Original Research

The reversal of Babel: Questioning the early church’s understanding of the gift of the Holy Spirit in Acts as a reversal of the curse of Babel

Alexander D. Soal, Desmond Henry
Verbum et Ecclesia | Vol 39, No 1 | a1842 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ve.v39i1.1842 | © 2018 Darryl Soal, Desmond Henry | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 03 February 2018 | Published: 23 August 2018

About the author(s)

Alexander D. Soal, Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa, Randburg, South Africa
Desmond Henry, Department of Theology, North-West University, South Africa


This article questions whether a further gift of the Holy Spirit in Acts is the reversal of the curse of Babel and thus the rationale for multicultural local churches in an intercultural and globalised world. Using a non-empirical research design, including a literary survey of the Old Testament and New Testament texts and commentaries, the authors examine the significance of the division of language by God at Babel in the Genesis record. The inherent creational imago Dei, genetic and Noahic unity of all humans makes reconciliation, relationship and intercultural communication possible. This is followed by an examination of the impact of Pentecost, where the Holy Spirit’s gift of tongues is found to symbolise the unifying of divided languages and cultures. This leads to the conclusion that the primary purpose of the gift of tongues was not centred on the controversial debate around glossolalia but rather on personal spiritual transformation and intercultural transformation. The Trinitarian nature of God enables all humans, made in his image, to once again be one in Christ. The centripetal gathering of all people at Babel, which led God to centrifugally scatter nations through language, was reversed in Acts 2 by God. This empowered the early church to go out centrifugally to all cultures. The conclusion is drawn that Acts 2 reverses the communication breakdown of Genesis 11 and, in this way, becomes the theological underpinning of multilingual and multicultural churches. Multicultural churches are thus not simply because of the prevailing winds of globalism in our day.

Intradisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary implications: Acts 2 reversing Genesis 11 impacts the discipline of Ecclesiology from a missional perspective (multilingual and multicultural churches, heterogeneous local churches). The article deals broadly with Pneumatology and the Pneumatological rationale, as well as intercultural studies, intercultural communication, intercultural pastoral care, conflict resolution and globalism. Heterogeneous local churches call for a change in the discourse (which is both possible and necessary in a globalised world) of the traditional homogenous church growth principle. This article has broad overlap with some social science theory related to communication, culture and anthropology and offers interesting biblical-cultural insights probing the biblical text.


Babel; Pentecost; tongues; glossolalia; globalization; multiculturalism; multilingualism; race


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1. Mystery and multiculturalism: Should the musterion of Ephesians 3 encourage multiculturalism in South African churches?
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doi: 10.4102/ve.v42i1.2191