Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Abraham, Jacob: Who bought what burial ground?

Q. What is the explanation of the difference between Stephen’s statement in Acts 7:15-16 about the burial of Jacob and what the Old Testament says?

A. In Acts 7:15-16, Stephen states, “So Jacob went down into Egypt, and died, he, and our fathers, and were carried over into Sychem, and laid in the sepulchre that Abraham bought for a sum of money of the sons of Emmor the father of Sychem.” Genesis 50:13 says, “for his sons carried him [Jacob] into the land of Canaan, and buried him in the cave of the field of Machpelah, which Abraham bought with the field for a possession of a buryingplace of Ephron the Hittite, before Mamre.”

Other relevant verses are Genesis 23:16-19, which records buying a parcel of ground from Ephron of Heth, Genesis 33:19, which records Jacob buying a parcel of a field from the children of Hamor, Shechem’s father, Genesis 49:29-31, Jacob’s charge that he be buried in the cave in the field of Machpelah (which Abraham purchased from Eprhon), and Joshua 24:32, which records the burial of Joseph in Shechem, in the parcel of ground which Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor (Emmor).

Many see a direct contradiction because Genesis says Jacob, not Abraham, bought the parcel of land from Hamor/Emmor. The easiest way many see for resolving this is to charge Stephen with an error in his speaking. It is true that inspiration means that Scripture accurately records what someone said, whether or not what someone said is accurate. It is interesting, however, to consider that his hearers did not charge Stephen with an error of misapplying or perverting the Old Testament scriptures. They only became enraged when he charged them with the death of “the Just One.”

Rather it is best to understand that Stephen is dealing with several things telescoped into one statement that is not incorrect but difficult to read without receiving implied pronouns the hearers would have grasped.  Jacob died and was laid in the sepulchre Abraham purchased (Genesis 50:13), and “our fathers” were laid in Shechem/Sychem, Jacob’s purchase from Hamor/Emmor (Joshua 24:32).

John Gill explains it this way:
“…what best seems to remove the difficulty is, that the words refer to both places and purchases; to the field of Machpelah bought by Abraham, and to the parcel of field is Sichem bought by Jacob, of the sons of Emmor; for the words with the repetition of the phrase, ‘in the sepulchre’, may be read thus; ‘and were laid in the sepulchre, that Abraham bought for a sum of money’, and in the sepulchre (bought by Jacob) ‘of the sons of Emmor’, the father of Sichem; or the words may be rendered thus, ‘they were carried over into Sichem, and laid in the sepulchre which Abraham bought for a sum of money, besides’ that ‘of the sons of Emmor’, the father ‘of Sichem’; namely, which Jacob bought, and in which Joseph was laid, (Genesis 33:19) (Joshua 24:32) . And this agrees with Stephen’s account and design, in the preceding verse; he observes, that Jacob died in Egypt, and all the twelve patriarchs; and here he tells us how they were disposed of, and where they were buried, both Jacob and his sons; they were removed from Egypt, and brought into the land of Canaan; Jacob, he was laid in the cave of Machpelah, in the sepulchre Abraham bought of the children of Heth; and Joseph and his brethren, they were laid in the sepulchre at Sichem, which Jacob bought of the sons of Emmor...”

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