There are over 6,900 spoken languages around the globe today. How did human beings develop so many languages? The Bible provides an explanation for this—all the way back in Genesis 11 with the Tower of Babel.
Yet many secularists mock the Bible’s account of the Tower of Babel, or they refer to it as a myth or legend. The Tower of Babel, much like the Bible’s account of Creation and the Flood, is under attack today, and it’s important to understand why we can trust this biblical account.
After all, what God did at the Tower of Babel has powerful implications for understanding cross-cultural communication and even evangelism. So to understand modern language diversity, it’s important to understand what actually happened at the Tower of Babel.
What the Bible Says About the Tower of Babel
Genesis 11 recounts the account of the Tower of Babel, which took place shortly after the Flood. About 100 years or more after Noah and his family exited the Ark, people began migrating from the east of where Noah’s farm was and settled in what the Bible calls “the land of Shinar.”
At that point, the people had the idea to build a city and, with it, a tower “with its top in the heavens” (Genesis 11:4). This may not seem sinister at first glance, but God knew their motives were steeped in pride and had potential for tyranny. The people also said, “And let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the earth” (Genesis 11:4). All this was done in defiance of God’s command to Noah and his descendants to fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth (Genesis 9:1)
God then confused the people’s languages, causing them to scatter across the earth and abandon their project of building a city. This judgment was actually a form of God’s mercy, as He spared them from the consequence of having an absolute evil tyrant who ruled the whole earth.
Tower of Babel: A Plausible Explanation for Language Diversity
Even though secularists view this biblical narrative as a myth, in reality, it’s a much more plausible explanation for the diversity in languages than any evolutionary conjecture.
After all, why would evolving humans slowly develop such intricately different languages, barring them from being able to communicate? Apes across the world can come together and use remedial grunts, motions, and other sounds to interact with each other because they have one extremely basic form of communication. The same goes for virtually any other animal. So why did humans broaden to thousands upon thousands of different unique and complex languages, speech, writing styles, grammar, and clicks and tones over the course of history?
When you start with God’s Word, the absolute authority on the subject, it makes sense. The best explanation is that it wasn’t man’s choice at all (except for their sin at rebelling against God)—it was God’s.
But how could thousands of languages have come from fewer than a hundred per Genesis 10 over the last 4,000 years? The languages that came out of the Tower of Babel were “root languages” or language families. Over time, people groups have borrowed from other languages, adapting their speech and creating new individual languages within language families. You can see evidence for in this in the fact that many modern languages are “related” to each other.
For instance, there are Romance languages (languages similar to Roman Latin) that include Portuguese, Spanish, Romanian, Italian, French and so on. There are Germanic languages like Dutch, high and low German, English, Norwegian, Austrian, etc. These initial language families diversified into the varied languages we have today. We also have new languages or constructed languages—Klingon (yes, it’s from Star Trek!) or Esperanto. This shows man’s creative ability to mimic what God did at Babel affirming that we are indeed made in the image of God.