Genesis 10:5, 20, and 31 BDC: Indicates That There Were Many Languages, While 11:1 Says “One Language.” Why?


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Edward D. Andrews
EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored ninety-two books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

Genesis 10:5, 20, 31 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

From these the coastland peoples spread in their lands, each with his own language, by their clans, in their nations. 20 These are the sons of Ham, according to their families, their languages, their lands, and their nations. 31 These are the sons of Shem, according to their families, according to their languages, by their lands, according to their nations.

Genesis 11:1 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

11 Now the whole earth had one language [literally, “one lip”] and the same words.

This is talking about two different time periods. In the earlier of the two, the tribes of Ham, Shem, and Japheth all spoke the same language. Later, the people rebelled against Jehovah’s explicit command to spread out and fill the earth. (Gen. 9:1) Therefore, God confused their languages to facilitate his purpose that they fill the earth. Now that they could no longer understand each other, they had no alternative but to spread out and fill the earth. It should be noted that each person did not receive a new language; each family did, which kept the families (tribes) together.


Linguistics has not shown us the origin of the Hebrew language. In fact, it has explained the root of any of the most ancient languages known, for example, Sumerian, Akkadian, Aramaean, and Egyptian.

This is because these languages have appeared already fully developed in the earliest written records we have discovered. Therefore, the views of the different scholars about the roots of Hebrew, such as that Hebrew derived from Aramaic or from some Canaanite dialect, are speculative. The same would also apply to the source of any of the words in the Hebrew Scriptures and those who have suggest Akkadian or Aramaic sources. Dr. Horowitz comments: “In the field of etymology, there are wide differences of opinion among scholars, even among the very best of them.” … “And so we have these never-ending differences between equally highly respected authorities.”—Edward Horowitz, How the Hebrew Language Grew (Brooklyn, NY: KTAV Publishing House, 1993), xix, xx.

Young Christians

The Bible is the most trusted historical source, which gives us evidence of the origin or beginning of the Hebrew language. “In July 2008 Israeli archaeologist Yossi Garfinkel discovered a ceramic shard at Khirbet Qeiyafa “Five lines of ancient script on a shard of pottery could be the oldest example of Hebrew writing ever discovered, an archaeologist in Israel says. The shard was found by a teenage volunteer during a dig about 20 km (12 miles) southwest of Jerusalem. Experts at Hebrew University said dating showed it was written 3,000 years ago—about 1,000 years earlier than the Dead Sea Scrolls. Lead archaeologist Yosef Garfinkel identified it as Hebrew because of a three-letter verb meaning ‘to do,’ which he said was only used in Hebrew. ‘That leads us to believe that this is Hebrew and that this is the oldest Hebrew inscription that has been found’[1] Up until 2008, “the earliest Hebrew inscription thus far discovered, the Gezer Calendar, is from the tenth century B.C.E. and the Mesha Inscription from the ninth century B.C.E.”[2]


Hebrew, of course, was spoken by “Abram the Hebrew” (Gen. 14:13), who was born around 2000 B.C.E., and his descendants. In turn, Abraham was a descendant of Noah’s son Shem. (Ge 11:10-26) Hebrew is, of course, a Semitic language (Shem being the forerunner). It is true, not all of Shem’s descendants continued to speak the “one language” (Gen. 11:1) that seems to predate the flood in its pure form. This is apparent from the differences that developed among the Semitic languages, which would include Hebrew, Aramaic, and Akkadian, as well as the various Arabic dialects. Making some inferences here, we note that of the post-flood people living in the Mesopotamia area, it was Shem alone who received a blessing from God. (Gen. 9:26) Therefore, it is reasonable to believe that Shem did not have his language changed like the others who rebelled at the Tower of Babel. (Gen. 11:5-9) It only seems reasonable that Shem spoke the language of Hebrew and being that it was likely not changed, it was the same as it had been previously before the flood. In other words, it was the “one language” that had existed from Adam and thereafter, until the rebellion at Babel. (Gen. 11:1) Yes, we are inferring that man’s first language was what would later be called Hebrew. However, this does not mean that every language derived from and is related to the early Hebrew; as was said above, every family and tribe, except Shem, had their language changed when they rebelled at Babel. What we are saying is that it seems likely that Hebrew preceded all the other languages, as secular history knows no other.

What Was the Origin of the Hebrew Language?

In the Bible What Did the People of Babel Do? How Did God Stop Them? Genesis 11:1-9

[1] “(Oldest Hebrew script’ is found: BBC News. 30 October 2008. Retrieved 28 November 2018.

[2] Susan Anne Groom, Linguistic Analysis of Biblical Hebrew (Carlisle, Cumbria; Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster Press, 2003), 8.


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