Did Jephthah offer his daughter as a burnt offering?
God commanded in the book of Leviticus that the Israelites were not to offer their children as burnt offerings: “And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the Lord” – Leviticus 18:1 and “…the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Again, thou shalt say to the children of Israel, Whosoever he be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, that giveth any of his seed unto Molech; he shall surely be put to death: the people of the land shall stone him with stones. And I will set my face against that man, and will cut him off from among his people; because he hath given of his seed unto Molech, to defile my sanctuary, and to profane my holy name. And if the people of the land do any ways hide their eyes from the man, when he giveth of his seed unto Molech, and kill him not: Then I will set my face against that man, and against his family, and will cut him off, and all that go a whoring after him, to commit whoredom with Molech, from among their people.” – Leviticus 20:1 – 5.
Judges 11: 29 – 40 seems to indicate that as a result of a vow, Jephthah ended up offering his daughter as a burnt offering to the Lord. However, when you look a little bit deeper, there are several things that point to a different conclusion.
Young’s Literal Translation Bible reads: “And Jephthah voweth a vow to Jehovah, and saith, `If Thou dost at all give the Bene-Ammon into my hand — then it hath been, that which at all cometh out from the doors of my house to meet me in my turning back in peace from the Bene-Ammon — it hath been to Jehovah, or I have offered up for it — a burnt-offering” – Judges 11:30 – 31.
The key word in this translation is “or” instead of “and” in the King James Version. Just as Hannah consecrated Samuel to the Lord’s service in I Samuel 1:11; Jephthah’s daughter was dedicated to the service of the Lord following the vow.
Young’s Literal Translation Bible states in Judges 11:39 – 40: “and it cometh to pass at the end of two months that she turneth back unto her father, and he doth to her his vow which he hath vowed, and she knew not a man; and it is a statute in Israel: from time to time the daughters of Israel go to talk to the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite, four days in a year.”
These daughters of Israel would be the “fellows” or young maidens that went with her for two months to “bewail [her] virginity” in verse 37. They would go to see her for four days each year for the remainder of her life.
So no, Jephthah did not offer his daughter as a burnt offering.