Did God Approve of Human Sacrifice (Jephthah)? Judges 11:29-40

Did God approve of Jephthah's promise to sacrifice his daughter? Learn possible answers to this alleged Bible contradiction.
Bible "contradictions"
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Quick Answer

    <p>There are two possible solutions to this alleged contradictions:</p>

    <ol>
      <li>If Jephthah actually offered his daughter as a human sacrifice, then what he did was against the moral law of God and God did not approve of it.</li>
      <li>It is possible, perhaps likely, that Jephthah's "sacrifice" was to offer his daughter to permanent, religious service associated with the Tabernacle, which means she would never marry or continue Jephthah's family line.</li>
    </ol>

    <h2>The argument</h2>

    <p>Some argue that the Bible is contradictory, or immoral, concerning child sacrifice. They argue that God condones Jephthah's sacrifice of his daughter. Here are the relevant passages.</p>

    <h3>God condemns child sacrifice</h3>

    <blockquote>
      <strong>Leviticus 18:21</strong> - <strong>You shall not give any of your children to offer them to Molech</strong>, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.
    </blockquote>

    <h3>God condones child sacrifice</h3>

    <blockquote>
      <p>
        <strong>Judges 11:29-40</strong> - 29 Then the Spirit of the Lord was upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh and passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites. 30 And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, 31 then <strong>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</strong>.” 32 So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them, and the Lord gave them into his hand. 33 And he struck them from Aroer to the neighborhood of Minnith, twenty cities, and as far as Abel-keramim, with a great blow. So the Ammonites were subdued before the people of Israel.
      </p>
      <p>
        34 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. 35 And as soon as he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot take back my vow.” 36 And she said to him, “My father, you have opened your mouth to the Lord; do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, now that the Lord has avenged you on your enemies, on the Ammonites.” 37 So she said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me: leave me alone two months, that I may go up and down on the mountains and weep for my virginity, I and my companions.” 38 So he said, “Go.” Then he sent her away for two months, and she departed, she and her companions, and wept for her virginity on the mountains. 39 And at the end of two months, she returned to her father, <strong>who did with her according to his vow that he had made</strong>. She had never known a man, and it became a custom in Israel 40 that the daughters of Israel went year by year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year.
      </p>
    </blockquote>

    <h2>The solution</h2>

    <h3>Human sacrifice is forbidden by God</h3>

    <p>It's clear from Leviticus 18:21 that human sacrifice is forbidden by God. So, if Jephthah actually offered his daughter as a human sacrifice, then what he did was against God's law, and therefore it was sin. God did not approve of Jephthah sacrificing his daughter, in the same way that God would not approve of someone saying, "I will commit murder if you help me, God."</p>

    <h3>God can help someone without approving of his promise</h3>

    <p>Some argue that God must have approved of Jephthah's promise because Scripture says that "the Lord gave them into his hand." However, this assertion is simply not logically true. God can bless Jephthah because of actions of his that are righteous, and God can condemn Jephthah because of other actions that are sinful.</p>

    <p>God has a secret will that we are not privy to. Not everything that He does in this world will make perfect sense to us, and we should accept that. For example, when Israel demanded a king for themselves, even though this was against God's will, God helped them in the selection of a king.</p>

    <blockquote>
      <strong>Acts 13:21</strong> - Then they asked for a king, and <strong>God gave them Saul </strong>the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years.
    </blockquote>

    <h3>It's possible that Jephthah's sacrifice was figurative</h3>

    <p>It is plausible to believe that Jephthah did not offer his daughter as a human sacrifice, but rather, he offered his daughter to permanent, religious service associated with the Tabernacle. Scripture says that this was an option for women.</p>

    <blockquote>
      <strong>Exodus 38:8</strong> - He made the basin of bronze and its stand of bronze, from the mirrors <strong>of the ministering women who ministered in the entrance of the tent of meeting</strong>.
    </blockquote>

    <p>Anna may have been one of these women.</p>

    <blockquote>
      <strong>Luke 2:36-37</strong> - 36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. <strong>She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.</strong>
    </blockquote>

    <p>It is not a stretch to use the word "sacrifice" in this manner, since "sacrifice" is not always used literally. For example, it is a common expression to say, "I will sacrifice for the greater good."</p>

    <h3>Support that Jephthah's sacrifice was figurative</h3>

    <p>Here are some reasons that support that idea that Jephthah's sacrifice was figurative, rather than literal:</p>

    <ol>
      <li>Jephthah's daughter's two-month period of mourning was <strong>for her virginity</strong>, not for her impending death. She was mourning that she would never marry or have children.</li>
      <li>The passage explicitly states that Jephthah had no other children, which means that if his daughter would never marry or have children, <strong>his family line would not continue</strong>, which was an extremely serious and tragic scenario at that time. The passage describes Jephthah's sorrow immediately after informing us that he had no other children. So, perhaps he was sad that she would never be able to continue his family line, not because he was going to sacrifice her physically.</li>
      <li>Immediately after the passage says that Jephthah "did with her according to his vow that he had made," it says, "She had never known a man," which seems out of place if she had just been physically sacrificed.</li>
    </ol>

"I don't buy that explanation"

Some people have trouble accepting possible explanations to alleged contradictions in the Bible, especially ones that they consider a stretch. For example, Dan Barker, president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, says this:

I have received numerous replies from Christians who think that these contradictions are either trivial or easily explained. Yet not a single "explanation" has been convincing.

Fact vs Opinion

The fact is that there are plausible explanations for every alleged contradiction in the Bible. That there is a plausible explanation for an alleged contradiction does not mean that it is definitely the correct explanation for the alleged contradiction.

However, as long as a possible explanation has been suggested, then it has been objectively demonstrated that there is no necessary contradiction regarding the Bible verses and passages brought up.

When people like Dan Barker say that they don't find a particular explanation for a contradiction "convincing," then that is merely their opinion. A plausible explanation has been suggested that eliminates the necessary alleged contradiction. They simply don't like it, which is not at all a relevant argument against the explanation.

Additional Resources

To read more about solutions to Bible contradictions and difficulties, check out Norman Geisler's The Big Book of Bible Difficulties: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation. While we do not agree with some of Geisler's theology, particularly concerning his view of predestination, this book is still an excellent resource. It is thorough and filled with research.

Another book to check out is Tim Chaffey's Demolishing Supposed Bible Contradictions: Exploring Forty Alleged Contraditions, which also answers many alleged contradictions in the Bible.

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