Throughout modern history there has been a tendency to view the dispersion or the confusion of language at Babel as a Divine judgment on the whole of humanity for their arrogance at trying to make a name for themselves.  Gordon Wenham highlights this perfectly when he writes, ‘The tower of Babylon stands as a monument to man’s importance before his creator, and the multiplicity of human languages is a reminder of divine retribution on human pride’ (Word Biblical Commentary on Genesis 1-15, p244).  This understanding seems to shed a negative light on the diversity of language, placing it in the same category of judgement as the ‘Flood’, the ‘killing of Abel’ and the ‘Fall’.  However, what if there is a positive understanding of this story rather than its primary function being judgment?

The increased accessibility of travel, and the awareness of becoming ‘multicultural’ in our society, has increased the ease at which we are experiencing multiple cultures in very short spaces of time.  It is here that postmodernist studies have helped us grasp the depth of diversity in other cultures. They highlight the layers of cultural lenses found within different peoples and nations, celebrating the vast range of resources, creativities, interpretations and expressions, that can only be gained through experiencing multiple cultures.  What if the Babel story found in Genesis 11:1-9 is more about creation and enriching the peoples of the world by gently nudging them to fulfill God’s mandate to ‘be fruitful and multiply, teem on the earth and multiply in it’ (ESV), giving them a head start in ‘mixing up their languages’.  This enrichment was the creation of a world that is varied in how it lives out its existence, varied in how it understands itself and creation, and varied in how it worships God.  The narrative of creation found in Genesis shows explicitly how God loves variety throughout His creation. Further, Revelation 7:9-10 gives us a picture of the variety of people worshiping God (people from every tribe, tongue and nation).  Is variety the full realization of the story of Babel, and its thrust, God urging us to explore our creativity in all things, and through this enrichment process giving a greater glory to God?

What do you think?

If you want to read more check out Eddie Arthur’s blog

Babel, Pentecost and the Blessing of Diversity

5 thoughts on “The Dispersion at Babel as Divine Cultural Enrichment

  1. You might consider adding in the neglected theology of Acts 17:26-27 “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place,that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him” We are different “nations” (better translated “peoples” and therefore implying languages) because that makes us more likely to seek and find God.

  2. I was thinking about this just the other day, that actually what God did at Babel was an act of grace to save human beings from the consequences of their intentions, and, as said above, to bring them back to His creative characteristic of diversity. It’s interesting to note that we are going towards a 2nd Babel, much more pernicious maybe than the first!

    1. Good to hear from you Jane; could you explain more about what you mean by moving towards a second Babel? Intrigued… 🙂

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