In my last post I took on some of the easier evidences for the case that God endorses human sacrifice. This time I’ll be taking on the one case that had even me wondering if there isn’t some truth to this claim, the case of Jephthah and his daughter. But before I do there is an important subject that needs to be addressed concerning morality.
Credit for the argument goes to Dr. Ravi Zacharias, but it goes something like this: 1) in order to call something bad or evil, you must first assume that there are things that are good, 2) if there is good there must be a moral law by which to distinguish what is good, 3) if there is a moral law there must be a moral law giver (nothing comes from nothing), 4) the moral law giver must be personal and involved in the affairs of men because all moral questions are either brought about persons or by persons (therefore the personhood component is necessary to morality), 5) finally, God (the moral law giver) is whom they are trying to disprove yet premises 1 through 4 prove him therefore the moral question is moot.
Now, this renders the moral question moot as a disproof for God, but it doesn’t prove that He is not immoral. So now we come to Jephthah and his daughter in Judges 11:30-40. In this passage Jephthah makes a vow to God that if He will give him victory in battle he will sacrifice the first thing to come out of his front door when he returns home, that first thing ends up being his daughter. Let me start by saying that I would love to offer a silver bullet explanation here that absolves Jephthah and God and proves that no sacrifice took place. The plain reading of most English translations speak of the offering that is promised as a “burnt offering”. So my question for apologists who argue that he never intended to sacrifice his daughter, or that he simply dedicated her to be a virginal servant of the Lord in the temple, please explain to me why almost no translators thought this was the intention at least in the manuscript. You will see commentators who will parse out the meaning of the Hebrew word (olah) that gets translated as burnt offering in so many English translations and discuss other possible meanings. The problem with these other possible meanings is, as I said before, that the overwhelming evidence is against those other meanings being used here.
So in my view how you’ll come down on this issue comes down to one important question. Does God’s allowance of an atrocity equal God’s endorsement of the same atrocity? I think no in most cases, but this one is a little more complicated for one important reason, Jephthah got the victory in battle he asked for from God and that was a proximate cause of the sacrifice, and it’s not possible that God didn’t know that it was going to happen. This is clearly one of the thorniest issues against Christianity that I’m aware of, the one defense of god in the story that I would make is that for all we see of Jephthah, his daughter , and other people, we’re not actual given any direct proof of God’s involvement at all. No God said, “…..”
It’s still a very open question in my mind what this all means. I’d love to hear anyone’s thoughts one way or the other and discuss.