Date: Mon May 12 2003 - 17:22:36 EDT
In a message dated 05/06/2003 11:03:31 AM Pacific Daylight Time,
> Genesis 11:1: "The whole earth was of one language, and of one speech."
> By understanding the Hebrew erets as "land" and saphah literally as "lip,"
> the meaning is easier to comprehend. The whole land was of one lip. There
> was a topic of conversation that was all the buzz at the time. Probably,
> the discussion was of the ziggurats being built in cities across
> Mesopotamia as altars to pagan gods. Not to be outdone, God's chosen
> intended to out-build the competition.
This is part of Dick Fischer's education of the YECs, an aggressive campaign
which I approve of; but, I do not approve of distorting Scripture. The above
is the concordist understanding of Gen 11:1. It is not the historic
interpretation of the Church nor is it the consensual interpretation of Old
Testament scholars. It bears the same relationship to professional biblical
scholarship that "creation science" bears to professional scientific
The Church, both Jewish and Christian, has historically understood Gen 11:1
to mean that everyone on the entire earth spoke the same language. Gen. Rab.
says,  "All the nations of the world." Sib. Or. 3:105 says, "the whole
earth of humans." Chrysostom said, "All mankind." Augustine said, "the
whole human race." Calvin said, "the human race." Luther, "the entire
earth . . . all the people." John Gill, "the inhabitants of the whole
earth." Adam Clarke, "All mankind." Even after scientific data made such a
history of language doubtful, nearly all commentators both liberal and
conservative have continued to recognize that, nevertheless, this is what the
biblical text says. Westermann says, "humankind . . . the whole world."
Sarna, "mankind." Cassuto says, "all the inhabitants of the earth." Keil
and Delitzsch, "the whole human race." Mathews, "mankind." Wenham says,
"all the inhabitants of the world . . . mankind." Leupold says, "the whole
Gen 11:1 is accommodated to the primeval history of the times wherein all
mankind was destroyed by the Flood, so that these descendants of Noah were
naturally all speaking the same language. The "whole earth" of Gen 11:1 (kol
haarets) is following up the "whole earth" (kol haarets) of Gen 8:9 and 9:19
which is the earth that the sons of Noah populated, and that earth is the
entire known earth as delineated in Gen 10. It stretched from c. Sardinia to
Afghanistan and from the Black Sea to the Gulf of Aden, i.e., the greater
Near East. The context thus shows us that the "whole earth" in Gen 11:1 was
much greater than just Mesopotamia.
Nor does being of "one lip" mean that the land was abuzz with some particular
topic. Parallel passages show that the meaning of this phrase is that
everyone on earth spoke and could understand the grammar (Isa 19:18) and
words (Ezek 3:5, 6) of everyone else. That is, all the earth spoke one and
the same language.
The assumption of both concordism and creation science is that God will not
accommodate his revelation to the science of the times, but will keep it
strictly in alignment with the scientific facts. It is a reasonable
assumption, like the assumption that a hundred pound weight will hit the
ground before a ten pound weight if both are dropped from an equal height at
the same time. Unfortunately for both, empirical data falsifies them. To
continue to build upon this purely rationalistic assumption guarantees an
escape into an imaginary religious world which competes with rather than
builds biblical Christianity. Jesus did not believe biblical inspiration
guarantees absolute inerrancy (Matt 19:8), and neither should we---if we are
For further light on the Tower of Babel, see my paper, "The Date of the Tower
of Babel and Some Theological Implications," Westminster Theological Journal
63 (2001) 15-38, or request a copy by email attachment from me.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Mon May 12 2003 - 17:24:02 EDT