Babel: The Mystery

Posted on: 
February 1, 2018

Who made language?

We understand that God gave mankind the ability to communicate with language.

Then who made languages (plural)?

God did that too. But was plurality of languages what God really intended? The purpose of language is communication, but the existence of multiple languages hinders communication. Is language diversity a curse?

Mystery and glory

ABT’s Translation Philosophy includes this statement: “The multiplicity of languages and dialects, though a consequence of proud human nature, reveals the order and creativity of God.” Isn't it a mystery that what we consider God’s judgment also displays His glory?

A speaker at the 2017 Bible Translation Conference said: “No one language can capture the glory of God.” Learning another language opens our eyes to a new way of thinking and expressing ourselves—even new things to express! This is because our language is inextricably tied to the way we think about life. Our language reflects our culture.

Learning another language and culture teaches us about ourselves in a way that would otherwise be impossible. The same speaker mentioned, "As we come in contact with other languages and contexts, we become aware of our own."

Each language provides a new lens through which to view God, a way to see other dimensions of our Creator’s glory.

Blessing or curse?

So is language diversity a curse? It certainly hinders communication, as you have probably experienced! There’s something humbling about not being able to communicate because of a language barrier. But then, that is exactly what God must have had in mind—a stinging reminder to mankind that we are not in control of the world, He is. This is one of the lessons of Babel, perhaps a blessing hidden in a curse.

Furthermore, no language can fully communicate everything there is to communicate with the same richness of expression. Language is for communication, and languages (plural) can communicate more fully, giving mankind a more nuanced and expansive view of God.

Babel reversed

From our distant vantage point, it seems that the people on the plain of Shinar were determined to not do what God had mandated—to fill the earth. God came down, and changed that. They now had no choice but to scatter.

Centuries later there was another gathering where God came down. Once again, languages were in focus. Far from annihilating language diversity at Pentecost, God used it for His glory!

The reversal of Babel continues. In Bible translation, we cross language barriers to take advantage of a people’s language, turning it into a lens through which they can see God. Their language is a medium by which they can hear God’s Word. In their own tongue, they can express God’s glory. Their language becomes a means of communicating with their God.

Someday God will come down again. And we will go up! Maybe the effects of God’s intervention at Babel will no longer remain a mystery to us in the day we gather from every language group to praise Him together. And perhaps that worship—in unified diversity—will express a much greater and fuller glory than what would have been possible without the mystery of Babel.

Aaron Crider
ABT Exec Team

  • “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17
  • “Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witness of these things.” Luke 24:47, 48
  • “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” Matthew 28:19
  • “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:3
  • “That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the Gospel.” Ephesians 3:6
  • “That they all may be one; as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be one in Us; that the world may believe that You sent Me.” John 17:21
  • “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’?” Mark 11:17
  • “Ask of me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance.” Psalm 2:8
  • “Behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes.” Revelation 7:9
  • “Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified.” 2 Thessalonians 3:1
  • “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” 2 Timothy 3:16
  • “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105
  • “As cold water to a weary soul, so is good news from a far country.” Proverbs 25:25
  • “More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.” Psalm 19:10
  • “All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before You.” Psalm 22:27
  • “Truly, as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD.” Numbers 14:21
  • “Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples. For the LORD is great and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods.” Psalm 96:3, 4
  • “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” Habakkuk 2:14
  • “That all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God; there is no other.” 1 Kings 8:60
  • “For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; in every place incense shall be offered to My name, and a pure offering; for My name shall be great among the nations.” Malachi 1:11
  • “All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and shall glorify Your name.” Psalm 86:9
  • “For as the earth brings forth its bud, as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.” Isaiah 61:11
  • "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!" Psalm 46:10
  • "This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." 1 Timothy 2:3, 4
  • "You are worthy. . .; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God." Revelation 5:9, 10