How many people went to Egypt with Jacob?

Certainly this looks like a point overall for those who attack Scripture's inerrancy, for the number 75 appears in Acts while the number 70 appears in Genesis, Exodus, and Deuteronomy. One could state that the numbers are close enough and that the texts are not aiming for precision in the way that we twentieth-century occidentals take for granted, and the problem disappears. Unfortunately, as we are dealing with moderately small numbers here and situations where a certain sense of exactness is specified by the context, those who criticize this attempt as a desperate measure probably are not far off the mark. A close-to-sufficient testimony for the number 70 in any of the Greek manuscripts of Acts does not exist, and one must stretch credulity to insist that the number 70 appeared in the autograph of the Acts. So, NT text-critical considerations are unavailable to us here.

However, there are some facts that, while not solving the problem beyond a shadow of a doubt, do help us evaluate the claim of error in a more informed fashion. First, the Massoretic Text (MT) has the number 70 in Gen, Ex, and Deut, so within the MT there is no contradiction. (But the discrepancy between Acts and the Massoretic OT texts remains.) Second, the Septuagint (LXX), which represents a weighty OT text tradition, has 75 in Gen 46:27 and Ex 1:5. In fact, the LXX version of Ex 1:5 states that 75 represents all of Jacob's offspring, and hence Jacob and his wife are not counted. (And, fragment MS 4QEx[a], found at Qumran, in Hebrew, supports the LXX reading, making the LXX's textual witness stronger.)

Thus, taking into account that many OT quotations in the NT (such as St. Stephen's paraphrase of Genesis 46:26-7 here) follow the LXX and not the MT, there is harmony between Gen (LXX), Ex (LXX), and Acts. Yet this harmony has been achieved by now making Deut 10:22 a problem child. And the MT and the LXX are in agreement that the number 70 appears in Deuteronomy. If there was a sufficiently weighty Septuagint witness for the number 75 in Deut 10:22 as well, then one would have a reasonable case that the original autographa of Genesis, Exodus, and Deuteronomy had the number 75, which agrees with Acts.

Note that this would not prove that everything was in harmony, but it would set up a plausible explanation that a fair mind could appreciate as legitimate, though possibly not conclusive. But the facts concerning the textual tradition of Deut 10:22 don't allow us this possibility.

To be forthright, it appears that at this point the whole issue narrows down to whether or not it is reasonable to assume that there were two ways of reckoning the number of people who went to Egypt. If it is not reasonable, then skeptics have a strong but by no means conclusive case for some type of contradiction in the autographa of either the OT texts or the NT text here in Acts; the inerrantist on the other hand would have to table the problem as a genuine problem and await future research with possible clarifying information and apologetics.

On the other hand, if it is reasonable to assume that there were two ways in which the total number was reckoned, then if two reasonable ways could be delineated or suggested by the text by which to reckon the total number, the texts would be harmonized, and those who claim errancy in the autographa would do so in ignorance of the mind of the Biblical authors.

So the question of importance becomes this: is it reasonable to assume that there were two ways by which to reckon the total? In our modern culture, we do in fact reckon the number of members of a family in different ways. Sometimes people count their in-laws as members, sometimes they do not. For example, consider Archie and Edith Bunker, with their daughter Gloria. There are three members of the Bunker family when we make blood-ties the determining factor. Throw in Meathead (Gloria's husband) and those who count in-laws will reckon the number to be four.

Clearly three is not equal to four. But here it wouldn't be faithful to the facts to press the charge that one of two reckoners is in error, for they are using two different methods. Another example: Mr. X says that my father has two children. Mr. Y says that my father has but one child. If Mr. X counts my half-brother and Mr. Y counts only those people who received their genetic information from my father, then both accounts are correct with respect to their modes of reckoning. It would be meaningless to assert that the two figures for the number of children are contradictory, for they are computed differently.

The aforementioned examples showed how non-conflicting numerical differences can arise from even simple situations. And, the aforementioned examples can not fairly be called "contrived", "forced", or "artificial constructions made to prove a point". They are commonplace observations by one who has witnessed these different modes of reckoning through his life. It does not seem in the least unreasonable to hypothesize that perhaps this phenomenon occurs in the Scripture problem at hand. (Those who disagree with the last sentence may take delight at having found a good case for an error in the autographa.)

It should be mentioned that even if one agrees with my claim that it is reasonable and fair to consider this possibility a legitimate one, it only opens up the realm of possible solutions, and inerrantists such as myself cannot be dogmatic that the said possibility is necessarily the solution.

Operating under the aforementioned reasonable claim of mine that perhaps there are two ways of reckoning the total number, let us see if there are two reasonable ways that naturally suggest themselves. Geisler and Howe in their book When Skeptics Ask give a helpful breakdown of numbers for both the MT and LXX in 433 of their book. I am supplying the names and elaborating more heavily on the categories for the reader's ease in verification of accuracy. I have also modified the table according to H.C. Leupold's discussion in his Exposition of Genesis II , pp. 1112-8.

  1. Jacob: 1 (MT and LXX),
  2. Jacob's sons other than Joseph: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Gad, Asher, Benjamin, Dan, and Naphtali. Both the MT and LXX have these 11 sons of Jacob.
  3. Jacob's non-Ephraimite and non-Manassian grandsons and great-grandsons who journeyed to Egypt.
    • Reuben's sons: Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi (4)
    • Simeon's sons: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jakin, Zohar, and Shaul (6)
    • Levi's sons: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari (3)
    • Judah's sons: , Shelah, Perez (who in turn fathered Hezron and Hamul), and Zerah (5)
    • Issachar's sons: Tola, Puah, Jashub, and Shimron (4)
    • Zebulun's sons: Sered, Elon, and Jahleel (3)
    • Gad's sons: Zephon, Haggi, Shuni, Ezbon, Eri, Arodi, and Areli (7)
    • Asher's sons: Imnah, Ishvah, Ishvi, and Beriah (who in turn was the father of Heber and Malkiel) (6)
    • Benjamin's sons: Bela, Beker, Ashbel, Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim, Huppim, and Ard. (10)
    • Dan's son: Hushim (1)
    • Finally, Naphtali's sons: Jahziel, Guni, Jezer, and Shillem. (4)
    Therefore, for both the MT and the LXX we have 53 names total for this sublist.
  4. Joseph's sons Ephraim and Manasseh, listed in both the LXX and MT, giving a total of 2. These sons were born in Egypt.
  5. Joseph, son of Jacob (MT and LXX obviously!)
  6. Descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh (who were in Egypt): the MT does not list any descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh in the passage considered, but the LXX reading of 46:27 states "With the nine sons [not two as MT states] born to Joseph in Egypt..."
  7. The "grab bag" of people who may or may not be counted:
    • Er and Onan, both sons of Judah. [Gen 46:12 mentions that these two sons of Judah died in Canaan. It is more likely that they died before the journey to Egypt than during the journey to Egypt.] Both the MT and LXX have them.
    • Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah his wife. (MT and LXX)
    • Serah, daughter of Asher, mentioned in 46:17 along with the sons of Asher, who have already been listed above. (MT and LXX)
    • Jacob's wives (at least Leah and Zilpah -- Rachel is deceased by now), found in both the MT and LXX.

We first examine if there is a reasonable way of counting 70 names that satisfy 46:27 ("went to Egpyt with Jacob ... members of Jacob's family, which went to Egypt"), Ex 1:5 ("descendants of Jacob"), and Deut 10:22 ("went down to Egypt"). However, the number 66 must be discussed before the number 70 is elaborated upon. How does Gen 46:26 arrive at the number 66? We need "direct descendants, not counting his [Jacob's] sons' wives". This excludes category (1), includes (2) for 11 people, includes (3) with 53 people, and excludes (4), (5), and (6). So not counting the "grab bag", category (7), we have 11+53=64 people who clearly satisfy 46:26. As Serah and Dinah are listed with the men (prominent females, presumably?) and satisfy the requirements of 46:26 (they are direct descendants, they are not wives of Jacob's sons), it seems most reasonable that they are included in the count. This is in fact what the text seems to be indicating. These two (prominent?) women bring the total-so-far of 64 up to 66. Thus, a good explanation for the number 66 in 46:26 is exhibited.

Now we have to reckon how the number 70 could be arrived at in 46:27 and Ex 1:5. The reader should note that the number 70 in 46:27 refers to the members of Jacob's family (so here Jacob may or may not be listed as a member of his own family -- either consideration seems reasonable), but that the number 70 in Ex 1:5 refers to "The descendants of Jacob." (The Hebrew here has the construct phrase "going-out-of-thigh-of-Jacob" which the NIV renders as "descendants".) [In the strict sense, Jacob cannot be a descendant of himself, but the Hebrew idiom is flexible, for the internal evidence of comparing Gen 46:27, Ex 1:5, and Deut 10:22 is that the same counting procedure is meant. If Ex 1:5 is considered by itself linguistically, the Hebrew expression debatably allows Jacob to be counted. But in comparison with Gen 46:27 and Deut 10:22, which clearly allow Jacob to be counted, the argument that Jacob should be included seems linguistically sound. Thus, allowing some flexibility for idiom, there do not seem to be any arguments from the Hebrew text which can make it unreasonable to include Jacob.]

The number 70 in Deut 10:22 does not have a qualifier attached to it. Thus, it appears that the number 70 can be arrived at with Jacob being included in the count, so as to simultaneously satisfy all three passages in the MT.

Starting from the 66 of Gen 46:26, we clearly have "the two sons [Ephraim and Manasseh] who had been born to Joseph in Egypt." This gives 66+2=68 people. Since Joseph is a member of Jacob's family, Joseph is included in the list, giving 69 people. The above paragraph shows that it is reasonable to include Jacob himself in the list, giving a total of 70. Overall then, we have a very natural and well-defined way of arriving at the MT figure of 70 in Gen 46:27, Ex 1:5, and Deut 10:22. This may not be how the count of 70 was arrived at, but this appears to be the best option for 70. See Geisler and Howe's discussion in When Skeptics Ask for an alternative solution to this problem (which I don't think is as strong as mine).

Having demonstrated a reasonable procedure for arriving at the MT figure of 70, it must now be shown that there is a reasonable way of arriving at the LXX figure of 75 in Gen 46:27 and Ex 1:5. For when a such a reasonable counting mechanism is established, then one can reasonably claim that the Scriptures are employing two different counting mechanisms: one to arrive at the 70 of the MT, and one to arrive at the 75 of the LXX. Again, it must be stated that skeptics might object to two different modes of reckoning. But what basis is this objection based on?

It has been shown that ancient Semitic peoples have far more literary and mental flexibility than they have been given credit for. It is not at all unreasonable to assume that they have more than one way of viewing things or counting things. To stipulate that ancient people could think of things in one and only one way, that literary flexibility was above them, etc., was chronological and Western imperialism in the nineteenth century (as well as the guiding rule of what we call "liberal" or "dialectical" scholarship), and is a reflection of a lack of keeping up with information discovered in the twentieth century (and is still imperialistic!).

So let us turn to arriving at 75 in accord with the LXX of Gen 46:27 and Ex 1:5. As before we must first deal with the number 66 in 46:26 LXX. Categories (2) and (3) are clearly included in 46:26 LXX, giving 64 people. Again, Serah and Dinah appear to be counted in the LXX as well, given the placement of these two women in the lists of all the men. This gives the figure of 66 in the same way as before. Next, 46:27 LXX states that nine sons were born to Joseph during Joseph's Egyptian tenure. Notice that Ephraim and Manasseh (comprising category (4)) are included in these nine sons. Apparently these seven other sons are either direct offspring of Joseph, or are direct offspring of Ephraim and Manasseh. (The Hebrew for "son", ben has this well-defined usage -- see the BDB lexicon.) Regardless, though, these nine sons of Joseph are included in the list, giving 66+9=75, which agrees with the LXX of Gen 46:27.

Notice that whereas Joseph was included in the count to arrive at the MT text of 70, he is not counted here in the LXX total of 75. This is not an arbitrary convention adopted for convenience. Remember that the Greek text of Acts 7:14 states "...Joseph sent for his father Jacob and his whole family, 75 in all." The phrase "75 in all" is probably not to be construed in the fashion that Stephen is saying that there were 75 people in Egypt whom Joseph called.

As St. Stephen is here quoting the LXX, it seems far more reasonable to conjecture that he is merely paraphrasing. That is, the "75 in all" refers to the sum total arrived at by Gen 46:27 LXX. Again, this explanation does not violate (nor does it come close to violating) any linguistic conventions. I consider it reasonable, but of course dogmatism is to be avoided. For interesting alternatives the reader is advised to see Archer's discussion of Acts 7:14 in his Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties , as well as Geisler and Howe's discussion of this same verse in their aforementioned books. This will give the reader three reasonable solutions. It must be kept in mind that it is not necessarily the case that one of these three is the one correct solution. But apologists can claim reasonability here with my solution, Geisler and Howe's solution, or Archer's solution. For a fourth solution, see Leupold, Exposition of Genesis II as well, in the discussion of Gen 47:26-7. The reader will also find it profitable to see the treatment that Keil and Delitzsch give to this issue as well. Consult my solution and consult theirs and decide for yourself if these solutions stretch credulity.

When the facts and reasonable explanations are laid out on the table, it appears that the errantist still has a heavy battle to fight here. He may still be correct (for new facts supporting his case might come to light), but the case for error as of the present still falls far short of being convincing. At least for the present, so far as I am aware, there is nothing conclusive in the claim for errancy concerning the aforementioned passages. The reader is kindly invited to see for himself whether my proposed solution violates any of the facts, common sense, or reasonable possibility. Whatever the case, a lack of complete information should keep all of us humble in this matter and willing to continually reevaluate the data.

I liken the above laborious and exhausting discussion to the case where an auto mechanic must take the entire engine apart to find out what is causing the problem. It is not pleasant, but necessary. Anybody can shirk from the challenges of investigating possible solutions, but then the right to claim errors in the text is lost as both sides have not been presented, nor fairly evaluated. Furthermore, the common skeptical claim that a "cold" or "plain" reading of the text suffices in lieu of good reasoning, consultation of sources which clarify and illumine the text, and sometimes-dreary research, etc., should be seen as the uninformed intellectual dodge that it is.

Certainly, if skeptics want to make claims that certain errors exist in the autographa, and if they want their opinions to be well-received and appreciated by those who both agree and disagree with their claims, then they should realize that readers like myself are owed much more than a cavalier paragraph which fails to fairly and fully explore the options for reconciling the discrepancy.

- Eric Vestrup