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Who Is Kenan in the Bible?

Kenan mostly appears in the Bible's genealogies, but we do learn something crucial from his story.

Contributing Writer
Updated Mar 17, 2023
Who Is Kenan in the Bible?

The Bible abounds with names; some seem insignificant, while others seem important. You, like many others, may find its genealogies filled with odd names, repetitive, and boring. Yet, those registers of people have a huge importance to the authenticity of Scripture. Lists of specific names point to an All-knowing God who cares about the details of every person born on the earth.

You may never have noticed the name Kenan in the Bible, but God did. He mentions the name Kenan at least six times.

Where Does the Bible Mention Kenan?

In the descendants of Adam’s line to Noah, Genesis 5 records Kenan’s name five times. Some translations spell Kenan as “Cainan.” His father, Enos, also has an alternate spelling of “Enosh.” The name Kenan appears for the sixth time in 1 Chronicles.

These verses comprise nearly all we know about him. Kenan is repeated in Genesis 5:9, Genesis 5:10, Genesis 5:12, Genesis 5:13, and Genesis 5:14.

“When Enosh had lived 90 years, he fathered Kenan. Enosh lived after he fathered Kenan 815 years and had other sons and daughters.” (Genesis 5:9-10 ESV)

“When Kenan had lived 70 years, he fathered Mahalalel. Kenan lived after he fathered Mahalalel 840 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Kenan were 910 years, and he died.” (Genesis 5:12-14 ESV)

An abbreviated genealogy from Adam to Noah in 1 Chronicles 1:2 also mentions Kenan.

“Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared…” (1 Chronicles 1:1-2 ESV)

Some controversy exists as to whether the “Cainan,” listed between Abraham and Noah in Luke’s genealogy (3:35-36) of Christ, is the same one as the “Kenan” listed in Genesis. Because he is recorded in Luke as “the son of Arphaxad,” many scholars agree this does not refer to the same person.

Kenan lived before the flood, the third generation after Adam.

What Does the Name Kenan Mean?

Kenan comes from the Hebrew language. The name itself means “possession,” “buyer,” or “owner.” The root of the name Kenan, or “Cainan,” comes from a family of Hebrew words which mean nest or room.

How Was Kenan Related to Adam?

Adam, the first man to ever live, claimed the title of Great Grandfather to Kenan. Adam’s son Seth was Kenan’s grandfather.

The patriarchs’ long lives are almost as confusing as the lists of names. Generations spawned hundreds of years and produced many offspring.

Adam fathered Seth at 130 years but lived another 800 years after Seth was born. In all, Adam lived 930 years. In those years of long life, many more children were born. Cities established. Lands conquered.

When Seth was 105, Kenan’s father Enosh, or Enos, was born. Seth lived another 807 years. He died at 912 years. But, here, we discover an interesting fact.

And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the name of the Lord.” (Genesis 4:26 KJV)

Noted as a time when people began to call on the name of the LORD, or Yahweh, this verse breaks into the narrative of sin’s impact on each generation. A change happened.

Although we know virtually nothing about Kenan’s spiritual life, he entered the world at a significant time. During his father’s life, some sort of public seeking of God happened. The effect should have directly influenced Enosh’s children.

Enosh had his son Kenan at a relatively young age for the time. Kenan was born when Enosh was 90 years old. Enosh died at the ripe age of 905. Kenan fathered his son at age 70, even younger than his dad’s age when Kenan was born. Kenan named his son Mahalalel which means “Praise of God.”

“El” is a generic word for gods, deities, or God. Many of the names of God in Scripture begin or include a form of “El.” A shortened word for Elohim is “El.” The “el” ending in the name Mahalalel may resonate with the spiritual awakening which overlapped from Enosh’s time into Kenan’s lifetime.

In Genesis 1:1, Elohim speaks the world into existence. In Genesis 2:4, He presents Himself for the first time as Yhwh Elohim, the LORD God who made the earth and heavens. This removes all ambiguity. He shows Himself as a personal and relational God, distinguished from all others.

What Are Some of Kenan’s Famous Descendants?

These men listed all died before the Great flood.

Several famous Biblical names show up in Kenan’s lineage. Because people lived much longer before the flood, the multiplication of descendants increased. Longer lives produced an explosion of descendants.

Some have estimated a conservative assumption would be that Adam could have seen more than a million descendants in his lifetime. By the time of the flood, there may have been more than seven billion people.

We know only one of Kenan’s sons by name. He fathered Mahalalel. After Mahalalel’s birth, however, Kenan lived another 840 years. He had more sons and daughters. The Bible tells us he died at the age of 910.

In these repetitive lists of names, three words appear over and over. “And he died.” Those recorded lives ceased. Every person who breathed, worked, laughed, and cried one day came to the end of life. Death cursed each one, a tragic consequence of Adam’s sin.

Another significant descendant of Kenan comes from one who breaks the chain of “And he died.” We’ve been shown the succession of Adam and Seth, followed by Enosh. Then we read Enosh’s generation called on God. Next came Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, and Enoch. Here we find Enoch, a man who again obeyed God.

“Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.” (Genesis 5:24 ESV)

Enoch, Kenan’s great-grandchild, lived a life of such intimacy with God that, unlike all the other descendants, Enoch did not die, but “God took him.”

Enoch’s son, Methuselah, lived longer than anyone else. He is another well-known descendant of Kenan’s line. Methuselah died at 969 years of age. According to the dates, he died in the year of the great flood, possibly in the waters of God’s judgment.

Methuselah fathered Lamech, the father of Noah. With the earth’s billowing population came widespread evil.

God purposed to destroy all its inhabitants with a flood. Kenan’s great-great-great-great-great grandson is his most famous descendant. Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.

How Did God Bless the World Through Kenan’s Family?

Kenan’s family produced Noah. Through Noah and his family, God spared the destruction of humankind. God’s blessing extended to us because Noah obeyed God and could not be deterred from doing right even though he stood alone.

We don’t know much about the life of Kenan. Although he is mentioned in six verses, those verses do not flesh him out for us. Yet, despite knowing very little of his life or the impact of his life, he had significance. God created him with a purpose.

He lived over 900 years, and his offspring populated the earth in that space of time. His life overlapped the first man created in the image of God. Thinking that Kenan’s great-grandfather, Adam, could testify of his creation from dust is mind-boggling. He could have heard firsthand how God breathed life into Adam. He possibly knew the devastation sin brought from the testimony of the first man to have sinned.

We don’t know how or if Adam’s story and God’s promises were passed down to those who lived then. We do know the world continued to stray farther and farther from its original perfection and deeper and deeper into sin and decay.

But God had a plan that pointed to a redeemer.

“…he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15 ESV)

Sin planted itself into humanity, from one generation into another, but God already promised the ultimate seed would bring victory over sin. Satan would be crushed.

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:22 ESV)

Jesus Christ died on our behalf. He paid the debt for our sins.

Kenan appears as little more than a link in the line from Adam to Noah. However, Noah found grace in the eyes of God, and throughout the centuries, others also followed God. One name in a list of many pointed ahead toward the gospel. Eventually, after generations, Jesus came. Kenan’s name reminds us God always has a plan, and life always has a purpose.

Photo Credit: gorodenkoff/Getty Images

Sylvia SSylvia Schroeder loves connecting God’s Word with real life and writing about it. She is a contributing writer for a variety of magazines and online sites. Sylvia is co-author of a devotional book and her writing is included in several book compilations. Mom to four, grandma to 14, and wife to her one and only love, Sylvia enjoys writing about all of them. 

Her love for pasta and all things Italian stems from years of ministry abroad. She’d love to tell you about it over a steaming cup of cappuccino. Connect with Sylvia on her blog, When the House is Quiet, her Facebook page, or Twitter.


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