Until Babel, all the inhabitants of the earth were “of one language and of one speech” (Gen. 11:1). Linguistically, there was no hindrance to communication, to development of man’s intellectual powers, to progress. To have a common language is to have a means of storing and transmitting knowledge in which all men can share. Education and scientific inquiry can feed upon themselves and grow by leaps and bounds. But this potential for an explosion of knowledge was never realized. The reason was that men chose self-aggrandizement and the perpetuation of geographical unity in defiance of God’s command (“lest we be scattered abroad”—cf. Genesis 9:1, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth”). “The way they are starting to behave,” God noted, “nothing they plan will be impossible for them.” In judgment God confused men’s language so that they could no longer understand one another. Unanimity gave way to confusion, geographical unity to dispersion.

The project on the plains of Shinar ground to a halt, but language diversification has continued ever since. Despite the conservative influence of writing, all living languages change with use. Today four to five thousand different languages are spoken in the world. Africa has 1,000; the South Pacific area includes at least 1,200 more. Still, since Babel God has continued to use language as the medium of his revelation to men. He commanded the prophets and later the apostles to speak and to write, using the language at hand. Most of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, the New Testament in Greek.

Jesus Christ was “a prophet mighty in word” (Luke 24:19). He told his followers that what they heard him say was “not mine, but the Father’s which sent me” (John 14:24), and he claimed ...

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