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Are There Contradictions in the Bible? Part II of a Series on Resolving Discrepancies (so-called) in Scripture
This article is the second in a series of articles that seek to respond to allegations of Bible discrepancies and contradictions. Again this month we are responding specifically to a six-page paper entitled “Errors in Your Holy Book!” that came to us from a man in Brockton, Massachusetts, through a mutual friend in Boston. It was agreed that our response would, in turn, be shared with the man who wrote the paper. His words and paper here are unedited except for length and clarity.
The charge? Bible error.
The Bible is wrong!
There is a statement in the Book of Acts that has a number of confirmed errors in it. These errors are easily found by simply going to the Old Testament stories to which these verses refer.
Here are the words that are in question from Acts 7:14-16: “After this, Joseph sent for his father Jacob and his whole family, seventy-five in all. Then Jacob went down to Egypt, where he and our fathers died. Their bodies were brought back to Shechem and placed in the tomb that Abraham had bought from the sons of Hamor at Shechem for a certain sum of money.” (NIV)
In these verses in the Book of Acts there are no less then four errors! The first of these is the number of people in Jacob’s family. In Genesis 46:27 we find the number to be seventy and not seventy-five as Stephen said! That’s error one!
The second of these errors is the fact that Jacob was not buried in Shechem! One only has to turn to Genesis 50:13 to find that Jacob was buried at Machpelah which was far south in the land of Canaan.
The third of these errors is the fact that the Bible never said that Abraham bought a tomb in Shechem. If one turns to Genesis 23:16-17, they will find out where it was that Abraham bought that land. It was in Machpelah, and not Shechem, as Stephen said!
The fourth error is the fact that Abraham did not buy the tomb from the sons of Hamor in Shechem as Stephen had said. If you turn to Genesis 23:12-13, you will see that Abraham bought the tomb from Ephron, who was a Hittite!
There is no doubt that these are errors in the writings of the Book of Acts. If the Book of Acts can be wrong then it follows that other writings of the New Testament can also be in error. My only concern is, “Where does one go to find the truth?”
The response? No conflict.
Regarding alleged error one, you will notice upon very close inspection that in Acts 7:14, Stephen only ever said that Joseph sent for (NIV; KJV, called; NASB, invited) his 75 relatives in Canaan to come to Egypt. He did not mention how many actually ended up coming. I know that more than 20 years went by before it worked for all 55 descendants (at the time) of my own paternal grand-parents to make a two-day 1993 Witmer family reunion. So it seems entirely plausible to me that although Joseph invited all 75, only 67 ever made it: Jacob and 66 of his direct descendents (plus Joseph and his two sons who had already ‘come’ = 70). This may mean that one descendent died enroute, and that seven relatives (maybe wives, but not direct descendents), either couldn’t or wouldn’t come.
Another more traditional explanation is that Stephen was quoting from the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the OT), which factors in Joseph’s seven grandsons (born later), but omits Jacob and his wife, for a total of 75. If this is the case both texts are correct, their totals simply based on different calculations. Either way, there’s no conflict.
“Different calculations …both correct!”
Regarding error two: yes, it is quite clear that Jacob was buried at Machpelah, so we conclude that the personal plural pronoun “their” in v16 (NIV; NASB, they) refers only to the “our fathers”, i.e. Joseph et al, but not to Jacob.
Regarding errors three and four-does the fact that the Bible doesn’t say that Abraham bought land in Shechem mean he didn’t buy it? Of course not. The solution here is that Abraham must have originally bought this site from the sons of Hamor as well as the Machpelah tomb from Ephron the Hittite. Through the years the property rights to Shechem were evidently lost. So Jacob bought it back again. It’s just as if one day I’d buy back property that my grandfather had originally bought and owned.
Though it takes some unraveling, Acts 7:14-16 stands. You really can still go to the Bible to find the truth, friend.