Answer by Allen Hall and John Mackay

Genesis 10 & 11 are another example of parallel passages in Hebrew historic writing. The general technique used in such parallels is for the first chapter of the parallel pair to state something in general terms, from which the second chapter expands some detail at length. Genesis Chapters 1 & 2, 4 & 5, plus 6 & 7 also contain parallels.

The clue about “different languages vs the same language” is in Genesis 10:4, which says that “from these the maritime people spread out into their territories each with its own language”. The editor of Genesis, Moses, is merely pointing out that the people mentioned in verse 4 were the ancestors of those who later became the “maritime people”, who lived near and on the sea. Chapter 11 then shows in more detail how the world’s people had been spread out, starting from Noah’s family whose descendants had first established themselves in the land of Shinar. There they had been speaking one language up to the time of rebellion at the Tower of Babel. After God’s judgment at Babel they had ended with different languages, and therefore moved away to different places. Some of them became “maritime peoples” who were no longer land based. Since Genesis 11 does not state that ‘no one had’, or ‘would ever become maritime people’, there is no contradiction with the data in Chapter 10.

Remember that in the western world, we would normally write our history in linear chronological form, so that events in our Chapter 10 should have occurred before events in our Chapter 11. But the Hebrews didn’t. So is our way any better than theirs? It is arrogance to make such a claim. You may also find it interesting to note that the Genesis 10:4 comment about the origin of the maritime peoples is an editorial comment inserted by the person whom the Lord inspired to edit the records from Adam’s time onwards into one document, i.e. Moses and whose purpose was to point all men to Christ alone for their salvation from the sin and rebellion that the first man, Adam, had begun.

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