The original languages on earth were actually word pictures, or pictographs. Eventually the individual images became letters and letters became alphabets.
In 1768, the Rev. John Parkhurst produced the first Hebrew-English lexicon. In its Introduction, he stated his belief that six thousand years ago, Hebrew was the first language spoken on earth between Adam and God. If his assumption is correct, we might speak Hebrew when we get to heaven. Jewish tradition holds that the first man, Adam, spoke an ancient form of the Hebrew language in the Garden of Eden. We know Adam had knowledge of some type of language because he named the animals (see Gen. 2:19-20). Both Adam and his wife, Eve, heard the voice of God in the garden (see Gen. 3:8). The language and form of communication Adam used was passed on from Adam to Noah, who span the first ten generations of men (see Gen. 5:3-32).
In the years 1658-56 BC, floodwaters swept over the earth, bringing global destruction. Eight people survived: Noah and his wife, their three sons, and their wives (see 1 Pet. 3:20). Noah likely would have continued to speak the original language of Adam. Three generations later, Nimrod, Noah’s great-grandson through Noah’s son, Ham, constructed the first mega-structure called the Tower of Babel in the plains of Shinar (see Gen. 11). During the tower’s construction, all the earth’s inhabitants spoke one language.
“And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, for which they have imagined to do.
“Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” (Genesis 11:6-7)
God saw that man’s unbridled knowledge could again cause evil inclinations to spread. In a sudden moment, He struck the tower to the ground and scattered the people by confusing their languages. Nimrod’s kingdom, Babel, whose Akkadian meaning is “gate of God,” means in Hebrew “to confuse or confound” (taken from the verb balal). Akkadian is an ancient Semitic language spoken from roughly 2500 BC to AD 100 in the region of Mesopotamia, the land where Babylon once existed. According to Genesis 11:7-9, Babel was the birthplace of various world languages.
Hundreds of years later in the Torah, Moses writes of God’s dividing of the nations at the tower:
“When the most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel.
“For the Lord’s portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.” (Deuteronomy 32:8-9)
Even the early church father Origen reflected on the early language of mankind when he wrote:
“All the people upon the earth are to be regarded as having used one divine language, and so long as they lived harmoniously together were preserved in the use of that divine language, and they remained from moving from the east so long as they were imbued with the sentiments of the light and the reflections of the eternal light.”
According to Origen, the original language was a divine language beginning with Adam in the garden. He believed that one group did not travel to the plains of Shinar with Nimrod, and they alone retained the pure language spoken from the beginning of time.
Since the Hebrew tongue became the language of God’s chosen people, Israel, many people assume that Adam spoke some early form of the Hebrew dialect. Jewish writings such as the Mishna (Genesis Rabbah 38) teach that Adam spoke in Hebrew. The Mishna comments that Adam called Eve “woman” (ishah), the Hebrew term for “a woman” or “a female.” He later named her Eve (see Gen. 2:23), or Chavah (meaning “life giver”) in Hebrew. Of course, the word Hebrew was unknown in Adam’s time, and his language would simply have been the language God gave or revealed to him, and he would have spoken a God-inspired tongue. Being created as a fully-grown man without systematic training from infancy to adulthood, his teaching came directly from God.
As for the name Hebrew, it originated in Shem’s great-grandson’s name, Eber (see Gen. 10:21), which comes from the verb abar, meaning to “pass through” or “region beyond.” Abram was the first Hebrew (see Gen. 14:13) because he passed over from his native land, Ur of Chaldea, to the Promised Land. The Abrahamic covenant was sealed when God passed through Abram’s sacrifices. In Egypt, God passed over the Israelite homes that were outwardly protected by the lamb’s blood (see Exod. 12:13). Joshua and Israel passed over Jordan, possessing their inheritance (see Josh. 1:2). In addition, the sojourning, or wandering, of the Jewish people has fulfilled the meaning of the name Hebrew.
The apostle Paul was a former Jewish rabbi, trained as a Pharisee under noted rabbi Gamaliel. Paul was educated in numerous languages of his time. Paul mentions God speaking to him in Hebrew when he was converted:
“And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” (Acts 26:14)
God could have addressed Paul in Greek, Latin, Aramaic, or Hebrew, since all four languages were spoken in Israel. God, however, used the “sacred tongue” with which the Torah and prophets are written: the Hebrew language.
America’s early founders were keenly aware of the significance of the Hebrew language. William Bradford (1590-1657), governor of Plymouth Colony, stated that he studied Hebrew so that when he died, he might be able to speak in the “most ancient language, the Holy Tongue in which God and the angels spoke.” In 1777, Ezra Stiles, president of Yale, stated that studying Hebrew was essential to a gentleman’s education. He said, “Isn’t it [Hebrew] the language I am sure to hear in heaven?” Even Martin Luther, not known for his kind remarks toward the Jews, commented about the Hebrew language: “The Hebrew language is the best language of all, with the richest vocabulary . . .”
In 185 BC, a writer named Eupolemus wrote, “Moses was the first wise man to teach the alphabet to the Jews who transferred them to the Phoenicians and the Phoenicians passed to the Greeks.” In 2008, archeologists in Israel discovered a shard of pottery that contained the oldest Hebrew text ever unearthed in Israel. They discovered it while excavating a fortress city in the area where David slew Goliath. The individual characters of the letters are identified as a Proto-Canaanite script, which was a precursor of the Hebrew alphabet. No doubt there is a special sanctity to the Hebrew alphabet, as this was the language and eventually the script used to record the Word of God in the Torah.