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Genesis 11:1

The Tower of Babel

1 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech.

Read Genesis 11:1 Using Other Translations

And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.
At one time all the people of the world spoke the same language and used the same words.

What does Genesis 11:1 mean?

John Gill's Exposition of the Bible
Genesis 11:1

And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech,
&c.] Or had been F23, before the flood, and from that time to this, and still was, until the confusion took place; the account of which, and the occasion of it, are given in this chapter: by the whole earth is meant the inhabitants of it, see ( Isaiah 37:18 ) ( 1 Kings 10:24 ) and so the Jerusalem Targum paraphrases the words,

``and all the generations of the earth were of one language, and of one speech, and of one counsel, for they spoke in the holy tongue in which the world was created at the beginning;''

and to the same purpose the Targum of Jonathan: all the posterity of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, used the same language, though it does not appear that they were all in one counsel or consultation, or of one mind about building a city or tower, which the Targum seems to suggest; for it is not likely that Shem and his sons were in it: nor by "one lip" and "the same words or things" F24, as these phrases may be rendered, are we to understand the same simplicity of speech and business, and likeness of manners; for it appears there was a difference with respect to these in the immediate sons of Noah, and it may be supposed to be much more in their remote offspring; nor as if they were all of the same religion, embraced the same doctrines, and spoke the same things; for as idolatry and superstition obtained in the race of Cain before the flood, so Ham and his posterity soon fell into the same, or the like, afterwards: and it may be observed that the same distinction was made of the children of God, and of the children of men, before the confusion and dispersion, as was before the flood, ( Genesis 11:5 ) from whence it appears they were not in the same sentiments and practice of religion: but this is to be understood of one and the same language, without any diversity of dialects, or without any hard and strange words, not easily understood; and perhaps it was pronounced by the lip and other instruments of speech in the same way; so that there was no difficulty in understanding one another, men, women, and children, all the people in common, princes and peasants, wise and unwise, all spoke the same language and used the same words; and this the Targumists take to be the holy or Hebrew language; and so Jarchi and Aben Ezra, and the Jewish writers in general, and most Christians; though some make a question of it, whether it might not be rather the Syriac, or Chaldee, or Arabic; but there is no need of such a question, since these with the Hebrew are all one and the same language; and no doubt it was the eastern language, without giving it any other name, which now subsists in the above dialects, though not in anyone alone, which was first spoken; though more purely and without the difference of dialects it now consists of, or without the various different inflexions now made in it; for nothing is more reasonable to suppose, than that the language Adam spoke was used by Noah, since Adam lived within one hundred years and a little more of the birth of Noah; and it is not to be questioned but Noah's sons spoke the same language as he did, and their posterity now, which was but little more than one hundred years after the flood: there are various testimonies of Heathens confirming this truth, that originally men spoke but one language; thus Sibylla in Josephus F25, who says,

``when all men were (omofwnwn) , of the same language, some began to build a most high tower''

so Abydenus F26 an Heathen historian, speaking of the building of the tower of Babel, says,

``at that time men were (omoglwssouv) , of the same tongue;''

in like manner Hyginus F1, speaking of Phoroneus, the first of mortals, that reigned, says,

``many ages before, men lived without towns and laws, "una lirgua loquentes", speaking one language, under the empire of Jove.''


F23 (yhyw) "et fuerat", Junius & Tremellius, Piscator; "caeterum fuit olim", Schmidt.
F24 (Mydha Myrbdw txa hpv) "unum labium et verba eadem", Schmidt; "Labii unius et sermonum eorundem, vel rerum", Clarius.
F25 Antiqu. l. 1. c. 4. sect. 3.
F26 Apud Euseb. Evangel. Praepar. l. 9. c. 14. p. 416.
F1 Fabulae, Fab. 143.
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