Are we Reliving the Tower of Babel?

mrb_1542587756_56560500

I grew up hearing the story of “The Tower of Babel”.

Here is how it went…

Humans refused to multiply and spread over the earth. They decided to build a tower to reach to God. Because of this, God confused them by giving them different languages and spread them out across the earth.

This is a common Sunday school story, but I believe there is more to it. Why is this short account (Genesis 11:1-9) important and placed where it is in Genesis? As I began to dig into this question, I began to find out answers that can challenge us now as the church in 2019.

We have to start by giving context at a much higher level.

I hold the view that Genesis was purposefully compiled while the Jewish people were in captivity in Babylon (Moses may have written a portion or all of it).

It was compiled:

  1. To give a creation account that was similar to the Babylonian creation account (the Enuma Elish), but painted God as not violent and greater than Babylon’s God’s.
  2. To use a seven-period building and consecration account for creation that they would have understood as God creating a space to dwell. When the Jewish people of that time would have read the creation account, they would have understood that it was following that same patterns of a builder building a house to live in. (Watch this video to learn more: Click Here)
  3. As a parallel to Israel’s story. The Israelites were given a promised land to live in, tend to, and God’s presence was with them in the temple in their land. They disobeyed God, were cast out of the promised land, and sent east to Babylon. When they read that Adam and Even had a Garden to tend to, disobeyed God, and were sent out east of the garden, they would have thought, “Adam and Eve’s story mirrors our story.”

When we look at the first couple of chapters of Genesis we see that being in the presence of God, wanting to be in the presence of God, or the fear of being sent out of the presence of God was a huge theme.

Examples:

Genesis 3
“8 …and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.”

Genesis 4
“14 …and I will be hidden from your presence;”

Genesis 4
“16 So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.”

Actually, the theme of God wanting to dwell with His people and establish sacred space to dwell in is a major theme throughout the entire Bible, and God does this in  His way and on His own terms.

Creation -> Covenant -> Tabernacle -> Temple ->

Incarnation -> Believers as Temples -> New Heavens & Earth

The tower of Babel fits into this! As we study ancient Mesopotamian culture (Sumerians, Akkadians, Assyrians, Elamites, Eblaites, and Babylonians), we learn a lot about the religious views and worshipping patterns of the people. They would build temples called “Ziggurats” to be places that they believed that a deity would come down to dwell.

choqa_zanbil_ziggurat_1
Ziggurat

Their view of these deities would be almost a co-dependent relationship. They believed these deities needed and/or wanted their offerings and Ziggurats. In exchange, these deities would bless the people in the land that they were being housed in. This is why Genesis 11:4 says, “…so that we may make a name for ourselves”. They wanted to be blessed and to be known. This was their motivation behind building this “tower”, according to the text.

Remember that a theme of the Bible is God’s desire to make His dwelling place with His people, but He does it on His own terms and not ours, and true worship is about making God’s name great and not ours.

This is why “The Tower of Babel” account is placed where it is in Genesis. The very next chapter is the start of a covenant conversation that God had with Abraham where God began to form a worshipping people and continued making His dwelling among His people according to His own terms.

I believe that the church today often falls into the same tendencies as the people who built “The Tower of Babel”.

Speaking primarily to church leaders:

While doing religious busy work, we often hope that God will pour out His blessing on us and our church community so that we will be known.

How often do we buy into the fact that we feel that we have to be like Pastor ______ (insert celebrity pastor here) because they are selling the books and have the big churches that are known?

5.4.16

It seems that every church with a modern rock band is putting out an album and/or want to become famous. Worship has become a music genre where a church’s brand can be marketed, as opposed to a holy moment of giving worth to Jesus as king. Many of these projects, events, and initiatives are often started without really seeking the Lord through prayer, or we pray after we pull the trigger in hopes that God will bless our work.

I am only speaking because I have been in full-time ministry for nine years and have been guilty of these mindsets!

Many of these things are not wrong in and of themselves (don’t hear what I am not saying), but I am asking that we step back and really evaluate why we are doing what we are doing.

-Do we have a co-dependent mindset and think that God will bless us as “we” work towards building “His” church, and think that He needs us for this work?

-Are we seeking for our name or the name of our church’s brand to be known?

-Are we wanting God to bless us so we can be great, or are we letting God be God, and for Him to do what He wants to do in His way and timing?

13 thoughts on “Are we Reliving the Tower of Babel?

  1. This explanation of Genesis reminds me of how easy it is to begin replacing the Bible with the golden calf of extra-biblical intellectualism. Jesus refers to Genesis 1 as historical fact multiple times. There is no indication that Genesis should be taken as a poem or a copy of any other belief system. If Genesis is just a copy of something and not real, what part of the Bible should we take as factual history? Starting in Genesis 3 maybe? What indicates that Genesis 3 is more factual than Genesis 1?

    I urge you to be cautious, this attitude towards the Bible will quickly turn you into a High Priest that the little ones must go to in order to properly understand the Bible. I know that is not your heart, but once you start calling portions of the Bible metaphors or an attempt of Moses to portray God to the Israelites, you have basically told the world that we must listen to you to know which verses of the Bible are to be believed and which are just made up to convey some message.

    I apologize for what is perhaps my over-zealous passion with regards to Genesis. It is admittedly a trigger point for me because I believe that without a proper respect for the historical facts revealed in Genesis, humanity has fallen for all sorts of horrible lies.

    1. Mike,

      Viewing the biblical texts through the lens of hyper-literal biblicism is a more modern trend and is not how most of the early church leaders read the text. Also, the Jewish scholars and teachers during Jesus time had a different relationship with the idea of truth then our current literal/scientific/empirically-based cultural context. Just because Jesus referred to the text as true, it doesn’t mean he meant literally/historically accurate to a tee. Modern theologians dabble with this way of thinking with ideas like Progressive Revelation, as they seek to square what appears to be the vengeful and wrathful God of the Old Testament with the picture of an all loving God revealed through Jesus. I believe literalism is a crutch handed down to the masses in order to make the Bible easier to approach without extensive study and training. However, this approach ultimately fails when you are not able to consider cultural context in the time it was written, along with language barriers. Many scholars believe that much of Genesis was hyperbolic, with good reason, as much of it was actually written in poetic or symbolic dialect. It is far more useful and spiritually formative to teach people to discover the truths in Scripture through recurring and overall themes of the message, in my opinion. More importantly, it is not our particular brand of theology that leads us into truth, but rather, as John 16:13 suggests, it is the Spirit who leads us into all truth! Jesus often reframed Scripture, saying “you’ve heard it said…but I tell you…” This is because the greatest truths are not found in the letter of the law, but rather the spirit of the law.

    2. Mike,
      Thanks for engaging in this. I finally have a moment to sit down and respond. I appreciate your care and reverence of the Bible. I also know you and your heart personally and have appreciated our conversations in person over the years.

      I want to respond and even challenge you for a minute. There is a sense of fear that you have around Biblical interpretation methods and studying original context, because you feel that it is adding to the pure nature of scripture. You seem scared of experts and seeking experts for interpretation, because you feel then that there is an elite few that are as you call “high priests” and people will have to go to these few for understanding. One thing that I also appreciate about you is that you consider a new believer who knows none of the context as they start out reading, and you care about that deeply.

      Let me try to respond to this. I want to first start by saying, please keep an open mind. I have some major concerns with your response and what I think are blindspots that I am seeing in your view for two reasons.
      1. Just as a truth seeker myself, I feel that you have your fingers in your ears and there are some truths that you just don’t want to hear, because you are content not going further in your studies, and if you come to new conclusions… you will have to rebuild some of your theology and practice. Some of these I believe have been build not necessarily on the Bible but on your specific understanding of it.
      2. My second concern comes pastorally, because interpretation leads to implication and/or application. We can put into application what we believe the Bible says, but if our interpretation is inaccurate, we then are thrown off course in our application. The statement that theologians and church leaders have held onto for thousands of year is “scripture when interpreted CORRECTLY is authoritative for all matters of faith and practice.” That means that there are correct and incorrect interpretation and it matters. It really does!

      I want to address your concerns:
      – First I want you to understand that inerrancy of scripture over the years has landed on 17 definitions and 8 top expected ones. The view that you are communicating and pushing is a view that is a post-Darwin/modernized perspective that seeks to ease tensions within scripture. It has only been around a few hundred years and wasn’t actually a doctrine within the church until 1978 when it was written up at a meeting in Chicago. They wrote up what was called “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy”.

      In this view, instead of handling the Bible the way it has been handled since the Old Testament, they began to challenge enlightenment and modern ideas like Darwinism by adopting the modern perspectives, views, and language of certainty, and they then began to read the Bible from a modern lens to push back on the “isms” and ideas of the time. This is when people started looking at things like Genesis as addressing modern science and history (in terms of modernism). Let me ask you, was Genesis written by modernists to be read from the perceptive of modern science or history? I believe that in your responses to this post you believe that that is how it is to be read… but that is not why and when it was written. It was written before modern science so the goal of the ancient writers isn’t to turn it into a modern text book. In order to interpret correctly, we have to take our 21st century lens off and start by trying to see the text from an ancient pre-modern lens. By doing this, we can understand the Scripture text more accurately and responsibly.

      To hold inerrancy in any form that has been helpful for the church for thousands of years is to see that the whole process (1 writing – 2 compiling – 3 canonizing – 4 translating – 5 reading – 6 interpreting – 7 applying) has had the the spirit of God lead it. The power of the Holy Spirit through scripture doesn’t just come to play when we start at step 5 and jump straight to 7.

      – Second I want to address your fear of expertise. We have all been influenced on our handling of scripture by someone who we consider an expert. You can’t get away from it! We all begin reading our Bibles from lenses that have been shaped by our view of what it is an how we are to read it. These view have been shaped by experts of some sort. Maybe it is a pastor you once had, maybe it is a parent that raised you, maybe it is a book that you read, or maybe you consider yourself an expert enough to create your own philosophy of reading the Bible. We have all been influenced by some expert (or claimed expert)perspective. We have to be honest about that.

      Let’s talk about roles in the body.
      There are many gifts within the church and not everyone has the same gifts. We see in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 that there are the gifts of knowledge and teaching and these gifts are to function to equip and encourage the body.

      It seems that your view of reading the Bible fears this playing out. You seem to be unwilling to let people with gifts of knowledge and teaching to actually play their role in the body and for people to sit under their instruction and expertise. By doing this, you are saying, “if knowledge is an ear, everyone can be an ear or else they are Catholics (or “high priests).”

      You have to realize that experts are actually people that God Himself has gifted for the role of the functioning of the church body to equip the body (as Ephesians says). If you don’t believe me… look at Paul. He was an expert in a ton of fields, but after His conversion, he was taught under the authority of Peter and other Christians. He submitted himself to experts!

      In this time, he was taught interpreting scripture (which he knew already) in light of the risen Christ. This is the guy who went up against the greatest greek thinkers of the time in Acts 17 and he submitted to be taught by an old blue collar fisherman named Peter and Jesus’s brother James (along with other believers early on in his journey). He did this, because Peter was an expert on the interpretation of scriptures that Jesus taught, the way of Jesus, and in the context of the risen Lord. They were leaders of the church in Jerusalem to the Jews and would have been experts in the same scriptures that Paul was an expert in. They were just farther down the road in understanding how Jesus’s work was interpreted by being “according to the (Old Testament) scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

      If it is good enough for Paul… it is good enough for us. All of us have to seek after people who are farther down the road than we are. This is called discipleship. This is God’s intention.

      In Jewish cultures, people spend over a decade learning the Scriptures from a rabbi. There is a reason for this.

      – Third… This is how a new believer learns how to read the Bible. Not in isolation, but through a process of the God given disciplining community that is the church. People with spiritual gifts of teaching and knowledge will pour into new believers to equip them. This is how God has designed the church. This is why these spiritual gifts for the church exist.

      Again your perspective and fear seems to be one as if a believer is in isolation and not as God intended in a discipling community.

      – Lastly I want to make a strong statement…
      “To make the Bible out to be anything that it is not is to be irresponsible and to actually have a low view of scripture (often while trying to have a high one)”.

      Not caring about proper interpretation has led us to some disgusting places. Interpreting the Native Americans as canaanites in the promise land (America) has justified us wiping them out and taking their land in the 1600s-1800s. A literal concrete reading of parts of scripture not intended allowed us to justify slavery as a nation into the 1800’s.

      I grew up where extreme literal views of Ephesians 5, 1 Corinthians 14, and 1 Timothy 2 led to abusive demand of submission and patriarchy in the home.

      If we don’t learn to interpret well, we can be thrown off course in our application and even mental development.

      Matthew 22:37 says, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’” Notice that mind is included. If we are going to grow as followers of Jesus, N.T. Wright says that we must also grow up in our thinking.

      The Bible is a library of 66 book, written by 40 authors, over a course of 1500-2000 years. It has multiple genres, styles, authors, and audiences. The Old Testament was canonized well before Christ. The New Testament was canonized around 400 years after Christ. When we seek to understand this, we get our best “God given interpretation”. If we close our minds to it as if it is a flat written magic book that every word is God itself, we run the risk of making it something that it is not meant to be and even turn it into an idol.

      The Bible is authoritative because of the Holy Spirit that breathed it and the led the process to get it in our hands and into our minds, the Bible reveals God and is also a conduit for God to work through.

      This issue is that it is so easy to place pressure on the text inside of it as if the Bible itself is divine. Only God who it reveals is Devine. God is true authority and has authority over scripture. To make it anything more than that is to possibly turn it into an idol and read it irresponsibly.

      There is so much more that I can say other other things that I believe are wrapped around this argument and some of what I perceive as your blindspots in this, but I will leave it here for now.

      Thanks again for your time and engagement!

      1. Thank you David for taking the time to reply.

        Indeed, we disagree on much and I am not sure if it is worth either of our time by continuing this debate. I respect your heart for Jesus and for preaching the Gospel. I still consider you a brother in Christ and a friend.

        I feel I have made my point and have been heard. Perhaps not fully understood, but a close enough approximation so that I do not feel I need to defend my position any longer. I leave it up to the reader of this blog to form their own decision based on the statements made here.

        Have a great weekend!

  2. Hello Jeremy, thank you for the reply.

    I understand that we will not reach an agreement here as this is a much debated topic even across well-meaning theologians. I am not one of those, so I will just offer my perspective from one that has an opposing viewpoint to yours.

    My point to David is that he is running the risk of replacing the Temple’s curtain with his (and yours) Biblical interpretation. Instead of a curtain, the statements here are saying that In order to fully approach God, we must seek out those who have extensively studied and trained to read the Bible correctly.

    Do you see what you are doing? One one hand we encourage people to read the Bible, but at the same time you say that they cannot believe everything they read as historically accurate events. Rather, they must seek out the “learned ones” to gain proper revelation and to fully understand God.

    To put it simply, I do not care what any theologian states or old vs modern understandings. I believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God and all man made “truths” must be held up to the Bible. Most of your statements and reasoning contain extra-Biblical revelation (according to your belief, John 16:13 could mean something completely different, we should go seek out a “priest” to confirm – that was bad sarcasm, sorry).

    If you have replaced the Bible with Bible + Jeremy, then I will leave judgement of that choice and your preaching to God alone. I do not judge your belief, just attempting to reach out to a friend who I believe is going somewhere he may not be intending to travel.

    1. I don’t believe that is what either of us are saying. My reference to the passage in John is to say that I think the leading of the Holy Spirit should inform our theology ABOVE expert opinion or cultural norms. In order to be a theologian, one must practice scholarship and attempt to break free from current cultural context to understand the context in which the texts were written. In order to be a Christian, one need only to allow the Bible to lead them to Jesus and then be brought into eternal truths by the indwelling of the Spirit.

  3. Hi Mike,

    Was reading your comments and thought I’d jump in! My name is Zach and I used to work at Cornerstone with Ruybalid for some mutual context. From your comments, I get a sense that you desire to persevere and affirm that Scripture is understandable and comprehensive for everyone and that we need no mediator to understand it. I appreciate that desire and agree with it to an extent.
    I would argue that God has chosen an ancient text to reveal his salvation story to us and we are to treat it as such.Obviously, it is much more than just ancient literature but it is no less than that too. Consider if you will that you and I (unless you know Hebrew and then I apologize for assuming!) can read our Bibles only because someone else has translated it into our language. Our Bibles are veiled in another language and we actually do need a mediator to translate it for us.Without someone with more knowledge of ancient language stepping in, you and I and most of us would be completely lost. Beyond just language-to-language translation we also need context translation. Not only is Scripture written in ancient languages but within ancient contexts. In the same way we need language translators, we also need context translators. We may think this limits Scripture or makes it less inspired but God had chosen the tool of literature to reveal this to us and we should respect his choice. If God had chosen a movie or a play to reveal the salvation story, we would treat it as such.
    Therefore, I think it is importatnt that we have people working to understand scripture and that they come and bring their findings to shed new light on Scripture. Yes, anyone could read Genesis 1 and see that it is showing God as the creator. But with understanding the ancient context we can come to that same conclusion with more gusto and context by understanding the author’s world and audience . This ancient writer would have heard many other stories of creation and might be using those elements to tell a new story, a real story about Yahweh and to subvert the other creation stories around them. Learning stuff like that gets me excited (I currently have my M.Th and am working on my MA in Old Testament) and I always want to know more about context. Scripture used to bore me as a kid. I thought it was so bland and that I had understood all of it. Once I realized there was another world of research out there, extra-biblical contexts to consider, I became way more enthused with reading and studying. TO me, Scripture comes alive when I learn new, fresh ways of thinking about it.

    1. Hello Zach, thank you for taking the time to reply.

      While I agree with you for the most part, here is where I get caught up: I would imagine that Yahweh, the creator of the universe, the being who made stars, galaxies, DNA, everything; could figure out how to convey His message through written format. There are Bible translations that make every effort to stay true to the original text, and we have thousands of near-original copies of said text to confirm they have not strayed. So yes, I agree with you, by studying the original languages and culture, we add an entirely new dimension of understanding. However, when you take this extra information and replace clearly communicated scripture, you have attempted to take up the mantle of a Biblical author and re-write portions of God’s Word.

      Are you absolutely sure you want to replace God’s word with your own mortal understanding of what the Biblical authors must of been thinking while they wrote it? It seems David and Jeremy have, and I have sorrow for the Christians who would read this post and be lead astray because if you can just throw out major portions of the Bible as Moses making it up to convey a message, why should I trust the Bible at all? What portions of the Bible are true when we can so easily throw out the text and replace it with our understandings? I urge you to tread carefully with God’s Word.

  4. Hey Guys, there is evidence within the Genesis text that more than suggest that Genesis is a reliable historical record. Check out the study “We Are Family: A study of the Table of Nations in Genesis 10 by Wade Burleson – Lesson 5 – Inspired by God at Emmanuelenid.org/index.php/sermons/sermon-notes/58-sermon-notes-archive/bible-study-notes/we-are-family/839-inspired-by-god. Genesis 10 may be the oldest written document that we have written around 2000 BC.

    1. Thank you Nancy. I don’t think anyone was saying that there wasn’t or couldn’t be evidence in the text that it do line up with a historical account. I would say though that the purpose of the Genesis text isn’t to be a modern type science or history book. The purpose is for it to be the story of God and the story of His covenant people. Not saying that it can’t be historical. Just saying that we can’t read it as if it is the main point to prove history and science in modern day textbook terms.

Leave a Reply to davidruybalid Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s