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.

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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.”

The Sadducees on the Old Testament Canon

A popular misconception that is commonly taught in the church today is that the Sadducees only believed that the first five books of the Bible are canonical while the Pharisees accepted all 39 books of the Old Testament. But the truth is that both groups believed that all of the Old Testament is canonical. This misunderstanding comes from the early church father Origen who taught that the Sadducees only accepted the Pentateuch. This belief is also claimed to be supported by the Jewish historian Josephus who says concerning the Sadducees:

“What I would now explain is this, that the Pharisees have delivered to the people a great many observances by succession from their fathers, which are not written in the laws of Moses; and for that reason it is that the Sadducees reject them, and say that we are to esteem those observances to be obligatory which are in the written word, but are not to observe what are derived from the tradition of our forefathers” (Antiquities 13.10.6).

This testimony, their denial the resurrection of the dead (Acts 23:8) even though Daniel 12:2 clearly teaches this, and the fact that Jesus only cited from the Pentateuch in his debate with them over the resurrection in Matthew 22:31-32 has led many historians to conclude that the Sadducees only believed that the first five books of the Bible are canonical.

But this reasoning is incorrect for several reasons. Concerning the testimony of Josephus, he does not say that they rejected the rest of the Old Testament, but simply that they did not follow the Pharisees’ traditions concerning the law because they were not taught in Scripture. The traditions of the Pharisees are not taught in the other Old Testament Scriptures either. With regard to their denial of the resurrection of the dead, it must also be kept in mind that they denied the existence of angels and spirits as well according to Acts 23:8. But the Pentateuch teaches the existence of angels in several places (Gen 32:1). If they rejected the Book of Daniel because it teaches the resurrection of the dead, then by the same logic they must have rejected the Pentateuch as well because it teaches the existence of angels. The Sadducees denied these things because they were the theological liberals of the first century. And in response to the last argument, Jesus cites from the Pentateuch rather than Daniel because, for the Jews, the first five books of the Bible were considered to be the most important for establishing doctrine because they were written first and came from Moses. The argument of the Sadducees was also drawn from the Pentateuch so Jesus chooses a verse from Moses as well in response.

The first line of evidence in favor of the Sadducees believing that all 39 books of the Old Testament are canonical is the testimony of Josephus that all Jews esteem the books of the Hebrew canon after giving a full listing of the canonical books:

“But it is become natural to all Jews, immediately, and from their very birth, to esteem these books to contain divine doctrines; and to persist in them: and, if occasion be, willingly to die for them” (Against Apion 1.8).

Since the Sadducees are Jews, they likewise “esteem these books to contain divine doctrines.” Second, one of the arguments of the Sadducees against the resurrection was drawn from Job 7:9 (Tanhuma C). Third, Micah 5:2 is cited by the chief priests and scribes in Matthew 2:4-6 and the priests would have been Sadducees. Fourth, Jesus applies Daniel 7:13 to himself in Matthew 26:64-65 in front of the high priest who was a Sadducee. Why would Caiaphas get so angry about a verse he does not believe is canonical? And why would Caiaphas ask Jesus if he was the Christ when the expectation for a future king from the line of David is not taught until after the time of Moses? And lastly, the Scriptures laid up in the temple over which the Sadducees had control included more than the Pentateuch (Antiquities 5.1.17).

Who Are the Sons of God in Genesis 6:1-4?

Genesis 6:1-4 has perplexed readers for centuries: “When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the LORD said, ‘My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.’ The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.” Who are these sons of God? Who are the Nephilim?

The phrase “sons of God” is only used in the Old Testament to refer to angels (Deut 32:8; Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; Ps 29:1). Jude 1:6-7 gives us an interpretive lens to help us better understand this passage: “And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day – just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” The unnatural union of fallen angels with man in Genesis 6 is analogous to the unnatural sexual immorality of Sodom and Gomorrah. The key phrase in Jude that alludes to Genesis 6:1-4 is “which likewise” that draws a comparison between the unnatural desires of these angels in the verse six with those of Sodom and Gomorrah. But the men of those cities did not know that the men they lusted after were angels in disguise. They were not desiring after sex with angels, but with other men.

But how could fallen angels have sexual relations with human woman? While angels are not flesh and blood, they can transform themselves to resemble fleshly creatures as Satan transformed himself into a serpent (Rom 16:20; 2 Cor 11:3; Rev 12:9). The word Nephilim literally means “giants” because the offspring of this union were unnatural. This is one of the reasons why God had to send a worldwide flood to destroy these creatures. Sexual immorality is demonic because the demons envy man’s ability to engage in sexual relations which are forbidden to them. Those who tried to engage in it were condemned to hell immediately while the other demons who did not were spared until the time of Revelation 20:10. For us to engage in sexual relationships which are forbidden to us is to imitate them. Hence, the demons try to destroy sex by perverting it because it is a picture of the union of Christ and his bride, a salvation which they do not participate in and are envious of.

The Historicity of the Fall of Jericho

The majority of archaeologists living today do not believe that the walls of Jericho miraculously fell down as described in Joshua 6:20-24. Based on the research of Kathleen Kenyon, they believe that modern archaeology has disproven that the city of Jericho fell when the Israelites entered the land because the city had already been destroyed by the time Israel arrived. The archaeologist Bryant G. Wood has challenged this criticism of the Bible through his own archaeological work that will be summarized in this response.

The following evidence favors the Bible’s chronology of the events of the destruction of Jericho: 1. The shards of pottery found in the ruins of City IV match those made during the 15th century. 2. The scarab beetles found in the graveyard of the city have written on them the names of Hatshepsut (1507-1458), Tuthmosis III (1504-1425), and Amenhotep III (1386-1349). 3. The jars filled with grain left in the rubble indicate that the city fell suddenly without a long siege and not all the spoils were taken. 4. The city was burned to the ground as indicated by layers of ash found in the ruins and the fire damage on the jars of grain.

The conclusion that the city of Jericho had already been destroyed by the time Israel arrived is based on Kenyon’s excavation of a small part of the city in the 1950s in which she failed to find any foreign Cypriot pottery which was common at the time of the exodus in 1446 BC. But this conclusion ignores the dating of the local pottery found in City IV and the Cypriot pottery that had already been found in the city by John Garstang in the 1930s. Because Kenyon overlooked the Cypriot pottery that had already been found in the city by Garstang, she came to the wrong conclusion. If she had known about this earlier discovery, then she could not have used the absence of Cypriot pottery as an argument against the dating of Jericho’s destruction in the Bible. This is why when doing research, we must first fully analyze the discoveries of those came before us before doing our own work. Sometimes, the research has already been done for us and we just need to know where to look.

The differences of opinion on the date of Jericho’s destruction illustrate the importance of presuppositions. All archaeologists look at the same body of evidence, but how they interpret that evidence is based on the lens of their worldview. Since many archaeologists living today do not believe in miracles, they are more likely to agree with those conclusions which support their worldview. Even though Wood has revealed that Garstang found evidence of Cypriot pottery in Jericho before Kenyon did her research, the majority of archaeologists continue to believe in Kenyon’s dating of Jericho’s destruction even though the basis upon which Kenyon came to her conclusions has been disproven. Because people have already made up their mind that the walls of Jericho did not miraculously fall down, the evidence to the contrary is dismissed or ignored. When searching for the truth, people tend to agree with those who advocate positions that confirm the beliefs they already have. Because of the effects of sin, we are prone to self-deception and will accept illegitimate arguments not based on facts. People are comfortable in the echo chamber they have built for themselves. There the voice of truth is drowned out by the viciously circular quest to be proven right all along.

The Alleged Contradiction between Acts 9:7 and 22:9

One of the more common arguments against the inerrancy of Scripture is the supposed contradiction between Acts 9:7 and 22:9. The King James Version translates 9:7 as: “And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.” But 22:9 says, “And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me.” Acts 9:7 says that they heard a voice but 22:9 says they did not hear the voice. But this contradiction only exists in the King James Version of the Bible. The English Standard Version translates 22:9 as: “Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me.” They heard a voice, but did not understand it. Critics will argue that modern translations are changing the meaning of the Bible to avoid this contradiction. So which translation is right?

Acts 22:9 is better translated as “understand the voice” because of the difference in the Greek case of “voice” between the two verses with regard to Paul’s companions. In Acts 9:4, the “voice” Paul hears is in the accusative case while in 9:7 it is in the genitive case with regard to those with Paul. In Acts 22:9, the “voice” they do not hear is in the accusative case. When the object of the verb “to hear” is in the accusative case, the sense of the verb is often “to hear with understanding.” One example of this is Galatians 4:21 where the verb “to hear” is translated as “listen” or “understand” because “the law” is in the accusative case. Since “the voice” is in the genitive case in Acts 9:7 while it is in the accusative in 22:9, the meaning of the passage is that while those with Paul heard a voice, they did not understand what it meant as Paul did. They heard the sound but could not make out the words.

The King James translators did not accurately translate the verb “to hear” in 22:9 because they did not understand that its meaning is often determined by the case of the object it is modifying. But Greek scholarship has advanced by leaps and bounds since then. A lesson to be learned from this alleged contradiction is that we need to look at more than just individual words when studying a passage of Scripture. Instead, we need to understand how the words relate to one another to see how the author is using them. Messages are communicated in phrases, not just words. Word studies can be helpful, but how a word is used always depends on the context.

Objections to Sola Scriptura

Sola Scriptura is the belief that the Bible alone is the Word of God written and the ultimate authority in matters of faith and practice. But Roman Catholicism and cults such as Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses deny that the Bible alone is our ultimate authority. Catholicism believes that the sacred tradition of the church is equal in authority to Scripture. Mormonism proclaims that God has spoken through its prophets and Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that the teaching authority of their organization is to be followed without question. This article will examine some of the most common arguments used against the sufficiency of Scripture and demonstrate that they do not disprove the Protestant belief that the Bible alone is our ultimate authority now that the canon is closed.

The most commonly cited verse used to argue against sola Scriptura is 2 Thessalonians 2:15: “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” The argument then goes, “The traditions of the apostles were taught to the church in both a written form and through the oral tradition of the church. The church’s oral tradition is passed down through the centuries as 2 Timothy 2:2 states: ‘And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.’ Only the Catholic Church has this oral tradition which proves that it is the true church.” But the false assumption that is being made in this argument is that “our spoken word” in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 is equivalent to the Catholic concept of oral tradition. And even if this verse does disprove sola Scriptura, it would not prove the truthfulness of the Catholic Church’s oral tradition or its claims about the papacy. In the context of 2 Thessalonians 2:15, the traditions Paul is talking about are not teachings found outside of the pages of the Bible, but the truths of the entire chapter of 2 Thessalonians 2 about the man of sin and the truths of the gospel in verses 13-14. Paul communicated this one body of traditions in two different ways: his preaching in person while in Thessalonica and in his letters which include 1 and 2 Thessalonians. This tradition includes admonitions against idleness which he makes reference to later in the letter: “Keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us” (2 Thess 3:6). The message Paul preached among them and what he wrote in his letters is one and the same. The traditions of the apostles are not teachings found outside the pages of the Bible, but are the very words of the apostles as found in their letters.

Paul’s preaching or oral tradition was binding on the Thessalonians because he was an apostle commissioned by Christ himself. But because there are no more apostles alive today, no one has the authority of an apostle to speak on behalf of God and write Scripture. And we have an obligation to test those who call themselves apostles (Rev 2:2). And how do we test them? – by comparing their teachings to the traditions of the apostles. And how do we know what the traditions of the apostles are? – by reading the writings of the apostles found in Scripture. When the early church fathers make reference to “the traditions of the apostles,” they are talking about the writings of the apostles in Scripture. We are called to compare what those who claim to be followers of Christ teach with what the apostles taught. This includes both their teaching and their way of life (Matt 7:15-18). If what they teach is contrary to doctrines already established in Scripture, then we must follow Scripture instead of them (Matt 15:9; Acts 17:11). To give one example of how this principle is applied, the Roman Catholic Church teaches that Christians and Muslims worship the same God (Catechism 841). But 1 John 2:23 says, “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.” But Muslims reject the crucifixion of Christ, his resurrection, that he is God, and the Trinity. Because Muslims deny the Son, they do not have God as their Father (John 1:12). Confessing Christ as Lord and believing in his resurrection are essential for salvation (Rom 10:9-13). The Catholic Church has completely redefined what “Outside the Church There Is No Salvation” means.

Another argument used against sola Scriptura is based on Matthew 23:2-3: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you – but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice.” It is argued that Moses’ seat is where authoritative oral tradition was given and the papacy is the New Testament equivalent of the seat of Moses. But the reason why Jesus instructs them to listen to those who sit in Moses’ seat is because that is where the law of Moses was read. They must listen to it and obey it because the words of Moses in the Torah are the words of God (2 Tim 3:16). But Jesus did not have a high view of the oral traditions of the Pharisees (Matt 15:1-14). Why would Jesus want those who were listening to him to follow the oral traditions of the Pharisees when he had just rebuked them for their unbiblical traditions?

A common argument used against sola Scriptura is the myth of 30,000 Protestant denominations. Catholics regularly argue that sola Scriptura results in chaos and that is the reason why there are thousands of Protestant denominations. But the argument that there are thousands of Protestant denominations is based on a misunderstanding of Oxford’s World Christian Encyclopedia. When it speaks of “denominations,” it is defining the term as any independent jurisdiction, not how we normally define the term denomination. That is why the same book lists over 200 Catholic “denominations.” Instead, the book uses the phrase “faith tradition” to describe what we normally think of as a denomination. When it comes to real denominations, it lists 21 Protestant faith traditions and 16 Catholic traditions. The real reason why there are so many Protestant denominations is because many people interpret the Bible through the lens of human tradition rather than allowing the Bible to speak for itself. If every Protestant truly followed sola Scriptura, all Protestants would be united because the Bible does not contradict itself.

The burden of proof in the debate over the sufficiency of Scripture is on those who deny sola Scriptura. Just as the burden of proof is on a Mormon to prove that the Book of Mormon is inspired Scripture, the burden of proof is on the side of the Catholic Church to prove that their tradition is equal in authority to Scripture. Because they cannot prove that the traditions of the Catholic Church are equal in authority to the Bible, they must shift the burden of proof from themselves to Protestants. For more information on sola Scriptura, see William Webster and David T. King’s three volume work Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith.