I and most people I know speak english. It’s our first language and it suits me. I must admit, for me to learn any language, whether the biblical languages or a currently used language is difficult. I used to be one of those who thought that everyone around me in this country should speak english or get out.
I mean, come one! It’s been the natural language for a long time. Since I’m a blogger who is a Christian, I decided to explore a christian ethic on this matter.
A Tall Tower
In Genesis 11:1-9, Noah’s children decide to build a tall tower. At first we’re a little uncertain as to why the tower is being built or what a Jewish person would see as valuable in this story. Let’s look a little closer at the story
The story takes place in the plain of Shinar, which is the land between the Euphrates and the Tigris River. The city that is there is the infamous Babylonia.
Also, the tower is associated with Ziggurats of the ancient world, which were mostly used in the worship of Marduk, the great god of the Babylonians.
Also, bricks are a major component in the building of this tower. Bricks, which reminds one of Israel in slavery in Egypt.
Egypt and Babylon. Two names that any Jewish reader learns to hate from an early age.
One thing that these two nations are against is the worship of the God of Israel. The forshadowing of those two nations should show us that the Ziggurat is in out right defiance of God. Even later, in the Midrash, the Rabbis wrote that this tower had a statue of a man holding a sword to symbolize war against God.
And let’s not forget they speak the same language. They war against God and are united. God decides to confuse them. He does not tolerate the race of man’s rebellion in this way.
So God breaks up the pride in this people’s hearts. God is not worried what language they speak, he just wants them to trust Him. There is a different story in the New Testament.
A Loud Noise
Acts 2 is a story of people being brought from the sad fearful state of losing a friend and leader. Christ has died, risen, and then left. He hasn’t left a very clear message of what to do. The believers meet in a room and when they least expect it
and tongues of fire.
And a Spirit that fills these men and women with the ability to share the good news to others…in a language that is not their own. That is a different reaction from God to the Babel episode. These people have come to love Jesus and His Father. And God unites them through language. God does not shy away from accomodation through language. It actually ends up being His plan of reaching people in a place where there seems to be language difference for the time being.
People for God are united in language (despite differences in langauges).
People against God are divided in language.
Which brings me to another part of this passage in Acts, rebellion. Peter delivers a message that does not shy away from fact that his people have reacted against their God. And their history of exile as punishment is still fresh in the ethnic memory. But Peter quotes the passage from Joel 2:28-32. The context of this small passage is that God is bringing them out of punishment in the previous verses. Punishment is something that is part of the Tower of Babel experience. He then goes on to say here that there is something very great and important that is happening. It will affect the hearts of men, women, and children alike, whether of high or low status. And in the event, God removes that shame of exile. The shame of knowing you’ve violated the agreement with a powerful friend. God’s bring His people back and saying, “I’m not angry anymore. I’m giving you hope and power.
The Big Question
So God’s salvation and action does not find its power in a single language. Many people of different origins have been saved and used by God. The people of Babel spoke one language and were proud of their achievements and their power, which is not unlike the country I live in today. My challenge to Christians is that they should rethink their investment into a singular language. It is not the language of God. It is not the language of salvation. It is not the original language of the Bible. (It’s not even the original language of the Native Americans who were here probably thousands of years before the Europeans came).
And language changes. We do not speak the same english that George Washington and James Madison spoke.
And when you get right down to it. We are not truly citizens of this country. We do not get sent out as Americans. We are Christians, the Church, and we are of and from heaven. We march with the orders from God above to advance, not with a sword or the violent ways of our own will, but with loving kindness.
So before you start claiming that non-English speakers are not welcome in your presence.. Think about how the Gospel is to all people, not just English speakers.