By Julia Liu, Wren McMillan, Ann Rayburn
This is a genuine question.
For all we know, God most probably speaks a language. Or rather, language holds an incredibly role in the Bible as well as the Old Testament narratives.
In Genesis, God created the world by commanding. He said, “let there be light”. And there was light. It was God’s words that made the world. In the Old Testament narrative, the tradition of commanding is continued. “The creator of angels, the giver of life, commanded light to come forth over the spacious abyss. The high king’s order was quickly fulfilled; for them there was a holy light over the void, as the maker commanded” (11). In addition, God “created the name ‘night’” (13), and lifted up the earth “by his own word” (13). From there, he commanded waters to be gathered and commanded oceans to be united (13). The world was created by God’s commands. Aside from having a huge impact on the world, God’s language also has a huge impact on all the beings he rules, since we all have to listen to and obey his commandements. After Adam and Eve’s fall, they understand that they have to undergo a punishment “as they had broken God’s commandment” (61). Not only does God speak a language, he speaks a powerful one.
We continue to see the importance of language in Genesis in the story of the Tower of Babel, when men’s powers are united to the point that God is threatened, he chooses to use language to separate men. Once men speak different languages, they cease to be able to communicate and their strengths can no longer be united to reach the level of God. By dividing language, god divides people.
From these instances, it seems that language is a way of establishing power. Just by saying “let there be light”, God is able to make light happen. What kind of terrifying power is that? It creates a gap between divine and human existence. As humans, our words don’t mean anything. We are taught that it is the action that matters. We need our actions to prove our words, or else they will be empty. God is on a completely different level of existence from us. His words carry weight and authority. He does not need action to live up to his language. Just by commanding, the world changes.
In addition to a way of establishing power, language is also a way of bringing something into existence. On a physical level, God brought the world into existence by commanding. On a mental level, putting something into words makes it true. Retelling a miracle to something gives it weight of truth. In Daniel, the king is not able to comprehend his dream because he doesn’t have the language to bring it into existence. The advisors he asks do not know what he is talking about because he cannot retell it with words. Daniel is able to interpret the dream, and he does it with his language. Can one understand something without words or language? The story of Daniel seems to say no because we need language to bring concepts into life.
What is the role of the Bible then? The the ancient Greek tradition, poets are able to connect the gods and mortals through poetry, since poetry is the language of God. With language, poets communicate the gods’ will to the people. Perhaps similarly, the Bible manages to record God’s will and commands to distribute to the people.
Anlezark, Daniel, ed. and trans. Old Testament Narratives. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011.