Saturday, May 26, 2012

In the Beginning Was Language

Words! We are surrounded by words, and on average each of us speaks more than ten thousand words each day. But why do we have words, and from where did the ability of language arise?

Evolutionary biology is not unified on the question of the development of human speech, but the most common theory held today is that the human ability of speaking only emerged around 50,000 years ago. This means that anatomically modern humans (according to this theory) existed for 150,000 years on earth before developing the ability to speak.

I personally find such a theory very hard to believe. What were our ancestors doing for the first 150,000 years? Just grunting and groaning? Some scientists have even suggested that a single mutation in the brain of certain human individuals suddenly resulted in the ability to speak. But that kind of explanation is more likely to be speculation rather than anything more substantial. Generally the evolutionary biologists simply look at the complexity of art and artifacts at various prehistorical periods, and try to determine from this when the ability of speech developed.

All of this “informed speculation” is, however, far removed from the picture painted in the Bible. The Bible indicates that God created Adam with the ability of speech. In Gen 2 we see Adam naming the animals (Gen 2:19–20) and speaking poetry to his wife (Gen 2:23). In Gen 3 we see both Adam and Eve speaking (see Gen 3:10, 12, 20; and Gen 3:2–3, 13 respectively).

But why did God create human beings with the ability of speech? The flow of Gen 1–3 suggests that God created human beings with the ability of speech because God himself speaks! The tenfold and God said of Gen 1 highlights the fact that God speaks. Speech is an expression of thought; and because God thinks, he also speaks. Furthermore, God created human beings in his image with the ability to think and to produce and process language. God did this in large part because his plan of self-revelation (for which he created the world, and human beings in his image) necessarily means that he wants to communicate and share his thoughts with us.

At the beginning of the Gospel of John, reflecting upon the content of Gen 1, the Apostle John was moved to proclaim: “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1). This proposition not only asserts that the second person of the Trinity is eternal, but it also asserts that language is integral to the nature of God. As it is for God, so it is for humanity. Language and the ability of speech is integral to who we are as human beings. It is a divine gift that has been with us since the very beginning.

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