Did Jephthah really offer his daughter as a burnt offering to the Lord?

Did Jephthah really offer his daughter as a burnt offering to the Lord? (Judges 11:29-40).

To this one would fain be able to reply, as not a few commentators and others have done, with a definite NO. Their reasons and arguments have been so clearly set forth in a recent article elsewhere, that we cannot here do better than enumerate them in the order given. (1) It is pointed out that human sacrifices were expressly forbidden by the Law (Deuteronomy 18: 9-10). (2) In verse 31, the marginal reading “or” (of the A.V., not R.V., as stated) is adopted, as showing that two alternatives were in Jephthah’s mind: “Whatsoever cometh forth . . . shall surely be the Lord’s, or I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” And it is remarked that, according to Leviticus 27:4, a person thus vowed might be redeemed for money. (3) The daughter’s words, “that I may bewail my virginity” (v. 37), are taken to imply that this was the real outcome of the vow, that she was pledged by her father to perpetual celibacy; and further proof of this is found in the statement of verse 39, “And she knew no man.” (4) At verse 40 the reading, “talk with”, of the A.V. margin, is given preference to the textual reading, “lament”; and it is suggested that for four days in each year the daughters of Israel went to talk with Jephthah’s daughter. We may hope, if only for Jephthah’s own sake, that this view is correct; but there are difficulties in connection with each of the points mentioned which may not be ignored. If we enumerate these also, we shall perhaps put the questioner and others in a position to form their own judgment as to what really took place. (1) While there can be no doubt as to the Lord’s disapproval of human sacrifices, our passage nowhere states that Jephthah’s action met with His approval; and the question is not what the Law forbade, but what a man such as Jephthah, who had lived for some time among the idolatrous Syrians of Tob, might say and might do. (2) The “and” in verse 31 is the common Hebrew particle which is similarly translated some thousands of times elsewhere; and although there are a few passages in which it is employed disjunctively and rendered, “or,” the wording of its context in such instances usually indicates this, which is not so here. Moreover, the statement, “shall surely be the Lord’s, or I will offer it up for a burnt offering,” is not very intelligible, because its being offered as a burnt offering did not mean that it was any less “the Lord’s.” Neither is it easy to understand why Jephthah should expect an animal, rather than a person, to be first out of the doors of his house to meet him on his return from the war. () Why should Jephthah’s daughter require two preliminary months to bewail her virginity, if she was going to have years of a lifetime afterwards to bewail it as much as she pleased? As to verse 39, it may be mentioned that the R.V. reads it, “And she had not known man.” (.) In verse 40, the R.V. rendering, “celebrate,” is probably the most exact of any, especially as the only other occurrence of this Hebrew word in the same form is in Judges 5:11, where it is translated “rehearse.” If the meaning be that the daughters of Israel, while Jephthah’s daughter was still alive, went to talk with her, why should they have limited their conversations with her to four days in each year? Some may perhaps attach less importance to these difficulties than others will; but they exist, and must be faced fairly before one can confidently assert that Jephthah did not slay his daughter, but merely compelled her to remain unmarried.

W.R.