The Tower of Babel

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Charge: Mrs. White, in one of her earliest works, taught that the tower of Babel was built before the Flood. She thus revealed the grossest ignorance of Bible history.

This charge owes its plausibility to a passage in a book written by Mrs. White in 1864. We quote:

“The Lord first established the system of sacrificial offerings with Adam after his fall, which he taught to his descendants. This system was corrupted before the flood by those who separated themselves from the faithful followers of GOD, and engaged in the building of the tower of Babel.”—Spiritual Gifts, vol. 3, p. 301.

This passage, as it here reads, quite evidently conveys the thought that the tower of Babel was built before the Flood.

Anyone who has read Mrs. White's writings is impressed at once with the evidence they provide of the writer's familiarity with the Scriptures. She need be neither a prophet nor a profound student of the Word in order to know that the Flood preceded the tower of Babel. She need only be a simple reader of the record. And did she know? Yes. What is the clear proof? The very order of the chapters in her book that contains the disputed passage! We list here several of them in the order in which they appear:

“VI. Crime Before the Flood”
“VII. The Flood”
“VIII. After the Flood”
“IX. Disguised Infidelity”
“X. Tower of Babel”
“XI. Abraham”

The chapter entitled “Tower of Babel” Contains these lines: “Some of the descendants of Noah soon began to apostatize…. They built them a city, and then conceived the idea of


building a large tower to reach unto the clouds.”—Ibid., pp. 96, 97.

We do not know how Mrs. White could have more clearly revealed her knowledge of the true sequence of events.

To those acquainted with the publishing of books, and with the fallibility of printers and publishers, the explanation of the matter is evident. There is a typographical error in the passage cited by critics. And that typographical error was noted very shortly after the book was published—long before any critic ever took up the matter. In 1866, Uriah Smith, editor of the Review and Herald mentioned that readers had raised a question on this point, and then offered this simple explanation of Mrs. White's seeming contradiction of the Bible:

“An unfortunate typographical error which has crept in here, makes the language place the building of the tower of Babel before the flood. After the word ‘flood,’ a comma and the word ‘and,’ have been left out.”—Review and Herald, July 31, 1866, p. 66.

The key sentence in dispute would then read: “This system was corrupted before the flood, and by those who separated themselves from the faithful followers of God, and engaged in the building of the tower of Babel.” Thus it was corrected to read when this material was next printed. (See The Spirit of Prophecy [1870], vol. 1, p. 266.)

Place alongside this typographically corrected sentence a few words from the chapter entitled “Tower of Babel.” Mrs. White describes the apostatizing descendants of Noah as “enemies of God” and “unbelieving,” and declares, “The unbelieving consulted among themselves, and agreed to separate from the faithful.”—Spiritual Gifts, vol. 3, p. 96. These words parallel the middle clause in the disputed passage and thus make doubly clear that a typographical error is the explanation for the incorrect statement in the disputed passage.

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