Did Jephthah Really Kill His Own Daughter?

Normally, articles that begin with a question answer that question in the negative. But in this case, the answer is yes. The only respectable way to interpret Judges 11:30-40 is to conclude that Jephthah sacrificed his daughter as a burnt offering. However, many Christians, including Hebrew scholar Miles Van Pelt, have argued otherwise. In this article, I will be responding to Van Pelt’s six arguments against the traditional interpretation of the passage.

His first argument is that Hebrews 11:32 lists him among the heroes of the faith. He asks, “Could the author of Hebrews rightly include Jephthah in this list if his last act as Judge included the illegal and horrific slaying of his own daughter?” But this argument overlooks the great sins of the other heroes of the faith. Samson was sexually immoral, Barak disobeyed the Word of God as prophesied by Deborah, David was an adulterer and a murderer, Solomon engaged in idolatry, Noah was a drunkard, Abraham was a habitual liar, and Peter denied Christ three times. With the exception of Jesus, all of the heroes of the Bible are flawed characters in need of a savior. This is especially true in Judges where everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25). Jephthah’s rash vow is in keeping with the book’s theme of presenting the judges of Israel as flawed heroes who are only instruments in God’s hands. Another mistaken assumption here is that a judge in Israel must be a righteous man or woman parallel to the qualifications to be an elder in the church. Egalitarians use the same logic to argue that women can be pastors because Deborah was a judge of Israel which was a position of leadership. The requirement to be a judge in Israel is not tied to being morally above reproach, but being able to liberate Israel from her enemies.

Second, he argues that “the book of Judges itself affirms the calling and work of these men” so that “to impugn the work of the judge is to impugn the work of the LORD through that judge.” I’m sorry, but this is incredibly poor reasoning. Is he actually arguing that the judges are above reproach so that to dare to impugn them with moral wrong would be tantamount to impugning God with wrong? Where in the book of Judges does it say that God supernaturally prevents the judges from engaging in great sin? Is it impugning the work of Samson to point out that he was a man enslaved to sexual lust? Compare Judges 16:1 with 15:1 and Genesis 38:16-18. He was also infatuated with Delilah which resulted in the poetic irony of having his eyes put out. Another argument he makes at the end of this section is that the text does not explicitly condemn Jephthah for what he did. This is true. But it is also true that Judges does not explicitly condemn the sexual immorality of Samson either. This is why Van Pelt has to argue that Samson was not in fact sexually immoral which is a novel rereading of the text.

Third, he argues that the Spirit came upon Jephthah before he made his rash vow and therefore this vow was the result of the Spirit of the Lord instead of something sinful. But it does not follow that because the Spirit was upon him that somehow he was protected from sinning. This is the Spirit’s work of empowering and gifting him for the work to which God had called him. It is a supernatural gift from God enabling him to defeat the enemies of God’s people. The coming of the Spirit upon him is tied to his work of leading the army of God, not to his rash vow. But if Jephthah’s vow is something that came from the Spirit of God, then why does he regret it later when his daughter walks through the door?

Fourth, he argues that the verb “to meet” in verse 31 implies that Jephthah had in mind meeting a person and not an animal. This may very well be correct because he was expecting to sacrifice a servant in his house instead of his daughter. But it only accentuates how rash and tragic his vow was.

Fifth, he argues that the term “burnt offering” is being used symbolically, not literally. The problem here is that olah is always used in the Hebrew Bible to refer to a literal burnt offering. In addition, if this was only a symbolic offering of his daughter to serve the Lord, then why is he so devastated by her coming through the front door? Why would he tear his clothes if she was going to have the honor of serving the Lord in the temple? Why would the daughters of Israel weep year after year for her if this was merely serving the Lord in the temple? Wouldn’t it be a blessing rather than something to weep over continually? Why would she and her friends weep for two whole months as if they would never see each other again? After Jephthah fulfilled his vow, the daughters of Israel continued to mourn for her for four whole days out of every year which assumes she is no longer present with them. Why don’t they do this for the other women who serve at the temple?

Sixth, he argues that child sacrifice was forbidden by God. Of course, that is exactly the point. Jephthah made a rash vow and never should have gone through with it. Van Pelt argues instead that the vow was fulfilled by giving his daughter to the temple to serve God as a perpetual virgin. But Van Pelt is anachronistically reading back into the text the concept of a vow of perpetual virginity from Roman Catholicism which is an evolution of the pagan tradition of having vestal virgins who serve at their temples. The Old Testament knows nothing of vestal virgins or vows of perpetual virginity. The texts Van Pelt cites of women serving at the temple do not prove that these women were all virgins, not married, or would remain unmarried for the rest of their life. Some of these women could have been married to men in the tribe of Levi, older women who already had grown children, women who were infertile, or who were not married yet. To assume that those who were not married would remain unmarried for the rest of their life must be read into the text. What if the father of one of these young women finds a husband for her?

The book of Judges points us to our need for a savior who is without sin and never makes rash vows or kills innocent human beings in violation of Deuteronomy 18:10. We need a savior who offered up himself as a sacrifice for our rash vows. In this sense, Jephthah’s daughter is a type of Christ who submitted herself to her father’s will to be sacrificed for his sin of making a rash vow as Christ submitted himself to his Father’s will to be sacrificed for our sins. The difference is that while Jephthah was a sinful father, our heavenly Father is perfect and always has the best interests of his children in mind.

Sunday Meditation – Physicians of the Soul

“Duties are to be taken together: the greatest is to be preferred, but none are to be neglected that can be performed; no one is to be pleaded against another, but each is to know its proper place. But if there were such a case of necessity, that we could not carry on further studies, and instruct the ignorant too, I would throw aside all the libraries in the world, rather than be guilty of the perdition of one soul.”

“It is a very desirable thing for a physician to be thoroughly studied in his art; and to be able to see the reason of his practice, and to resolve such difficult controversies as are before him. But if he had the charge of a hospital, or lived in a city where the pestilence was raging, if he would be studying fermentation, the circulation of the blood, blisters, and the like, and such like excellent points, when he should be visiting his patients, and saving men’s lives; if he should even turn them away, and let them perish, and tell them that he has not time to give them advice, because he must follow his own studies, I would consider that man as a most preposterous student, who preferred the remote means before the end itself of his studies: indeed, I would think him but a civil kind of murderer.”

Richard Baxter

The Crusades as They Were

There are two extremes when it comes to understanding the Crusades. One is to say that the Christians were completely unjustified to go to war with the peaceful Muslims living in the Middle East and the other is to say that the Crusades were merely a defensive war only waged after years of Muslim aggression. The reality is that horrible atrocities were committed by both sides and neither the Christians or the Muslims involved in the Crusades come out looking like heroes. Christian apologists will emphasize the atrocities committed by Muslims leading up to the Crusades while Muslim apologists will emphasize the atrocities committed by the Crusaders. The end result is that neither side presents an accurate picture of what happened because they are trying to make the other side look as bad as possible while neglecting to mention evidence that makes their side look just as bad.

The Myth of the Peaceful Muslims

It was the Muslims who started the fight between themselves and the Christians following Surah 9 to wage war on those who do not believe in the message of Islam. Muhammad personally executed hundreds of Jewish prisoners of war. His life of violence became the model for Muslims to follow and Islam spread rapidly throughout the Middle East in the seventh century. It was the Muslims who were the initial aggressors in the events leading up to the Crusades and that fact cannot be overstated enough. Islamic armies used mamluks or slave children who were prisoners of war forced to fight in combat against their own people. Non-Muslims had to either convert to Islam, die, or pay the oppressive tax known as the Jizya and live as second-class citizens. While there are many examples of Muslim atrocities committed against Christians, I will only mention one. In the 1268 Siege of Antioch, Sultan Baybars I burned many Christians to death inside the church after capturing the city. Thousands of innocent people were killed and many more were sold into slavery. By the time the Crusades started, almost two-thirds of the Christian world had been conquered by Muslims.

The Myth of the Noble Crusaders

In response to centuries of Muslim aggression, Pope Urban II called upon Christians to fight against the Turks promising plenary indulgences to whoever would answer the call to go to war. But on the way to the Crusades, many of the Crusaders murdered and plundered the Jewish communities of the Rhineland to pay for their Crusade to Jerusalem. When the Crusaders finally entered Jerusalem, they slaughtered thousands of innocent men, women, and children.

In the Third Crusade, after the siege of Acre, Richard the Lionheart executed over 2,700 Muslim prisoners of war in response to Saladin’s delays. The Fourth Crusade was not even directed at Muslim lands, but resulted in the Christian city of Constantinople being looted by the Crusaders. Other Crusades include the one launched against the Albigensians and other religious minorities. The religious inquisitions of Catholicism are an extension of this crusade mentality designed to convert pagans, Jews, and heretics by force and intimidation to their understanding of Christianity.

The difference between the two groups is that while the Muslims were imitating the example of Muhammad in waging warfare against those who do not believe (Surah 9:29), the Crusaders were not following the example of Jesus when they killed innocent people and prisoners of war.

Sunday Meditation – An Unholy Heart

“Heaven would be a very hell to an unholy heart. If now – the presence of God in His servants, and the presence of God in His ordinances – is such a hell to unholy souls; ah, what a hell would the presence of God in heaven be – to unholy hearts!  It is true, an unholy heart may desire heaven – as it is a place of freedom from troubles, afflictions, oppressions, vexations, etc., and as it is a place of peace, rest, ease, safety, etc. But this is the least and lowest part of heaven. To desire heaven as it is a place of purity, a place of grace, a place of holiness, a place of enjoying God, etc. – is above the reach of an unholy heart. The company of heaven are all holy, the employments of heaven are all holy, the enjoyments of heaven are all holy – therefore heaven would be a most undesirable thing to unholy hearts. An unholy heart is no way desirous nor ambitious of such a heaven as will rid him of his darling sins, as will make him conformable to a holy God, as will everlastingly divorce him from his precious lusts, as will link him forever to those gracious souls whom he has scorned, despised, and persecuted in this world.”

Thomas Brooks

The Sanctification of the Covenant in Hebrews 10:29

Hebrews 10:29 is normally translated as “How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?” But I would like to suggest that “he was sanctified” should instead be translated as “it was sanctified.” Rather than referring to the apostate being sanctified by the blood of Christ or Christ being set apart by his own suffering, it should be translated as “it was sanctified” referring to the sanctification of the new covenant by the blood of Christ.

I come to this conclusion because “the covenant” is the closest referent to the verb “was sanctified.” The context must determine whether “was sanctified” is translated as “he was sanctified” or “it was sanctified.” If that which is sanctified is the new covenant, the meaning of the text is that the shedding of the blood of Christ is the enactment of the new covenant. This fits in with the theology of the book of Hebrews where blood had to be shed for the new covenant to be ratified or come into effect: “Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood” (Heb 9:18). Since the first covenant had to be inaugurated through the blood sacrifices of animals, the new covenant had to be inaugurated through the shedding of Christ’s blood.

The language of “holy covenant” in the Bible reflects this truth (Dan 11:30; Luke 1:72). Covenants are holy or set apart because of the sacred purpose of God. Both “holy” and “sanctified” have the same root in Greek. The verb “was sanctified” in Hebrews 10:29 is the verbal form of the word while “holy” is how we translate its adjectival form. The new covenant is a holy covenant because it is unique and distinct from all other covenants. It is not a common covenant, but one enacted by God. And just as the first covenant was set apart from all other covenants by the shedding of blood, the new covenant is set apart and distinguished from all other covenants because of the shedding of Christ’s blood. His suffering alone sanctifies the new covenant and makes it unique in comparison to all other covenants. Hence, profaning the blood of the covenant is an outrageous offense because it was this blood that enacted the new covenant through which salvation comes.

But the question must be asked, if this is the correct translation of the verb, then why have not more scholars come to this conclusion? While the International Standard Version agrees with this interpretation, all of the other major Bible translations do not. I believe the reason for this is because of the influence of the history of the translation of the English Bible. While Greek scholars seek to understand the meaning of the New Testament in its original language, the reality is that they often read their pre-existing English translation of the text back into the Greek text. In places where verbs could grammatically refer to either people or objects, we default to the way we were raised to read the English Bible. My prayer is that this article will lead to more English translations adopting “it was sanctified” instead of “he was sanctified.”

Sunday Meditation – Wandering Thoughts

“How shall we remedy our wandering thoughts in prayer? (1.) We must wait upon him for the power of his grace. As long as his love and grace are powerful in us, we are kept in a lively, heavenly frame. As this abates, the soul swerves, and returns to vanity and sin. (2.) Meditate upon the greatness of God. It is of great consequence with whom we are dealing. O if you could see him that is invisible, you would have more reverence! Imagine yourself in heaven in the midst of the blessed angels standing before the all-seeing God. O with what reverence, with what fear, should a poor worm creep into his presence! (3.) Seek to mortify the lusts that are apt to draw away your minds. What thoughts are we pestered with when we come to God? One vile affection will hinder our praying. (4.) Prepare for prayer. Take note of the impediments that distract you, and put off carnal distractions. Resolve to shut your heart against God’s enemy and direct it only to God. (5.) Focus on our purpose. Watch against the first temptation to divert our attention no matter how reasonable it seems. The devil’s policy is to cheat us of the present duty by an unseasonable distraction. He does not begin by casting in a thought of blasphemy; that would make us quake and shake. He begins with reasonable thoughts. Be careful to avoid them. Do not even dispute with the diversion, but despise it. (6.) Develop spiritual affections and you will find it more delightful to converse with God. Is there any better company than God’s when we seek our soul’s good? (7.) Consider the weight of responsibility. Are we not dealing with life and death issues? (8.) Promote solemn meditation in the things of God. As a man entertains truth in his heart, he will be ready in word and affection to avoid so frequent distractions.”

Thomas Manton

What Is Dispensationalism?

Dispensationalism is an approach to understanding the relationship between the Old and New Testaments that sees more discontinuity than continuity between them. The church and Israel are strictly distinct peoples of God and do not mix any more than oil and water. Dispensationalism views redemptive history in seven stages: innocence (Adam to fall), conscience (fall to flood), human government (flood to Abraham), promise (Abraham to Moses), law (Moses to Christ), grace (Christ to his second coming), and the millennial kingdom. Each period involves a time of testing where man fails God’s test to which God responds by beginning a new dispensation. Adam failed, the people in Noah’s day failed, the people at Babel failed, Israel failed in the desert, Israel failed again leading to the exile to Babylon, the church fails leading to the rapture, and the rebels at the end of the millennium fail to obey God and are destroyed.

Dispensationalism is best known for its system of eschatology as popularized by C. I. Scofield’s Study Bible, Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth, and Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series. This view is known as pretribulational premillennialism, first promoted by John Nelson Darby, which teaches that the church will be raptured from the earth seven years before the second coming of Christ. The church is a parenthesis in God’s plans for Israel and the rapture of the church is a necessary step before God can fulfill his promises to Israel. After the second coming, Israel will enter the millennium with unresurrected bodies and return to observing the Mosaic law in accordance with Ezekiel 40-48. At the end of the millennium, some of the descendants of those who enter the millennium will rebel against Christ before being destroyed in accordance with the premillennial interpretation of Revelation 20.

The dispensational approach to Old Testament laws is that every Old Testament law has been abrogated and done away with in the church age so that only the laws of the New Testament are binding on Christians today. Old Testament laws are only applicable to Christians if they are repeated in the New Testament. But the result of this hermeneutic is that the entire Old Testament is now irrelevant for the study of Christian ethics since anything it says must be repeated in the New Testament for it to be binding on us. They also reject the threefold division of the law into moral, judicial, and ceremonial laws. This is why Charles Spurgeon opposed dispensationalism as a form of antinomianism. As one of my professors said, it’s difficult to find Old Testament scholars who are dispensationalists. Why would you want to become a scholar of books whose ethical teachings are only binding on Christians today if they are repeated in the New Testament? The opposite approach is that of covenant theology which states that every law in the Old Testament is binding on Christians today except for those which are abrogated by the New Testament or those which can be clearly shown to be ways Israel was to distinguish themselves from the nations around them and are not related to any of the Ten Commandments which is a summary of the moral law.

Dispensationalism should not be confused with hyper-dispensationalism which is the application of the dispensational hermeneutic concerning the Old Testament to the teachings of Jesus and much of the book of Acts. Hyper-dispensationalists argue that unless a command in the Gospels or the first half of Acts is repeated in the letters of the New Testament, it is not binding on Christians today because Jesus’ teachings were specifically for the Jews and not the church. They argue that the message of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount is not directly relevant for Christians today, only for Israel and those living in the millennium since Jesus was not addressing the church since it didn’t exist then. Some hyper-dispensationalists even argue that baptism is not for the church today because it is rooted in Jewish customs and not part of the church age. Other beliefs associated with hyper-dispensationalism include the teaching that repentance is not necessary for salvation, Sandemanianism, antinomianism, the belief that Israelites before Christ were saved by works, and neglecting to teach on God’s holiness, justice, and wrath.

Hyper-dispensationalism is essentially a return to Marcionism without the polytheistic dualism. The heretic Marcion rejected the Old Testament and the Gospels as canonical and only considered the writings of Paul and an edited version of Luke to be authoritative. While hyper-dispensationalists do not claim to reject these writings as canonical, they are functionally non-canonical because what they teach can only be true for the church today if the letters of the New Testament affirm what they teach. Hence, hyper-dispensationalism is a reductio ad absurdum which God ordained to expose the dispensational approach to the laws of the Old Testament since, according to dispensationalism, the church was not in existence while Jesus was on earth. Therefore, how could his teachings be directly relevant to a group that did not exist then if they are going to use the same argument with regard to Old Testament laws since the church did not exist then either?