In Gen. 10:5 it says,

By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nation (KJV)

Yet, in Gen. 11:1, it says,

And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.

Does the Book of Genesis follow in chronological order? Or is there another understanding of "tongue" in Gen. 10:5, 20 & 31?


3 Answers 3


Genesis 11 is going back and detailing a story that clarifies Genesis 10.

Why so many languages?

In Genesis 10:5, 20 and 31 we are told that the descendents of each of Noah's sons moved on, "each with his own language, by their clans, in their nations."

All being from the same family it would seem odd that they each had their own language so quickly.

Genesis 11 reveals how and why this happened.

Also, in v9,10 we are told of Nimrod:

9 He was a mighty hunter before the LORD. Therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD." 10 The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. (ESV)

Setting the Scene

Genesis 11 opens by resetting the scene, informing the reader or listener of when and where the narrative is moving to.

1 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.(ESV)

If people are just starting to settle in Shinar, then the reader knows this must be back in or before the time of Nimrod, for we just read his kingdom began in the land of Shinar. The apparent contradiction in being told there is one language after being told there were many can be understood as a narrative device, forcing the reader or listener to resolve it. The rest of chapter 11 unfolds and the gaps in the earlier narrative are filled and the contradiction is resolved. We learn that each of the nations obtained their own language through the Tower of Babel.

Other Examples

It is not unusual for a narrative to give a succinct and possibly incomplete account of an event or period of time only to go back later and fill in the details.

The most obvious is in Genesis chapters 1 and 2:

Genesis 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Genesis 2:2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.

Genesis 2:7 then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

Either we have to construct an elaborate interpretation where God made man on the sixth day, rested on the seven and then sometime after made another man and named him Adam and placed him in the garden, OR simply understand that this is a detailed description of the creation of man. Genesis 1 is not concerned with these details, it is about the bigger picture, all of creation, but Genesis 2 focuses in on man.


In Gen 10:8-10 we read:

Cush begot Nimrod; he began to be a mighty one on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; therefore it is said, "Like Nimrod the mighty hunter before the LORD." And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.[NKJV]

Notice that we are told that the kingdom of Nimrod began with Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. We are then informed what Nimrod does in later life (v11).

Then in Gen 11:1-9 we get the story of the the setting up of Babel, which results in God confusing the language.

The narrator inserts Gen 11:1-9 as an explanation for separating out of people by their languages, so no the genesis account is not following a strict chronology at this point.

  • 3
    The genealogies sometimes get ahead of the story line. Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 13:59
  • 1
    Exactly, not everything is revealed "in order of appearance" especially in the Old Testament. A careful reading as you showed reveals that the narrative is going back. In fact, could the writer have gone out of his way to mention that this was when all were one tongue in order to inform the reader of this very fact, that he is now taking about earlier?
    – Joshua
    Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 14:14

Gen. 10:5 recognizes the diversity of language and culture and further recognizes Nimrod specifically and where his kingdom began. Then in Gen. 11 everyone is speaking one language. A thought could be the creation of an imperial suppression from Nimrod's rule that everyone was required to speak one language. The story of the tower of Babel, God's response to the usurping of his design of culture and diverse language, is the bringing down of that attempted empire. This idea has circulated from the time of Josephus, one of the early Jewish historians who wrote of Christ.

  • Welcome to BH.SE! One thing that would really help this answer is citations. For instance, if you could edit in the Josephus reference, then others could use that as a jumping off point for their own research into anything else Josephus might have said about Babel. Taking the site tour will help you get your feet under you here.
    – Frank Luke
    Commented Jun 11, 2017 at 22:08

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