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[St. Stephen’s Statement in Acts vii. 15, 16, explained.]
IN a work like the present which purports to deal solely with the grander features of Inspiration and Interpretation, it is clearly impossible to enter systematically into 262details of any kind. If, here and there, something like minuteness has been attempted645645 As in the case of the healing of the two blind men at Jericho, (p. 67.): ‘Jeremy the Prophet,’ (p. 70.): the type of Melchizedek, (pp. 152-6.): a passage in Deut. xxx. (pp. 191-5.): the conduct of Jael, (pp. 223-230): &c., &c., it has only been by way of sample of what one would fain have done,—of what one would fain do,—time and place and occasion serving. In the same spirit I will add a few remarks on the famous passage in Acts vii. 15, 16; for, confessedly, to a common eye it seems to contain several erroneous statements. The words, as they stand in our English Bible, are these:—
“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.”
For obvious reasons, it will be convenient to have under our eyes, at the same time, the original of the passage:—
Κατέβη δὲ Ἰακὼβ εἰς Αἴγυπτον, καὶ ἐτελεύτησεν αὐτὸς καὶ οἱ πατέρες ἡμῶν· καὶ μετετέθησαν εἰς Σιχὲμ, καὶ ἐτέθησαν ἐν τῷ μνήματι ὅ ὠνήσατο Ἀβραὰμ τιμῆς ἀργυρίου, παρὰ τῶν υἱῶν Ἐμμὸρ τοῦ Σιχέμ.
On this, Dr. Alford, Dean of Canterbury, delivers himself as follows:—
“There is certainly, and that not dependent upon any Rabbinical or Jewish views of the subject, an inaccuracy in Stephen’s statement: for the burying-place was not at Sychem which Abraham bought, but at Hebron, and it was bought of Ephron the Hittite, as you will find in the 23rd of Genesis from the 7th to the 20th verses. It is not worth while for us now to read the account, but so it is: Abraham bought a field at Hebron of Ephron the Hittite. There is no mention at all made of its being for a burying-place. But it was Jacob who bought a field near Shechem ‘of the children of Hamer, Shechem’s father.’ These two incidents, then, in this case are confused together. And again I say, if it is necessary to say it again, that there is no reason at all for us to be ashamed of such a statement—no reason for us to be afraid of it, or in any way staggered at it. It was not Stephen’s purpose to give an accurate history of the children of Israel, but to derive results from that history, which remain irrefragable, whatever the details which he alleged.”—Homilies on the former part of the Acts of the Apostles, by Henry Alford, B.D., Dean of Canterbury, London, 1858, p. 219.
A northern Professor, (Patrick Fairbairn, D.D., Principal 263and Professor of Divinity in the Free Church College, Glasgow,) also writes as follows:—
“Now, there can be no doubt, that viewing the matter critically and historically, there are inaccuracies in this statement; for we know from the records of Old Testament history, that Jacob’s body was not laid in•a sepulchre at Sychem, but in the cave of Machpelah at Hebron;—we know also that the field, which was bought of the sons of Emmor, or the children of Hamor (as they are called in Gen. xxxiii. 19), the father of Sichem, was bought, not by Abraham, but by Jacob.”—Hermeneutical Manual, or Introduction to the Exegetical Study of the Scriptures of the New Testament, &c. Edinburgh, 1858, p. 101.
Now when it is considered that the speaker here was St. Stephen,—a man who is said to have been “full of the Holy Ghost,” so that “no one could resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake,” (Acts vi. 3, 5, 8, 10.)—there is evidently the greatest primâ facie unreasonableness in so handling his words. But let the adverse criticism be submitted to the test of a searching analysis; and. how transparently fallacious is it found to be!
First, we have to ascertain the meaning of the passage. And it is evident to every one having an ordinary acquaintance with Greek, that the words Ἐμμὸρ τοῦ Σιχέμ, cannot mean “Emmor the father of Sychem.” This is a mere mistranslation, as the invariable usage of the New Testament shews. The genitive denotes dependent relation. The Vulgate rightly supplies the word “filii;” and there can be no doubt whatever that what St. Stephen says, is, that Abraham bought the burial-place “of the sons of Emmor, the son of Sychem.”
Next, it is evident that “our Fathers,” (οἱ πατέρες ἡμῶν,) exclusive of Jacob, form the nominative to the verb “were carried over” (μετετέθησαν.) In English, the place ought to be exhibited as follows:—“he and our Fathers; and they were carried.” But, in truth, the idiom of the original is so easy, to one familiar with the manner of the sacred writers646646 The nominative has, in like manner, to be supplied in the following places:—Gen. xlviii. 10. Exod. iv. 26: xxxiv. 28. Deut. xxxi. 23. 2 Sam. xxiv. 1. 1 Kings xxii. 19. 2 Kings xix. 24, 25. Job xxxv. 15. Jer. xxxvi. 23.—St. Matth. xix. 5. St. Mark xv. 46. St. John viii. 44: xix. 5: xxi. 15-17. Acts xiii. 29. Eph. iv. 8. Col. ii. 14, &c., &c.; and the historical fact so exceedingly obvious; that it must have been felt by St. Luke, in recording St. Stephen’s words, that greater minuteness of statement was quite needless. Who remembers not the affecting details of where Jacob was 264to be buried, as well as the circumstantial narrative of whither his sons conveyed his bones647647 Gen. xlix. 29-32; l. 5-13.? Who remembers not also that the bones of Joseph, (and, as we learn from this place, the rest with him,) were carried up out of Egypt by the children of Israel, at the Exode648648 Ibid l. 25. Exod. xiii. 19. Josh. xxiv. 32.?
Where then is the supposed difficulty? Moses relates (in Gen. xxiii.) that Abraham bought of Ephron the Hittite, the son of Zohar, the field and the cave of Machpelah: and says that Machpelah was before Mamre, otherwise called Kirjath-Arba, and Hebron. St. Stephen further relates that Abraham bought the sepulchre at Sychem in which the Twelve Patriarchs were eventually buried, of the sons of Emmor, (or Hamor) May not the same man buy two estates?
True enough it is that Jacob, when he came from Padan Aram, “bought a parcel of a field” at “Shalem a city of Shechem,” “at the hand of the children of Hamor, Shechem’s father.” But there is no pretence for saying that these last two transactions are identical, and have been here confused together: for the sellers, in the one case, were “the sons of Emmor, the son of Sychem;” and in the other, “the children of Hamor,”—father of that Shechem whose tragic end is related in Gen. xxxiv.: while the buyer was in the one case, Abraham; in the other case, Jacob. Not to be tedious however, let me in a few words, state what was the evident truth of the present History.
It is found that Jacob, in order to build an altar at Shechem with security, judged it expedient to purchase the field whereon it should stand. Who can doubt that the purchase was a measure of necessity also? lf, at the present day, one desired to erect a church on some spot in India, where the value of land was fully ascertained649649 Gen. xxiii. 15., and where there were many inhabitants650650 Ibid. xxiii. 10 to 12, 18.,—how would it be possible to set about the work, with the remotest purpose of retaining possession, unless one first bought the ground on which the structure was to stand? I infer that when Abraham first halted at Sichem651651 Ibid. xiii. 7., and built an altar there652652 Ibid. xiii. 7., (the Canaanite being then in the land,) it is very likely that he bought the ground also. But when St. Stephen informs me that the thing which I think only probable, was a matter of fact; am I, (with Dean Alford,) to hesitate about believing him? Abraham then, in the first instance, bought Sychem, Shechem, or Sychar; and there built an altar. To that same spot, long after, his grandson Jacob resorted. What wonder, 265since the wells of Abraham were stopped during his absence, and had to be recovered by his son, (as related in Gen. xxvi. 17-22,)—what wonder, I say, if Jacob, on coming to Sechem after an interval of nearly 200 years, finds that he also must renew the purchase of the cherished possession? The importance of that locality, and the sacred interest attaching to it, has been explained in a Plain Commentary on the Gospels, on St. John iv. 1-6, and 41. See also a Sermon by the same author,—One Soweth and another Reapeth.
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