Wednesday, March 25, 2015

John Owen on Apparent Contradictions in Scripture

When preaching last Sunday afternoon on “Stephen’s Final Sermon” in Acts 7 I spent a bit of time addressing Stephen’s mention of 75 Israelite souls who came to Egypt at the time of Joseph (Acts 7:14) in comparison to 70 as mentioned elsewhere in the OT (cf. Gen 46:26-27; Exod 1;5; Deut 10:22).  One solution I suggested was that Stephen's number included the offspring of Joseph's sons Ephraim and Manasseh.  If so, here is a place where the NT supplements information from the OT.  I also noted that given enough time, light, reason, and information solutions can be reached for all apparent tensions that arise in Biblical hermeneutics.  Along the way I also shared this quotation from John Owen:
We have seen that there are some difficult passages in the Bible, occurring frequently but irregularly throughout the Scriptures, and so there are some apparent contradictions scattered therein which are to be diligently searched into and reconciled—something which can only be achieved by legitimate interpretation (Biblical Theology, p. 814).

Indeed, the path of pre-critical interpreters was to seek rationally satisfying harmonization in the face of “apparent contradictions.”  For Owen solutions can only come through diligent and faithful interpretation.  In the quote above from Adversus Fanaticos, Owen’s point was that solutions to such tensions did not come from seeking mystical experiential insight but from soundly and soberly dividing the word.


1 comment:

Andrew said...

If you read Genesis 46, you see that Joseph, Ephraim, Manasseh and Jacob are included in the 70, as are the two sons of Pharez (Gen 46.12).

But in the account of Acts 7, Joseph is said to have invited or called his father Jacob and also all his kindred, who numbered 75. Clearly, Joseph and his two sons cannot be included in that 75. If we also move Jacob himself and the two sons of Pharez (who could not be born yet, see Genesis 38 which tells us when Pharez himself was born, only after Joseph had been sold into slavery), we see there are six persons who we might not consider to be in the group whom Joseph "invited" into Egypt. Obviously, Joseph didn't invite himself into Egypt. Despite this, he was counted in the seventy (see Genesis 46.19, Exodus 1:5).

So how else would the number go from 64 to 75, except by counting the wives of the eleven brothers of Joseph. These would not have been counted in the 70, because they were explicitly excluded in Genesis 46.26. But those wives could be counted in the 75 that Joseph invited into Egypt.

With that explained, there is an interesting variant here in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament). The Septuagint changes Genesis 46.27 and Exodus 1.5 to say seventy-five instead of seventy. But having read the above explanation, you can see that even doing that does not remove the conundrum regarding Joseph inviting himself into Egypt, considering that, if one wants the two groups to be the same, the one must count Joseph along with his sons in Acts 7.14 as "those whom Joseph invited into Egypt" in order to make the numbers be the same. The former explanation is a much more coherent way to explain this discrepancy, I believe. That is, the wives of Joseph's brethren are counted in Acts but not in Genesis, and six others are counted in Genesis but not in Acts.

The Septuagint's change from 70 to 75 in this place is also deadly for it. The reason is because, in Deuteronomy 10.22, which is the other passage that mentions this group, the Septuagint also has the number 70! It matches the Hebrew text.

It seems that whoever changed Genesis 46.27 and Exodus 1.5 (two nearby passages) forgot to update/adjust Deuteronomy 10.22 in this same way, because it still says seventy (and not seventy-five) in the Septuagint! This oversight leaves a glaring discrepancy in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament— In the Hebrew Old Testament, the number seventy is mentioned in all three passages: in Genesis 46.27, in Exodus 1.5 and in Deuteronomy 10.22. There is no difference in the number between these three places. But in the Greek LXX, the first two passages say seventy-five, and the third passage in Deuteronomy says seventy (and not seventy-five). So an attempt, perhaps a very clumsy attempt to correct an apparent "difficulty" in Scripture (perhaps to harmonize with Acts 7.14) may reveal the late date of this rescension of the LXX.

I would also love it if someone could bring positive proof of the above explanation of late harmonization in the LXX as being impossible, though. Looking at DSS fragments that contain Genesis 46 and Exodus 1, I have only seen three, and none of them convince me. The first one, 4Q11, certainly doesn't contain any support for the reading "seventy-five." The other two, 4Q1 and 4Q13, while they might seem to contain the reading, they are simply too fragmentary. And 4Q13 in particular appears to be widely divergent from Exodus at the start of it, so maybe it's an unwarranted assumption that it contains Exodus instead of some kind of commentary at the beginning of it. Many other texts at Qumran were like this.

Anyway, that is my long side comment on the Septuagint in this passage of the seventy persons. If the Lord wills, hopefully this information may be edifying.