If Bible students attempt to identify certain historical events in the book of Genesis as being highly significant, in addition to the creation week, surely the worldwide flood in Noah’s days would be in that category (Genesis 7-8). The call of Abram, via whose seed all nations of the earth would be blessed, was another consequential matter (Genesis 11-12).
Between the end of the great flood and God’s call of Abram, there was an activity which had major consequences for the people of that generation and all generations that followed. I refer to what happened in the land of Shinar when the earth’s inhabitants decided it would be a good thing to build a tower which would reach to the heavens (Genesis 11:2-4).
What would compel people to do such a thing? Their own words revealed at least two aspects of their thinking. As they contemplated the construction of such a high-reaching tower, they declared, “. . . let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4). In the end, their desire to remain unscattered was unfulfilled, because “the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:8). What about making a name for themselves? Well, you and I may not know those folks by name, but we sure do remember what they did and the fallout from it.
The Bible says that before the build-a-tower- that-reaches-to-the-heavens adventure, “the whole earth had one language and one speech” (Genesis 11:1). Everyone could communicate with any other human in a single language. Amazing! There were no “foreign” languages, and thus there was no need for a translator (whether a human one or “Google”).
What changed? What happened to that scenario of all humans speaking the same language? Where and when did a big change transpire? It is written, “Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:9). God did that after humans started their project to build a tower to the heavens.
How does all of that relate to you and me? First of all, you and I were born into a world in which thousands of distinct languages are spoken. The English language is spoken widely throughout the world and is used extensively in international matters. However, about eighty per cent of the people in the world do not speak English.
When we find ourselves frustrated because we face a bonafide language barrier with someone, let us not go into a tirade about the people who worked on the tower of Babel. The scrambled languages of our day are an unchangeable reality of our current world. “It is what it is,” and griping will not change it. Here is a Bible reminder: “Do all things without complaining and disputing” (Philippians 2:14).
True or false: The Bible has been translated into every human language known to man. That statement is false. The good news is, The International Bible Society, using statistics from Wycliffe Global Alliance, reports that the entire Bible has been translated into 670 languages, with the New Testament being available in over 1,500 languages [info taken on 27 July 2018 from www.biblica.com].
It sounds wonderful that the Bible is available in so many languages! On the other hand, there are some staggering statistics to consider. Today there are over seven thousand living languages in the world [info taken on 27 July 2018 from www.ethnologue.com]. It is amazing that eight hundred forty-one of those languages are spoken by the residents of Papua New Guinea (yes, 841!) [Ibid]. Bottom line: the entire Bible is available in only about nine percent (9%!) of the living languages of the world.
Billions of people have learned languages which are not their mother tongue. Why do they do it? Some have done so in order to communicate better with family members, including a potential spouse. Others have studied foreign languages in order to make themselves more marketable as they pursue a job. For their own purposes, governments have trained their military and other personnel to learn languages. Jesus once observed, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8). Humans with zero interest in spiritual matters and motivated only by earthly ambitions, have invested much time and money in an effort to learn other languages. Would Christians be willing to do the same in order to help other people get to heaven?
Our Lord’s charge is to teach His gospel to every person in every ethnic group in all the world (Mark 16:15; Matthew 28:19). Jesus said nothing about learning or using the English language. People can be saved without knowing English; they cannot be saved without knowing Jesus. Folks can go to heaven without understanding the difference between a verb and an adverb; they cannot go to heaven without understanding the Lord’s will. For the most part, when you and I step outside our homes, the people whom we will see today (and tomorrow and the next day) are lost. What do you and I plan to do about that?
— Roger D. Campbell