Pentecost and the Anti-Babel

Acts 2:5-6 – 5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.

Genesis 11:7-9 – 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.

The scene on the Day of Pentecost when the disciples spoke in many languages is one of those well-known passages of Scripture. Many a strange doctrine has been built from it. Many a fascinated Christian has wondered what that day must have looked and felt like.

What grabs my attention as I read Acts 2 in my daily reading plan is the reversal taking place here. This is sort of the anti-Babel. In Genesis 11, God confused human speech. In Acts 2, God grants unity in speech now that Christ has come.

Think of the Genesis context. In Genesis, God promised one to come who would rescue his people. But humanity became so rebellious that God destroyed the world with the flood. In Genesis 9, God promised he would preserve the world, never flooding it again because of human sin. But, by chapter 11, humanity is sinning to such a degree that we once again deserve destruction.

God, instead of destroying the world, in keeping with his covenant, chose to scatter the people at Babel. God confused the language of the people so that there would not be a unified rebellion against him as at the tower. God mercifully made it so that one evil idea would not so easily spread through all people that something like the flood would be the only possible ending.

All through the rest of the Old Testament, God continues to promise the coming one who will rescue. Many nations, people groups, are formed and separated at Babel, and God selects one man, Abram, to be the father of one nation, Israel. And God says that the Rescuer will come through that singular nation. And all the Old Testament keeps making that promise and shows God keeping that promise.

Then, once Jesus comes, God’s promise is fulfilled. Once Jesus died, rose, and ascended, connecting to God no longer has anything to do with any particular nation. Now the good news of Jesus needs to go to all nations. And here, at the moment of the arrival of the indwelling Holy Spirit, God gifts the apostles with a sign of his fulfilled promise. God gives the disciples a gift of being able to speak the message of Jesus in languages they did not previously know. Where God jumbled and confused the languages at Babel, at Pentecost, God united languages so that we might see that people from any nation can be saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus.