The Origin of Languages -- By: Jerry A. Grieve

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 03:0 (NA 1970)
Article: The Origin of Languages
Author: Jerry A. Grieve

The Origin of Languages

Jerry A. Grieve

At that time the speech and vocabulary of all the inhabitants of the earth were one and the same. When they were making their journey eastward they found a plain in the land of Shinar, whereupon they proceeded immediately to inhabit it. Soon men were making strong appeals to one another: “Let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.” (So it was that they had brick to use for stone, and for the mortar they used bitumen.) “Come on,” they said, “let us build a city and a tower whose top extend to the very heavens. Let us thereby make a reputation for ourselves to prevent our being scattered throughout the earth.” Later, the Lord proceeded to come down in order to investigate the city and the tower which the human race had built. “Look there,” the Lord said. “All the people are one and their speech is one; hence this is what they have begun to do. And now nothing wilt prevent them from carrying out whatever they continually plan to do. Come then, let us go down there and so confuse their language that they may not understand one another’s speech.” Therefore, the Lord proceeded to scatter them from that place throughout the earth, amt so they stopped building the city. Consequently, it was given the name “Babel” because there the Lord confused the speech of all the people, and from there He scattered them throughout the earth. (Personal translation of Gen. 11:1–9)

The old problems of reconciling what appear to be contradictions between what the Bible says and what science says has frustrated many scholarly inquiries into the truth of matters. Note that these are apparent contradictions; there can be no contradictions between what the Bible in fact declares to be true and reality. The particular difficulty usually lies either in the exegesis of Scripture or in the accuracy of the conflicting scientific pronouncements. It would appear that the conflict in Genesis 11:1–9 concerning the diversity of the world’s languages is an example of the former. That Hebrew was the original language and that God created the diverse languages of the world by the confusion of tongues, remained practically unquestioned until the 19th century1 However, the Bible makes no claim

about the identity of the original language—much less that Hebrew was that language. And if we have misunderstood what the real miracle is in the above passage, then the following remarks on a very familiar subject may be justified. Briefly stated, it is the purpose of this paper to give an interpretation of the “tower of Babel” which is at once faithful to...

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