More Numbers: 75 or 70 in The Family of Jacob

Then Stephen, continuing the saga of Joseph in Egypt, pointed out that Jacob and his family were called by Joseph into Egypt to effect their very survival, he notes that 75 folk were involved. Acts 7:14 – “Then sent Joseph, and called his father Jacob to him, and all his kindred, threescore and fifteen souls.” Rackham comments as follows: “He says 75 souls: Gen 46:26-27, Exod 1:5, Deut 10:22 say 70, and so does Josephus. But the LXX in Exodus and in some MSS in Deuteronomy have 75, reckoning in Joseph’s offspring born in Egypt. Philo had observed the discrepancy and found an allegorical explanation for it.”

Introducing his larger number, Stephen’s terminology is expansive: “Jacob…and all his kindred…” But let us go back to the record of Genesis 46 and consider some of the detail in the compiling of the numbers of Jacob’s family that came down into Egypt.

“All the souls… were threescore and ten” Gen 46:27

Genesis 46 carefully compiles a record of Jacob’s family who went with him into Egypt. Encouraged by the Divine assurance that “I will go down with thee into Egypt” (Gen 46:4), Jacob “came into Egypt… and all his seed with him”. That expression is then filled out in the subsequent verses. The record in verse 26 refers to “the souls that came with Jacob into Egypt, which came out of his loins”. Direct descendants only. This is highlighted by the specific exclusion in this count of Jacob’s daughters-in-law: “besides Jacob’s sons’ wives”. This total is 66. To this total must be added Jacob himself, Joseph and Joseph’s two sons, born in Egypt, Manasseh and Ephraim to reach the total of 70 noted in Genesis 46:27. The Exodus account puts it this way: “all the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls” (Exod 1:5). This total clearly includes Jacob himself. Moses notes that “Thy fathers went down into Egypt with threescore and ten persons…” (Deut 10:22) doubtless drawing on the Genesis 46 record.

Stephen – “threescore and fifteen souls” Acts 7:14

Stephen clearly mentions 75 souls. Is there a discrepancy? Not at all. Note the way Stephen puts it: “Joseph… called his father Jacob to him and all his kindred.” NIV translates as “and his whole family”. NASB and others translate as: “and all his relatives”. Since Stephen is giving the perspective of Joseph calling his father and family to him, then clearly Joseph and his sons are excluded from Stephen’s reckoning and the surviving wives (Shua, Judah’s wife was dead, perhaps others were as well), of his brothers are included to make up the seventy five. These are identified not as merely the direct descendants of Jacob, but as “his whole family.”

Why did Stephen choose to include the whole family in his number and not exclude the wives, as the Genesis 46 account so deliberately does? Perhaps he wants to make the point that God’s family includes not just those who are there by strict literal descent, but others can be included too and be as much a valid part of the hope of Israel as any other. And so a supposed discrepancy becomes instead a serious matter to ponder as we contemplate how men and women are called to be included in the family of our heavenly Father.