Rev. Kuiper is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Byron Center, Michigan.
In the last article we considered the effect which the confusion of tongues at Babel had on language. In this article we will consider how language was affected by the fall, which will set the stage to consider in the next article how language was affected by redemption.
Primarily, both the fall and redemption had a moral effect on language. Man fell; language did not. And man, not language, is redeemed by Christ. In this and the next article, therefore, we will be dealing not so much with language as such, but with how we use language.
How we use language is no minor matter. Language is God’s gift to us. We must use all of His gifts, including this one, in a way which glorifies Him.
In order to understand what effect the fall had on language, we ought first to make some remarks about the use of language before the fall.
We know that before the fall, God created and gave man language. God’s purpose in giving man language to use was nothing less than this, that by language man might serve and worship God. So Gordon Clark says:
Language did not develop from, nor was its purpose restricted to, the physical needs of earthly life. God gave Adam a mind to understand the divine law, and he gave him language to enable him to speak to God. From the beginning language was intended for worship.1
And worship involves, really, all of one’s life.
We must bear in mind that Adam was created to be God’s friendservant and officebearer. In other words, he was prophet, priest, and king over all creation, under and on behalf of God. In carrying out the work of this office, Adam had to use language. As prophet, he was to give praise and glory to God, and speak to other human beings of the wonderful works of God. As priest, he was to speak to God Himself. As king, he was to rule over creation, which involved speaking. Specifically, he was to “keep” the garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15)—not simply keeping it up and caring for it, but defending it from the enemy, Satan. This would involve fighting, should Satan enter the garden, and that fighting would be spiritual in nature, through Adam’s speech.
Before the fall, Adam performed this work in a proper way. He named the animals and Eve, calling her Woman (Gen. 2:19-20, 23). He spoke to God regularly (implied in Gen. 3:8ff.). He served and worshiped God perfectly in his use of language.
Then sin entered the world.
It was through communication, through language, that Satan enticed Eve. He said, through the serpent, “Ye shall not surely die” (Gen. 3:4). Through words, Eve responded to Satan and encouraged her husband to eat of the forbidden fruit as well. Thus Adam and Eve corrupted their natures, forfeited the right to be God’s friendservants, and by nature became God’s enemy and Satan’s friendservant.
In the fall, man did not lose the ability to use language. That man can use language is part of his being a rational, moral creature, which he continued to be after the fall. Rather, in the fall man lost the ability, apart from grace, to use language in the loving service and worship of God.
Specifically, we note three effects of the fall on language. The first effect of the fall on language is that we miscommunicate. One person communicates information to another person, but the recipient understands something different from what the sender intended. Such miscommunication did not characterize Adam and Eve before the fall, nor will it characterize us in heaven. We will all understand each other perfectly.
To classify this as an effect of the fall does not mean that miscommunication itself is always sinful. It could be sinful, if the speaker intends not to be clearly understood, or the hearer pretends not to understand. Then deception is involved. Often, however, such miscommunication is not intentional, and thus not sinful in itself.
While this first effect is an instance of not being able to use language perfectly, the second and third effects are instances of not being willing to use language in obedience to God. The second effect of the fall on language is that we use it to show our hatred of God and our neighbor, and to show that by nature we serve, not Jehovah, but Satan.
One way we might show this hatred of God and our neighbor is in the content of our speech. The world’s speech shows that it hates God. The prophet Enoch spoke of God’s judgment upon the world for the “hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him” (Jude 15). Also today the wicked blaspheme God in their speech, taking His name in vain. They murmur and complain, accusing God of being not fair. Or they deny that God exists! At the same time, in their speech they exalt men if it will be to their advantage (Jude 16).
However, such wicked speech is not found only in the world. The church also speaks wickedly at times. Particularly this is true of the false church, which, from her pulpits and mission fields, speaks the lie in the name of Jehovah! It is true also of the carnal element within the true church. Israel in the wilderness questioned whether the Lord was truly among them, because they had no water (Ex. 17:7). Some of those who returned from the Babylonian captivity spoke stoutly against Jehovah, saying that to serve God and to keep His laws is vain.
To speak hard words against Jehovah, and to speak stoutly, lies also in the nature of the true child of God. This is because we have fallen in Adam, our first father. We were shapen in iniquity, and conceived in sin (Ps. 51:5). The child of God must examine himself in this regard, to be sure that his old nature does not manifest itself.
It is also possible to show hatred for the neighbor by the content of our speech. This we would do by bearing false witness, slandering, backbiting, or by telling the neighbor himself or another person that we hate him.
We might also show our hatred for God and the neighbor by the manner in which we speak. Often our manner of speaking will be related to the content of the speech. If the content of our speech shows hatred of God or the neighbor, we will convey that hatred by speaking sneeringly, mockingly, perhaps jokingly. Tender, careful, loving words and gestures we would not use to convey a hateful attitude.
The third effect of the fall on language is that we use it to convey lies. This third effect is certainly a specific instance of showing hatred of God and the neighbor. However, wishing to pay special attention to it, I distinguish it from the second effect.
Created in God’s image, man both knew God truly and spoke the truth. Fallen man can speak only the lie, by nature. What is a lie? Certainly the lie is the opposite of the truth; but we can add also that the lie is everything which is opposed to the truth. Christ is the truth (John 14:6) and God’s Word is truth (John 17:17). Any statement or idea which opposes God, as He reveals Himself in Christ, is the lie. Furthermore, any statement made by an unregenerate person, or any idea of an unregenerate person, in whose heart the Spirit of truth does not work, is a lie. It is divorced from and opposed to the truth.
That lie is prominent in our day. The lie of evolution, the lie of man being in control of his destiny, the lie that God loves all men—all of these lies and more are effects of the fall.
To speak the lie shows, therefore, that one hates God.
The child of God must fight the tendency to lie. How easy it is for us to lie! We speak “little white lies,” half truths, and we fail to glorify God in our speech. We must be sobered, and must tremble before the living God, when we remember that liars will have their part in the second death (Rev. 21:8), and that those who love and make a lie will be without the city of God, the new Jerusalem (Rev. 22:15).
These are three effects of the fall on language. We can summarize them this way: the fundamental effect of the fall on language is that it hinders true covenant fellowship. Eternal life is experienced by the enjoyment of such fellowship with God. Furthermore, the child of God must seek the fellowship of other saints. The fall interrupted such fellowship. It did more—really it destroyed such fellowship. But God restored that fellowship in Christ; redemption’s effect on language was more powerful than the fall’s effect on language. But redemption’s effect was not for all; it was only for God’s elect. That means that once more it is possible for the child of God to love God, to love the neighbor, and to speak the truth. This we shall see in our next article.
1Gordon H. Clark, Language and Theology, Jefferson, MD (The Trinity Foundation, second edition, 1993), page 138.