lord asked Cain: “What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground” (Genesis 4:10; cf. Moses 5:35).

Image via medium.com. 


In light of these and other noteworthy textual relationships, Bowen concluded, “There can be little doubt that the references throughout the Book of Mormon to ‘secret combinations’ that enable men to ‘murder’ and ‘get gain’ have a direct reference to Cain whose name is etiologically tied to the verb qny, denoting ‘get,’ ‘acquire,’ ‘(pro)create.’”11 Among Book of Mormon peoples, Cain was seen as the consummate “getter”—just as his name implies. This evident wordplay manifests another example of the Book of Mormon’s Hebrew origins and literary complexity.

Book of Mormon Central, “Why Are Secret Combinations Associated with Cain and Getting Gain? (Ether 8:22),” KnoWhy 585 (November 17, 2020).

Daniel L. Belnap, “‘They Are of Ancient Date’: Jaredite Traditions and the Politics of Gadianton’s Dissent,” in Illuminating the Jaredite Records, The Book of Mormon Academy, ed. Daniel L. Belnap (Provo and Salt Lake City, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book, 2020), 1–42.

Matthew L. Bowen, “Getting Cain and Gain,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 15 (2015): 115–141.

BibleGenesis 4Genesis 14:17–23Book of Mormon1 Nephi 22:232 Nephi 6:122 Nephi 9:92 Nephi 26:202 Nephi 26:222 Nephi 26:292 Nephi 28:9Alma 37:27–34Helaman 1:11Helaman 3:23Helaman 2:13–14Helaman 6:15–17Helaman 6:26–28Helaman 7:4–5Helaman 7:20–213 Nephi 3:9–103 Nephi 4:293 Nephi 6:27–293 Nephi 27:324 Nephi 1:264 Nephi 1:41–42Ether 8:9–25Ether 9:1–12Ether 9:26–29Ether 11:15Ether 11:20–22Mormon 8:14Mormon 8:27Mormon 8:40–41Pearl of Great PriceMoses 5:13–51


Genesis 4

Genesis 14:17–23

Book of Mormon

1 Nephi 22:23

2 Nephi 6:12

2 Nephi 9:9

2 Nephi 26:20

2 Nephi 26:22

2 Nephi 26:29

2 Nephi 28:9

Alma 37:27–34

Helaman 1:11

Helaman 3:23

Helaman 2:13–14

Helaman 6:15–17

Helaman 6:26–28

Helaman 7:4–5

Helaman 7:20–21

3 Nephi 3:9–10

3 Nephi 4:29

3 Nephi 6:27–29

3 Nephi 27:32

4 Nephi 1:26

4 Nephi 1:41–42

Ether 8:9–25

Ether 9:1–12

Ether 9:26–29

Ether 11:15

Ether 11:20–22

Mormon 8:14

Mormon 8:27

Mormon 8:40–41

Pearl of Great Price

Moses 5:13–51

Wordplay on Cain
Book of Mormon

© 2024 Scripture Central: A Non-Profit Organization. All rights reserved. Registered 501(c)(3). EIN: 20-5294264