The Power of a Common Language

“And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. . . . And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city” (Gen. 11:1, 6-8).

The divine record of the confusing of the languages due to the purpose of building a city and a tower for making “a name” (Gen. 11:4) for themselves shows some interesting details about the power of a common language.  The principles of this power can be seen in the importance of knowing the word of God and the blessings from it.  Consider three principles of this power.

  1. The Power of Understanding. The text specifically states concerning the confounding of the languages that its purpose was that “they may not understand one another’s speech” (Gen. 11:7).  Understanding is an essential product of a common language.  If one cannot understand what another is saying, then confusion arises and no edification.  Moses wrote concerning the curses that would befall the nation if it disobeyed the Lord, “The Lord shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth; a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand;” (Deut. 28:49).  The nation of Israel would be held captive by more than the power of military might.  They would be held captive by the power of a lack of understanding of what is being said around them.  Anyone who has ever visited a place whose language is not his own native language knows how helpless one becomes if he does not know the language.
  2. The Power of Unity. Having one language and one speech (cf. Gen. 11:1) was a means toward the unity of the people.  Moses wrote of the Lord’s word, “Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language” (Gen. 11:6).  Unity was achieved from understanding and conforming to that understanding.  Consider the words of Paul about unity.  “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10).  While Paul is not specifically addressing a common language like Greek, English, etc., he is addressing the importance of a common communication that produces and maintains unity.  Hence, the principle of holding to division of teachings can never produce a unity of people.
  3. The Power of Utility.  A common language was a tool that made useful the activities of men.  Moses again wrote, “this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do” (Gen. 11:6).  Clear communication produces a utilitarian effect.  Consider how frustrating it is when a project is hindered by poor or ineffective communication.  The construction of the city and tower ended with the scattering of the people to regions where they would hold to their own language.  The miraculous power of speaking in the different tongues or languages brought about the understanding and unity of converts (cf. Acts 2:8-41).  All languages become spirituality useful when in the one faith (cf. Eph. 4:5).

Jimmy Clark