DOES ACTS 7:16 HAVE A MISTAKE?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Read the following excerpt from the Prophet Stephen’s sermon in Acts chapter 7: “ 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.” Everything looks fine—until we check the Old Testament cross-references. Now, things get complex… and some poor, worried soul cries out, “Look, we have an error in the Bible!”
JACOB’S BURIAL: “For his [that is, Jacob’s] sons carried him 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” (Genesis 50:13). Jacob was entombed in the land of Machpelah. His grandfather Abraham bought that land from Ephron the Hittite: “And the field of Ephron which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field, and the cave which was therein, and all the trees that were in the field, that were in all the borders round about, were made sure Unto Abraham for a possession in the presence of the children of Heth, before all that went in at the gate of his city” (Genesis 23:17-18). Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 25:9-11), son Isaac (Genesis 35:27-29), and grandson Jacob (Genesis 50:13) were all buried here at Hebron.
JOSEPH’S BURIAL: According to Joshua 24:32, Joseph was buried in Shechem, what his father Jacob purchased from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem: “And the bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, buried they in Shechem, in a parcel of ground which Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for an hundred pieces of silver: and it became the inheritance of the children of Joseph.”
Some argue Stephen in Acts chapter 7 condensed these two burial accounts into one. However, we do not believe Stephen was speaking of Jacob’s entombment at all. To demonstrate this, we simply read Acts again: “ 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.” Who was “carried over into Sychem [Greek form of Hebrew “Shechem”]?” The verb in verse 16 is “were,” so the implied pronoun is plural (“they”) not “he” (singular). Far better off we would be to apply “were carried” to the preceding nouns “he [Joseph], and our fathers [Joseph’s brethren].” Remember, as Joshua 24:32 just informed us, Joseph was buried in Shechem. Presumably, as Stephen says, all of Joseph’s brethren were buried there too. Jacob’s burial plot—and Abraham’s land transaction here—is another matter entirely.
We do not have to contend with any discrepancy between Genesis 50:13 and Acts 7:15-16. On one hand, yes, Genesis speaks of Abraham buying land from Ephron the Hittite. This was the eventual cemetery for the corpses of Abraham, son Isaac, and grandson Jacob. On the other hand, indeed, Acts refers to Abraham purchasing land from the sons of Emmor the father of Sychem (Shechem). This area ultimately became the cemetery in which Joseph and his brethren were disposed. Eliminating Genesis 50:13 as a companion verse to Acts 7:16 makes the matter considerably easier to handle.
The real controversy is between Joshua 24:32 and Acts 7:15-16. Who purchased Joseph’s burial land—Jacob or Abraham? Joshua claims Joseph was buried in land that Jacob, Joseph’s father, bought from “the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem.” Stephen in Acts asserts Joseph’s tomb was part of the property Abraham bought from “the sons of Emmor the father of Sychem.” (“Hamor” and “Emmor” are interchangeable, as are “Shechem” and “Sychem.” Stephen’s words, part of the Greek New Testament, translate the Hebrew names found in Joshua.)
Abraham built an altar in Shechem back in Genesis chapter 12: “ And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem [that is, Shechem], unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land.  And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him.” Presumably, Abraham bought this land from Hamor’s family before erecting that altar. However, Abraham did not dwell here permanently, so the land reverted back to Hamor’s family. Evidently, Jacob repurchased it from them, and this matches Genesis chapter 33: “ And Jacob came to Shalem, a city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padanaram; and pitched his tent before the city.  And he bought a parcel of a field, where he had spread his tent, at the hand of the children of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for an hundred pieces of money.  And he erected there an altar, and called it EleloheIsrael.” (Notice he bought the land before constructing the altar. We would assume Abraham did the same earlier.)
The supposed “contradiction” between Acts 7:16 and the Old Testament record is nonexistent. No errors exist. Filled with the Holy Ghost (Acts 6:5; Acts 7:55), Stephen supplements the Hebrew Bible not “corrects” it. Here is our reasoning:
- Jacob was buried in the field of Machpelah, what his grandfather Abraham purchased from Ephron the Hittite (Genesis 50:13). Note: Stephen in Acts is not referring to this transaction or burial.
- Abraham bought the land of Sichem/Shechem/Sychem from the sons of Hamor/Emmor, and then built an altar there (Genesis 12:6-7; Acts 7:16). However, Abraham did not settle in Shechem. Consequently, ownership of this real estate reverted back to Hamor’s family.
- A few centuries later, Abraham’s grandson Jacob repurchased the land of Shechem from Hamor’s family (Genesis 33:18-19). Jacob’s son Joseph, and Joseph’s brethren, were buried in Shechem (Acts 7:15-16).