Did Jephthah Sacrifice His Daughter—Yes or No?

A post of mine at the Logos Talk Blog regarding Jephthah has generated a great deal of interesting discussion from readers. I’m getting a little cross-section of evangelical hermeneutics in action.

I urge my personal blog readers to go and take the vote in the middle of the post!

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Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

2 thoughts on “Did Jephthah Sacrifice His Daughter—Yes or No?”

  1. Good response from your readers!

    I have heard both positions. In terms of the book we go from Othniel, son-in-law of Caleb the righteous spy, to Samson, the womaniser. Jephthah is pretty late in the piece. So he certainly could have offered his daughter as a human sacrifice—wrong as that would be. I probably would have gone with that answer previously. But there are some parts to the story that seem a little unusual if his daughter was killed. Why say Jephthah did as he vowed rather than say Jephthah offered up his daughter as a burnt offering? And why would she mourn her virginity? While she would die a virgin (if she was killed), it seems more likely she would mourn something that was a fate for the rest of her full life.

    Further, Jephthah rebukes the Ammonites with a history of the occupation of the disputed territory since Joshua 300 years previous, suggesting he was very knowledgeable. Why would Jephthah not also be knowledgeable about the Law? If so then he would know that persons devoted to God were to be exchanged for an animal. Only men who were devoted to destruction (ie. men who come under God’s judgment) were not to be spared. Jephthah’s daughter doesn’t meet that criterion.

    So why I can accept that Jephthah wrongly put his daughter to death—men doing God’s work sin (David, Peter, Abraham, the Prophet who ate in Samaria)—I am not so certain he did. He could exchange his daughter for a clean animal and she would have been devoted to God in the temple a virgin.

  2. Just to be clear, I am not certain. I sway toward my current position, but I note the objections. And if there is one refrain throughout the book it is men did what was right in their own eyes.

    And without disparaging Jephthah’s daughter, the temple maidservants weren’t always virgins, at least not during Eli’s judgeship.

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