The Question That Reveals Everything You Believe About the Old Testament

jephthah's rash vow

Answer me one question about an obscure story in Judges chapter 11, and I’ll tell you what your view of the whole Old Testament is. I’ve argued before that your view of the trees is determined by your view of the forest, and I think the story of Jephthah provides an excellent example of how this works.

In this post I’ll raise the question and you’ll answer it. Next week I’ll offer my analysis of what it all means. 

First a summary of the story leading up to Judges 11: entering the Promised Land didn’t solve all of Israel’s problems. They brought those problems across the Jordan with them; escape from slavery in Egypt didn’t end their subjection to sin. After the death of Joshua, the successor to Moses, God’s people descended into a cycle of sin, oppression, repentance, and deliverance that lasted for several hundred years. God delivered his people through a series of leaders called “judges.”

Eighty years after the famous judge, Gideon, delivers Israel from the Midianites the Israelites are back into the bad part of the cycle: they do “what [is] evil in the eyes of the Lord” (Judg 10:6). So God sends the Ammonites and the Philistines against them. As often happens in the cyclical book of Judges, the people repent and cry out to the Lord for help. God’s reply is intense:

Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress. (Judg 10:14)

But those words were aiming at a reply, and they worked:

The people of Israel said to the Lord, “We have sinned; do to us whatever seems good to you. Only please deliver us this day.” So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord. (Judg 10:15–16a)

I love God’s response:

And [the Lord] became impatient over the misery of Israel. (Judg 10:16b)

The characters are poised

The Israelites are repentant, God is impatient, and the Ammonites come and set up an ominous military encampment in the Israelite town of Gilead.

Then God acts, the same way he’s acted throughout the book. He provides a judge, a deliverer: Jephthah. Because he was an illegitimate child, the son of a prostitute, Jephthah’s siblings had booted him from their household. But he’s back, and ready to lead the Israelites to a divine victory.

The story turns tragic

And this is where the story gets tragic. If you haven’t yet remembered from your Bible reading, Jephthah is the judge who makes a terrible, rash vow.  Pay careful attention to the wording of that vow:

And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” (Judg 11:30–31.)

The narrator just commented in verse 29 that the Spirit of the Lord was upon Jephthah. So we know what’s going to happen. Of course he and his forces will be victorious over the Ammonites. When the Lord gets impatient over Israel’s misery, it doesn’t take long for him to release his frustration on Israel’s enemies.

Sure enough, Jephthah is triumphant. And as he returns home, his vow hangs in the air.

Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter. (Judg 11:34)

His daughter!

Choose your own interpretation

NOW STOP! Here’s where we get interactive. Don’t peek at the rest of the story in your Bible. That’s cheating. Just answer this question:

What do you think he actually did? Did Jephthah actually sacrifice his daughter? Yes or No. Maybe you remember from past readings—so go ahead, trust your memory. Tell us what you think.

[Poll closed]

If you said “Yes,” why did you say yes? You really think a God-empowered, Holy-Spirit-filled judge in Scripture killed and burned his own daughter? As they say in Yiddish, Yeesh.

If you said “No,” why did you say no? If Jephthah didn’t kill his own child, why wasn’t the Bible clearer? Why leave the impression in some minds that he did?

Next week I will reveal my vote, which counts for two because I’m a redhead. And next week, I’ll go somewhere with this. Don’t miss it. I think your answer to my question is a good indication of whether you understand the purpose of Old Testament narratives, even the very structure of the Bible. Stay tuned.

And don’t miss your chance to name your price on Daniel Block’s new Mobile Ed course on Judges. Block wrote an excellent commentary on Judges, and this course is a great way to dive deeper into this important biblical book. Place your bid on Block’s new Judges course.

Read part two of this series.

mark ward
Mark L. Ward, Jr. received his PhD from Bob Jones University in 2012; he now serves the church as a Logos Pro. He is the author of multiple high school Bible textbooks, including Biblical Worldview: Creation, Fall, Redemption.

Written by
Mark Ward

Christian, husband, father, writer, ultimate frisbee player when possible.

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  • I voted yes but may have to change my mind because as I recall he let her have some time with her friends or something. and there was something about mountains in the story. I’ll wait.

      • The word for “and” like many such words has more than one meaning and on of those meaning can be “or”, so that Japhthah has two choices. His sacrifice will be if an animal comes out he may offer it as a burnt offering but it is possible to only dedicate it (her) to God. The sacrifice will be that he will not be a grandfather because his daughter, his only child, will never marry. She celebrates her virginity. He will keep the vow but it is not necessary to burn his daughter.

        • This is my view also. Human sacrifice is never accepted in the Bible, certainly not by a hero of the faith (Hebrews 11-12)

          • Should we find a different answer for David’s sins, his murder of Uriah, the adulteress act after all he had a heart for God there fore unable to sin? Abraham lied and gave his wife to another man, Moses was a murderer.
            Jephthah had great faith, but was not beyond having the capability to sin. The other judges were not all so perfect either. I find great relief in knowing that the “heroes” In that list found in Hebrews 11-12
            The answer in our faith is that we seek God, we are all bound to miss the mark while in that journey.

      • I think that Jephthat’s daughter was sent to the tabernacle as a dedicated offering to the Lord to life a life of consecration to the Lord as a tabernacle virgin

        • I agree with you. First, I think we need to ask ourselves: What is God revealing about Himself to us? God is not just giving us a history lesson. The Scriptures are God revealing Himself to us, and revealing ourselves to us. Therefore, I ask once again: What is He revealing? One thing, perhaps: Is his daughter a type of the Virgin Mary?

        • I think she remained a virgin and served at the tabernacle. God does not desire or accept human sacrifice, but to dedicate something to Him, He accepts.Jephthah gave her to the Lord to serve Him and she being his only offspring was also sacrificing his wanted grandchildren that would have maintained his family inheritance which was an important issue in that day.

        • But sending her to that life kept the vow. He did not need to burn her to keep the vow. The vow contains the choice. I will hold Jephthah as a faith hero because I am told he was.

          • I agree that he was a faith hero—there is no question there. Hebrews 11:32 is true, not false! The question is whether Heb 11:32’s praise of Jephthah should be taken maximally or minimally, given what we know about him from Judges. That is, what was Heb 11 praising in Jephthah’s life?

    • I vote ‘no’ remember Abraham and his son, God did not let him sacrifice the child. The Lord God is not like the pagan gods who desire or takes pleasure in human sacrifice. The only human sacrifice that he would have accepted totally was that of his only begotten son, Jesus.

    • I likely won’t be adding anything new to the church’s understanding about Jephthah (plenty of great books are out there already), but I think I’ve perceived a significant connection between forest and trees that I haven’t seen anyone else mention.

  • I’m not cheating. I’m going from memory. I always understood that Jephthah had actually sacrificed his daughter as a burnt offering. That’s what the passage looks like as I recall from my memory. But later I read commentaries that said, perhaps he instead dedicated her to service to the Lord, that was how he made his “burnt” offering. Years later, I now think that, regardless of his choice, the point of the OT is not to offer up a standard of what godly people should do, but a record of what believing, flawed, sinful, often mistaken people actually DID do. It is narrative. It tells us what happened. We have recorded in the OT all the many sins and mistakes of the “heroes of the faith,” for which I am grateful, because I make the same kinds of mistakes. No children have been sacrificed, but I’ve sinned by becoming impatient, impetuous, forgetful, ad nauseum. By recording this narrative and all the rest, we see Jesus’ heritage is full of sinners just like us, and it prepares us to understand WHY we need the Rescuer who is coming and is foretold throughout the OT. We need to be redeemed. All of us. That’s my viewpoint.

    • Your comment brings up good points to which I’d like to add that when the Scripture is vague I think there are two possibilities: either we are missing something that will become clear in time (further language or cultural information or just someone seeing something we all missed) or God intended it to be vague. Humans are really, really prone to enshrining and worshiping the concrete (people, places and practices) instead of living by the abstract concept of faith so I wonder if sometimes God is vague on purpose just to reduce this a bit.

      • I think it was the translators that called it a tragic vow. The text says “and iI will offer it for a burnt offering” in which the word and mean then, and, or, together with. For some reason we insist on observing it as tragedy and we do not allow the OR.

  • I said “No”. But I found the question to be ambiguous. It seems you asked if he burned his daughter. I don’the think he did. But she was a sacrifice nonetheless. Her actions clearly show she was a willing sacrifice just as Isaac was. But I suspect she was a living sacrifice in some way, not burned. The tone of the story carries a sense of mourning for her sacrifice, but no sense of outrage over a parental burning of his own child.

    • You did, however, interpret my question correctly. It wasn’t ambiguous, then, so much as incomplete—in your view. I should have offered another option? But I really did intend the option you favor to be part of the “no” answer. So, again, you interpreted the question correctly.

      • Hello Mark,
        Since it was an abomination to offer sons and daughters in sacrifice Deut. 18:10, Jer.32:35. The Lord says it never entered His mind or heart for His people to do so. Two things crossed my mind in this vow by Jephthah. One he had no son or daughter other than his one daughter. He sacrificed his posterity, his earthly future. Secondly, his daughter would remain a virgin as a whole burnt offering, literally an “ascension offering”, she would be dedicated to the sanctuary of the Lord. Serve in His holy hill. This becoming a statute may even make her a type of the Church, where she is teaching the women 4 days a year. Which may correspond to the four seasons or may be four literal days consecutively. Leviticus 27:4.

        • The English “burnt offering” only gives us one idea. The Hebrew ‘olah has at its root the idea of rising up (to God) as the smoke of a burnt offering. We have a similar problem with the English “sacrifice” which brings to mind depriving oneself or appeasing an angry deity. The Hebrew “korban” is all about drawing near (to God) as the blood sprinkled an His very thrown is near Him.

  • If I remember correctly Jephthah gave his daughters life to the Lord but did not kill and burn her.

  • Interesting question ,,, one reason I voted yes was that God holds our decisions as sacred, even when they are not great decisions. Why did Jephthah even think he needed to bargain with God. God had called him to be a judge and to trust God, not to bargain with God concerning the outcome of the coming battle.

      • Maybe “sacred” is not the right word, but it does contain the idea that there is an aspect of the divine when we approach God with a vow to do something. My decision to follow Jesus is a sacred aspect of my life as it relates to allowing God’s redemptive strategy work in my life and those surrounding me.

  • First, your statement in the paragraph following the vote is a great way to squash comment! No one wants to respond when you’ve just labeled them biblically ignorant.
    Second, yes, I believe in the literal description of the story as presented in Scripture. Sin has deep roots into human hearts. The nation had just spent years worshiping false gods and participating in their abhorrent practices. Also, Jephthah was NOT a noble man. Spending his time with “worthless men” on raiding parties, is not the character of a noble man. I understand his vow was in the expectation that an animal would venture out the door of his house, since they were kept indoors overnight, but the rashness of the vow is that he didn’t consider a human coming out first instead. And how many ways are there in carrying out a “burnt offering.”
    My interpretation of this passage is based solely on the words of the text and the realization that sin leads people to do “stupid” things. If the Scripture says that in Jephthah’s stupidity he carried out his rash vow, then I believe it is just as it says. It says far more about Jephthah than it does about me.

    • Just hang on, hang on! And come back next week. I have a feeling you’ll like what you read. Interestingly, my regular Bible reading took me to this very passage this morning. I was reminded again that the story of Jephthah is part of a bigger story in Judges—which is itself part of the bigger story of the Old Testament and of the whole Bible.

  • Have you ever sensed that a trick question was coming at you? It feels that way now!

    I voted yes because of the phrase, “who did to her according to the vow which he had made.” It appears that she came out of the house and greeted him after his return and it appears the his reaction suggests that she will be the likely payment for his vow.

    • I am not the arbiter of all good interpretation, but come back next week—I am going to try to make a persuasive and, ultimately, edifying case.

  • I’ll be interested to see how the interpretation of one part of one story in the OT can predict one’s beliefs about the entire OT. That’s a challenge.

  • yes he did sacrifice his daughter. the writer wants to highlight the importance of covenant keeping. a covenant made with God needs to be kept. The Israelites had covenanted with God as they stood before the promise land. they renewed with Moses and Joshua.
    there is however a release for such foolish covenant mentioned in the torah. I just cannot remember where it is now.

    • You may be thinking of something the rabbis developed later, or of Num 30:3–5 (which wouldn’t apply to Jephthah). But it would seem that the appropriate way to respond to a vow you’ve made to commit sin is just to not sin.

  • I vote no and these are my reasons:
    1. The strong prohibition against human sacrifice in the Law
    2. Several strong indications of Jephthah’s piety in the context (vv. 9-10, 11, 30-31 and others)
    3. The Lord’s empowerment of Jephthah for service (v. 29)
    4. The weeping for virginity – makes no sense if literal sacrifice, she isn’t “weeping for my life” but “weeping for my virginity”
    5. The fact that God brings no judgement on Israel for human sacrifice at this point in history (but see the end of the Kings, where this is specifically one of God’s charges against Israel)
    6. The honorable mentions of Jephthah in Samuel’s farewell sermon (1Sa 12.13) and in Hebrews (Heb 11.32)

    I realize that others differ on this point, but I think overall context, especially the Hebrews reference, precludes taking this as human sacrifice.

    • just a comment on point 4, weeping for her virginity may be that she was not yet blessed with a child, a child in a woman’s life in the time of the NE was a blessing but to never have a child was considered a curse.

    • 4 When you make a vow to God, do not delay fulfilling it; for he has no pleasure in fools. Fulfill what you vow. 5 It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not fulfill it.

      The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Ec 5:4–5.

  • My answer is that it’s impossible for us to know with any level of certainty. We can only speculate.

    Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that this text represents literal history rather than part of Israel’s mythic retelling of their story. We still can’t say for sure what Jephthah actually did with his daughter. There are good textual arguments for the idea that he did sacrifice her as a burnt offering, but there are also good textual arguments for the idea that the “sacrifice” was simply dedicating her to the service of Yahweh (thus the emphasis on her lamenting her virginity, rather than lamenting her death).

    But this much we can say definitively. If he did sacrifice her as a burnt offering, God was not pleased with that action.

    • (Thanks for chiming in, Chuck. I didn’t know you while you were here; I’m still too knew to know many people—I enjoyed reading your post about your time here, and I was so glad to see my prayers answered in your “I got a job” post.)

      I don’t see any textual reasons to regard the story as anything other than literal history. A mythic retelling that goes to such length to provide people and place and timing details is an odd one, if by “myth” you mean “it didn’t really happen this way.” But, along with C.S. Lewis, I don’t see any necessary disjunction between literal history and mythic retelling—as long as we go for sense 2 of that word:

      1 A widely held but false belief or idea: he wants to dispel the myth that sea kayaking is too risky or too strenuous | there is a popular myth that corporations are big people with lots of money.

      2 A traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining some natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events: the heroes of Greek myth.*

      When Lewis talked of the Bible being “True Myth,” he meant it in sense 2. I agree that that’s what the Bible is. The story of Jephthah really happened, and it’s a myth (in sense 2!).

      I agree with your definitive statement in your final paragraph. I’ll get into the other textual arguments next week.

  • Really thought provoking. Every time I’ve read the referenced passage, I assumed he offered his daughter as a literal sacrifice – which would have been a disgrace. I assumed it was teaching us not to be hasty in making vows, since the fulfillment of this vow created loss and extreme sacrifice. I never thought he might have gone about the sacrifice another way. It’s hard to reconcile that this is a teaching on the importance of keeping vows, rather than the importance of not making hasty vows. It’s also hard to reconcile that someone would sacrifice their child out of devotion to the one true God. Since God repeatedly chastises Israel for offering up their sons and daughters that they bore to Him – an act he declares he never asked of them and that he is in fact angered by – it’s hard to reconcile the idea that the sacrifice was a slaying in this case. Sure people serving Allah think they’re doing God a service by slaying people; but those serving the living God, under the power of His anointing, would not perform such an act. This is a much more difficult passage after reading your post. Thanks.

    • What do you think the purpose of this story is within the book of Judges? Do you see any significance in the order and character of the judges, as I do? Where does Jephthah fit in that order?

  • No, he did not offer her as a burnt offering. Jephthah was a man of faith (Heb 11 v32), a man of valour, careful and deliberate, as a close reading of Judges 11 shows. In his appeal to the king of Ammon he quotes Scripture almost 20 times (mainly Num 20, Num 21, Deut 1, Deut 2). He knew the Law. A burnt offering (Lev 1) could never be female. To make children pass through the fire to Molech was an abomination (and the Ammonites held Molech as a god). (1 Kings 11 and Jer 32). Jephthah was following Lev 27:1-8 and offered his daughter as a life long dedication to Yahweh, who could not be redeemed with money. He offered a vow AND a burnt offering (see Psalm 66:13). The same occurs with Hannah and Samuel in 1 Sam 1. Jephthah’s daughter was a faithful woman, and their grief was that they were to be separated for the rest of their lives, and that she would never marry, never be able to continue Jephthah’s name or inheritance, but more importantly, she knew that she could never be the mother of the Messiah. (The same care occupied Hannah’s mind until her barrenness was removed). Her life would be as that described in Ex 38 v8 and 1 Sam 2 – one of the women assembling to devote a life of service to the sanctuary. Yahweh would never have accepted a human sacrifice. Jephthah made a burnt offering in addition to his vow. He kept his vow because he knew Num 30 and Deut 23 (in Judges 11 v35 he says ‘I have opened my mouth unto Yahweh’).
    Will be very interested to read other responses.

    • As I told another reader, I won’t claim to add anything truly new, only to notice a connection between our reading of the OT and our reading of Jepthah’s sacrifice, a connection I haven’t seen others notice.

      • Hi Mark
        A very interesting subject here – but looking at the responses, and then at your replies, I feel that you’re asking for more than just a Yes or No answer (with due explanations). Your question involves something broader than just ‘Did he or didn’t he?’ I think most of your respondents, including me, have not perceived that. I’ve started to look at the cyclical pattern of the Book of Judges, as I suspect that is what lies behind your question.
        Am looking forward to your post next week!
        Best wishes

        • Ten bonus points for you, Barry. My question is indeed based on broader concerns. This is very perceptive. I hope I can deliver on my promise!

      • …and that’s what I am really looking forward to see next week. Can’t wait. P.S. I voted for NO, however I am not 100% sure. I had times I was on the YES side…

  • I voted no. The Torah goes to some length to describe the redemption price for many things, including people. I am completely confident that the presiding priest would not have allowed a human sacrifice. He would have advised Jephthah what the redemption price would be for his daughter and that would have been accepted.

  • He did not burn her.. She was sacrificed to live the life of a temple worker whatever that may be.. serving G-D fulltime has been called a burning away of all else that does not fit in or help.. Her being dedicated to the temple was the burning..

  • Yes, he followed his word to God as God followed his. What else should a creature do for their creator?

  • This is a great post, and made me think about the story in a fresh way, as I had always assumed he was, well, dumb and sinful like most of the “faith muppets” of the Bible: a flawed man used by a flawless God. My thinking ran form the sense that God thinks our vows are binding, and the sense that a righteous man swears to his own hurt and follows through. Plus as time in Judges wears on the people seem to get more and more disconnected from God, and the law seems to pass from knowledge as it is no longer read as testimony, and the priesthood falls into iniquity and error. By the time you get to the end of the book all kinds of confusing madness has occurred: i assume that none of it to be taken as normative, but as an object lesson in the results of faithless wandering from the perfect law of God. Jepthah’s mention in Hebrews, like many of the heroes of faith cited there, I have always seen as a testimony to his status as ‘blameless’ before God, as in declared not guilty by grace through faith, just like God seems to ‘overlook’ the flaws and foibles of others in the hallowed ranks of that great cloud of witnesses. This has made me question this assumption in a good way, and I have engaged with God in the text in a fresh way, so good work fellah!
    Also I am really glad to find an interesting article from the Logos blog that actually offers something without acting as a bait and switch, a pretext to hook us into buying something. I look forward to the next segment of this post, and am desperately hoping it doesn’t end up being a plug for another book I have to buy!

    • I definitely hope you buy a book, and though I haven’t read every word of Block’s commentary, the ones I have have been greatly helpful.

      But I am prepared to promise that the main point of next week’s post will not be for you to buy a book. =)

  • I answered “yes” because of the text itself. I truly hope you can convince me otherwise :). The fact that such a sacrifice was against the law is of little consequence at this time in history. (I am not sure cutting up your concubine and sending her around Israel would be “legal.”) I see the passage as a faithful narrative of what DID occur not a commendation or recommendation for similar actions. As was mentioned above, it was a heinous act for such a God empowered person, but little different from David and others. Looking forward to your article next week.

    • You’re making a key distinction I agree with between what’s recorded and what’s normative. Quite obviously, narratives in the Old Testament are allowed to describe sinful actions without implying that we should emulate them. The serpent’s words in Genesis 3 provide the first and best example. The text never explicitly says, “It’s wrong to question God’s words.” In fact, it would be pretty artless for the Bible to continually add explicit statements of the “moral” of each story. I think the Bible does do this sometimes, but I would say it is not common. Nonetheless, many clues in the narrative should tip the reader off as to the narrator’s stance on the actions of given characters.

  • I said yes because I believe it was absolutely mandatory to fulfill his vow. God took it that seriously. I don’t think God would have had a judge who disregarded a vow.

    • I’m not revealing my vote, but let me ask you this: did any other judges in the book of Judges commit sins? And did any of them commit sins while being filled with the Holy Spirit?

  • My position would be No. The scope of God’s prohibition in the OT against taking a life or sacrificing one’s first born is extensive and brought great judgment when practiced.
    I think that the grieving time was for her virginity was pivotal for me. I think it means that she would remain unmarried and childless. That condition in that culture would have been like a death sentence.

    • Without revealing my viewpoint, let me ask you: would she not grieve her virginity if she were going to be killed?

      BTW, your argument is at least as old as Kimchi, a famous Jewish commentator from the 12th to 13th centuries.

  • Yes, Jephthah sacrificed his daughter (Handel’s “Jephthah” Oratorio notwithstanding) and that makes it a tragic story … not a story of faith. If Hebrews 11 is God’s Hall of Fame, Jephthah is Pete Rose or “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. Jephtha did not trust God when God told him he would win the battle. Instead, he tried to cover his bases with a vow that God did not require. When his daughter comes running out of the house in celebration of Jephtha’s victory, Jephthah blames her for his own rash, faithless act. (I wonder if the daughter ran out first in order to protect a servant or some other person that Jephthah might have considered no big loss.) There is nothing redemptive in this story other than as a cautionary tale of what happens when religion is combined with a sick mind.

    • If your view is right (and I’m not saying yet what I think =), then that baseball analogy is a truly great one.

      I wonder, however: do you see “nothing redemptive” in the story of Satan tempting Eve? Why would sins be recorded in the Bible at all if there is “nothing redemptive” about their inclusion? I’m asking, not telling.

  • I vote no for the same reason given by many of your guests. It was prohibited by God’s Law and If I remember correctly it actually says that he gave her life as a living sacrifice. Other wise it would have been an abomination to the nations around. We always pay for our action good or bad and Jephthah did as well. Sin never please God nor does He ever expect us to try and look righteous by excusing sin as if it were a religious act.

  • I immediately answered yes from a clear memory of the passage. There should be no difficulty for people to accept this as it was part and parcel of the culture and respect for “the gods”, God, in those times. Abraham was willing to obey to sacrifice his son. In many ways they had a higher view of God and His majesty than us so called spirit filled Christians. Scripture makes it plain what to say to God. “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” This reflects how to approach our Father in heaven and His holiness. In a nutshell. “Watch your mouth”.

  • I think the text reads that he did sacrifice his daughter. As suggested previously he text records what he did not what he should have done. I think it is too easy to say he simply set her aside for the Lord because we feel more comfortable with that interpretation, and are uncomfortable with God letting him go ahead with her murder. I have always thought that his mistake was in making an oath that tired to steal the glory from God in providing a victory and making it rather about his grandiose sacrifice. God should be the hero of our lives not us. He should have humbled himself before the Lord and confessed his stupidity, who knows what God would have done, instead he was more worried about his oath than his daughter. Tragic story.

  • I voted “yes.” I’ve always remembered the what it says in Deuteronomy 23:21 when it comes to making vows or promises. One was commanded to not make a vow to the LORD unless he was able to pay it. Even though it was spoken under the Law, it’s a pretty powerful scripture that can “put the fear of God” in one’s heart..

  • Israelites would have strongly resisted and opposed human sacrifice. In 1 Samuel 14:45 the people resist Saul’s attempt to kill Jonathan in fulfillment of his oath.

    At the end of the day – this centuries old debate is either sacrifice or celibacy. Then there is that annual celebration…ummm 11:39b-40.

    If the Israelites were ignorant of the Law, then a human sacrifice wouldn’t be out of place. But then we have Hebrews 11:32….but like the imperfect adulterer and murderer David – Jephthah is also a flawed person with imperfect faith – I can relate to that.

  • I think the answer is found in a careful examination of the nature of God. Without going into a lot of detail, we all understand that it is impossible for God to lie. This is because, in the act of lying, God would be violating His own nature. Equally true is His Word. God and His Word are the same. God cannot violate His own Word no more than He can lie. Deuteronomy 12:31; 18:10 is very plain in relating God’s views of human sacrifice. He hates it, forbids it among His people, and punished other nations for participation. It would be a case of God going against His own nature for Him to acquiesce to such an event. If God punished other nations for practicing human sacrifice then He would be equally as guilty for accepting it and would therefore have to punish Himself. Many have tried to argue that God does allow human sacrifices by pointing to the death of Jesus as the atonement for our sins. This view of Christ’s death cannot be valid for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Jesus made it very clear that no one could sacrifice him but rather he laid down his own life for mankind.

  • Thanks for a great post. I voted no. For me God is just. He doesn’t dish out punishment in the OT unless it was pretty obvious that the person has done something Evil. I thinkJepthah would have been able to rationalise this.

    PS – you are talking about Blocks work – looking forward to the Judges Course. I’m reading his commentary on Ezekiel at the moment and I think this is really good as well.

    Looking forward to next week :-)

  • Yes, he sacrificed his daughter, that is very clear in the text. Now, what is meant in your question by the word “sacrifice” is a different matter, entirely!

    • I did clarify in my follow-up questions after the poll that a “yes” vote is a yes for burnt sacrifice. But I can see how that is not perfectly clear…

  • No, I don’t believe so. Though at that time human sacrifice was being practiced by the nations, I believe he sacrificed his daughter to the service of the tabernacle, and not literally on the altar. Note: Jephthah is listed among the names of “the faith hall of fame” in Hebrews 11.

    • You provide excellent evidence from Heb 11, presumably in support of the idea that Jephthah is a praiseworthy person. But what evidence do you see in the text that he sacrificed his daughter to service in the tabernacle? I’m curious.

      • Judges 11:39 — “And it came to pass at the end of two months [she mourned her virginity with her friends], that she returned to her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: AND [Emphasis is mine.] she knew no man…”

        The word AND is the key word for me, which suggests a continuation to the narrative of the daughter. Now, the tabernacle service is just a theory I have, that her father sacrificed her to the service of the temple with a Nazirite vow. But it makes sense to me, since the verse 39 use of AND suggests, in a vague sort of way, she was still alive after her father “did with her according to his vow which he had vowed”.

        • The translations are not quite all over the map on this one, but this would seem to be a prime example of a passage which English translators felt required interpretation. “And” is notoriously flexible, but as best I can tell after doing some review in Waltke and O’Connor’s Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax and some morph searching in Logos Bible Software for the phrase לֹא־יָדְעָ֣ה (“did not know”), this phrase should not be determinative for anyone’s view. It can go either way. I admit that I’m having a little trouble finding the correct grammatical labels to apply here; I must lean on the translations more in Hebrew than I must in Greek.

  • I’m still voting Yes: although I’m aware of commentators who argue otherwise, the narrator of Judges is tracking Israel’s horrific descent into anarchy as a statement that they found theocracy unworkable. The next big hero (Samson) also had the Spirit, but had no idea how to use the Spirit’s power so his actions were even worse.

    But I was interested in your comment on Judges 10:16b, Mark. Do you think that at this point of the story we might understand it to mean that YHWH (as Israel’s ruler) was losing patience with the troublesomeness of his wayward subjects?
    TDOT Volume 11, Page 196 notes that:
    The basic meaning of the root [ʿml] is presumably “be(come) tired.”

  • No, he did not burn his daughter as a sacrifice, but she did become a living sacrifice to the Lord. Because God would not be pleased with Jepthah burning his child as the pagans did, but because the vow had to be honored, I believe she took time to be with her friends and mourn her not being able to marry, and then she went into some sort of service in answer to her father’s vow.

  • i answered no, because there were laws concerning what a burnt offering could be.i’m sure the LORD knew jephthah meant the first acceptable thing to walk out the door he would offer as a burnt offering.

  • Hello Mark. This is a question that I have pondered for over 25 years. Did he or didn’t he? I have come to both conclusions over the years and honestly still don’t have a 100% definitive answer, however, I will give my “current” answer at the end of this post. I agree with some of the posts I’ve read (I didn’t have time to read them all) that said the story is an accurate account of what happened and does not necessarily mean that God gave HIs seal of approval. No matter which side I wind up on, whether Jephthah did, and committed such an unthinkable act, or didn’t, and failed to keep his word to a Holy and Righteous God, I always end up at the same place, Hebrews 11. Hebrews 11 gives such a wonderful account of those who were remembered because of their faith, “by faith”. We have account after account of men and women who were commended for their faith and some who paid the ultimate price because of their faith. As we move through the middle portion of chapter 11 Paul (or whoever you credit with Hebrews–it was Paul :-) ) seems to indicate that he doesn’t have enough time to expound on others who also were commended for their faith. Gideon, Barak, Samson, David, Samuel AND the prophets and also…. Jephthah. This is where I always end up, did he or didn’t he. If Jephthah did offer his daughter as a burnt offering (which the text seems to indicate), how could he be mentioned in a list that includes David, Samson, the prophets, etc… If he didn’t and lied to a Holy and Righteous God, how could he be mentioned in Hebrews 11? Where I’ve ended every time, so far, is that whether he did or didn’t God is a forgiving God and doesn’t look at the outward appearance but rather looks at the heart. I’ve done so may things that I’m not proud of since becoming a Christian 30+ years ago, however, I am comforted by the fact that whether Jephthah did or didn’t he is mentioned in Hebrews 11 (the Hall of Faith). I’m reminded that I can confess my sins and trust that God is faithful and just to forgive my sins and cleanse me from all unrighteousness and continue to use me, in spite of myself, to bring honor and glory to Himself. I remember that God doesn’t look at the outward appearance but at the heart. I think Jephthah did as he said he would do which makes his appearance in Hebrews 11 all the more incredible to me and makes God all the more amazing to me, not because He didn’t strike Jephthah dead for keeping his word but because He sees things through a lens that is too wonderful for me. How could a Holy and Righteous God not strike Jephthah dead for keeping his word? How can a Holy and Righteous God keep expressing His love for me and forgiving me? I stand in awe of Him!

  • Good Evening Mark, I saw you around occasionally at BJU, but didn’t have the opportunity to get to know you. I think you were a few years behind me in undergrad. However, you did a lecture on “topic folders” during seminary. I still use that zip file today.
    As for the question at hand, I vote no. I don’t believe Jephthah burned his daughter in cultic sacrifice. It’s not because I think so highly of Jephthah. I believe that there is plenty of evidence the Israelites adopted Canaanite practices. Manasseh’s reign was noted for people offering child sacrifices.
    I think he presented his daughter to the service of the Lord as Hannah did with Samuel. Samuel was near the time of the Judges. Further, why would anyone morn a woman’s virginity or create a “holiday” centered on a woman’s virginity when the woman actually died. How many virgins have died during the time of Judges? I don’t know, but I can’t see people lamenting virginity as more important than a woman’s life. I don’t believe the other interpretation is impossible to defend but lacks the best support.

    • Nice to hear from you, Josh. So glad you’re using those topic folders.

      I’m actually a little intrigued by your answer and want to dig deeper if you have a second. If you don’t think that highly of Jephthah, and you think Israelites adopted Canaanite practices including child sacrifice, why not assume that “he did with her according to his vow” means just that?

        • Many, many years ago I gave seminars about how to organize your files for seminary and ministry. I gave out these topic folders as a suggested way of organizing files. Now I use Evernote and tagging, but I still have my topic folders and still use them.

      • Unfortunately, I’m going to have to go by memory of when I last studied this passage. I don’t have a lot of time to research this because I have a paper due for Dr. Talbert…Theology and Practice of Prayer.
        Regarding sacrifices, I don’t recall anyone in the Old Testament implementing human sacrifice with the worship of God. I don’t believe Jephthah would have associated human sacrifice with the proper worship of God. The dismemberment of the concubine in the later passages of Judges were disturbing, but she was already dead.
        Further, I believe that the people lamenting her virginity is key to understanding this as vow of celibacy in the service of the Lord. This was not done once after her departure but annually. The text makes a point to note that she had no relations with a man. What is more important, the death of a person or the fact they did not marry before they died? Some may see the focus on her virginity as emphasizing the fact that Jephthah would not have any lineage. That works with her death or that she would remain celibate in service to the Lord.
        It’s a good study to have, and I look forward to seeing the next installment. Thanks for interacting with me; glad to participate in Bible passage discussions!

  • I said Yes because the scripture indicates that he did to her according to his vow after the two months in the mountains with her friends. It is a tragic story that I do not fully understand. What is even more perplexing is that Jephthah is listed in the New Testament as one of the heroes of faith. It seems to be a weak faith that puts bribe on the table to help assure the victory. Why would God honor such a pledge since the sacrifice of children is something He had forbidden? A few years ago I was preaching through the book of Judges but when I came to this passage I was at a total loss as to what to do with it. I’ll be anxious to hear your thoughts

  • Not 100% sure, but I voted yes, since I seem to remember his daughter says that he has to honor his vow. Anyway, regarding the question of how could a God-inspired judge do such a thing, well, many of the Judges were just a mess. Look at Sampson, for instance.

  • No because GOD despised HUMAN SACRIFICES! Lev 18:21; Deut 12:31, 18:10; Deut 12:4; Lev 18:3; Lev 18:26; Lev 18:30; 2 Kgs 17:15;

    I strongly believe that GOD himself would have stopped Jephthah from human sacrifice just as He intervened in Abraham’s episode!

  • The sacrifice of a firstborn child by fire on an altar was the most hideous part of the worship ritual employed by the Ammonites to pay homage to their diabolical god. It is likely Jephthah followed through on the vow he made to God. The question is, did God provide for Jephthah and his daughter, as He did for Abraham and Isaac, and for Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace? I can’t help but wonder if the point God wanted to make to Jephthah was this–apart from God, a simple rash oath could reduce a man to being just as sinful and horrific as the Ammonites in a few seconds flat with just a few stupid words. I would also like to think that God grace-grace-graciously spared the girl in the same way that He did Isaac and the others, after Jephthah repented of his oath and his daughter spent a few weeks crying out to God in prayer. I have a really hard time believing that God would have allowed Jephthah to worship Him by sinning to do so, especially in the same evil way the Ammonites worshiped Milcham. I believe God would have answered prayer, intervened, and saved and delivered them both–Japheth from himself, and his daughter from certain death, that God would be glorified in the manner He is due, instead of the hideous ways of His enemy.

  • Mark: I appreciate your thoughtful response to every single commentator! Incredible. As well as your painstaking effort to refrain from giving your opinion–it must be excruciating… or, you know, maniacal; after all you are a red head.

    Yes. Jephthah sacrificed his daughter. Although I’ve heard the interpretation that Jephthah simply ‘devoted’ her, such a view requires an overall positive view of Israel (and her judges), which Scripture itself never gives… they did what was right in their own eyes.

    Even though Jephthah was anointed with the Spirit, he vowed, and sacrificed as a type of Christ who made covenant with Father before the foundation of the world that through the death of one, a whole people might be saved. And so Jephthah’s daughter’s solemn resignation reflects the agony of Christ in the garden mountain, who prayed to the Father in the midst of his friends (…and so the daughter’s time of preparation with her friends).

    Jesus is the new and better Jephthah who defeats sin and death… but he does it through the sacrifice of his own life.

    Tell me: what is everything I believe about the Old Testament? Or don’t… I’ll be back next week.

    • LOL. You know redheads. =)

      I think I can deliver on my promise, and I think the comments on this thread are demonstrating just what I thought they would. I am super thankful for everyone’s interactions.

  • The mourning for her virginity was due to her being a perpetual servant at the Tabernacle, as prescribed by God and mentioned by several Bible refs by others. She would not be, as a virgin, the one who would bear the future seed of a woman whom we know is Jesus our great God and Savior.

    Indeed, ancient Israel established a yearly holiday honoring her sacrifice. God abhors and forbade in no uncertain terms human sacrifices and even child sacrifices. It is clear, so much so that any speculation by Christians thinking Jephthah slaughtered his daughter indicates a lack of mature knowledge God as God has revealed Himself. No offense meant, but God would not honor Jephthah as one of the faithful if he committed such evil. That is not speculation on my part, for God is quite plain about his condemnation of Israel for doing exactly such murder of their children more than once. God does not say “Yes” when God means “No”, and vice versa.

  • I voted Yes, because that was how I remembered the story. After voting, I went a re-read the story, and here are some thoughts:

    – It doesn’t say he offered her as a burnt offering. But it does say “according to his vow”, which was to make a burnt offering…
    – Just because he was a judge, doesn’t mean that everything he did was perfect (just read the rest of Judges), so I don’t think his “position” would necessarily prohibit him from offering his daughter as a burnt offering.
    – If God had specifically intervened (a la Abraham/Isaac) I would expect it to be noted.
    – The passage is surprisingly “coy” about the details, but this could swing it either way

    Looking forward to your next post :)

  • Yes, I think he killed his daughter. his vow was foolish similar to Saul’s to prevent his soldiers from eating before conquering the enemy in battle. Japhthah should have acknowledged the foolishness of his vow, and spared his daughter. Vows to the Lord are sacred and so is human life. This event shows the inadequacy of the judges as rulers over Israel. But I never considered that she was offered in service to the temple like Samuel, I’ll definitely be re-reading Judges

    • After reading the passage it is clear he did kill his daughter. The attempts to place her in temple service only serve to water down a difficult passage. Hebrews 11 is certainly important, but count Jephthah one sinner along many in the heros of our faith. And this sin is brutal. Jephthah’s story deserves to be taken serious, we have non believing friends that know how to read and won’t be satisfied by hiding the tough parts of the Bible. Jephthah saves Israel, he was an outcast that set aside his past to save his people, but he failed miserably on the home front. Next Samson will fail to save Israel because he’s too busy chasing foreign women. These are the final judges and things are getting worse in Israel, especially for women. Jephthah’s daughter is killed by her dad. Samson’s womanizing will cost all of Israel. The Benjaminite’s concubine will be brutally raped. The daughters of Shiloh will be kidnapped and forced into marriages, by the decision of the elders of Israel. The value and dignity of women takes a dramatic decline from Deborah in ch 4. The book of Judges ends on a sour note. There was no king in Israel, the people did what they wanted. Saul had his faults, but when he made a foolish vow the people were able to prevent him from killing his son Jonathan. Saul, in this area, was more righteous than Jephthah

    • To Mark’s attention getting title that inspired us all to respond: How is this a passage that reveals everything we believe about the Old Testament? The initial question was what do you think happened. If I haven’t read Judges, I like many would assume he isn’t going to kill his daughter. There were a few commentors that stated he would have to kill her because of the seriousness of a vow. But the law is clear, God values human life. Though a vow is serious, this vow could never honor God. Now most of the responses are from reading and interpreting. I think reading the passage it seems clear he did this evil deed. There are good reasons to disagree with me. But many of those arguing he didn’t kill her are essentially saying he didn’t because that would be wrong, it’s an abomination, it’s detestable, and a good judge who is mentioned in Hebrews 11 couldn’t be involved in any of that. So the big question for our theology: is your God the God who has revealed Himself in the Bible, or have you created some other god that meets your expectations in Judges 11? It is so important to stay rooted in the text. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with me. But the argument should be around what is happening in Judges, what are the terms used, what do they mean. The argument should not be, Judges says one thing, but I believe a judge would never do that so the judge must have done something else. God isn’t asking us to imitate everything done in the OT. But this is the account of the people God used. We must be honest with the text to understand how God may use us despite our own flaws.

      Now Mark I’m sure I won’t derail your intended destination with this discussion, but I’m very passionate about the text and I’ve enjoyed the challenge from Jephthah.

  • I voted “no” because I think I would have remembered that sacrifice like we remember Abraham and Isaac.

  • I voted no because I think it is clear that his daughter was to remain a virgin foever, so he would never have grandchildren , and his name would not be carried on.

  • In my very first hermeneutics class at Moody Theological Seminary we debated this issue with a great division in the classroom on the answer. My vote today has not changed since that debate in the class room a few years ago. I do think he ended up killing his daughter. With that being stated I will now take a 15 page paper that I had to write on the subject and pull just a few bullet points from it.
    1. People today that are indwelled with the Holy Spirit still sin, still misinterpret what they feel God’s will is. Jephthah was certainly capable of doing the same.
    2. Be careful of “vows” you make, you may find your self as a liar if break it or a sinner if you keep it.
    3. For the same reason that Abraham was not “surprised” when God asked him to sacrifice his son Jephthah did sacrifice his daughter. This is the reason: As we know from the reading the people turned their eyes towards YHWH before this they were worshipping false gods of which sacrifice of children was expected and practiced, in their mind where people believed in regional gods and gods that desired child sacrifice, they felt that God was no different. In other words they had a wrong picture of God that caused them to make wrong decisions.
    4. I mentioned the idea of Regional gods above (Jonah thought he could escape God by going to another region), YHWH was the God of Israel, in the minds of an ANE people, for them to win a battle, their god or gods had to be stronger and be able to defeat the god or gods of the enemy. In the case of Israel, Jephthah felt he had to bargain with God for his assistance, even though God was already upon him to win the battle (sometimes we walk right past God’s blessings and not recognize that he has been with us the whole time). So as in the mindset of the ANE people, Jephthah thought he had to appease God by keeping his vow just to keep God on “their side”, this was faulty thinking, but would have been considered the correct action had he followed any other god. To simplify he followed the cultural norm of the time and the cultural norm was wrong.

    Well I said only a few points, so there they are. With all that being said, in that class room debate, the class came in divided and left divided on that issue. I ask you take this last point into consideration, people did not begin to really have the ability to grasp God’s love, mercy, and compassion for us, nor understand the meaning of what happened on the mountain when Abraham was provided a sacrifice so his son could live, that understanding, that lesson, that revelation didn’t happen until God Humbled himself, came as a man and died on the cross for us. This was beyond Jephthah’s understanding.

    I beg for your forgiveness for my long winded answer.

  • I voted no. I think the “vow” of Jephthah typified the failure of the nation (as a whole) to comprehend the grace of God and live by faith in harmony with the promises God made to Abraham.

  • The many responses are thought provoking and reveal how differently we fill in the blanks or approach the conflicts we sometimes find in scripture. I say yes, he sacrificed his daughter, but not as a burnt offering. Awaiting next weeks’ discussion.

  • I believe he did offer her as a burnt offering to the Lord. A sacrifice the Lord did not ask for and, in fact, found disgusting. The story of Jepthah has always reminded me of the high price of insecurity in the ministry. How many ministers sacrifice their families on the altar of acceptance and success?

  • We would be hard-pressed, not to keep a vow made unto God! Abraham was willing to sacrifice his own son Isaac, unto the LORD; and I believe that Jephthah would have been so inclined to do also, concerning his daughter. If God so blesses us with a wife and children, and elects to take them away; then He is also able to once again replace them, just as He did in Job.

  • Yes. He honoured his pledge.
    I read this as being about the foolishness of making a bargain to try to force God’s hand, akin to the fertility cult of the followers of the Baals and Ashtoreths who believed they could get their gods to send the rains if they performed the right rituals. Jephthah’s foolish bargain showed that he doubted the sovereignty of God.

  • I did not see any opportunity to vote. Perhaps a problem in my browser or the voting is already closed. If the Barry who responded is the Barry with whom I’m familiar then I respond with trepidation. But I have to answer in the affirmative based on Leviticus 27:28-29 and Deuteronomy 23:21. It’s that trees and forest thing.

  • I voted yes because in Judges, it is said that the Israelites did wickedly in the sight of God and followed their own ways. Therefore, they were not so diligent and faithful to keep God’s laws. What is human sacrifice through those lenses? They followed after the pagan gods and their practices anyway. Judges is a book that describes the spiraling downward trajectory of Israel and what it looks like to follow the desires of your heart rather than to follow your God. Yet, God is faithful to His word for His sake, not theirs. After all, He has an eternal purpose, since before the world began, to redeem a people for Himself.
    As far as Jephthah being Spirit-filled, the Spirit gave him strength to win the battle. The Spirit didn’t indwell people then, He just came upon them temporarily. Jephthah won the battle in God’s strength, but his words were from his sin-soaked flesh, not the Spirit.

    • You are one of the relatively few commenters to try to place the story of Jephthah within the book of Judges. I think that’s extremely important, whichever view you take.

  • Thank you, Dr. Ward for challenging my thinking. I appreciate being forced to reconsider my interpretation and being held accountable for my words. I think perhaps responses to your poll may be divided along infra-/supralapsarian lines.

    I don’t believe Jephthah vowed to commit sin. Adultery and murder are explicitly forbidden, but burnt offerings are enjoined. Leviticus 27 regards vows and things devoted to the Lord. It specifically states that a man may devote a person for destruction, and, once devoted, that person may not be redeemed, but is to be surely put to death.

    Jephthah’s vow is called “rash” because he failed to consider all the possible vicissitudes. I hope my thinking is not so rash, and I hope that I am corrigible if proven wrong. I eagerly wait to see which side you take.

    Sadly, I will be offline for the next day or so, but hope to be back in a few days.

  • I voted “Yes”. God didn’t kill her. Jephthah did. He was a terrible human being living in a terrible period of Israel’s history. It just shows us what happens when everyone does that which is right in his own eyes.

  • I could not find a place to vote. I also tired to answer this without looking at the rest of the replies. I will read them after I post.
    ‘NO!” – Since you went to BJU I will use an old Bob Jones saying, “It is never right to do wrong in order to do right.” Or something close to that. Judges 11:36-40 explains it. She went and “bewailed her virginity”. For a woman in her time to go childless by choice was unheard of. Since she “was his only child”, that meant Jephthah’s line would end. We may not see that as a “sacrifice” but I am sure both Jephthah and his daughter did.
    God expressly forbid Israel to pass their children through the fire like the rest of the land. Lev.18:21; 20:2-5. Don’t tell me God was trying to make him go against His express Word. Do I think God would use a man greatly with His power and then immediately disobey His Word? No. It shows why it is so important to read ALL the Word, to take it in context as well as complete meaning. I tired to keep the answer short. This is an entire sermon for an answer.My 2 cents worth.

    • (You might want to try a different Internet browser if you don’t see the poll.)

      I agree with that Bob Jones Sr saying. =)

      But what about Gideon? Isn’t that just what happened in his story? He was used by God to do something amazing, but then he turned right around and sinned—right?

      • I would not say that Gideon turned right around and sinned. Was the ephod a good idea? No. Was that his intent? I do not think so.
        Getting back to the 1st question, An important verse I should have included is James 1:13. God promises that He would not tempt man with evil. A human sacrifice would be evil according to His Word. So God would not put him in that position.
        Were times evil in Israel? Yes. But there were still bright lights God used along the way. Were they perfect? Hardly. But God used and has given them to us to learn from as well as emulate the good qualities.
        I guess I am up to 4 cents now.

    • I know you added an LOL, but I’m going to take your comment at face value: I don’t think we need a liberal perspective, if by that you mean the authority to rise above the text and condemn it, or God’s actions in it. Come back next week to see what I mean more fully, but, interestingly enough, Enns just posted a comment yesterday about Jephthah:

      It is certainly true that not all violence in the Old testament is endorsed, but appealing to the Jephthah narrative in Judges (or any narrative in Judges) [to vindicate divine violence] is off base…: these stories were written to indicate how low the Israelites had sunk (and how desperately they needed a king to rule over them).

      I’m still not revealing my viewpoint till next week, but I believe Enns is perfectly right here. I don’t follow the rest of his argument, the portion that does what you were talking about, I think:

      These are stories [of genocidal violence in the OT] that the ancient Israelites told which reflect their genuine but ancient faith in God within the conceptual parameters of their historical context. These stories were recorded as we read them at a much later time in Israel’s monarchy, or later, to enhance Israel’s national narrative.

      Check out this video from Peter Williams of Tyndale House for a few reasons why I don’t follow Enns.

      • I’m currently watching that video. Thank you.
        It’s already very similar to Paul Copan’s book “Is a God a moral monster”.

        I’m just not convinced tho by the conservative view of Scripture.
        From my viewpoint;
        (I’m 29 years of age and about to graduate from seminary; I also served in the military for 6 years)
        I see many people my age and younger who want to read the Bible for what the text says.(not from what the older generations said it says)

        What if ISIS turns from there ways and start following Jesus?
        This is a hypothetical question that includes more then just the Judges story you brilliantly written about.

        Then in 1000 years from now, future civilizations would look back and see the violence they committed and have to ask themselves the same questions were asking of the ancient Israelites… ” was it God who commanded ISIS to murder Innocent people? (To ISIS they’re not innocent they’re evil western idea promoter’s)

        We would look back and conclude that ISIS had genuine faith just in the wrong God or wrong idea.
        But now they’re following Jesus (in this hypothetical situation).

        What would we conclude about their activities earlier on in the culture?

        We’d definitely say that wasn’t God telling them to kill innocent people.

        Yet, {conservatives} say, yes, indeed God commanded genocide to rid away the evil.

        I’m a very reasonable person, very well studied, every part of my being is dedicated to helping people and co-laboring with God—–im still unable to see what it is that allows conservative views of Scripture to be okay with this sort of interpretation.

        • I don’t want to read too much into your reply, because I’d have to see the full shape your bibliological views takes before commenting on them (Prov 18:13). But I’m guessing your view is something like what Vern Poythress calls the “vehicle-cargo” approach. The Bible is a culturally imperfect vehicle nonetheless carrying divine cargo of truth. The question then becomes, what’s vehicle and what’s cargo?

          I urge you to read Poythress’ excellent Westminster Journal article on the subject.

          Everyone views himself as reasonable, even and especially both parties in a disagreement. The question is by what standard such disagreements can be resolved. Will Scripture be the standard, or will it be something standing above Scripture—such as human reason? And if reason, then which rationality?

          I could list off more things to read, but I’ll limit myself to just one: J.I. Packer’s brilliant chapter 3 (“Authority”) in his classic book I wish Logos carried.

          • Hello Sir,

            I appreciate the back and forth dialogue– you’re even quick in your reply. :) (Logo’s give this man a raise$$)

            I appreciate the recommend material as well. I will read that article.

            If I may;
            You said, “will Scripture be the standard, or will it be something standing above Scripture—such as human reason? ”

            Now this statement you made strikes me as odd and I believe discussing this may shed light on the entire reason I have a position on the Bible differently then you do.

            How can Scripture be above human reasoning when human reasoning is what the Scripture was produced by?

            I would have to guess you’re trying to describe a concept that is meant to be taken as something like this “if your reasoning is in disagreement with these great men of God you’re probably wrong”

            That sum up I just assumed –I myself would agree with.
            But I disagree with the way you’re using “human reasoning” to persuade your point as being true.

            Maybe we have an entire different view of what human reasoning is and what the process of human reasoning entails.
            To my knowledge there is no evolution theory to that of human reasoning, other than becoming more intelligent; I’m talking about the basic process and faculties of human reasoning….we use the same human reasoning faculties today, that writers of Scripture used–; our brains.

            So to say “Scripture is above human reasoning” or something like that is (IMO) wrongfully deducted from an incorrect understanding of the processes of human reasoning.


          • Hey, of course I’ll approve a comment that recommends I get a raise. =)

            But we do have different views, and those differences appear to be pretty foundational. I think the crux of the matter may be this statement you made: “How can Scripture be above human reasoning when human reasoning is what the Scripture was produced by?”

            The simple answer from the conservative side is that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Tim 3:16). Human reason played a role; this is acknowledged among conservative theologians. Peter wrote as Peter with Peter’s thoughts and style, Paul and Moses and James and others with their respective personalities, educations, and styles. But divine reason was determinative: everything Scripture affirms is true, and the role of humans in producing it in no way compromises that truth. If you’re in seminary, you’ve just got to read the classics on this B.B. Warfield’s writings on this are still revered for good reason. We’re talking about God’s word here; rejecting or adopting the conservative viewpoint cannot fail to have massive repercussions in your theology and in your ministry. You say you are a co-laborer with God—but who is God? We can’t know unless he tells us, and he tells us in the Bible. Carson’s brand new, massive collection of essays in bibliology also looks good. Even just a systematic theology such as Grudem would be a good place to start, because he summarizes and quotes Scripture, because hearing the claims Scripture makes for itself (“Thus saith the Lord” all over the place) is the place to start, because God doesn’t need defense attorneys.

            But he uses them anyway, and my favorite answers to this kind of thinking actually come from C.S. Lewis and not from any formal theologian. Lewis was remarkably incisive. Just pick up any of his books of essays and start reading, and you’ll see him having in many ways the same discussion Enns and Carson are having, only 60-70 years ago. And you’ll see him doing something very hard to do: being cleverer than both of them. =) I laugh out loud all the time while reading him just for the sheer joy of watching his mind operate.

            Enough with the recommendations… Let me try to engage this issue a little. Let me see if a dialogue will help.

            I find it difficult to have discussions like this without pointing to specific passages. Generalities lose us in the weeds. So let’s talk about Jonah. Did he get swallowed by a great fish for three days or not?

            The typical conservative answer is, “If the Bible says he did, then he did.”

            The typical non-conservative answer is, “Of course not!”

            The conservative replies, “How do you know?”

            “Because such things don’t happen. We know, scientifically, that miracles do not occur.”

            “So God says, ‘This happened,’ and you say, ‘No, it didn’t’?”

            “Well, not exactly. You see, ancient peoples operated within a different cosmology and in a different cultural milieu in which these stories were understood to function not as literal historical retellings but as community-shaping myths. The Bible never intended to claim that Jonah actually got swallowed by a fish and lived to tell the tale. This is an assumption that developed later, in a different cultural and church-historical setting. Such a thing is clearly impossible.”

            “Then what about the resurrection of Christ? Did it happen or not?”

            “That’s different.”

            “How so?”

            “The scriptural testimonies to it are so insistent, and it was so contrary to expectation. It breaks out of all cultural constraints. It couldn’t be merely mythical.”

            “Well the scriptural testimonies to Jonah’s being swallowed by a fish are insistent, too. Jesus himself compared his upcoming three days and nights in the belly of the earth to Jonah’s. How do we know one is mythical overlay and the other is historical?”

            Dialogue finished. As best I can tell, and in all the fairness I can muster, the answer non-conservatives give to that question is, “We just do.” I can never seem to get an answer to the question, “How do we know what’s cultural vehicle in the Bible and what’s theological cargo?” Seems to me vehicle and cargo, history and theology, are inextricably linked precisely at the point of the incarnation, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Paul said that “we are of all men most to be pitied” if Christ did not rise from the dead. Christianity is a historical religion.

            If a conservative is presented with the question, “Did Jonah really get swallowed by a whale?” he or she looks to the Bible for the answer. If a non-conservative is presented with the same question, he looks to “reason”—to science, to history, or to what seems reasonable to him at the time given the other things he believes or knows. In other words, he stands over the text rather than under it.

            I can’t resist another book recommendation, Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism.

            Please do push back if I am misunderstanding or misrepresenting your position in any way.

          • Not sure what is wrong with my browsers but I tried both Safari and Firefox and neither of them work with the links you provided.

  • I voted “yes.” We often look for the best alternatives when we don’t like what we see in the text. The “saints” of the Old Testament would not have qualified as deacons or elders in our local churches. Jesus changed the whole tone of that for us. God prohibited David from building the temple would illustrate the above point. People identified as godly people also did horrific things. Judges provides repetitive cycles that revolve around relative peace and war. The judges were perhaps better than some of their contemporaries, but they were also products of their environments. A person might exhibit faith in one area, but show their depravity in another. David and Bathsheba, Abraham and Sarah, Jonah, Issac and his dealings with his sons all provide examples of the bi-polar aspect of all of the saints natures.

  • I commented on another reply here but didn’t give my answer. My vote was “no.”

    The English “burnt offering” only gives us one idea. The Hebrew “‘olah” has at its root the idea of rising up (to God) as the smoke of a burnt offering. We have a similar problem with the English “sacrifice” which brings to mind depriving oneself or appeasing an angry deity. The Hebrew “korban” is all about drawing near (to God) as the blood sprinkled an His very thrown is near Him.

    In a similar vein, may people misconstrue the “eye-for-an-eye” statements in Torah to mean that the judges/courts were actually ordering eyes to be gouged out and hands to be chopped off. These commandments are about proportional VALUE not literal body damage.

    The culture of those those who had fear of the God revealed in Torah was not bloodthirsty.

    Back to Jephthah, it is clear that he had no children and so dedicating his daughter to God as a perpetual virgin in the tabernacle was a sacrifice (in the English sense.) He had no heir to carry on his name. That’s how I understand the story.

  • My recollection is that Jephthah vowed to offer up whatever first met him as a burnt offering, and that after his daughter had been and mourned, he did so.
    Two great and simple O.T. themes to me are trust, and obedience. Jephthah and his daughter were both, in some sense, trusting and obedient. We are called upon to be the same. We don’t know what the end of the story was — but we should trust a loving God that was not needlessly cruel.
    We also might note that much of the Bible teaches principles — and the principle of not vowing foolishly, and always paying vows, is often repeated.

  • Slightly embarrassed that I don’t remember clearly, I voted yes. Mainly because that is the inclination of my memory, and I also remember having discussions about how just because Jepthah made that oath and followed through with it doesn’t mean God condoned it or was pleased by it. It would be the first time a Spirit filled prophet made a dumb sinful mistake (read Sampson). Interested to read the follow up article.

  • I voted no. I’ve spoken to some faithful Jews who have said that it is very likely that his daughter’s life became a living sacrifice, in a monk kind of state, He did not disobey the OT and neither did she.

  • The rabbis and early church fathers almost all thought she was sacrificed as a burnt offering. Not until the medieval period did the “temple service” become a popular view. My initial tendency is to trust the older sources who new both the language and tradition better than we moderns do. Moreover, even though God forbid human sacrifice, God also forbid non-priests having an epbod (Gideon) as well as most of what Israel did without a king. The flow of Judges is from bad to worse. The fact that he made the vow was evidence of weak faith, just like Gideon’s fleeces. But more wicked in consequence. Again, from bad to worse. The point is that even the faithful “Hebrews 11) are flawed. Even those on whom the Spirit comes. Even those who have major Spirit-accomplished victories. Not just a little flawed, but hopelesslessly flawed. When Christ is not king, even our best is mixed with wretched sin. What is interesting is that the Law allowed Jephthah to redeem her for 30 pieces of silver (Lev. 27:4). Maybe he didn’t know the Law. What a cost to pay for being ignorant of the word of God. When I looked at the number of times that the Hebrew wav was used for “or” instead of “and,” the “temple service” interp. which requires an “or” translation seems highly unlikely, and appears more like a modern attemp to gentrify the Bible’s heinous portrayal of fallen human nature.

  • I answered “Yes” because I believe keeping one’s word was the highest priority in the culture at the time and for most of history, even above one’s own life or the life of a loved one. The whole point of the story is that Jephthah bound himself to a promise that ultimately forced him to choose between murder or breaking his promise. And he chose not to break his promise. It was really the only “right” thing to do after he had made the rash vow. The story is a cautionary tale with the point that keeping one’s word sometimes comes at a high price, and therefore you should be quite careful about the promises you make.

    • I wasn’t positive that the scripture said that Jephthah did indeed sacrifice his daughter, but for all practical purposes it did, “who did with her according to his vow that he had made.”

      So now, I am waiting to see if you interpret it as a literal sacrifice or one of giving up inheritance and remaining a virgin. I Think the point is that Jephthah kept his word.

      I think a similar question would be, “Did God look favorably on Abraham’s intent to sacrifice Isaac?” Of course the answer is yes. This leads to the greater question, “Would God Himself, kill His Own Son?”

  • I voted yes. God is a Man who keeps His word and expects the same from His people. Her father did offer her up. We have to remember that one of the consequences of David’s sin was God told David that the baby would die. God kept His word.

  • I voted yes. This incident is exactly what is expected from the concluding statement of the book of Judges: ” In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Jdg 21:25 ESV)”

  • I voted ‘NO’. As mentioned he did allow his daughter to mourn her virginity, and that is how I believe she spent the rest of her life, a virgin. And Jepthah’s family line ended with the death of his daughter.

  • NO- I don’t believe the daughter was physically sacrificed as a burnt offering however, whether she was or not is irrelevant to the question. Jephthah added the caveat regarding the sacrifice. God never asked for the sacrifice…this is like all the other stories in the Old Testament where Israel denies God, gets in trouble, and tries to bargain their way out of trouble…but even in the bargaining, they are still doing what seems right in their own eyes. It is a story played over and over. God only asks for their obedience but rather than obedience they follow the same patterns throughout history.

  • I voted “Yes” i have very little memory, but by what was happening before I’m sure he wouldn’t ignore the vow he’s made, if he’s a righteous follower of God im sure he’d walk in total faith, i imagine he didn’t burn her though but did something close to it… Like a sacrifice related to her or God intervened in some way?
    I’m exited to know what really happened so ill just wait! To be honest im not so confident on my answer, im taking abraham sacrificing his son as example XD

  • I voted “no.” I think “yes” appears to be the straightforward literal answer, but I think that there are too many arguments against the “yes” answer:

    (1) Laws for burnt offerings given in Lev 1 make it impossible for J’s daughter to serve as burnt offering. First, required to be a male without blemish, and secondly, required involvement of Aaron’s sons the priests to arrange fire, wood, pieces of sacrifice on the altar, and washing entrails.

    (2) Leviticus 5:4-5 makes provision for rash oaths.

    (3) Leviticus 20:2 forbids sacrifice of children to Molech. While Molech is not God to whom J made his vow, I think God’s hatred for such practices is obvious.

    (4) Leviticus 20:1-12 discusses the monetary valuation of animals and persons when they are involved in a vow. Furthermore, the principle of “redemption” is found throughout the law.

    (5) Leviticus 27:28 provides that J’s daughter couldn’t be sold or redeemed, but could be devoted as a thing most holy to the Lord.

    So, J “fulfilled his vow” by devoting his daughter to the Lord.

    • Brilliant! There is the answer, and the rest of the story–God’s provision for salvation and deliverance long before Jepthah and his daughter were even born and he made his rash oath!

    • This homework of yours was helpful to me. Thank you for sharing it. Please do come back and interact with my follow-up post next week with the same level of care and biblical insight.

    • It was unlawful to fight on the seventh day; it was unlawful to carry the Ark into battle, yet the Lord blessed it in Joshua 6. I am not saying that you are incorrect, but we see plenty of examples of unlawful acts throughout the scriptures.

      Food for thought!

  • I voted no, based on a translation that I favour and which ended the quote thus: “And he did unto her as he would.” I make no apology about making moral evaluations on Old Testament hermeneutics, since Christ’s character is the ultimate view of God and therefore best represent God actions in the Old or New Testament.

    One could argue, however that things devoted in the old Testament may come under a separate personal existential reality that God Himself imparts. One example of such is: the three Hebrew boys in the fire and yes Jepthah’s daughter herself. Note that his daughter’s response was quite enamored of the kind of psychological suffering that this tragic episode would normally induce on the individual.

    Another difficulty that we face in the old testament maybe the problem of identifying Biblical genre that will tell us how to treat an episode such as seen here with Jephthah vow. But then I’m still learning.

  • I voted yes because of the many reasons stated above. The context of Judges is one in which the people of Israel were in a downward spiral toward apostasy. The portrayal of Israel in Judges is largely negative – including the Judges especially as we move further into the book. As a Reformed believer I see the Bible through the lens of God’s History of Redemption. Israel’s apostasy is contrasted by God’s faithfulness to his covenant relationship. Judges then illustrates Israel’s desperate need for a true Judge/Deliverer/Mediator. The wages of sin is death! We need a Savior.

    In the book of Judges, the Lord commonly delivers His people through the use of a judge/deliverer/mediator. These recurrent accounts picture the salvation of the Israelites in a temporal, external, and physical manner through a flawed human set apart by God for this task. The stories prefigure the work of the Messiah, who is the only one who can mediate the true, final, and everlasting salvation of the people of God. As Peter taught in the temple precincts, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Christ, then, is the final judge/deliverer who redeems the people of God.

    Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 352). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.

    Jephthah’s vow was costly (she was his only child) but in order for God to keep his covenant with us it would cost him even more. His one and only son! He himself would sacrifice himself in our place. I am very thankful for a God who keeps his promises no matter how great the cost!

  • I voted Yes! OT stories are not to give us heros. They are to point us to the only true hero of the Bible – God (ie the Trinity). This is especially true in the book of Judges.

  • I voted yes because my Logos commentaries that suggest he did sacrifice his daughter had better arguments than the ones that suggested otherwise.

  • “. . . she returned to her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed . . .” (Judg 11:39), “cannot be understood in any other way than that he offered her . . . i.e. as a burnt-offering, to the Lord.” Observe that Jephthah was not commended by the Lord for this act, which serves as an example of the horrid times. Having examined the evidence, it seems that this viewpoint is most in line with what the passage seeks to convey, even though it may be unappealing to its readers.

  • I voted No. This method of salvation could only be fulfilled by one who is without sin and the NT defines the only one who could and has satisfied such an obligation. If this practice was acceptable unto God then it would have been preformed throughout scripture (freedom from Egypt, etc.).

  • I voted “yes.” But….based on my memory of the story, we aren’t told. We are left with her going off to enjoy one final jaunt with her friends before the vow is fulfilled. The fulfillment of the vow is hinted at, but not spelled out. Keep in mind, we are not told everything that happens in every person’t life in the Bible. Jephthah may have had one of those “Abraham-on-the-mountain” moments. God may have prevented him from killing her. Or not. We aren’t told. Perhaps the actual fulfillment, or the lack of fulfillment, of the vow is not important in regard to the message. Or maybe leaving it vague is a part of the message.

    Fact: even the strongest people of faith in the Old Testament are not perfect. Fact: God is holy. Fact: God will always do the right thing, even when we mess up or don’t understand.

    Why do some people require that he killed her? It boils down to the idea that a godly person will always fulfill a vow to the Lord, or face judgment for it. Why do others contend that he must not have killed her? Well, we often want to “clean up” the bible and make it acceptable for consumption.

  • Yes, but that doesn’t mean God condoned it. When we try to make our ethic reinvent the story as written we are just revisionists. The only perfect hero in the Bible is Jesus. When man tries to assist God in achieving His will, instead of just doing as he is told, sin enters and taints the story. (Abraham’s lies, Moses striking the rock, etc.)

    But, just to throw oil on the fire, Jesus was, after all, a human sacrifice…

  • Hello all,

    I voted “no.” My first read of the passage was that the answer might be a “yes,” but two things steered me to a “no” answer. First of all, the daughter does not go out mourning her death, but rather she mourns her virginity. Secondly the word “like” or “as” does not have to indicate a full transfer of one idea to another. He cannot offer her as a true burnt offering since she is not a sacrifice animal (she would not qualify as a correct sacrifice), so the word “as” should be understood as “similar to” instead. If her whole life is devoted to God, she might become a perpetual virgin, much like a nun who takes a vow of celibacy or something like this. The fact she mourns her virginity means that the ability to marry and have children is somehow taken from her, rather than her life. My guess is that she take a celibate vow (a virgin no less), and goes to provide service either to the temple or in behalf of the priesthood.

  • Hello Sir,
    Thank you for the reply and the recommendations. If I may comment on a few things;
    When Paul wrote ““All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Tim 3:16)” He wrote the Greek word Graphe which is alluding to the OT writings. As you know we “reasoned” to the rest of the conclusion; that the whole entire Protestant Bible is “inspired”.
    How are we to determine what the word “inspiration” means…..there are 5 views on this definition to my knowledge and one view which is natural inspiration allows for human errors and mistakes…I’m sure the conservative position would claim heresy in a second, nevertheless it is a fair view of inspiration—especially considering Matthew used the Septuagint, rather than not being “divinely inspired” to quote from the Zech 9:9 from the Hebrew text.
    You said “ We’re talking about God’s word here; rejecting or adopting the conservative viewpoint cannot fail to have massive repercussions in your theology and in your ministry. You say you are a co-laborer with God—but who is God? We can’t know unless he tells us, and he tells us in the Bible”
    I am not seeing how you reason to this conclusion. Are you saying that unless we have the Bible we can not know God? That would seem to limit God with a created object, not to mention the idolatry behind it. If we can’t know God without the Bible then people are helpless that were born before the Bible or in different regions…they can not know God?
    You said: “you cant know God unless He tells us” . What if God designed us to know Him? Blows the need for “telling” out the water right 
    We know God by walking with Him, but allowing Him to mold and build us daily. But according to the way I am interpreting your comments “one can’t know God without the Bible”.
    You said “As best I can tell, and in all the fairness I can muster, the answer non-conservatives give to that question is, “We just do.” I can never seem to get an answer to the question, “How do we know what’s cultural vehicle in the Bible and what’s theological cargo?”
    The answer to your question is we don’t always know what is the difference between theological cargo is…and when the text proves this true we need to be honest about it and stand on “we’re not sure”.
    You said ““Did Jonah really get swallowed by a whale?” he or she looks to the Bible for the answer. If a non-conservative is presented with the same question, he looks to “reason”—to science, to history, or to what seems reasonable to him at the time given the other things he believes or knows. In other words, he stands over the text rather than under it.”
    I am not understanding how the conservative “looking to the Bible” is not an example of “reason”. Human reasoning can not be avoided. As I said earlier believing that the entire Protestant Canon is inspired from God is reasoned too. Sola Scriptura was reasoned too…its impossible to get around human reasoning and rightfully so. God designed us with the necessity to rely on human reasoning—this is what the bible is. A first hand honest look at human reasoning and the walk with God.
    The conservative wants us to believe that everything in the Bible is true because (the conservative believes) it is a “divine product” from God.
    The liberal wants us to believe that God made us and designed us to know Him, so reasoning your way through the text is unavoidable all long as you are a human.
    Either way if God is real and guiding us then our position on the inspiration or inerrancy of the text might as well be considered irrelevant.
    No one’s interpretation of the Bible is not without error including the writers of the Bible.
    This is why one should engage in the historical critical method of studying the Bible with no bias towards personal religious practices.

    • The liberal wants us to believe that God made us and designed us to know Him, so reasoning your way through the text is unavoidable all long as you are a human. Either way if God is real and guiding us then our position on the inspiration or inerrancy of the text might as well be considered irrelevant.

      Dre’as, this conversation has a history that long predates our births. Gary Dorrien wrote it up in a three-volume series (The Making of American Liberal Theology) covering 1805-2005. He shows that many self-described Christians, though a number that began shrinking in the 1960s, have found your viewpoint on Scripture persuasive. I know that many self-described Christians with apparently equal intelligence have not. In fact, most people in the latter group make it their first priority in their church doctrinal statements (like the ECPA statement which guides all publishing at Logos) to specifically contradict your (subjectivisit) view. It isn’t just traditionalism but subjectivism (to use Packer’s categories again) that leads evangelical believers to confess in countless doctrinal statements, “The Bible is our sole authority for faith and practice.”

      I don’t deny that human reason played a role in Scripture’s formation, nor do I deny that the human capacity to reason is a necessary part of the interpretive process. What I do deny is that the existence of a subject swallows up the reality of the object. God has spoken in Scripture, and no matter how many views of inspiration there are, I deny that when Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me,” we are morally permitted to say, “That was an interesting perspective that we now know is not fully accurate.”

      Sometimes, like right now, I just wanna go all simplistic, hold up my Bible, and say, “It says, ‘Thus says the Lord.’ Did the Lord say this or not? It says, ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.’ Did he, or didn’t he? It says, ‘Christ died for our sins.’ Did he or didn’t he?”

      I can go all sophisticated. I love me some postmodern literary theory. I’m the foremost redheaded conservative evangelical biblicist fan of Stanley Fish. But I belong to the interpretive community created by the Lord Christ, and him only will I serve. This membership of mine does not guarantee perfect interpretive accuracy, but by God’s grace I wish and I work to read his word obediently.

      I urge you to read Machen’s book that I mentioned. His thesis is in his title. He says that you and the ECPA statement are building different religions on different foundations.

      This is why one should engage in the historical critical method of studying the Bible with no bias towards personal religious practices.

      And I say, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,” and no epistemology built on anything else will succeed. And I say, “Because I tell you the truth, you do not believe,” that people who lack the fear of the Lord will not believe the truth precisely because that’s what it is. And I say, “Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength,” and this is a personal religious practice toward which I have an extreme amount of bias. I will not give up fearing and loving the Lord; I will not give up believing the Bible.

      The historical-critical method has its own biases; neutrality is not possible in a created world.

      I would be happy to carry on this conversation over email:

  • Further to my previous response. As I read through as much of the other comments as I could while pondering the contextual aspect, this scripture came to mind:

    Matthew 9:12-14Amplified Bible (AMP)

    12 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “Those who are healthy have no need for a physician, but [only] those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this [Scripture] means: ‘I desire compassion [for those in distress], and not [animal] sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call [to repentance] the [self-proclaimed] righteous [who see no need to change], but sinners [those who recognize their sin and actively seek forgiveness].”

    So now I think Jephthah’s choice was between “compassion” and “sacrifice” rather than between “sacrifice” and “following through on a vow”; which would have, I believe, part of the lesson from Abe & Isaac. Before, I had only seen Isaac as a form of Christ. While reading through the comments thoughtfully, I saw also that the ram was also a form of Christ. He was the one provided as substitute for Isaac as Christ was provided as substitute for us. Wow! I just had not seen that before.

    On the point of compassion I am still learning what the passage Jesus emphasised means for me an within the context of sin. I think He was saying that the response God desires for sinners to receive is a compassionate one i.e. seasoned with love rather than legalese.

    The legal thing for Jeph to have done was sacrifice his daughter, whether that meant burnt on an altar or devote to tabernacle service. The compassionate thing, well in my opinion, would have been to admit that his vow was rash, and ask God to release him of it or to allow him to substitute an animal for her.

    But he may not have seen God as being that merciful, even as we don’t many times.

    So in the context of God’s everlasting mercy and the eternal and transcendent efficacy of Christ’s redemptive work on the cross, we should endeavour to view each other through the lenses of compassion, especially when the person has erred. Perhaps if we are more compassionate with ourselves it would be easier to extend the same compassion to others- love our neighbours as we love ourselves? But I think the place to start soul best be coming face to face with the God who is love as did Job and Isaiah, Thomas etc.

  • I voted, “yes,” but with the caveat that the sacrifice is not burning, but a life of service to God. The vow was, “whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” I would think if the sacrifice was to be burned, the language would be “as a burnt offering” as opposed to “for.” In any case, Rom 12:1b says for all of us to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” God has always and will always ask one thing of us: ALL of us. Deut 6:5 says, “You shall love the Lord your God with ALL your heart and with ALL your soul and with ALL your might,” – which Jesus says is the greatest commandment. In regards to actual burnt offerings, God never wanted them anyways, as Hosea 6:6 says, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” How to do this, though, is a lifetime of complete dependence on the mercies of God (Rom 12:1a) through the actual sacrifice of Christ on the cross. To God be the Glory!

  • From what I can remember of the story my understanding is that yes he did actually keep his vow and sacrifice his daughter. I’ve understood this as a reminder that just because an individual is used greatly by God doesn’t exempt them from sinful or rash decisions that are foolish and/or prideful and result in terrible consequences. It’s almost a biblical theme that the failures of God’s best men aren’t shielded from view by the authors of scripture and one that is a helpful argument for their reliability as inspired.

  • Ok, so I couldn’t quite remember what happened, but I voted NO, having in mind what happened with Abraham and Isaac. I figured Jephthah would in fact offer up his daughter as a burnt offering, but I had a hunch that God would step in and supply some other action. BUT then I realized: Jephthah made a vow, Abraham did not. And we know how seriously God takes vows from Deut. 23:21 and Ecc. 5:4-5, which is probably why Jesus strongly recommends just NOT vowing at all, Matt 5:34-37, which James then reminds us in his letter, Jas 5:12. And then you have 1 Sam 15:22, where the Lord prefers obedience over sacrifice, but in order for Jephthah to be obedient he would have to keep his vow.

  • Very thought provoking! I voted no, I read this particular story in Judges quite a while ago, but reading your post conjured up the feelings i had initially, rushing to the end of the story to see if he really did kill his daughter. I remember the lament over the virginity, so she was not allowed to marry. I do not believe he killed her physically, but emotionally and symbolically, but another ‘acceptable’ offering took her place in the burnt offering. Jesus told us not to make a vow, but let our yes be yes, and our no be no. In Jephthah’s heart the sacrifice was made, through out the OT sacrifices needed to be made over and over because they were inferior, ….but in the new covenant Jesus has paid the price, and is the only acceptable sacrifice, the Lamb of God. In Jesus, Jephthah’s sacrifice was made, and i believe his foolish, rash vow was forgiven.

  • If my memory serves me correctly, the story says that after the two months that she had requested, he did unto her according to the vow that he had made.

    • The book of Judges, as well as Chronicles 1, 2, are not an affirmation, or condemnation of the content of the record, but just a simple record of events as they occurred.

      There are many example recorded in the bible that go contrary to the nature of God. These are not God putting his stamp of approval on them, but just recording them so that they can be an example to us.

  • I voted no, only because of what I’ve read recently in commentaries via Logos that some commenters mention here: she was sacrificed in a way that did not cost her her life. If you had asked me “pre-Logos”, I would have voted a heavy-hearted yes. And now to be honest, I’m not completely confident either way.

    As a parent, this passage is emotionally overwhelming. The first time I read it, I remember thinking something to the effect of: but God didn’t ask you for anything! He didn’t demand a vow from you!

    I remember thinking how foolish and poorly thought out the vow was. I thought about how this self-imposed sacrifice must have broken God’s heart, a vow fulfilled that he didn’t demand or require. I wondered how often with the best of intentions our words can betray us!

  • We need to be reminded that every story, every narrative is contained within our cannon because it serves the larger narrative. It is unfair to read this powerful story of Jephthah’s vow without connecting it with Leviticus, Chapter 27. Living and preaching in Guatemala, Central America, this connection provides me with a rich resource through which I connect our need to truly and deeply dive into Biblical studies…to parse His word with the greatest of care. Broadly speaking, the culture here is represented by a more “spiritulized” type of Christianity were they believe in personal, unique and mysterious revelations and they rely more on those private experiences than on the written word of God. To which I share this story of Israel’s great general’s painful plight. It’s not enough to merely love the Lord with all our heart, soul and mind…as Jephthah did. Yes, the Spirit of God was with him as seen in his victory on the battle field. However, if he truly knew the written word, he would have found his “out” clause back in Leviticus 27:2. “…When a man makes a difficult vow, he shall be valued according to your valuation of persons belonging to the Lord…” He could have taken the “value of his only child- a daughter,” to the temple and ransomed her life with it. Thus, this becomes an intensely personal story of both warning and encouragement. How? By showing us the the Lord will always leave a way out for His faithful. (For time and space, I quickly summed up the general ideas of my exegesis but there should be enough here to understand the perspective overlooking this powerful and rich narrative).

  • Of course “he did to her as he had vowed”, i.e. sacrificed her as a burnt offering. It must be remembered that Israel was a part of the culture of the ANE of the time. Too often we try to impose our modern scruples on the text when what it says is not agreeable to our views. This is not the only occasion in which human sacrifice is mentioned in the OT. We must not attempt to transform the stories of the OT to conform to our liking.

    • Not to mention that if a dog, cow, lamb… or perhaps mother-in-law came out to great him, those he would not have sacrificed to serve the Lord. The vow was a burnt offering, and I believe he would not have changed the vow after the fact.

  • After reading the various responses over the past week or so, I find it somewhat interesting that the majority of the responses are not addressing how one’s response to the question concerning the actions of Jephthah in fulfilling his vow could tell me “what your view of the whole Old Testament is.” Is could be a really interesting discussion … maybe something along the line if you voted “yes” you believe that the scripture is totally inerrant (whatever that means). I am so looking forward to your discussion on how my answer conveys my understanding of the Old Testament.

  • It does not matter if he did kill her, or if he sent her to live in service to the Lord.
    I believe that the reason that Jephthah is listed as one of the hero’s of the faith in Hebrews 11:32 is because he kept his word no matter the cost. It was his commitment that moved the heart of the Lord.

    Psalm 15:1–5
    1 LORD, Who shall abide in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill? 2 He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, And speaketh the truth in his heart. 3 He that backbiteth not with his tongue, Nor doeth evil to his neighbour, Nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour. 4 In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; But he honoureth them that fear the LORD. He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not. 5 He that putteth not out his money to usury, Nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved.

    The lesson here is that we can be immovable if we keep our vow, even if it is to our own hurt.

  • Thanks for writing about one of my favorite stories from Judges. I await your further interpretation of the passage, since it appears the validation of my view of the entire Old Testament hinges on my view of this question of did he or didn’t he.

    Of course, more important than what Jephthah did with his daughter is the author’s message to his readers about what Jephthah’s acts mean for the Israelites’ covenant relation with the Lord. I’m glad to see you mention the people’s response in this cycle, how they actually repent (the only time that terminology is used in any of the judges’ cycles in the book) and how, after the Lord rejects their plea, they say “do to us according to what is good in your eyes.” This same phrase appears in Jephthah’s daughter’s speech, “do to me according to what came out of your mouth,” later in the story and this literary connection is very important for appreciating the message.

    Early in the Story, God says he won’t deliver them, the people say, “do to us…” and God is vexed (you note that too, and that same phrase appears in the Samson story in another context but connected message), and then God ends up delivering the people.

    Later in the Story, Jephthah says he has to offer/sacrifice his daughter (however you understand the actual act), and she says, “do to me …” Jephthah completes his vow.

    But since the Lord changed his plan and saved the people, shouldn’t Jephthah have changed his plan and spared his daughter? The fact he didn’t only adds to the theme of Judges, that each of these deliverers (Ehud, Barak/Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah, Samson) is spiritually worse than his predecessor? Judges is a downward spiral of spiritual canaanization of Israel, that leads to the appendix that teaches us that chaos reigned, when everyone did what was right in his own eyes, because there was no king. But not just any king would do. As Gideon says, “The Lord should reign over you.” So no king is chaos. There must be a king, but the Lord should be that king. The only king that fits that description is Jesus. A real messianic message.

    I’m looking forward to further reading. Thanks for posting!

  • I was too late to vote, but I would have voted Yes. The argument comparing this to Abraham and Isaac doesn’t really work. In the case of Abraham, God told him to sacrifice Isaac and then stopped him before he did so. In the case of Jephthah, he made a vow that he should never had made. Jephthah should have trusted God to do His will rather than attempt to bargain with God. The Spirit of the Lord was already on Jephthah. This vow was foolish and sinful. There is nothing in the text that even suggests that God approved of any aspect of this vow.

    Another question: should Jephthah sacrificed his daughter or should he have broken his vow to God. Either way, he commits a great sin against God; a predicament of his making.

    This is an example of the sinfulness of even people chosen by God to do His will. We see other people with the Spirit upon them do despicable things, such as Saul (the Spirit left him after he disobeyed and God rejected him), David, Samson, etc.

    The Old Testament points to the Gospel: We are all sinners (even those that seem most righteous), all deserving the wrath of God through his righteous judgement. No one can stand before God by his own merits.

  • I thought I would add something to a very long and interesting thread. I think I have read every comment!

    This morning I was reading in Leviticus. In light of this discussion, this passage was, I thought, quite relevant:

    Leviticus 20:1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “You shall also say to the sons of Israel: ‘Any man from the sons of Israel or from the aliens sojourning in Israel who gives any of his offspring to Molech, shall surely be put to death; the people of the land shall stone him with stones. 3 ‘I will also set My face against that man and will cut him off from among his people, because he has given some of his offspring to Molech, so as to defile My sanctuary and to profane My holy name. 4 ‘If the people of the land, however, should ever disregard that man when he gives any of his offspring to Molech, so as not to put him to death, 5 then I Myself will set My face against that man and against his family, and I will cut off from among their people both him and all those who play the harlot after him, by playing the harlot after Molech.

    In light of the commendations in later Scriptures, as I mentioned earlier (way up there near the top of the thread), it seems to me that this passage supports my NO vote.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  • I voted “Yes.”

    Just as the Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon, yet Gideon still laid down the fleece (twice!), so Jephthah (whose name, if I remember correctly, means “to open”) opens his mouth and makes a foolish vow. Why should we expect him to be an amazing man of God? He grew up in a time when Israel served a multitude of gods. Should we expect him to not have been influenced by the surrounding culture? Jephthah was also the son of a prostitute and he ran around with a rag-tag bunch of worthless men.

    He vows that whatever comes out of his door to “meet him” he will sacrifice. The surrounding nations (though perhaps not all) weren’t opposed to sacrificing their children. Also, what animal is going to come out and “meet” Jephthah. No animal. Only a human would come out to actually “meet” him.

    In speaking about the forest, Judges is a story of the downward spiral of Israel. They succumb to the temptation of idolatry, so much so that even their judges aren’t much different from them. God’s Spirit fell upon Jehpthah, but it didn’t take control of him (the same for Gideon and Samson – they still made their lousy choices).

    Also, in a class I had on Judges, my teacher said there was a chiasm here.
    Basically, the Jephthah’s story is surrounded by Minor Judges who had 30 children, and those stories are surrounded by judges (a minor and a major – Gideon) who had 70 children.

    Jephtah’s story is in the center. He has one daughter. Yet even she is sacrificed. He has no other heirs. He could have taken back his vow. A sacrifice was provided for that. But he went through with his foolish vow. He died a pitiful death: one of childlessness by his own doing.

    And Israel did was was right in their own eyes.

    (Plus, when considering the other option, just because she would be serving in the temple doesn’t mean she couldn’t be married. Even the high priest could be married. She wasn’t a nun).

  • I voted Yes. The word sacrifice is not burning the child, his daughter. He knew the Law of child sacrifice and was not to do so as the surrounding nations dd. She mourned her virginity. Could it be that she went and lived apart from her family like a recluse for the rest of her days?
    He too probably did not get grandchildren from her. so the answer is yes and no.

  • I followed your instructions and did not reread the events. So my answer is from memory of the scriptures. I vote no, because human sacrifice was not acceptable to the Lord. Even though his vow was not thought through and he realized the seriousness of his vow when he saw his daughter I don’t think he actually offered her on the alter. Going from memory, it appears the daughters only concern was her virginity. This would lead me to think that there would never be a spouse and children, but not necessarily death. I did look at some of the other comments but I did not change my vote. I, also look forward to your response. There is much to consider but I decided to go with the short version of my vote.

  • This whole issue is not a matter of people voting. Instead it is a matter of what the text says, whether or not you like what it says. The text simply says, “who did to her according to the vow which he had made” (11:39, NASB). Bible study is not BIBLE study when it comes down to “What do YOU think?” instead of “What does the TEXT say?”
    May I suggest what is going on in the Jephthah story? See “The Failure of the Family in Judges, Part 1: Jephthah” in BIBLIOTHECA SACRA, 162 (July-September 2005):279-98.

    • Thanks for the BibSac reference. Checking journals was the one thing I didn’t have time to do while writing, I confess… Deadlines! Looking forward now to checking out.

      I’ll repeat a comment I wrote earlier: in defense of the “no” people, there are times when it’s appropriate to pull out the “here I stand, I can do no other—this is what the Bible says” stance. I’m prepared to do that on issues from the resurrection to creation to, well, email me privately for a full list. =) There are times when no breadth of interpretation can be permitted. Again, Jesus rose from the dead or he didn’t and our faith is in vain.

      But I don’t think Judges 11:39 is one of those passages. I do believe there’s enough wiggle room here, enough divinely inspired ambiguity, that I will not condemn the opposite view. I’m actually more concerned with the theological reasoning informing someone’s view than with their vote in itself.

Written by Mark Ward