A Note from Our Editor: “Babel and Language” -- By: John Warwick Montgomery

Journal: Global Journal of Classical Theology
Volume: GJCT 15:3 (Feb 2019)
Article: A Note from Our Editor: “Babel and Language”
Author: John Warwick Montgomery


A Note from Our Editor: “Babel and Language”

John Warwick Montgomery

These brief remarks will not be dealing with two areas: (1) the historicity of the Tower of Babel account in Genesis1—since much has already been written confirming the historical value of the Biblical narrative and the unwarranted dismissal of it as primitive mythology like the legend of Icarus2; and (2) the strong case for human language as arising just once, in a single location3—and the nature of that language (French, of course).

Our concern here is, rather, with the theological meaning of the Babel incident and the implications of that story for understanding the significance of language in society.

So, what does the Babel event say theologically? It underscores a biblical teaching of absolutely paramount importance: that a fallen human race, individually and collectively, cannot attain heaven through its own efforts. Salvation cannot be gained by climbing up to heaven; the only way to reach heaven is by God’s grace, not by human works—physical, intellectual, cultural, or of any other kind whatsoever. Babel points directly to Jesus’ affirmation: “No one hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.”4

Christianity is distinguished from all the other religions in the world by not being a religio at all (a set of rules by which one can satisfy God or the Ultimate), but rather by its realistic declaration that a fallen world is lost forever unless a loving God does the entire work of salvation—as he did by providing the unparalleled gift of the sacrifice of his own Son to be accepted by grace through faith, apart from the works of the law.5

A secondary teaching of the Babel passage has to do with language—its crucial nnimpact on human communication and a properly functioning society.

As a result of trying to attain heaven through their own efforts, the builders of the Tower lost a single, common language, and in consequence lost their ability to communicate with each other—and so to engage in meaningful societal activity.

In Europe at the moment, the European Union is in disarray. After years of standoffishness, the United Kingdom finally voted in a referendum to leave the Union. BREXIT is costing the UK an arm-and-a-leg and its negative effects have only begun to manifest themselves. Meanwhile, populism has raised its ugly head in many European countries (not just in Eastern Europe...

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