Hebrews 11:21 (cf. GEN. 47:31)—Is there a discrepancy regarding the death of Jacob?

Problem: Hebrews mentions that Jacob died worshiping, “leaning on the top of his staff” (11:21). Yet Genesis 47:31 mentions Jacob “bowed himself on the head of the bed.” How do we reconcile this apparent contradiction?

Solution: The Hebrew words for “staff” and “bed” are spelled the same in their consonants. Since the vowels were not written in the original text, but were added around a.d. 700, words like the two above would look identical, since they had the same consonants. The Septuagint renders the passage in Genesis “staff” while later Jewish Masoretes translated the word “bed” instead of “staff.” In light of this, “top of his staff” would be the likely rendition of the verses (Heb. 11:21) and the rendering “bed” (in Gen. 47:31) would be a vowel-pointing mistake.

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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.