“CONTRADICTION! CONTRADICTION! CONTRADICTION!” shouts the person who wants to find fault with God’s Word, while pointing at Stephen’s “Spirit-filled” speech before the Sanhedrin.
At first glance there is a contradiction between Stephen’s words and the Old Testament Scriptures, as we see below:
Act 7:14 Then Joseph sent and brought his father Jacob and all his family, seventy-five souls in number.
Gen 46:27 And the sons of Joseph who were born to him in Egypt were two persons; thus all the persons of the house of Jacob who came into Egypt were seventy.
So is it 70 or 75? Obviously a contradiction, right? Either the Old Testament Scriptures is wrong or Stephen was actually not Spirit-filled, and he was making up numbers as 75 was what he remembered. What if I told you that both of these numbers are right?
To uncover this mystery, we must get to know who Stephen was, and his background.
Who was Stephen?
Stephen was a Grecian Jew (Hellenic Jew) who had been brought up in the diaspora. This is why we see him being chosen along with 6 others to serve the Hellenic Jewish Widows and needy. The Grecians mentioned here are the Jews who had been brought up outside Judea similar to all who were present on Pentecost (Acts 2:5,9,10,11) from the known Greek world at the time. Stephen was chosen from among the Grecian Hellenic Jews to serve the congregation so that there would be no oversight on the part of the disciples.
Act 6:1-5 And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.
He defended His faith in Messiah against the same Grecian Hellenic Jews as mentioned below.
Act 6:9 Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen.
The fact that Stephen was a Grecian Hellenic Jew is important because most of the Grecian Jewish congregations used the Septuagint for their studies in their Synagogues. The Septuagint was a translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Koine Greek before the 2nd Century BC and is often abbreviated with LXX as 70 Jewish scholars were entrusted to do the translation under Ptolemy II. This would have been the commonly used translation among the Jews who lived in the then Greek speaking world and the evidence points us to the fact that Stephen was also using the same translation.
Comparison of Septuagint Text (LXX) and Hebrew Scriptures of Genesis 46:26,27
Immediately we see the difference in the text where the Hebrew Scriptures say 70, the LXX says 75. The amount of people who came to Egypt stays the same at 66, in both the LXX and the Hebrew Scriptures, while the LXX mentions 9 people living in Egypt opposed to 4 people in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Gen 46:26,27 All the persons that came with Jacob into Egypt, who came out of his loins, besides Jacob’s sons’ wives, were sixty-six persons in all; And the sons of Joseph who were born to him in Egypt were two persons; thus all the persons of the house of Jacob who came into Egypt were seventy. (Hebrew)
Gen 46:26,27 And all the souls that came with Jacob into Egypt, who came out of his loins, besides the wives of the sons of Jacob, all the souls were sixty-six. And the sons of Joseph, who were born to him in the land of Egypt, were nine souls; all the souls of the house of Jacob who came with Joseph into Egypt, were seventy-five souls. (LXX)
Comparison of Septuagint Text (LXX) and Hebrew Scriptures of Genesis 46:20
So, why is there a discrepancy between the LXX and Hebrew texts? are they contradictory? Comparing Genesis 46:20 in both of these texts help us understand why the count is different.
Gen 46:20 And to Joseph in the land of Egypt were born Manasseh and Ephraim, whom Asiath the daughter of Potipherah priest of On bore to him. (Hebrew)
Gen 46:20 And there were sons born to Joseph in the land of Egypt, whom Aseneth, the daughter of Petephres, priest of Heliopolis, bore to him, Manasses and Ephraim. And there were sons born to Manasses, which the Syrian concubine bore to him, Machir. And Machir begot Galaad. And the sons of Ephraim, the brother of Manasses; Sutalaam, and Taam. And the sons of Sutalaam; Edom. (LXX)
The above counts come to 4 and 9 respectively in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Greek Septuagint Translation. While the Hebrew only counts Joseph, Asenath, Ephraim and Manasseh, the Greek LXX counts the 5 children of Ephraim and Manasseh as well.
So, when Stephen quoted the number in Gen 46:27 from the LXX in his speech in front of the Sanhedrin, it was not untrue. Both 70 and 75 are perfect according to the texts of his time. It is us who are living 2000 years removed from them that do not know the context of what and where he arrived at the number 75.
There is no contradiction between the 70 people mentioned in Gen 46:27 and the 75 souls mentioned by Stephen in Acts 7:14, as he is quoting from the Septuagint text which includes 5 children born to Ephraim and Manasseh in the count. Looking at the LXX text as seen above, helps us rectify this apparent contradiction. Stephen is neither mistaken or deluded when he proclaims this in his speech, as the number 75 is a valid calculation according to a text prevalently used in his time.