Who made language?
We understand that God gave mankind the ability to communicate with language.
Then who made languages (plural)?
God did that too. But was plurality of languages what God really intended? The purpose of language is communication, but the existence of multiple languages hinders communication. Is language diversity a curse?
Mystery and glory
ABT’s Translation Philosophy includes this statement: “The multiplicity of languages and dialects, though a consequence of proud human nature, reveals the order and creativity of God.” Isn't it a mystery that what we consider God’s judgment also displays His glory?
A speaker at the 2017 Bible Translation Conference said: “No one language can capture the glory of God.” Learning another language opens our eyes to a new way of thinking and expressing ourselves—even new things to express! This is because our language is inextricably tied to the way we think about life. Our language reflects our culture.
Learning another language and culture teaches us about ourselves in a way that would otherwise be impossible. The same speaker mentioned, "As we come in contact with other languages and contexts, we become aware of our own."
Each language provides a new lens through which to view God, a way to see other dimensions of our Creator’s glory.
Blessing or curse?
So is language diversity a curse? It certainly hinders communication, as you have probably experienced! There’s something humbling about not being able to communicate because of a language barrier. But then, that is exactly what God must have had in mind—a stinging reminder to mankind that we are not in control of the world, He is. This is one of the lessons of Babel, perhaps a blessing hidden in a curse.
Furthermore, no language can fully communicate everything there is to communicate with the same richness of expression. Language is for communication, and languages (plural) can communicate more fully, giving mankind a more nuanced and expansive view of God.
From our distant vantage point, it seems that the people on the plain of Shinar were determined to not do what God had mandated—to fill the earth. God came down, and changed that. They now had no choice but to scatter.
Centuries later there was another gathering where God came down. Once again, languages were in focus. Far from annihilating language diversity at Pentecost, God used it for His glory!
The reversal of Babel continues. In Bible translation, we cross language barriers to take advantage of a people’s language, turning it into a lens through which they can see God. Their language is a medium by which they can hear God’s Word. In their own tongue, they can express God’s glory. Their language becomes a means of communicating with their God.
Someday God will come down again. And we will go up! Maybe the effects of God’s intervention at Babel will no longer remain a mystery to us in the day we gather from every language group to praise Him together. And perhaps that worship—in unified diversity—will express a much greater and fuller glory than what would have been possible without the mystery of Babel.
ABT Exec Team