Genesis 2:7, 1:26-27

Genesis 11:1-9      Unity & Diversity       – The Bible Teacher's Commentary

Paul Bucknell

Tower of Babel & World Languages: Unity

Genesis 11:1-9

Ziggurat in Babylon

(Etemenanki - temple of the foundation of heaven and earth).
“A former king built the Temple of the Seven Lights of the Earth, but he did not complete its head. Since a remote time, people had abandoned it, without order expressing their words. Since that time earthquakes and lightning had dispersed its sun-dried clay; the bricks of the casing had split, and the earth of the interior had been scattered in heaps. Merodach, the great lord, excited my mind to repair this building. I did not change the site, nor did I take away the foundation stone as it had been in former times. So I founded it, I made it; as it had been in ancient days, I so exalted the summit.” - King Nebuchadnezzar referring to the Tower at Babylon. (Wikipedia).

From the tower of Babel account,  we discover the source of the many languages used across the world. We can trace all the languages back to major families. This research has been lacking until recently because of opposition from secular groups.

Genesis 11 starts with a recording of what happened in Babylon many years back. This event has drastically reshaped the world’s cultures. Genesis 10 paints a broad picture of what was happening throughout the world regarding who was filling the world and to some degree where, but this event further stamps God’s hand on history through the way the multiplicity of languages has been stamped upon the world.

The world is trying to overcome these barriers of language and culture. They are getting closer. The quest for power and money drive the machine of the world culture. God has His own purposes of having people redeemed from every language giving praise to Him.

The sin of Noah and his son was shown us (Genesis 9:20-27) to remind us about the inherent flaws of the new society that would form after the flood. God was not disillusioned. People are always in hope of discovering some utopia, a perfect society. God’s Word assures us that this ideal world will not be found after the flood and in Noah’s new world. Sin follows mankind because it has infected the nature of man.

The Tower of Babel is one of many ziggurats that were built in the early Mesopotamian plain. They each seem to have a temple on the top of them which is what the Biblical account suggests. The mound of the Tower of Babel from Google earth.It was not only a military lookout station but one in which they think they can commune with the gods. Most interesting is a quote from King Nebuchadnezzar about the Tower of Babel (Babylon).

Nebuchadnezzar referred to the people building it had abandoned it because “without order expressing words.” This no doubt refers to the language confusion. Words were without order.

The temple mound of Babel is still there today as shown in the Google Earth satellite picture above (bottom right). The tower deteriorates but the rubble becomes covered up with dust and dirt and forms a mound, higher than the ground around it.

The Date of the Tower of Babel

The Tower of Babel records how the wickedness of mankind again got out of order beckoning God to judge the earth. God provided grace by separating mankind into a multitude of groups. Each language group no doubt was based on a family. From Genesis 10 we find 70 people groups. Here there will become even more.

The date of the Tower of Babel is not quite clear. It clearly fits into ancient history of the Sumerians. We do not know, however, where it fits in the above genealogical chart. The flood is quite clear because it was person specific, that is, Noah’s sons were already grown up (Shem was 100 hundred years old). Dates were supplied.

The Tower of Babel account in Genesis 11:1-9 does not have these dates and so it is difficult to pinpoint. Some have suggested that Genesis 10:25 refers to the Tower of Babel. “And two sons were born to Eber; the name of the one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided; and his brother’s name was Joktan” (Genesis 10:25). Their point is that the division referred to in the verse is the actual division of mankind that occurred due to the varying languages. “So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city” (Genesis 11:8). Others suggest that this division in Peleg’s day refers to the splitting of the continents. The former seems more likely. Genesis 11 did not follow after the genealogy of chapter 10. The genealogy was a whole and not to be split.

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We simply do not know when the Tower of the Babel happened, but we do know that it had great impact on the history of mankind. When I travel to the villages and cities in India, China or Africa, I constantly need to find translators. Language has formed a barrier of information and thus creates ‘natural’ separation. The unknown always creates a sense of protectionism and suspicion.

The Lord did it to preserve mankind from pooling his filthy ideas. The church’s first event was one in which people were speaking all sorts of languages. They all heard the Gospel. Although this was a special occasion, it helps us realize that from that point on, the Gospel was to go out to the whole world and break the language barriers.

The Diverstity of Mankind (Genesis 11:1-9)

 ‘When all men were of one language, some of them built a high tower, as if they would thereby ascend up to heaven; but the gods sent storms of wind and overthrew the tower, and gave everyone his peculiar language; and for this reason it was that the city was called Babylon.… After this they were dispersed abroad, on account of their languages, and went out by colonies everywhere; and each colony took possession of that land which they lighted upon, and unto which God led them; so that the whole continent was filled with them, both the inland and maritime countries. There were some also who passed over the sea in ships, and inhabited the islands; and some of these nations do still retain the denominations (i.e. names) which were given to them by their first founders; but some also have lost them…” (Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews. i. 5.).

Genesis 11:3-4

3 And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.” And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar.
4 And they said, "Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name; lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth."

Below we will briefly observe the differnce between man's pland and God's plan at the incident 'The Tower of Babel.'

1) Man's Plan (Genesis 11:1-5)

• Man Observed (Genesis 11:1-4)

Man felt constrained to spread out over the earth (11:4). They felt they would loose the advantage that they had gained if they spread out. They were right in one sense (11:6). We call it suburbia! It used to be called exploring or settling. “Go where no man has gone!”

• Man Concluded

Man communicated this plan with one another and got approval.
Step #1: Ready the materials.
Step #2: Build a city and tower.
Purpose: Become famous - be an attracting point.

• Man Accomplished

They actually built the city and tower that reached far in the sky (11:5). But someone was watching. This was the God who made man. The LORD understood man and his capacity for evil. We see the same pattern as above.

Genesis 11:5-9

5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built.
6 And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.
7 “Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.”
8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city.
9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.

2) God's Assessment (Genesis 11:5-9)

• The Lord Observed

Yahweh (LORD) came down to look at the city and tower which they had built. They really did build it. Obviously, their complex was sufficiently sophisticated to cause the LORD to take action.

• The Lord Concluded (Genesis 11:6-7)

The greatest problem was not this one tower but the means by which they built it. The Lord Himself concluded that their unified purpose combined with one language makes them able to do anything that they would now wish. Nothing would be impossible. The Lord took this as an evil omen.

Some might think that God didn't want any competition, but the fact is much more complicated. God wanted to bring good into the world but the intensity of evil would frustrate God's design. He instead created many smaller cultures that would be isolated from each other. They would have to then use their thoughts on defending themselves from the threats of each other.

• The Lord Accomplished
Confused their language.

The confusion came about by not mutually understanding each other as before. The scene was quite remarkable no doubt. We are not sure how large were the groups that still did understand each other. Was it a family or a great grandfather and on down that still understood each other? We are not sure. But whatever, each of these groups spread about.

Scattered them about on the earth.

We are not sure whether this ‘scattering’ involved anything beyond the confusion of languages. It is quite possible that something like bad weather or suspicion and a sense of protectionism came over them that they desired their own individual place. They went across the earth looking for such place.


Man was confused before he was scattered. The language barrier not only made them drop their building plans but caused them to become isolated groups according to language. The confusion was selective though. People in the same groups could understand each other. People who speak the same live together - Chinatown! Isolated groups of people formed their own cultures. This explains why cultures have slight but distorted memories of main biblical events such as the flood- they all experienced it in their early development before they were divided by language and confusion.

Development of Language (Genesis 11:1-9)

A mono-lingual world is difficult for a world traveler to comprehend. He gets so familiar with different currencies, dress, customs and incomprehensible languages that it seems incredible for there to be only one language and culture all across the earth. Same language, same words. Variance was despised.

“Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words.”
Genesis 11:1

Since the scriptures only state that the one language was confused, it is possible that there is one original father language.

How many languages can you speak?

Much work is being done on the history of languages though. They compare the words from the major language families (one such language grouping is to the right).
Some speculate that Hebrew was the original language (Edenic language). Isaac Mozeson, author of “The Word: The Dictionary that reveals the Hebrew roots of the English Language” is convinced of this. Below he writes,

“Percentage-wise and vocabulary-wise, English is more obviously a dialect of Hebrew than of Latin, Greek or French.
More impressive than the Hebrew motto of Yale College is the title of Harvard College’s first dissertation: Hebrew Is the Mother Tongue. When Noah Webster’s original dictionary traced many English words beyond German, French, Latin and Greek to their “Shemitic” origin, no one raised an eyebrow. Every learned person knew that Hebrew was the Mother Tongue.
The Oxford English Dictionary is so troubled by a biblical source for BABBLE (Babel), that it warns readers that “no direct connection with Babel can be traced” and declares the term to be of “unknown origin.””

World Language Groupings

Indo-European (Northern India/Europe)
Afro-Asiatic (Northern Africa/Middle East/Southwestern Asia)
Kartvelian (Caucasus Mountains/Southern Russia)
Uralic (Northern Europe/Central Siberia/Eurasia)
Altaic (Eastern Europe/Central Asia)
Dravidian (Central & Southern India)
Sino-Tibetan (Northern & Eastern Asia)
Malayo-Polynesian (Southeastern Asia/Pacific Islands)
Austro-Asiatic (Eastern India/Southwestern Asia)
Niger-Congo (Western & Central Africa)
Nilo-Saharan (Northeastern Africa)
Khoisan (Southern Africa)
Eskimo-Aleut (Northeastern Siberia/Alaska/Aleutians)
Algonkian, Athapascan, Iroquoian, & Mosan (North America)
Uto-Aztecan, Oto-Manguean, Mayan, & Macro-Chibchan (Central A.)
Carib, Andean-Equatorial (South America)
Torricelli, West Papuan & Sepik-Ramu (New Guinea)
Bunaban, Ngaran & Yiwaidjan (Northern Australia)
Pama-Nyungan (Central & Southern Australia)

This is one person's grouping ( ). There has been more work recently with different groupings, but they likewise group the languages according to a number of families just as we would suspect.


Unfortunately, we have not yet been able to 'unconfuse' the language confusion. Our generation is bypassing it by translating and having more and more people using one of the major world languages. A person on a Chinese web page can use an automatic web page translator of this page. Watch out. The monolithic world culture hinted at in the Book of Revelation is coming.

The Genesis Index

Genesis Introduction:  Introduction to Genesis |  Outline and Genealogies  |  Genesis' Chronologies (5 & 11) |   Unified Themes of Genesis
Genesis 1-2:3:   The Worship of the Creator |  The Meaning of Creation  |  Creation Lessons on God.  |  God and the World's Religions
Genesis 2:4-17:    Preparation for Man (Genesis 2:4-6) |  Creation of Man (Gen. 2:7, 1:26-27) |  Purpose for Man (Genesis 2:8-17)
Genesis 2:18-25: The Foundations of Marriage
Genesis 3:1-13: The Fall of Man | Temptation (Genesis 3:1-6) | The Fall (Genesis 3:7-13) | Questions 3:1-6 | Questions 3:7-13
Genesis 5-9: Genesis Flood | Genesis 05 Genealogical Chart
Genesis 10-11: Noah's Sons| Questions | History Genesis 10:6-11 | Tower of Babel Genesis 11:1-9 | Questions | Culture Genesis 11
Genesis 12-22:   The Call: Genesis 12.1The Promises: Genesis 12.2-3  |  The Means: Genesis 15The Testing: Genesis 22
Genesis 12-16: Introduction |   Place Detour: Genesis 12:10-20; 20 |  Person Detour: Genesis 12:13-14Procedure Detour: Genesis 16-17
Genesis 14:1-24: Three Steps to Spiritual Growth | #1 Observe | #2 Utlilitize | #3 Secure
Genesis 18-19: Cultural Woes of Sodom | Appearing to Abraham | Visit to Sodom | Debate of Homosexuality and Sodom
Genesis 21-26: Isaac's Model for Godly Marriages
Genesis 27-36: Genesis 27-36 Jacob's Life of Faith
Genesis 25-37: Influence of Sin | God and Man's Sin | Understanding Man's Sin Nature | Understanding Jacob's Sins
Genesis 37-50: Joseph’s Dillusonment | Genesis 42-47:12: The Big Picture | Conclusion | The Reason

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