How many members of the family of Jacob came to Egypt?
Is there a contradiction between the New Testament and the Old Testament?

This question is addressed by three primary passages, three in the Old Testament and 1 in the New. Those who question the veracity of the Bible, from atheist to Muslim, have often cited the perceived discrepancy between the three early passages and the later quotation by the soon-to-be-martyred Stephen. Even anti-Christian Jews for Judaism have utilized this passage to disparage the New Testament and the claim that Stephen was speaking under the influence of God's Holy Spirit (Acts 7:55).

Exodus 1:5 The descendants of Jacob numbered seventy in all; Joseph was already in Egypt. (NIV)

Genesis 46:26-27 All those who went to Egypt with Jacob - those who were his direct descendants, not counting his sons' wives - numbered sixty-six persons. 27 With the two sons who had been born to Joseph in Egypt, the members of Jacob's family, which went to Egypt, were seventy in all. (NIV)

Deuteronomy 10:22 Your forefathers who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky. (NIV)

Acts 7:14 After this, Joseph sent for his father Jacob and his whole family, seventy-five in all. (NIV)

So which is it? Seventy or seventy-five?

Before answering this question, a little perspective is in order.

  • The Bible is inerrant in its original autographs. We do not dispute that there have been minor transmission errors caused by copying.

  • No error in transmission has removed or altered any doctrine of Scriptures.

  • Numerical errors are easy to introduce to the O.T. text as small variations in Hebrew characters can cause significant deviation.

  • No numerical error in Scriptures affects any prophecy or fulfillment, as such they are minor errors in regards to subject.

  • Some numerical discrepancies can be reconciled from with the context of the text and/or by additional reference within parallel or related passages of Scriptures.

  • Some numerical errors may be attributed to viewing the subject from two different perspectives. As such, both may be correct answers.

One proposed answer is that Stephen was quoting from the Septuagint, a translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek that was finished a few centuries before the time of Christ. This is plausible since a number of O.T. passages quoted in the New appear to follow the phraseology of the Septuagint. This popular translation was in widespread use throughout the Roman world. Consider the Septuagint wording of the O.T. passages:

Exodus 1:5 The descendants of Jacob numbered seventy in all; Joseph was already in Egypt. (NIV)

Exodus 1:5 The descendants of Jacob numbered seventy-five in all; Joseph was already in Egypt. (Septuagint)

Genesis 46:26-27 All those who went to Egypt with Jacob - those who were his direct descendants, not counting his sons' wives - numbered sixty-six persons. 27 With the two sons who had been born to Joseph in Egypt, the members of Jacob's family, which went to Egypt, were seventy in all. (NIV)

Genesis 46:26-27 All those who went to Egypt with Jacob - those who were his direct descendants, not counting his sons' wives - numbered sixty-six persons. 27 With the nine sons who had been born to Joseph in Egypt, the members of Jacob's family, which went to Egypt, were seventy-five in all. (Septuagint)

If we stopped right here, it would appear that Acts 7:14, "seventy-five in all", would merely fit in with the Septuagint. The problem comes from Deuteronomy 10:22, where the Septuagint is substantially in agreement with the Masoretic text (common to most of our O.T. translations).

Deuteronomy 10:22 Your forefathers who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky. (NIV)

Deuteronomy 10:22 "With seventy souls your fathers went down into Egypt; but the Lord your God has made you as the stars of heaven in multitude." (Septuagint)

Both 70 and 75 can be arrived at using differing means of numbering Jacob's family. The Septuagint text excludes Jacob and Joseph and adds nine of Joseph's sons to make a total of seventy-five.  In the Masoretic (Hebrew) Bible the tally of sixty-six persons are then supplemented with Jacob, Joseph, and Joseph's two sons for a final total of seventy people. End Note 1

We could debate indefinitely which manuscript set is more accurate or original. The question remains whether there was addition or loss of material (namely the number 5). Copying errors make it more probable for there to be a loss of information rather than a gain, but either can happen accidently.  If it was only in Old Testament manuscripts following the distribution of the New Testament, one could argue that it was a scribal correction, attempting to rectify a percieved error in light of the passge in Acts.  But this is not the case.  Further, the Septuagint's Old Testament numbering of 75 has been minimally vindicated by the Dead Sea Scrolls, wherein a single Hebrew manuscript of Exodus (4QExodb) has been found that substantially matches the Greek translation. 

I personally tend to believe that the Masoretic text is more internally consistent (across all three Old Testament passages) and logical as to how the closing values of 66 and 70 can be deduced from the text itself. End Note 1b  While the Septuagint provides nine sons for Joseph to make the numbers balance in Genesis 46, these sons are invisible throughout the remainder of Scriptures - an unlikely occurrence with the number of specific genealogies incorporated in the Pentateuch.  Likewise, while a case could be made for leaving Jacob out of the final count, the absence of Joseph in the perceived Septuagint reckoning is fully inexplicable. 

As for the New Testament, it is not a foregone conclusion that Stephen is appealing to the Septuagint of the Old Testament.  In fact, Stephen provides no context of how he was counting his forefathers who went into Egypt. Where the Genesis passage specifically excluded wives of the sons, Stephen may have included them.  For reference, consider this very clear and undisputed NT passage again:

Acts 7:14 After this, Joseph sent for his father Jacob and his whole family, seventy-five in all. (NIV)

Without appealing to the Septuagint at all, a solution worthy of consideration is one that commentary author Coffman notes in regards to Acts 7:14 (as originally given by George DeHoff):

Jacob's children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren amounted to sixty-six (Gen 46:8-26). Adding Jacob himself and Joseph with his two sons, we have seventy. If to the sixty-six we add the nine wives of Jacob's sons (Judah's and Simeon's wives were dead End Note 2; and Joseph could hardly be said to call himself, his own wife or his two sons into Egypt, and Jacob is specifically separated by Stephen) we have seventy-five persons as in Acts. Jewish genealogies did not regard women, or even count them; and such an attitude was noted during Jesus' public ministry, and for some time within the church itself, when, for example, the number partaking of the loaves and fishes was given as "five thousand men, besides the women and children," and when the number of disciples was stated as "five thousand men" (Acts 4:4). It was appropriate that in this inspired speech of Stephen the women should have been reckoned among the number going down into Egypt with Jacob. (Coffman's Bible Commentary)

We can safely say that Stephen's number of 75 is accurate depending on how he was counting. The very fact that this number was retained in all NT manuscripts and no attempt was made to harmonize it with Old Testament renderings, which obviously differed, show that it was the number intended by the author, faithfully recorded and transmitted to us.  With certainty we can accept it as correct.  Stephen cited it with a purpose and his intent in using this given number is firm.  It was to show that God took a very small number of people and turned them into a great nation for His own glory.


End Notes

Note 1

Many, often convoluted, methods of calculating these totals have been written.  For the record, I have provided one such example by scholar Jim Stinehart, of Evanston, Illinois, (who has a relatively low view on the compilation of Scripture).  Here he provides a contrast between his counting methods of the Masoretic and Septuagint and arrives at a conclusion that the Septuagint is superior.  I believe both his Masoretic and Septuagint methods are deficient (and my assessment will follow).

1. Masoretic Text Counting Method

There are 70 names. Simply count every person (including Jacob) to get the grand total: 70.

(a) The four interior number subtotals (33 + 16 + 14 + 7) add to 70.

(b) To reduce that subtotal of 70 to 66, as the 66 people who came into Egypt with Jacob, subtract Jacob, and subtract the 3 people who were already living in Egypt when Jacob came to Egypt: Joseph, Manasseh, and Ephraim. 70 - 1 - 3 = 66.

(c) To get to the grand total of 70, do the reverse of #b. Start with 66, and add Jacob, Joseph, Manasseh, and Ephraim.

The math is easy to follow in the Masoretic text. But note the artificial nature of first subtracting four, and then adding four, in steps #b and #c. In reality, the Masoretic text begins and ends with the four interior number subtotals adding to 70.

The Masoretic text dodges the tough issue of which of Joseph's descendants to count by naming and referring only to 2 such descendants, Manasseh and Ephraim, no other descendants of Joseph. In my view, the Masoretic text thereby wrongly implies that Joseph had only 2 sons, whereas the clear implication of Genesis 48: 6 is that Joseph had other, younger sons as well, as discussed below.

2. Septuagint Counting Method

There are 74 names. Count every person, except subtract Jacob, and add 2 unnamed younger sons of Joseph, to get the grand total. 74 -1 + 2 = 75. (Do not count anyone not included in the interior number subtotals below. So do not count Judah's predeceased sons Er and Onan, and do not count Joseph's wife or Joseph's father-in-law, who are not Jacob's descendants.)

(a) The four interior number subtotals (33 + 16 + 18 + 7) add to 74. [That's a minor weakness right there, as the number 74 has no meaning.]

(b) To reduce that subtotal of 74 to 66, as the 66 people who came into Egypt with Jacob, subtract the 8 named people who were already living in Egypt when Jacob came to Egypt: Joseph, Manasseh, Ephraim, and the 5 named descendants of Manasseh and Ephraim. 74 - 8 = 66. [Unlike the other two methods, this subtotal in the Septuagint includes Jacob. Joseph's 2 unnamed younger sons have not been mentioned or added in yet, so they do not need to be subtracted here.]

(c) To get to the grand total of 75, start with 66, add in Joseph's 9 referenced descendants (including Joseph's two unnamed younger sons), plus Joseph himself, and then subtract Jacob. 66 + 9 + 1 -1 = 75.

Rather than being a weakness, one great strength of the Septuagint version is that it posits Joseph as having two younger sons after Manasseh and Ephraim. That seems fully consistent with Genesis 48: 6, when Jacob tells Joseph: "And thy issue, that thou begettest after them, shall be thine".

As to the question of whether to count sons and grandsons of Jacob born after Jacob moved the Hebrews to Egypt, consider Benjamin. Benjamin was too young to sire 10 sons before the Hebrews moved to Egypt. So the Masoretic text, in portraying Benjamin as having 10 sons in chapter 46 of Genesis, should be counting Benjamin's sons born after the Hebrews moved to Egypt. The Septuagint shows Benjamin with 3 sons and 6 grandsons, but on the issue under discussion here, the analysis is the same. Benjamin's sons could not have had sons before the Hebrews moved to Egypt. So properly viewed, all versions of chapter 46 of Genesis make sense only if all of Jacob's grandsons are listed, including grandsons born after the Hebrews moved to Egypt. If all of Jacob's grandsons are listed in chapter 46 of Genesis, then Joseph's younger sons should be included on that list. They are in the Septuagint (though their actual names are not set forth), but they are not in the Masoretic text. That is one reason why I view much of the material in the Septuagint text of chapter 46 of Genesis as being more faithful to the original text than the Masoretic text.

Contrary to the cited scholar above, I find that it is far easier to arrive at the 66 without trying to somehow force Jacob himself into reducing the count (as Stinehart did in his Masoretic method).  Why would Jacob be subtracted from a number that he was not originally included in (the 33+16+14+7)?

Likewise, it becomes pure speculation when trying to make Stinehart's Septuagint numbers work as they are based on unverifiable speculations.  For example, it is highly uncertain that Joseph had any additional sons beyond the only two named in Scriptures; Manasseh and Ephraim.  Similarly speculative is trying to include grandchildren of Joseph.

A much more natural way to arrive at the numbers 66 and 70 are as follows:

Begin by subtracting five people from the 70 named descendants of Jacob as listed and numbered in Exodus 46:8-25, given as four subgroups numbering 33, 16, 14 and 7 (a total of 70).  Why remove 5 people?  Because the sixty-six was a value of those who "went to Egypt with Jacob" (Exodus 46:26).  For this reason some of those originally listed can not be counted:

  • The two sons of Judah, Er and Onan (Exodus 46:12) were dead.

  • The two sons of Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim (Exodus 46:20) were born in Egypt and didn't have to go there with Jacob.

  • Joseph was already in Egypt and didn't have to go there with Jacob.

Subtracting these five from the 70 leaves us with 65, which means that 1 person needs to be added to arrive at the given number of 66.  As for who to add, the son's wives were directly excluded (Genesis 46:26), but Dinah (Jacob's daughter) was not included in the original count of 33 (c.f. Genesis 46:15. Add up the names of the male descendants in Genesis 46:8-14 and it shows Dinah was not counted).  So, by adding in the specifically named daughter, the widow Dinah, we arrive at 66. 

As for the final total of 70, as given in the Masoretic of Genesis 46:27, this is arrived at by adding four individuals to the 66, namely Joseph, his two sons, and Jacob himself.

Note 2

Judah's wife, Shua, is clearly portrayed as dead. Simeon's wife is assumed to be dead because he fathered a son by a Canaanite woman, believed to be a subsequent concubine. Pertinent verses include:

Genesis 38:12 After a long time Judah's wife, the daughter of Shua, died. NIV

Genesis 46:10 The sons of Simeon: Jemuel and Jamin and Ohad and Jachin and Zohar and Shaul the son of a Canaanite woman. (NASU)

Exodus 6:15 The sons of Simeon: Jemuel and Jamin and Ohad and Jachin and Zohar and Shaul the son of a Canaanite woman; these are the families of Simeon. (NASU)