Before the Tower of Babel, Everyone Spoke Just One Language
The first book of The Bible tells us of an ancient world in which all humanity spoke a single language. Then, at some point, the people united to thwart God’s purposes and, as a result, were punished for their rebellion by being scattered. This scattering was done, according to The Book of Genesis, through a miraculous event known as the “Confusion of Tongues,” whereby God simultaneously rendered all humans incapable of understanding the language of any family but their own.
Naturally, this story has many implications. Interpreted as an origin myth, scholars have assumed it’s simply a quaint tale designed to explain the inexplicable—of how all the different languages of humanity began. As such, this story seems to provide a neat and concise—however far-fetched—answer in our pursuit to understand the origins of human culture.
In the case of this present study, though, we’re not just trying to understand the foibles of human language; we’re trying to determine if The Bible can be accepted as a valid record of history and not just a series of naïve traditions conceived by so many misguided primitives. And to do this, we require more than stories like this to explain our origins; we need to know if The Bible has the ability to say what it means and mean what it says. Then and only then are we capable of having what The Bible calls “faith.” And when I say that, I don’t mean having faith in tales of magical worlds and mysterious acts of sorcery. I’m talking about having faith in a world that God alone can order for the sake of a humanity that can perceive that world in all its sublime wonder.
With that in mind, let’s examine what The Bible has to say about this phase of human development and how centuries of tradition have altered the scriptural context in which this story sprang.
The eleventh chapter of Genesis records:
And the whole Earth was speaking one language, and it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there. And they said to one another, “Let us build a city and a tower whose top will reach Heaven, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered.”
And the Lord said, “Look, the people are united, and they all have one language, and now nothing will be restrained from them which they have imagined to do. Therefore, let us go down and confound their language so that they will no longer be able to understand one another.”
So the Lord scattered them across the face of the Earth, and they stopped building their city. And that is why the name of that city is called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world.1
Story Continues Below
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Story Continues From Above
So there you have it—an origin story that provides us with a concise explanation, however fantastic, of how humans evolved from a single language root into a multi-branched tree of languages. Pretty straightforward stuff, right? I mean, thousands of years of tradition must be accurate about what The Bible says, wouldn’t you agree? But wait. Not so fast.
Don’t forget our three laws of disinformation! First, latch onto a genuine truth of Scripture. Second, isolate that truth from its context. And third, repeat the new version of the “truth” until it’s rendered altogether alien from its original meaning.
Now, let’s see how this process has affected this familiar Bible story. First, place the story, depicted in the eleventh chapter of Genesis, on a pedestal of boundless conviction. Then, excise it from the rest of the book to create the impression that Scripture has nothing else to say about it. And finally, repeat this version of the story, again and again, thereby removing any doubt that The Bible or any of its supporters are anything but in complete agreement with this revised version.
The end result: From the beginning of time, mankind always spoke in a single language until they attempted to unite in an unholy alliance to undermine heavenly authority. Then God got fed up and, to subvert their power grab, He divided their language into many different ones, thereby scattering their efforts to the wind. The End, right?
Again I say: Not so fast!
Still, I can sense an argument from many people. You may be asking: “But won’t I be rejecting The Bible if I no longer believe this story the way it’s been told all these years?”
Fortunately, the answer is: “No, you won’t be rejecting The Bible if you simply allow it to fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle on its own.”
Never mind about human traditions that have only managed to provide us with an incomplete picture of this story, because as it turns out,The Bible really does have more to say on this subject than we’ve been led to believe. What’s more, it’s imperative that we come to a fuller understanding of what it says about this subject because so many people’s faith are depending on a genuine awareness of what the Scriptures really say, and not merely a half-baked version of them.
I mean, if The Bible supposedly reports on important events in humanity’s history, then shouldn’t it be allowed to speak for itself? In the end, it’ll prove its own ability to validate itself. If not, then the skeptics and naysayers will forever think themselves capable of toppling the truth of Scripture. Therefore, it’s always our job as truth seekers to dig to the bottom of every mystery, no matter how much it may rattle our own cherished traditions.
And to think: The antidote for this kind of disinformation is simply a willingness to read The Bible for oneself. Stranger still, we only have to read the chapter immediately preceding the eleventh chapter of Genesis. Let’s see for ourselves.