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Answering The Atheist
October 12, 2003 / Volume 3, Issue 41

How many languages were there before the Tower of Babel was built? Some texts say one (Genesis 11:1, 6-9), others say many (Genesis 10:5, 20, 31). Is there a contradiction?

The questioner assumes that Genesis 10 & 11 follow chronologically one after the other, which is an unnecessary assumption. In Genesis 10, we are given the genealogies of Japheth (10:2-5), Ham (10:6-20), and Shem (10:21-31). Notice, each time the text mentions the people speaking "after their tongues", it is at the end of the respective genealogy (v 5, 20, 31).

We are unsure exactly when the events at Babel took place, but by the reading of these verses, we can derive that it was sometime between the death of Noah and the end of the recorded genealogies in Genesis 10.

The fact that Genesis 11:1, 6-9 speak of the earth having "one language and one speech" tells us that the writer, after supplying us with the genealogies of Noah's sons (chapter 10), is now going back to fill us in on a major event which happened during that time.

There is no contradiction.

This article is a response to Skeptic's Annotated Bible