Peleg, Pangea, and the Division of the Earth
Most everyone who has read Genesis 10:25 has been intrigued by a particular statement found there. The text says: “To Eber were born two sons: the name of one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided; and his brother’s name was Joktan.” What does the statement, “the earth was divided” mean in this verse? In light of the modern idea of Pangea (see Butt, 2006), many have wondered if this verse could be talking about the breaking up of one supercontinent into the various continents that we see today. While this interpretation is not impossible, it is unlikely.
In the context, this verse comes just seven verses before Genesis 11:1. Of course, in the original language, Genesis was not divided into chapters and verses, so there would have been no chapter division. Thus, Genesis 10:25 would naturally have flowed into the discussion of Babel that immediately follows it. In addition, the word “earth” in the passage leads many people to believe that the division is of the physical continents, since, most of the time, in English, the word relates to the physical mass of land. Yet Genesis 11:1 gives us another clear meaning of the term as it was being used in the context. The verse says: “Now the whole earth had one language and one speech.” What does the text mean when it says “the whole earth?” It is obviously referring to the whole human population that inhabited the Earth. It could not be discussing a physical, geological mass of land.
Interestingly, verse nine of chapter 11 states: “Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth, and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.” Notice that in this verse, the first use of the term “earth” refers to the people on the earth, and the next use “over the face of all the earth” refers to the actual land. The important idea to consider is which “earth” is being divided in this context. The context shows that the “earth” that was divided was the people, and nothing is stated about the division of the land. As Eric Lyons wrote concerning the reference to Peleg: “This is a clear reference to the confusion of languages at the tower of Babel described in chapter 11. The “Earth” (i.e., people; cf. 11:1) divided when God confused the languages (11:7-8). Thus, the division in Peleg’s day is linked contextually to the linguistic segregation at Babel (Genesis 11:1-9)” (Lyons, 2004). It seems the best interpretation of Peleg’s name and the division of the Earth during his lifetime is that the text is referring to the separation of the human population due to the fact that God confused their languages at Babel.
Butt, Kyle (2006), “Pangea and the Flood,” Apologetics Press, http://apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=9&article=1729.
Lyons, Eric (2004), “Only One Language Before Babel?, Apologetics Press, http://apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=6&article=760.