Pentecost – An Alternative To Babel (Acts 2)

In many ways, the event of Pentecost is, in a sense, an undoing of what God did at Babel (Gen. 11:1-9).  God saw the unity and drive they had, not for Godly things, but for themselves.  He saw that nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.  As a result, he decided to confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech and he scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth.  This was an event that God confused, divided, and scattered the people.

On the day of Pentecost, much of the opposite happened.  Instead of confusing their language, the Holy Spirit gave them tongues to speak the native languages of the people present, which brought clarity and wonder.  Instead of confusing everyone, the Holy Spirit made clear the mighty deeds of God, the fulfilling of the prophecies about the promise of the Spirit and of the resurrection of Jesus as Lord and Christ, and the proper response to hearing these things, namely, to believe, repent, and be baptized.  Instead of scattering, there were devout men from every nation under heaven present to take part in this event.  And, as we will see as the book of Acts progresses, there is a redefining of scattering.  Instead of going out for the sake of being confused and divided, God has his people scatter into the remotest parts of the world with clarity, help, and for the sake of unity.

In an article entitled “Its Name was Called Babel”, G. D. Cloete and D. J. Smit discuss this link.  But before getting into the meat of the article, they bring up a question that is worth considering, while writing Acts 2, was Luke connecting this event to Babel?  Their response was as such: “While it may be so that Luke did not have this contrast in mind, the Church has made this connection throughout her history in her piety, in her proclamation and in systematic theological reflection, and we also wish to follow this tradition in these guidelines.”[1]

Throughout the rest of the article, the authors add an interesting perspective to this connection.  Living in South Africa, they have the perspective of experiencing the apartheid.  They see this system as a recognition and support of a post-Babel mentality.  There are different people, different languages, different cultures, so therefore we should divide them.  But they saw how the Christian community within South Africa functioned differently from the apartheid, as best they could.  They observed, “through all these years of apartheid, through all the separation and division and enmity and struggle, the Christian church remained united, the Christian church remained the one place where people, so different in many respects, accepted one another, and loved one another, and supported one another … Through all these years of apartheid, Christians were the people who never practiced injustices, who never legitimated violence of any sort, who never sought conflict. In their families, in their own homes, in their workplaces, in their public life, everywhere, Christians were the people who accepted others and who loved others.”[2]

While Luke may or may not have had Babel in mind while writing about Pentecost, the church has certainly noticed a connection and the benefits that God has brought through it that seem to start to undo the disadvantages and divisions brought about by Babel.

[1] G. D. Cloete and D. J. Smit, “Its Name was Called Babel.” Journal of Theology for Southern Africa 86 (1994), 81.

[2] G. D. Cloete and D. J. Smit, “Its Name was Called Babel.”, 87.


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