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Discovery Magazine 9/1/2009

Just One Language Before Babel?

by  AP Staff

When you read Genesis 10 verses 5, 20, and 31, and then read Genesis 11:1, it may sound at first as if these verses disagree. Since Moses wrote in Genesis 10 that the ancestors of Shem, Ham, and Japheth spoke different languages, and yet he indicated that “the whole earth had one language” in Genesis 11:1, some have a hard time understanding how both of these passages can be right. Obviously, before the scattering of people at Babel, the whole Earth could not have different languages and only one language at the same time. That is like telling one person, “I can only speak one language.” And then saying to someone else, “I can speak many languages.” Both statements cannot be true.

The explanation to the question about the number of languages that existed before the Tower of Babel was built, is that the events recorded in Genesis 10-11 were not all written in the exact order the events occurred. Some of the things recorded in Genesis 10 occurred before the scattering at the Tower of Babel, while other events in chapter 10 occurred sometime later. The simple fact is, just like we do not always tell things in the same order in which they happened, Bible writers did not always record information in a strict, chronological sequence.

We can be sure that before the world’s speech was confused at the Tower of Babel, people spoke only one language, not many different languages (Genesis 11:1).

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