There are thousands of languages around the world today, all of which can trace their roots to the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. But how many original languages were there? Or, in other words, how many languages did God create at the Tower of Babel?
To answer that question, we first need to understand why God divided mankind at that time. You see, after the flood, Noah’s descendants refused to spread across the earth, despite God’s command to do so in Genesis 1:28.
Around 100 years or more after the Flood, Noah’s descendants migrated from the east of where Noah’s farm likely was. They settled down together in the plain of Shinar (which was likely where modern-day northeastern Syria is) with the express goal of not scattering across the earth (Genesis 11:4).
This rebellion revealed a humanistic mindset. They were determined to rely on their own strength as a united people group instead of submitting to God’s rule. And because they all spoke one language, it was much easier for them to work together to accomplish their man-centered goals, such as building the Tower of Babel.
So God confused their language, forcing them to divide into various people groups and fill the earth.
But how many languages did God actually create at the Tower of Babel?
Original Languages at the Tower of Babel
The answer becomes a little clearer if we slightly rephrase the question: How many people groups spread out after Babel?
If we look at the genealogies in Genesis, it appears God created fewer than 100 new languages.
How do we know this? Well, several verses in Genesis 10 explain that the genealogies we find in this chapter reveal Noah’s descendants’ “clans, their languages, their lands, and their nations” (Genesis 10:31). So if we count the people listed in these genealogies, we can estimate the number of people groups that came out of the Tower of Babel.
First, we exclude Noah and his three sons, since they aren’t listed in Genesis 10 as having been divided. Second, we exclude Peleg because “in his days the earth was divided” (Genesis 10:25, ESV). This verse indicates that Peleg was likely born right before or right after the Tower of Babel, meaning he took on his parents’ language.
When we count these people groups, we find that God created at least 78 languages at the Tower of Babel. There may have been more, but the number was likely less than 100.
Modern Linguistics Confirms God’s Word
Not surprisingly, language analysts say the 6,000 to 7,000 languages that exist today can be categorized into about 100 language families, although the exact number varies depending on the classification criteria.
Over time, these language families have changed into new languages that still bear similarity to one another. That’s why many clusters of modern languages have many similar words and conjugation structures.
For example, German, English, Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, and Austrian are all part of one language family. Latin, Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Romanian are all part of another language family. If you tally these language families up around the world, you’ll find there are around 100 or fewer. This is a good confirmation of what the Bible says about the origin of languages at the Tower of Babel!
Like always, science confirms God’s Word—from the very beginning.
Learn More About Languages and the Tower of Babel
If you want to dig deeper into what the Bible says about the origin of languages, you’ll enjoy these fascinating videos on Answers TV!
If the Tower of Babel really took place, wouldn’t there be some evidence? Well, there is! Dr. Andy McIntosh reveals some astonishing evidence that biblical events are recorded within the written language of ancient China.
What does the Tower of Babel have to do with the gospel? Pastor David Chakranarayan shows how we are all related to one another. He also reviews the history of the Tower of Babel and encourages us to be like God, looking past external appearances to see the spiritual condition of our fellow man.