Babel: Language Barrier Stops Work
After Noah and his family got off the ark, God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Gen 9:1). As time passed, men did multiply, but they had no intention of filling the earth. In fact, they began a building project to insure that they stayed together in one spot. They said to one another, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach to heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Gen 11:4).
It was easy for all of the men to make plans and to work together because they all spoke the same language (Gen 11:1). But God did not stand by and let their pride and rebellion succeed. God con-fused their languages so they could not understand one another. Naturally the work on the city stopped due to the language barrier. The builders scattered from the area with each language group going its own separate way. Men filled the earth. God’s will was done.
Since the tower of Babel, the problem of communication has hindered men’s efforts to work together. The use of a common language has served as a good solution (cp. Greek in N.T. times). Today, about one-fourth to one-third of people in the world can understand and speak English, helping a world of 6800+ languages to work together in business, travel, and diplomacy.
Read on to learn about God’s eternal plan for bringing all men together spiritually by a common language to do His work and to learn what men have done in His Son’s name to undo His plan.
God Breaks All Barriers Down
It wasn’t very long after man scattered from Babel that God began to reveal a plan to bring all men in the world together, not in a physical way, but in a spiritual one. He promised Abraham that he would be the beginning of a great nation, through whom He would bless all nations (Gen 12:1-3).
So, from one man, Abraham, the nation of Israel sprang up and became God’s special nation out of all of the nations of the earth (Ex 19:5-6). They were called Jews and all the rest of the world were known as Gentiles (“the nations”). God intentionally crea-ted a barrier between men. This barrier was temporary, however. He kept it in place until His purpose with Israel was accomplished. God brought Jesus into the world as an Israelite to shed His blood for the forgiveness of the sins of each and every one in the world (Jn 3:16). This good news (gospel) “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom 1:16).
The eternal purpose of God was to bring all men together so that the blessing of salvation would fall not only on the Jews, but on the Gentiles. The New Testament fully revealed the mystery that had been hidden- “that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph 3:3-11). The gospel is the common language that unites the world. Through this message of reconciliation and peace (both with God and man), all barriers are broken down- national, racial, language, and any other, for all men have the opportunity to be united into ONE body of saved people, Christ’ church (Eph 2:13-18; 4:4, 5:23).
This Divine unity is far superior to the unity that planners and builders of the city and tower of Babel had in mind. The city and the tower were to be a monument to human wisdom, but the one body is a monument to the wisdom of God. God made a separation among men that was not only designed to bring them back together, but to show mercy on them all (Rom 11:30-36). This great show of wisdom was intended even for the appreciation of the angelic host of heaven (Eph 3:10).
Only in the “word of the cross” (1 Cor 1:18) is it possible for all men to come together and with one voice glorify God (Rom 15:5-6). The “good news” or the “gospel” is God’s universal language that saves men and united them into a body of people from among all peoples who now work together to His glory and will forever in heaven sing to His praise. (1 Cor 12:13-27, Rev 7:9-12)
Spiritual Babel: Language Barrier Put Back Up
If God’s eternal intention was to purchase with the blood of His Son a united body of saved believers, isn’t the division of “Christianity” evident today contrary to His purpose?
This is a rhetorical question. The obvious answer is, “Yes”. But why are professed Christians so divided? The answer is that they cannot work together any more than those who were building Babel could work together after they began speaking different languages.
A “Catholic” cannot speak “Methodist” and a “Methodist” cannot speak “Catholic”. A “Wesleyan” can speak neither of these, but he has his own language which is different also than “Baptist”. On it goes. By latest count, there are 4 times as many denominations in the world than languages. Internet sources report as high as 30,000+ “Christian” denominations exist in the world (vs. 6,800+ languages). Each denomination has its own spiritual language (doctrine). Its peculiar speech is the reason for its founding in the first place and is the reason for the present separation of its members from the other denominations.
The unity of the first Christians was no accident. It came because they “continually devoted themselves to the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42). They spoke “the same thing” (1 Cor 1:10). They lived in “the teaching (the doctrine) of Christ” (2 Jn 9). They contended earnestly for the one faith, the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Eph 4:4; Jude 3).
Numerous warnings were given to the first Christians concerning inventing or following “languages” other than the gospel. Paul wrote, “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to dis-tort THE gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be ac-cursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!” (Gal 1:6-9) Read other warnings also- Acts 20:28-31; 1 Tim 4:1-3; 2 Tim 4:1-4, and Rev 22:18-19.
Despite these fervent pleas, new “languages” (doctrines) have continued to develop over the years, along with organizations of their adherents- more and more denominations that set themselves apart from the rest because of their peculiar language. These cannot worship or work together because of the “language barrier”. In a spiritual sense, it is Babel all over again.
Reactions to “Babel”
The difference between the “physical” and “spiritual” Babel is that the first was according to God’s purpose, but the second is not.
Most are not disturbed about “spiritual” Babel, saying, “You speak your language, I’ll speak mine. God will accept us both.” But, the passages cited show that God condemns the use of any language but His.
There are two quite different reactions among those who actually see the problem of “spiritual” Babel. The first is the philosophy of “non-denominationalism”. This is seen in local fellowships who accept all “languages”. Denominational loyalty is broken down, but “language” barriers remain. The common language of the gospel, essential to truly serving Christ together, is still lacking.
The proper reaction is to break away totally from denominationalism and its 1000s of languages and to follow the gospel, uniting with others who speak the language of Christ in a local church. This is what the first Christians did. (Phil 1:27) This is our intention at the Woodland Hills church of Christ. Won’t you make it your intention, too? We would love to study the gospel with you. Let us learn together the language of Christ that we may work together to His glory and our salvation.