|CHRISTIAN LIFE AND DOCTRINE||December 2001|
The Language Spoken by Adam
“The whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.”
EVOLUTIONISTS CLAIM that man evolved from lower orders of animal life and appeared in different parts of the world, with each species or group developing its own language. This is their explanation for the great number of different languages there are in the world today. However, the Scriptures disagree with this viewpoint, and indicate clearly not only the origin of the diversified languages of the nations, but also the language that was spoken by our first parents.
THE LANGUAGE OF ADAM
The Scriptures reveal that the first man, shortly after his creation, gave answers to God, that he conversed with his wife, and that he gave names to his subjects—the lower orders of animal creation. There seems no reason to doubt that Adam’s children spoke the same language he did, until the Flood, and until about two hundred years after the Flood when the confusion of tongues took place at Babel.
What was that original language which God communicated to Adam when he was created? There probably have been many language groups in the world which would like to have claimed that it was their particular tongue. However, we believe the Bible indicates that it was the ancient Hebrew language. The conciseness, simplicity, energy, and fertility of the Hebrew language, as well as its relationship to most oriental languages, are all points in favor of this view. There is evidence that the ancient oriental languages derived their origin from the Hebrew language.
The names of individuals appearing in the early chapters of Genesis, as well as the names given by Adam to the various species of the lower animals, all have a special significance. The names of animals describe the characteristics of the species to which they were assigned.
All living languages change, as we know, but dead languages do not. If the Hebrew language was the one given to Adam then it remained a live tongue for nearly 4,000 years. During that time it would, like all other live languages, undergo constant change, and many words and phrases would be added to it. Even in the time of Moses, this language would already have undergone much change. This becomes apparent in the use of a Hebrew concordance of the Scriptures, where it is often explained that the root of certain words is now unknown.
However, this does not imply that the language originally given to Adam has been entirely lost. We believe that the Bible gives evidence that this language still exists, although changed in some respects from its original purity. Let us examine the evidence of this as contained in Bible chronology. These chronological records are given in Genesis 5:1-28; 7:6, 8:13, and 11:10-32.
In examining these records, we know that God promised a ‘seed’ to mother Eve. Eve bore two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain slew Abel and was punished by God.
Then God raised up another son to mother Eve, and he was given the name of Seth. Seth took the place of Abel. This is indicated in the text, “And Adam knew his wife again; and she bare a son, and called his name Seth: For God, said she, hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew.”—Gen. 4:25
The genealogies recorded are those pertaining to the seed of promise. We know that the language given to Adam must have been spoken by one after another of his descendants, for in Genesis 11:1 we are told that ‘the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.’ This was at the time of the projected building of the tower of Babel, which was long enough after the Flood for Noah’s family of eight to have increased considerably.
Besides having this definite statement regarding there being but one language many years after the Flood, it is interesting to note, taking the figures in chapters 5 and 11, that we find Noah’s life was overlapped by Methuselah by 600 years, while Methuselah’s life was overlapped by Adam for 243 years. Also that Noah’s life extended to within two years of the birth of Abraham and that Noah’s son Shem, who lived 98 years during his great-grandfather Methuselah’s lifetime, did not die until Abraham was 150 years old, and Isaac was 50 years of age.
Without the statement of Genesis 11:1, it would seem reasonable to suppose that these men—Adam, Methuselah, Shem, and Abraham—and their families and very numerous contemporaries, would speak the same language which had been given to Adam, rather than that they and their families would adopt different languages. It is interesting to notice from the foregoing that Adam and Isaac, the seed of promise, were joined by but two connecting links—the lives of Methuselah and Shem. Shem’s life of 98 years before, and 502 years after the Flood, connected the antediluvian period with the Patriarchal Age, as he lived 75 years after Abraham entered Canaan.
The closing verses of the tenth chapter of Genesis give us facts concerning the descendants of Noah through his son Shem. The place in which Shem and his descendants lived “extended from Mesha in the direction of Sephar to the hill country of the east.” (Gen. 10:30, Revised Standard Version) After giving Shem’s genealogy, the account continues and says, “As men migrated in the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.” (Gen. 11:2, RSV) These were the people who decided to build the tower of Babel, in this plain. Shem and his descendants settled in the hill country (Gen. 10:30)—not in a plain. As the population in the earth increased, certain ones migrated to the east. The conclusion would be, then, that not all the people on the earth at that time participated in what occurred at Babel when their language was confused by God, but only those who had migrated to that plain.
This is borne out by the fact that in verse ten of the eleventh chapter, following immediately the record concerning the confusing of tongues; the account of Shem and his descendants is picked up and carried on to Abraham. In other words, the record of Genesis 11:1-9 concerning the building of the tower of Babel, and what occurred there, is a parenthetical explanation of God’s intervention in the affairs of a certain group which had migrated to the east and had attempted to make a name for themselves, ignoring him, and the glory that was due his name.
The motive for this effort on the part of those who migrated to the land of Shinar is described by the Lord, “And the Lord said, Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing they propose to do will now be impossible for them.”—Gen. 11:6, RSV
It is very unlikely indeed that Shem and his direct descendants, who apparently were loyal to God, would be participants in this effort. If this is a proper conclusion, it means that the original tongue which was spoken all the way from Adam to this point in human history—the one language which the Scriptures show all spoke until that time—was not confused so far as Shem and his immediate descendants were concerned.
This also would mean, just as similar circumstances have always meant, that as each generation of the same family came on the scene, it spoke the language of the preceding generation. Children do not learn a different language from that of their parents unless they are forced to do so by being moved into another country.
THE LANGUAGE OF ABRAHAM
It seems clear, therefore, from the record, that Abraham, the one through whom God continued his promise of a coming seed, spoke the same language as Adam. As we have already noted, of course, this language would have developed and undergone many changes; but basically it was the original tongue.
Is there any way of knowing what that language was? We think there is a clue to this in Genesis 14:12,13, where Abraham is spoken of as being a Hebrew. It is not unusual today to recognize the nationality of a person by the language he speaks. If one is heard speaking French, we conclude that he is a Frenchman; or one who speaks German is usually considered to be German; one who speaks Italian we think of as being from Italy.
If Abraham was called a Hebrew because he spoke a certain language, however, what was that language? The name Hebrew derives from the name of Abraham’s progenitor who was called Eber, or Heber. In Genesis 10:21 Shem is spoken of as “the father of all the children of Eber.”
Shem was chosen by God from among the other sons of Noah as the one through whom the lineage down to Abraham, the father of the faithful, was to be counted. The fact that he is spoken of as ‘the father of all the children of Eber’ would indicate that one of the names God had chosen for all these descendants would be derived from Heber, or be, in other words, Hebrew.
It is clear that Shem and Eber and all in this particular line would certainly speak the original language of Adam including whatever additions had been made to it through the centuries; Abraham would also speak the same language. The reference to the first use of the word Hebrew being applied to Abraham would be indicative of the language he spoke, the language itself being one of the things which separated him and his descendants from the rest of the human race, whose language had become mixed.
THE LANGUAGE OF MOSES
It is conceded by most students of the Bible that Moses wrote the first five books of the Old Testament. This seems clearly demonstrated by the following texts: Exodus 24:4; Exodus 34:28; Numbers 33:2; Deuteronomy 27:3,8; 31:9,19,22,30. There seems also reasonable evidence today that the early chapters of Genesis, having to do with events with which he would not be personally acquainted, had actually been recorded on clay tablets by various patriarchs prior to Moses’ time. One of the evidences of this is the few places where he makes corrections in names of places or identifications of locations with which those to whom he was writing would not be familiar. This indicates that Moses, in compiling these books, was following copy.
Moses was a learned man, and there can be no doubt but that he wrote these first five books of the Bible in the Hebrew language, which, if our deductions are correct, would be the language to which the original tablets had been written or recorded. The prophets also spoke and wrote in Hebrew. Thus the entire Old Testament came down to the beginning of the New Testament era in the Hebrew language.
HEBREW IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
Jesus, as a boy of twelve, was found by his mother in the Temple asking and answering questions upon the Hebrew Scriptures. This indicates that Jesus spoke and read the ancient Hebrew language.
When Saul of Tarsus was on his way to Damascus to do injury to the Christians, he was stopped by a light from heaven, and heard a voice speaking to him. Testifying concerning this later he said, “Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me. And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?”—Acts 26:12-14
Thus we see that Jesus, after his resurrection, in communicating with Saul, spoke the Hebrew tongue. He had used it more or less during the thirty-three and one-half years of his earthly ministry, and now continued to do so after his glorification, that is, when it was necessary to communicate with human beings, as he did in the case of Saul of Tarsus.
It will also be recalled that the inscription over the cross on which Jesus was crucified was written in Hebrew (as well as in Greek and Latin).
When Paul went up to Jerusalem just before his arrest, it is recorded of him in Acts 21:40 that he spoke to the multitude from the steps of the castle in Hebrew. The account reads that “when they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue to them, they kept the more silence.”—Acts 22:2
These incidental references in the New Testament to the use of the Hebrew language indicate that God did not permit this ancient, and probably original, tongue of man to perish, but continued its use all down through the ages even to Jesus’ day. And now this same language is being revived in the new state of Israel.
LANGUAGE OF THE FUTURE
We think this is significant in view of the prophecies which indicate that Christ’s kingdom will begin to manifest itself in the Holy Land. The Scriptures clearly teach that in the beginning, the human representatives of the invisible Christ in the new kingdom will be the resurrected ancient prophets and other faithful ones who, during the ages prior to the coming of Christ, proved their fidelity to God.
Hebrew was the language spoken by most of these, and when they are raised from the dead it will be their natural tongue. And they will no doubt continue to speak it, especially in view of the fact that their first contacts will be with a people who by then will nearly all be speaking Hebrew. The Scriptures do not furnish the details in this connection, but we think it is not unreasonable to conclude that Hebrew may become the official language of all nations.
In Acts 3:19-21 the Apostle Peter speaks of “times of restitution of all things,” which, he adds, were “spoken by the mouth of all God’s holy prophets since the world began.” Primarily this will be a restoration of the people to health and life. But it will also mean the restoration of paradise conditions worldwide. It may also be that one of the ‘all things’ to be restored is the ancient Hebrew language.