Acts 7:14—Why does this text say “seventy-five people” when Exodus 1:5 says there were “seventy persons”?
Problem: According to Exodus 1:5 there were only 70 descendants who went down into Egypt with Jacob. But, when Stephen relates this same incident in Acts 7:14, he gives the number as 75. This appears to be a flat contradiction. SOLUTIONS: There are several possible ways to explain the difference between these accounts. First, some scholars suggest that Acts 7:14 is incorrect in stating 75. They note that both the Greek translation of the OT (Septuagint) and a Hebrew manuscript found in the Dead Sea area use the number 75 just as Stephen said.
Others suggest that while Luke accurately records Stephen’s sermon, that Stephen nevertheless made a mistake. Thus Acts is an inerrant record of the speech in which Stephen made this error. The parallel account in Genesis 46:27 also gives the number as 70. The main objection to this view is the fact that Luke’s inclusion of this speech carries with it the implication that what he said is correct. Further, the text states that Stephen was “full of the Holy Spirit” when he gave the addresses (7:55).
Another explanation points out that the discrepancies can be explained by the fact that Stephen was probably quoting from the Septuagint (the Greek version of the OT) which states, “And all the souls from Jacob were seventy-five” (Ex. 1:5), rather than the Hebrew, which states “And all the persons who came from the loins of Jacob were seventy in number, but Joseph was already in Egypt” (Ex. 1:5, nasb). The difference arises from the difference in the way the totals are calculated.
Jacob has twelve sons. Adding Jacob’s grandsons and great-grandsons, the total was 66. Adding Ephraim and Manasseh who were born to Joseph in Egypt, the total is 68. When you add Jacob and his wife the total is 70, as the Hebrew records. The Septuagint, however, starting with Jacob’s 12 sons, added Jacob’s grandsons and great-grandsons for a total of 66. Then, it added the seven additional descendants of Joseph who were probably sons of Ephraim and Manasseh who were born to Joseph’s sons some time after the migration of Jacob to Egypt, but before Jacob died. The Septuagint also omitted Jacob and his wife. This makes a total of 75 as Stephen mentions in the Acts passage.
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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.