Vol. 24 New Series August, 1962 No. 4
ACTS 7:15 and 16

WHO WAS WRONG, STEPHEN OR LUKE?
First, I shall quote Rotherham's rendering of the above two verses: "And Jacob went down into Egypt, and died—he and our fathers; and were carried over into Sychem, and put in the tomb which Abraham purchased with a price of silver from the sons of Emmor, in Sychem."

It has long been maintained that there is something wrong in these two verses. Dean Alford found in the speech of Stephen "seven demonstrable historic mistakes." On verse 16 of Acts 7, he says, "The cave of Macpelah was brought from Ephron the Hittite, and was at Hebron, not at Shechem. Here Jacob also was buried. But Joseph was carried to Shechem and buried in the ground bought by Jacob from the son of Hamor, the father of Shechem. The discrepancy cannot be explained."

F. F. Bruce, of Manchester University, in his book on Acts (1951) says, "The telescoping of two transactions in this verse (16) may be compared with other examples of compression in this speech, e.g. the apparent telescoping of two calls of Abraham in verse 2, and of two quotations in verse 7."

I was asked by friends to explain verse 16. I sent them a number of explanations, but none of them seemed to be satisfactory. But after I had written to them, I suddenly came across an old book called "The Critical English Testament," volume 2, published in 1866. From it I shall quote: "We may paraphrase the passage as follows: 'Jacob died and our fathers also (namely, Joseph); and (because, after the example of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, they wished to rest in the promised land, Genesis 50:13, 25) they were transplanted into Sychem (and into the sepulchre of Hebron, Genesis 23:19), and were laid (in the parcel of ground at Shechem and) in the sepulchre (of Hebron), which Abraham (and Jacob) had bought for a sum of money (and a hundred lambs) from the sons of Emmor (the father) of Sichem (and from Ephron). Two familiar accounts of a double purchase (examine Genesis 23 and 33 carefully) and a double burial are intermingled: Genesis 50, Joshua 24. Here both accounts, as the nature of the facts stated requires, mutually supply the parts left out in either. The brevity best suited to his spiritual ardour gave Stephen a good opportunity, in a subject so well known, of condensing details. In addition, we must remember that as Jacob was buried in the sepulchre of Hebron, and Joseph in the land of Shechem, so the other fathers who died in Egypt, or some of them, are said to have been gathered to both. For Josephus says, that they were buried at Hebron. Jerome, that their tombs existed at Shechem, and were visited by strangers even in his day. Whence Franc. Junius infers that some were buried in one place, others in the other, as their descendants though fit. Peterius is of opinion that they were transferred from Shechem to Hebron. It would have occupied too much of Stephen's time to enter into these details; he with admirable conciseness has compressed the whole. The reading Abraham therefore is unaltered, and we need not conjecture Jacob. Flacius upon this passage has an admirable note: "Stephen has no time, in running over many histories, to give each in detail: he therefore combines in one the mention of two different sepulchres, places, and purchases, so as in one account to name the true purchaser, omitting the seller, in the other the true seller, omitting the purchaser; joining, so to speak, diametrically two out of the four contracting parties. How ever much the name of the purchaser may be emended, still it would not be true that Jacob was buried in Shechem. Abraham purchased a sepulchre from the sons of Heth, Genesis 23. Jacob was buried there, Genesis 49 and 50. Jacob bought a field from the sons of Emmor, Genesis 33; Joseph was buried there, Joshua 24. Here we have a general outline of the two contracts, and we see how Stephen combined the two purchases into one. In like manner Stephen, a little before, verse 7, combined two prophecies, given to Abraham and to Moses, into one: Exodus 3:12; Genesis 15:16: and, verse 9, he unites in one word the sale of Joseph and his removal into Egypt. Below, verse 43, he joins a saying of Amos with the departure to Babylon of Jeremiah. So in verse 24, a certain one (a Jew) suffering wrong; an Egyptian (inflicting it). A Semiduplex Gratia (where the relation of two members of a sentence is such that they must be mutually supplied, one from the other) of this kind, though on the whole it may appear strange to us, did not seem so to the Hebrews. We shall notice a parallel instance in Hebrews 12:20. In writing, omissions of this nature are generally marked by the pen: but they are employed also in speaking, when in a subject familiar to us we vividly present to the mind of speaker and hearer what alone is necessary to be said, and take other things which would obstruct the flow of our oratory as said. The sepulchre—As pilgrims, the first land they purchased was for a sepulchre: they were seeking a heavenly country. Of Sychem—Understand the father. The son was more famous than the father, and therefore the latter is named from the former. Emmor was the father of Shechem.

A.T. Last updated 26.3.2006