Does Genesis 10 contradict Genesis 11?

Hi everyone,

A friend asked me about these two passages in Genesis:

Genesis 10:1-5

These are the family records of Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. They also had sons after the flood. Japheth’s sons: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. Gomer’s sons: Ashkenaz, Riphath, and Togarmah. And Javan’s sons: Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim. From these descendants, the peoples of the coasts and islands spread out into their lands according to their clans in their nations, each with its own language.

Genesis 11:1-2

The whole earth had the same language and vocabulary. As people migrated from the east, they found a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there.

What do you think? Do these passages contradict each other? If not, how do they go together?


According to some researchers, the time of Peleg would be when - or after - the kingdom around the Tower of Babel broke up. Thus many “episodes” in Genesis, Revelation, etc are overlapping ways of looking at series of events. In any event “same language and vocabulary” meant a dominant body of propaganda / ideology. We’re not told in Gen 11 what concrete factors caused the halting of the building of the Tower, though clues may possibly be in other chapters.

According to some commenters, the king at the then Babel had tried to unify religions and propaganda systems (as also illustrated in stories about the seizure of the Lord or Lady of Aratta), but concurrent with dissension among immigrant groups was some natural disaster.

Hebrew Scriptures weren’t copied carelessly from neighbours; the differences between each country’s story reflect the unique perspectives they had each meticulously preserved orally as well as beginning to put in writing (these two processes have been studied by some scholars).

Not every clan or nation had lived within the kingdom but I expect most of them had looked to the then Babel for some influences.

Some researchers have tentatively traced population movements between all continents over and over. All languages are mixed languages and often sweep across populations quicker, or slower, than additions of race. The clans in Gen 10 are some clans of leadership / royalty / military / explorers (e.g Japheth means scout); they married into, and related with, people of other clans and races as they did their thing. All language is metaphorical in earlier derivation (hence both bear and { a disallowed word !!! } are “brown one”). Some chronologies offered should be thought tentative.

Many Bible pieces contain hints, or snapshots with puzzling captions. In not only the Bible, but all texts, the many meanings they are meant to carry have to be sought out (in spiritual awareness where needed) and offered.

Words allude, and when several allusions intersect, there can be meaning. This is why God intends the faculties we humans have, as the central scene for His revelation, as well as for all good endeavour.

Not only “missional christianity” needs apologetics but history, linguistics, mathematics are desperately short of their own apologetics practitioners too. Much knowledge was repeatedly destroyed also.

Your placing this under “apologetics” leaves me with the question, what is the enquirer’s priority? But my own belief (as a single) has been immeasurably strengthened since I looked into all the sciences honestly (it takes trial and error to evaluate intelligent commentary in all fields).


@Carson , what an interesting observation and question! I never paid attention to this until after your question. I thought going over the narrative of the story of Noah after the flood and highlighting a few pertinent verses may help us arrive at an answer. So here are some verses to consider-
Gen. 6:13, Gen 6:18 - God warns Noah of destroying the earth but promises to establish a covenant with Noah and family.
Gen. 7: 7, Gen. 7: 23 - God saves Noah’s family from the flood in the ark
Gen. 9:1 - God restores His original purposes for mankind through Noah by blessing him to fill the earth, echoing the words spoken to Adam.
Gen. 9: 17-19 God establishes covenant with Noah’s family as promised and through them the earth is filled.
Gen. 10:5 Noah’s son’s offspring form coastland clans, with own language and nation.
Gen. 10:8-11 A mighty hunter, the grandson of Ham, who is the great grandson of Noah begins his kingdom in Shinar.
Gen. 10: 20 Ham has other sons who have other languages and nations.
Gen. 10:25, 31 Shem has a grandson Peleg, during whose time earth was divided. Shem’s descendants have other clans, languages and nations.
Gen. 10:32 “These are the clans of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, in their nations, and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood.”
Gen. 11:1-2 “Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.”
Gen 11:4 Those in Shinar, part of a might warrior’s kingdom strategize by building a tower so as not to disperse and make themselves a great name.
Gen 11:6 The reader is now told the people had one language, something undesirable to the Lord. To prevent the pride from taking over, their languages are confused and people are dispersed over all the earth.
Gen 12:1 God calls Abraham, a descendant of Shem, out of his country to make his name great.

After going through the specifics of the narrative, what became clear is that the descendants of Noah through Shem, Ham and Japheth settled in several regions beyond the region of the land of Shinar (see map below from Bible History online). They were already speaking different languages before the story of the Tower of Babel. So what could the term the ‘whole earth was speaking one language’ mean? Tower of Babel story seems to be zooming in on just one clan introduced in Gen 10:8.

In light of the fact that the author makes the statement on ‘one language’ in Gen 11:1 in sudden and complete contrast to the statement on ‘different languages’ in just the preceding verse Gen 10: 32, might it be that the author wants to assert how a wordly kingdom’s rule in the land of Shinar violated the Lord’s plans. The kingdom’s power may have been perceived as so strong that people started viewing the kingdom as the whole earth, and hence the words - ‘the whole earth’ in Gen 11:1. The element of sudden disappointment and judgement at Babel for speaking one language suggests to me that one language was a later development after some initial dispersion. One language may have been a result of working together on the tower of Babel and other common wordly purposes. The confusion of language and dispersion brought about by God thwarted the evil plans of man of becoming great apart from the Lord. This punishment was probably given mainly only to those living in the land of Shinar. God’s directive for man to have offspring and fill all the earth however didnt change! This is seen in the covenant renewal God makes with Abraham, later realized in the new testament through Jesus Christ.

Based on the pentecost description in the book of Acts and diversity of worship in heaven seen in Revelation, diversity seems to have been in God’s plan all along. Its interesting how God can bring about unity despite different languages but man struggles to have unity even with a common language. This just highlights how God’s plans are better than what we can ever imagine! So to sum up, there doesn’t need to be a contradiction between Gen 10 and 11.

Carmen Imes has a video on Genesis 10 and 11 describing this very question in some more more detail and is freely available online. She describes some of the root meanings of hebrew words that go along with the interpretation I have shared.

One other thought I want to pursue is whether Peleg was born before the tower of Babel incident or after. If before Babel, it would solidify the idea of dispersion before Babel. Something to look into for another time! Look forward to your thoughts!