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Welcome to the FAQ for module 6—confusion. The following questions include video and/or written answers and are also included in the guide for your leader. You may like to raise these questions during your group time, and we also place them here for you to explore and re-explore at your leisure.
questions leading up to babel
Q 1. What was wrong with Cain’s sacrifice?
The problem with Cain’s sacrifice is that it was not a blood sacrifice.
It’s possible that Cain’s offering was rejected because it was not his best produce (more the left-overs). In contrast, Genesis says that Abel’s offering was from “fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock” (Genesis 4:4)—in other words, Abel brought God the very best.
However, we think that God rejected Cain and his offering because it was not a blood sacrifice. God would have told humanity his requirements in bringing a blood sacrifice in order to approach and worship him, but Cain had an attitude that completely disregarded God’s command. That’s why Genesis 4:7 points out that what Cain did wasn’t right and wasn’t acceptable. There a couple of reasons why we think that the problem with Cain’s sacrifice was that it was bloodless:
1. The preceding context of Genesis 3. The story of Cain (Genesis 4:1–16) cannot be separated from the preceding context in Genesis 3 where we find that sinners can approach God only on the basis of animal sacrifice (Genesis 3:21).
2. The Bible elsewhere makes the contrast between Christ’s sacrificed blood (of himself) with Abel’s sacrificed blood (of an animal). This contrast is made in Hebrews 12:23–24—“You have come to… Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel”. This suggests that Abel had practised blood sacrifice that was required by God.
Q 2. Where did Cain find his wife?
From all the other people that existed at that time.
Finding a wife for Cain appears to be a problem because people think Adam and Eve had only three sons: Cain, Abel and Seth. So the question is posed: If we are all descended from Adam and Eve, where could Cain have found a wife? But it seems the answer is actually quite simple.
1. The Bible says Adam and Eve had more than three sons—plus many daughters. Adam and Eve didn’t only have three sons (Cain, Abel and Seth). The Bible tells us that “after Seth was born, Adam lived 800 years and had other sons and daughters” (Genesis 5:4). We are not told how many they had but it seems they would have had many, many children. After all, Adam lived to be 930 years old (Genesis 5:5)!
2. There were many others alive at the time Cain was ready to marry:
a. Notice in the genealogy of Genesis 5 how every male descendant of Adam “had other sons and daughters”.
b. Notice that by the time Cain’s son Enoch was born there were enough people to build and populate a city.
c. The population at the time of Cain would have been quite sizeable given the lifespan and fertility of the men mentioned in Genesis 5.
d. By the time Adam died at the age of 930 years (Genesis 5:5), the population might have even been a few billion.
3. Cain would have married one of his sisters or a close relative. Genesis does not condemn marrying one’s sister or niece. It condemns only sex between parents and children. Even the famous biblical person Abraham married his half-sister! The prohibition on marrying a sister or niece did not come into force until Leviticus (the time of Moses).
4. Marrying a close relative was not an issue at that time. Today if two closely related people were to have children, it would sadly be the case that genetic defects would show in them. This is because closely related people have some of the same genetic defects. If the same genetic defect is inherited from both the mother and the father, then this will cause problems for the new child.
However, this was not an issue for the human race at the beginning. The Bible teaches that Adam and Eve were perfectly created, meaning they had no genetic defects. Genetic defects have only slowly built up over time—after Adam sinned. So, initially there was no problem with closely related people marrying and having children—there was no risk to their children.
Q 3. Who are the ‘sons of God’ in Genesis 6:1–4, and what is their great sin?
We can’t be sure who the sons of God were. All we know is that what happened was something particularly evil that earned it a place among the many tragic evil stories of Genesis 4–10.
Scholars tell us that this is easily the most difficult passage to understand in all the Old Testament and caution us that no one can be absolutely certain about what sin is actually involved. There are three main opinions:
1. Fallen angels. The ‘sons of God’ were fallen angels who engaged in sexual activity with human females.
2. Men of the godly line of Seth. The ‘sons of God’ were the men of the godly line of Seth who intermarried with the daughters of the ungodly descendants of Cain.
3. Demonised rulers. The ‘sons of God’ were demonised rulers who sexually exploited the women of the lower classes.
All we know is that what happened was something particularly evil, which earned it a place among the many tragic, evil stories of Genesis 4–10.
Taken together, these several stories:
1. Show the continual moral and spiritual decline of humankind
2. Prepare us to understand God’s grief and regret over making humanity (Genesis 6:6)
3. Explain the reason for God’s awful judgement resulting in the flood (Genesis 6:7).
Q 4. Why did God judge the earth so drastically at the time of the flood?
Because humankind’s sin was so extreme and had spread across the whole world.
Scripture tells us that, at the time of the flood, evil was:
1. Unrestrained. Humanity’s wickedness was “great” (Genesis 6:5), the earth was “full of violence” (Genesis 6:11) and had become “corrupt” (or wrecked, ruined (Genesis 6:11–12)). The world no longer served the purpose for which it was made.
2. Universal. The “earth” had become corrupt (Genesis 6:5, 11): i.e. “all the people” (not just some) had corrupted their ways (Genesis 6:12).
3. Ingrained. The problem was entrenched in the nature of humanity: “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil…” (Genesis 6:5). The outward acts of evil were the result of inward, ingrained evil.
4. Unstoppable. Every “inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil, all the time” (Genesis 6:5). What a statement! Evil had become a way of life.
Humanity’s sin had reached huge proportions and there was no way back. The earth required a gigantic cleansing.
Q 5. Why did God allow things to get so bad before he sent the flood?
There are two reasons for God’s delay in sending the flood. The first has to do with God’s patience. The second has to do with God’s righteousness.
1. God is patient. He is “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger” (Exodus 34:6). “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” (Psalm 103:8). The New Testament says: “God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built” (1 Peter 3:20). God was patient because he is “compassionate” (Exodus 34:6). He is “not wanting anyone to perish” (2 Peter 3:9; cf. 1 Timothy 2:4). God never gains pleasure from people perishing in their sin (Ezekiel 18:27, 32; 33:11). Had the people listened to Noah’s preaching and turned to God, God would have changed his mind and held back his judgement—he always does (Exodus 32:9–10, 14; Jonah 3:10, 4:2; Jeremiah 18:7–8; Ezekiel 18:25, 27, 32). Dr Tony Evans says: “God does not come out of nowhere and lower the boom on unsuspecting people who had no chance.”1 God’s delays are full of warnings and pleadings as he patiently contends with sinful humanity.
2. God is righteous. God will bring judgement for those who do not respond to his call to turn to him. “The LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished” (Nahum 1:3). But God never judges prematurely (Genesis 15:14–16). God always waits until the measure of human guilt and rebellion have become entrenched and the people have passed beyond the point of no return before he enforces his judgement (cf. Matthew 23:32, 35; 1 Thessalonians 2:16; Revelation 6:11).
Even when he judges human sin, God is always patient and always righteous.
1 Anthony T. Evans, Our God is Awesome: Encountering the Greatness of Our God (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1994), 245.
Q 6. Why did innocent animals have to die in the flood?
Because God was cleansing the whole of the corrupt earth, not just humans.
God had said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground…” (Genesis 6:7). Nothing is said about the fish in the sea. The whole earth was “corrupt” (or wrecked, ruined (Genesis 6:11–12)) and, therefore, the whole earth needed a gigantic cleansing—even the mountains were to be covered with the waters (Genesis 7:19).
It may be that humanity had used the animals in its extreme wickedness (e.g. bestialism—sexual activity between humans and non-humans) but it also may be that the animals and birds were simply casualties of the flood. Regardless, it should be kept in mind that, unlike humans, animals do not have an endless existence, so while the plight of animals is important, the plight of humans is even more significant. It is interesting that God’s covenant agreement never to punish the earth by a flood again was made not only with humanity but with every living creature that was in the ark (Genesis 9:9–16).
Q 7. Was the flood worldwide?
Biblical scholars are divided in their views on this question but there is evidence to suggest the flood was a worldwide phenomenon.
“It has generally been understood… the flood covered the entire surface of the earth”1—that is to say it was an ‘earth crisis’2 (see Genesis 6:7, 12–13, 17; 7:4, 19, 21, 23; 9:11). At the very least, we are to understand that all human life and animal life was totally destroyed except any that had been protected in the ark because “the text repeatedly emphasises that the catastrophe annihilated all human and animal life on earth.”3 The end result is clear—by the time God was done with his judgement, there were only eight human survivors: Noah, his wife and their three sons and their wives.
Scholars understand the flood in one of two ways:
1. Regional/local. Some see the flood as a judgement on the sinful people of Noah’s time. For these people, “all the universality demanded is that which was necessary for the destruction of the human race.”4 In this way, the flood could be regional or local and, at the same time, considered ‘universal’ because it destroyed all human life except for Noah and his immediate family.
2. Worldwide. Others understand the flood as a judgement on the entire planet, including humanity and the animal world (see the references to “the earth” in Genesis 6:13 and the references to the mountains being covered in Genesis 7:19–20, 8:4; Psalm 104:6–8).
1 G. Charles Aalders, Genesis, vol. 1, Bible Student’s Commentary, ed. Edward Viening, trans. by William Heynen (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 192.
2 Johann P. Lange, Genesis, A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, ed. Johann P. Lange, trans. by Philip Schaff (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970), 296.
3 Aalders, Genesis, 191.
4 W.H. Griffith Thomas, Genesis: A Devotional Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1971), 78.
questions about babel
Q 8. Why is Babel important?
Babel is important because it is a major point of departure. Up until this time, humanity was moving in a single group. Everything was fairly standard. One world, one people, one God. But, at Babel, things changed. As people groups were forced to spread out across the earth, new languages diversified, ethnic features developed, nations were formed and various religions began. The world changed shape after Babel. While Babel was the beginning of new languages, new nations and new ethnic groups, the major issue was that, after Babel, each group within the human family developed their own religions.
The story of the Tower of Babel does not suddenly pop up as an unexpected and unconnected ‘stand-alone’ episode in the Genesis story. It is just one of a series of stories that are piled one on top of the other to show how badly and how thoroughly sin had affected the whole world.
- There is the story of Cain and Abel, a story of jealousy, hatred, anger and murder (Genesis 4:1–16).
- There is the story of Lamech, a story of polygamy (having more than one husband or wife at the same time) and outrageous violence (Genesis 4:17–24).
- Then there is the story of the sons of God—who sexually exploited any and every woman they could (Genesis 6:1–4).
- And then there’s the story of the flood, a story about how violence had fully corrupted the world (Genesis 6:5, 11–13).
The story of Babel (Genesis 11:1–9) is just one more story that shows how extremely corrupt the human race had become. Before (Genesis 4–9), humanity had sinned against God but now it was determined to build a tower to the heavens—a direct attempt at replacing God. And when God judged the people at Babel and confused their language, forcing them to spread out across the earth, they created their own religions and their own gods (see Romans 1:18–32).
Q 9. Why did God want people to live all across the earth?
When God made humans, he made them in his own image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). As God’s image-bearers, humanity was appointed ruler over the whole earth (Genesis 1:26, 28; 9:1–2). God wanted the human race to manage and develop his creation across the planet. To enable this to happen, humans needed to live throughout the earth.
Q 10. Why did God impose different languages on the human family at Babel?
Originally the whole world had only one language (Genesis 11:1). Then, at Babel, God “came down” and confused their language. It was God’s way of making the human race obey his original command to spread out across the earth (Genesis 1:28; 9:1).
Q 11. How did the different languages develop after Babel?
Language is quite a fluid thing—it’s constantly changing. We only need to enjoy hearing those who speak the same language but have a different accent to know this!
English is no exception to language change. In fact, the following table shows just how much English has changed from the late 14th century (Middle English) to today’s Modern English.
|Reference||John Wycliffe’s Translation (1395)||Modern English Translation (NIV)|
|Genesis 1:1||In the bigynnyng God made of nouyt heuene and erthe.||In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.|
|Genesis 1:2||Forsothe the erthe was idel and voide, and derknessis weren on the face of depthe; and the Spiryt of the Lord was borun on the watris.||Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.|
|Genesis 1:3||And God seide, Liyt be maad, and liyt was maad.||And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.|
Table 1: A comparison of Genesis 1:1–3 in Middle English (John Wycliffe’s Translation) and Modern English (NIV).1
What can be fascinating about language is what happens when speakers of a common language are split into sub-groups. Slowly with time the different sub-groups start using new words or pronounce the same words differently to the other sub-group. And once enough differences have built up between the different sub-groups, they won’t be able to understand each other and they will become their own distinct languages! But since these languages all came from the same original one, they will still be similar to each other.
This is exactly what has happened with ‘Indo-European’ languages. One original language (called ‘proto-Indo-European’) has developed into many modern languages. And because these Indo-European languages all go back to this one ‘parent’ language, they are all similar to each other (a diagram showing one version of how these languages may be related can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proto-Indo-European_language).
But all languages in the Indo-European family are so completely different from Hungarian. Hungarian belongs to a different language family that goes back to a different parent language (i.e., it did not come from proto-Indo-European). We can see how different Hungarian is to six Indo-European languages (which are very similar to each other) in the following chart.
Table 2: A comparison of six Indo-European languages and one non-Indo-European language (Hungarian (orange font)).2
According to the Bible’s story, the entire human race once lived at Babel and had one common language (Genesis 11:1–2). But things changed when God confused “their language so that they will not understand each other” (Genesis 11:7). At one moment, all the people could understand each other. Then the next moment they couldn’t understand each other! God would have instantaneously created many distinct languages (but the story does not tell us exactly how many languages were created) and the people with the same language would have grouped together. And as a group moved out from Babel and split into sub-groups, their original language would have begun to change and eventually develop into separate languages.
If we accept the Bible’s story of Babel, then this gives us a good explanation about why some languages are similar to each other and are classified as belonging to the same language family, while other languages are entirely different and classified as belonging to a different language family. Some languages are similar to each because they go back to the same parent language at Babel (e.g. the Indo-European languages all go back to the same parent language, proto-Indo-European), while languages in a different language family go back to a different parent language (e.g. Hungarian, which belongs to a different language family, goes back to a different parent language).
The following diagram can help us understand how languages have developed since the Tower of Babel. Each different colour represents a different language created by God at Babel, which changed and split multiple times into a language family made up of hundreds of languages today. The Bible does not tell us how many languages were created at Babel (and therefore how many language families there would be). It also does not tell us the name of the original language spoken at Babel and whether this language survived to become one of the parent languages of the world. The lines that don’t reach up to today represent languages that have died out.
Diagram 1: A representation of the development of the world’s languages since creation and Babel.
For further reading:
Carl Wieland, One Human Family: The Bible, Science, Race and Culture (Atlanta, GA: Creation Book Publishers, 2011).
1 Text from: “John Wycliffe’s Translation”, Wesley.nnu.edu, 2011, <http://wesley.nnu.edu/fileadmin/imported_site/wycliffe/Gen.txt > (13 February 2015).
2 Table derived from: Carl Wieland, One Human Family: The Bible, Science, Race and Culture (Atlanta, GA: Creation Book Publishers, 2011), 190.
Q 12. Where did our cultural and physical diversity come from?
Our one human family contains great cultural diversity. This variety developed gradually after God confused the language of the people at Babel.
Physical diversity also developed after Babel. As the new people groups formed, the gene pool in each group was reduced. With a smaller gene pool, different physical characteristics developed, including skin colour. Put simply, the reduced gene pool created genetic peculiarities within each group.Read More
1. Cultural diversity. Cultural diversity developed gradually after God confused the language of the people at Babel. As the different people groups spread across the earth, and even divided within themselves to form different family trees, cultural values and beliefs slowly changed, developed and were passed down from one generation to the next. While cultural diversity is a positive thing, and should be respected and celebrated, it is not sacred—that is,
God did not create those cultures.
2. Physical diversity. Before the confusion of language at Babel, the entire population of the world lived together. This meant that there was one large gene pool. As people bred within this one population, genetic information was evenly spread. This meant that, before Babel, the population had well-mixed genetic material and, therefore, everyone would have had similar characteristics—including skin colour. As the gene pool for each group was reduced,
genetic peculiarities began to develop.
Skin colour can look different and, because of this, we can think that people have different skin colours. But, actually, every person has the same dark-brown skin pigment called melanin. The only difference is that some people have more melanin and some people have less. If someone has a small amount of melanin, their skin will look very light brown or ‘white’. If someone has a large amount of melanin, their skin will look very dark brown or ‘black’. Most of the world’s population is somewhere in between, being middle brown in colour.
Because the people groups were separate after Babel, they could no longer ‘average out’ the genes for skin pigmentation by breeding within the larger, original, pre-Babel population. So some groups would have on average, more genes for a greater production of melanin. These groups would then develop darker skin pigmentation than would others. Any idea of superiority based on physical characteristics is wrong. Modern genetics shows how closely related all people are. We make up one human family. We are all made in God’s image. We are all descended from Adam and Eve through Noah. This is why racism is so wrong. To judge a person’s worth based on the amount of melanin in their skin is biologically foolish, historically ignorant and morally objectionable.
Q 13a. Does Genesis teach that there is only one Creator God?
Before we dive into the answer, it’s helpful to remind ourselves of the purpose of Long Story Short. We’re simply trying to understand the Bible’s own message—we’re not seeking agreement on a certain point! Rather Long Story Short is about answering this one question: How does the Bible tell its own story? With this in mind, no matter what cultural and religious background we may have, let’s see how the Bible answers this question.
The story of creation reveals the following:
1. Genesis 1:1 credits the existence of everything we know to one Creator, not to a number of creators (i.e. other gods). The biblical story begins with, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).
2. Genesis conveys that the Creator God acted alone when he made everything that exists (Genesis 1:1–2:3). When the text speaks of God creating, it refers to God as ‘he’ (third person singular)—“And God said… and he [not ‘they’] separated the light from the darkness… and the darkness he [not ‘they’] called ‘night’” (Genesis 1:3–5). No other creators helped him—‘he’ made everything. From the story then, this Creator God has no equals and no competitors.
3. Genesis 1 is making a statement about other gods. Having come out of Egypt, where people served and worshipped many gods, the Israelites are now on their way to Canaan whose people also worshipped many gods. So, God gave the Israelites the story of Genesis 1 to convince Israel of three things:
a. They should not be afraid of other gods.
b. They should not be tempted to worship other gods.
c. They should always remember that Yahweh is the great Creator God alone, the maker of everything that exists and, therefore, they should trust, obey and worship only him. For example, while some worshipped the sun and the moon and the stars, Israel should remember Yahweh made the sun, moon and stars! The sun, moon and stars are not gods, nor were they brought into being or given power by other gods. They are simply non-living parts of creation. As another example, while others worshipped fertility gods, gods of the sea and animal gods—Israel should remember Yahweh made the sea and the animals! They are his handiwork and he is the Creator God alone.
Q 13b. When and how did alternative religions and the worship of other gods begin?
At Babel, the people left the Creator God (Yahweh) and, from that moment on, began creating their own religions and worshipping other gods.
The New Testament’s record of what happened at Babel is found in Romans 1:18–23. Note the following:
1. There was a time when all humanity “knew God” (1:21).
2. God had made himself clearly known through his creation ever since the beginning of the world: so clearly known that there was no excuse for not recognising him and worshipping him (1:19–20).
3. Humanity turned from the Creator God, refusing to worship him or give thanks to him (1:21).
4. This turning from God was a dark and deliberate act (1:18) that led to the increasing darkness of the worship of idols and false religion (1:21–23).
Romans 1:18–23 appears to be talking about Babel and not about Adam and Eve’s rebellion in the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, they did not turn to idolatry. In fact, there is no record of idolatry anywhere from Genesis 1 through to 10. Idolatry appears only from the time of the Tower of Babel. Therefore Romans 1 seems to be talking about this point in time.
Q 14. Did God actually create the different nations and determine the exact places they would live? Or did he just let it happen?
The Bible says that God created the nations. Firstly, God himself sent the confusion of language that caused the separation of the earth’s population into separate people groups (Genesis 11:6–7, 9). Secondly, God scattered the people groups across the earth (Genesis 11:8–9). Thirdly, the New Testament says, “From one man he [God] made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us” (Acts 17:26–27).
Acts 17:26 says that God not only made the nations but also marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.
1. God “marked out their appointed times in history…” (Acts 17:26). God is God of all the nations of the earth (not just Israel) (Psalm 24:1; 83:1–18). God has determined the rise and fall of nations politically (e.g. Daniel 2:20–21; 2:36–45; 2 Chronicles 20:5–6). Because God created the nations (Acts 17:26a), he is automatically ruler over them and it is his right to intervene in the affairs of any nation, in any way, at any time, for any reason.
2. God “marked out… the boundaries of their lands” (Acts 17:26). While each people group freely went in their own direction to find a place to live, the Bible indicates God was supervising their settlement—though they were unaware of it. The Old Testament records how God assigned specific territories to Gentile (non-Jewish) nations (Deuteronomy 2:5–9; 32:8).
Acts 17:27 also says that God marked out the boundaries of the lands where nations should live so that the nations would perhaps reach out and find him. But how would this cause the nations to seek God and perhaps reach out for him and find him? How does that work?
It seems that God allocated the nations specific places to live to the north, south and east of the land of Canaan (Ezekiel 5:5)—the land Israel would eventually occupy (Genesis 15:12–21). God specifically designed it this way. Canaan was a strategic piece of land—it was actually a natural ‘land bridge’ that connected the three great continents of the ancient world. All the camel caravan traders had to pass through Canaan. Once Israel took possession of the land of Canaan, God’s presence would dwell there (first in the tabernacle, later in the temple). As travellers and traders followed the ancient caravan routes through this land, they would be made aware of Israel’s God immediately. Acts 17:27 says God designed it this way “so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us”.
It’s always been the case that God desires to come after people and have a relationship with them.