Questions From Readers
There are various possible explanations. One is that Acts 7:14 is based on the Greek Septuagint Version, and another is that Stephen included the wives of nine of Jacob’s sons.
Let us first note what Stephen said, as recorded in Acts 7:14: “So Joseph sent out and called Jacob his father and all his relatives from that place, to the number of seventy-five souls.” With that in mind we can consider what the Genesis account says about Jacob’s family transferring to Egypt.
Genesis 46:8 begins: “Now these are the names of Israel’s sons who came into Egypt: Jacob and his sons.” Then follows a list of Jacob’s descendants, including some of his great-grandsons. The enumeration concludes: “All the souls who came to Jacob into Egypt were those who issued out of his upper thigh, aside from the wives of Jacob’s sons. All the souls were sixty-six. And Joseph’s sons who were born to him in Egypt were two souls. All the souls of the house of Jacob who came into Egypt were seventy.”—Genesis 46:26, 27.
The list of 66 of Jacob’s offspring has been added up in various ways. Some scholars have included Judah’s sons Er and Onan as well as his grandsons Hezron and Hamul. (Genesis 46:12) Others have not counted Er and Onan, for they were already dead at the time of the move to Egypt. (Genesis 38:6-10) Some Bible students have counted Dinah, who apparently never married, or perhaps Eliab, Reuben’s son who is mentioned in Numbers 26:8. To the 66 descendants can be added Jacob as well as Joseph and his two sons (these final three not being part of the move to Egypt). This is how the total of 70 is reached.
The disciple Stephen certainly would have known that the Hebrew text said that 66 of Jacob’s family moved to Egypt. Why, then, does Acts 7:14 present Stephen as using the figure 75?
Some Bible commentators claim that Stephen may have based his remark on the Greek Septuagint translation of Genesis 46:27. That version gives the higher figure because in Ge 46 verse 20 it adds five names (three sons of Manasseh and Ephraim and two grandsons) not mentioned there in the Hebrew text. Or, if Stephen himself had in mind the Hebrew figure of 66, when Luke wrote the book of Acts in Greek he may have given the Septuagint figure, as that Greek translation was commonly used.
But whether Stephen actually spoke of 75 or that figure sprang from the Greek version of Genesis 46:26, the number can be harmonized with the Hebrew figure of 66 by adding the wives of Jacob’s sons, which Genesis 46:26 specifically says were omitted.
Why would only nine wives be counted? Of the 12 sons, Joseph’s wife would not be included, for she was an Egyptian and was not called there by Joseph. (Acts 7:13-15) And by the time of the move Judah’s wife had died. (Genesis 38:12) That would leave 10 wives at most. It is possible that Simeon’s Hebrew wife had died also, for his last son, Shaul, is described as “the son of a Canaanite woman.” (Genesis 46:10) Or the figure nine would have been correct if Benjamin, the youngest son, had not yet married when the family took up residence in Egypt. If this is so, Benjamin’s sons mentioned in Genesis 46:21 were born after the move but are listed because of the role they were to play in the tribe and the nation. (Compare Hebrews 7:9, 10.) Thus, if the wives of nine of Jacob’s sons are added to the subtotal of 66 mentioned at Genesis 46:26 in the Hebrew text, we have a total of 75, as the Septuagint says and as we read in Acts 7:14.
It is clear that even though there are reasonable ways to understand Acts 7:14, as well as the figures in Genesis chapter 46, we cannot be dogmatic on all the details. We thus have additional reason to look forward to the time when God will resurrect his ancient servants, for we will be able to learn directly from them the precise details of many Scriptural accounts.—John 5:28, 29.