Confused Critics, Not God
by Eric Lyons, M.Min.
One of the many criticisms that skeptics have leveled against the Bible writers is that the Scriptures paint a contradictory picture of God, specifically regarding whether or not God “authors confusion.” Since God confused the language of man at Babel (11:1-9; apparently in the days of Peleg—Genesis 10:25), then, allegedly, Paul’s claim that “God is not the author of confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33) must be erroneous. How could He purposefully confuse mankind, while at the same time not be the “author of confusion”?
Certainly, God punished mankind for his disobedience at Babel by confusing their language (i.e., He brought into existence additional languages). After the Flood, God had instructed man to “[b]e fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1, emp. added). At Babel, however, humanity rebelled against God’s will, saying, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens...lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4, emp. added). What’s more, the descendants of Noah at Babel also were guilty of attempting to “make a name” for themselves (11:4; cf. 1 John 2:16). Thus, God chose to “confuse their language” that they might be “scattered...over the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:9).
This kind of confusion, however, was not the same kind that Paul had in mind when he wrote 1 Corinthians. When Paul wrote, “God is not the author of confusion” (14:33), he was addressing problems that the Corinthian Christians were having in the worship assembly. He gave specific instructions about how those with spiritual gifts (e.g., tongues, prophecies, interpretations) were to conduct themselves in the assembly. Those with the gift of tongues were to speak “in turn” (14:27), and if no interpreter was present they were to “keep silent in the church” (14:28). Those with the gift of prophecy were to “prophecy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged” (14:31, emp. added). Paul concluded this section of his letter by encouraging the church to “[l]et all things be done decently and in order” (14:40). In short, God desires worship that is free from the kind of chaos and confusion caused when (among other things) various individuals are speaking at the same time.
Consider the teacher who tells his class that he is not a person of confusion (i.e., he likes order and wants an orderly class). Later, however, this same teacher coaches a football team and desires to “cause confusion” among the opposing team’s players by implementing a complex game plan on both offense and defense. Might this man still be considered a man of integrity, whose personality is one that others would describe as the antithesis of chaotic? Certainly. Simply because a person initiates confusion in one particular setting does not mean that his very nature is chaotic.
Attempting to equate the dispersion God caused among sinful people at Babel with the confusion God condemned in Corinth is both unjustified and unreasonable. Remember, for there to be a legitimate contradiction, one must make sure that the words (or concepts) under discussion are used in the same sense. In Genesis 11:9 and 1 Corinthians 14:33, they are used in totally different senses.