Questions From Readers
It might seem that there is a conflict, with Acts 7:16 saying Abraham bought a burial place in Shechem but Genesis 23:15-19 reporting that he purchased such a plot in Machpelah near Hebron. There are a number of possible explanations. Let us note some of the details.
Soon after Abraham entered the Promised Land (1943 B.C.E.) he resided for a time in Shechem, which was in the northern area where Samaria was later built. (Gen. 12:6-8) When Abraham’s wife Sarah later died (1881 B.C.E.), he purchased as a burial place the field and cave of Machpelah, which was near Hebron to the south of Jerusalem. “Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah in front of Mamre, that is to say, Hebron, in the land of Canaan.” (Gen. 23:15-19) In time Abraham, Isaac, Rebekah and Leah were also buried there.—Gen. 25:9; 49:29-32.
Abraham’s grandson Jacob also dwelt for a while near Shechem, and he there purchased a tract of land and built an altar. (Gen. 33:18-20) When he was near death in Egypt, Jacob commanded his sons that he be buried, not in Shechem, but with his fathers in the plot that Abraham had purchased near Hebron. (Gen. 49:29-32; 50:12, 13) As to a burial in Shechem, Joshua 24:32 says that after the Israelites entered the Promised Land they buried Joseph’s bones “in Shechem in the tract of the field that Jacob had acquired,” which came to be in the territory of Joseph’s son Manasseh.
With this history in mind, we can note Acts 7:15, 16. In his masterful defense the Christian disciple Stephen said: “Jacob went down into Egypt. And he deceased; and so did our forefathers, and they [the “forefathers”] were transferred to Shechem and were laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a price with silver money from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.” So it might appear that Stephen was saying that Abraham, rather than Jacob, purchased land in Shechem. Yet Genesis 23:17, 18 tells us that Abraham bought a burial place in Machpelah near Hebron.
Certain scholars believe that in addition to the purchase of the plot of land in Hebron, Abraham could have also obtained the land in Shechem where Jehovah appeared to him and where he then built an altar. (Gen. 12:7) If so, then this may have been the same land that Genesis 33:18, 19 mentions Jacob as buying from those who controlled it at that time. This view would eliminate any seeming problem with Acts 7:16.
Another approach is that Stephen may simply have been condensing two accounts, combining Abraham’s transaction at Genesis 23:15-19 and the purchase by Jacob mentioned at Genesis 33:18, 19. Giving some weight to this possibility is the fact that at Acts 7:7 Stephen evidently combined into one statement something God said to Abraham and something He said to Moses. (Gen. 15:14; Ex. 3:12) Thus Acts 7:16 may just be a condensed or elliptical statement that was sufficient for Stephen’s purpose, as was Acts 7:7.
Another possible solution can be considered. Abraham was Jacob’s grandfather. So, even though Genesis 33:18, 19 says that Jacob purchased land at Shechem, Stephen could have ascribed the purchase to Abraham the patriarchal head. Giving credence to this are other instances in the Bible where the names of forefathers were applied to and used for the descendants.—Hos. 11:1, 3, 12; Matt. 2:15-18.
Each one of these possibilities may be the solution to the seeming conflict between Acts 7:16 and Genesis 23:15-19. The fact that a number of plausible explanations are available emphasizes how unreasonable it would be for anyone today who does not have all the facts to conclude that Stephen was in error.