This Argument Has Reached Retirement Age

Peter Enns has a lengthy response to Andrew Wilson's Christianity Today review of his new book, The Bible Tells Me So.

Readers can judge for themselves the merits of these things, but there is one thing I can no longer do: sit idly by and let Enns continue to trot out his argument that Exodus 12:8-9 and Deuteronomy 16:5-7 contradict each other. He first highlighted this troubling "contradiction" in his book, Inspiration & Incarnation (pp.91-93), and he apparently repeats it in his latest offering.

In short: Exodus tells the Israelites to not "cook in water" (boil) the Passover lamb, but rather "roast" it over the fire.

Deuteronomy, Enns alleges, says the opposite.

Here's the relevant discrepancy:

Exodus: "do not eat the meat raw or cooked [b-sh-l] in water, but roast [ts-l-y] it over the fire."

Deuteronomy: "Boil [b-sh-l] it and eat it."

So Enns wants you to believe that Exodus says, "Don't boil the Passover lamb," and Deuteronomy says, "Boil the Passover lamb." He has a very simple problem, however: the word b-sh-l does not mean "boil."  

That bears repeating: The word b-sh-l does not mean "boil."

Now, how would I know that? Look: I have no high expertise in biblical Hebrew. Peter Enns does. He, of all people, ought to be able to grasp the following: 

The word b-sh-l in Exodus 12 is modified by a rather important prepositional phrase: "in water." If you want to say "boil," you add this prepositional phrase to give it the proper specificity: "cook in water." In other words, b-sh-l is a general term meaning, "cook." If you add "in water," voila! You get, "boil."

Deuteronomy doesn't give the prepositional phrase. It just says, "b-sh-l and eat it." In other words, "Cook it and eat it." Not a word or hint about H20, water, rain, steam, precipitation, or boiling. Just, "cook it." If Deuteronomy wanted to say "boil," it would've added the necessary, "in water."

If Pete wants to argue otherwise, he can feel free to believe that in 2 Samuel 13:8 Tamar took dough, kneaded it, made cakes in the presence of Amnon, and then boiled (b-sh-l) them. Uh, say what?

Exodus says "don't boil it. Roast it." Deuteronomy says, "Cook it."

It's time for Pete to retire this one. I mean, seriously time.


One astute reader suggests that Tamar was making... bagels. That was so clever I just had to share it.

I was thinking I should also briefly address 2 Chronicles 35:13, which Pete takes to be evidence that the Chronicler noticed the "contradiction." It reads: "And they roasted [b-sh-l] the Passover lamb with fire according to the rule; and they boiled [b-sh-l] the holy offerings in pots, in cauldrons, and in pans, and carried them quickly to all the lay people."

Very simply, this proves my point. B-sh-l is a flexible, general, catch-all term. When you b-sh-l something with fire, it is called "roasting." When you b-sh-l something in water (per Exodus), it is called "boiling." It is a term that operates just as our English word "cook." To "cook" something is to prepare it for human consumption. It can mean any number of things, but if you want you can be more specific: "Cook it in the oven at 350 degrees." "Cook on the stovetop in a pan." "Cook in a cauldron." "Cook on the grill." And so on. This is why Deuteronomy's, "Cook it" isn't in tension with Exodus at all. Exodus had already specified how (Do not "cook in water"). Interestingly, Chronicles says they "cooked it with fire according to the rule." (By the way, Pete's definition would have this verse read; "They boiled it with fire." Huh?) The point is, Exodus was so clear the Deuteronomist didn't feel the need to specify just how to "cook" the Passover lamb, and the Chronicler feels the matter is so clear he calls it "according to the rule." There is simply no ambiguity here, much less any kind of "tension" or contradiction. 

Finally, I believe the instances of b-sh-l in the Hebrew Bible show precisely this flexibility. Sometimes it means "boil," sometimes "bake," sometimes "roast," depending on other explicitly specified contextual factors (e.g., the type of vessel being used, added elements of fire or water, etc.). When there are no such factors specified, it simply means "cook." When I say, "I'm going to cook the meat," I do not mean I'm going to barbecue the meat. I might mean that, but "cook" does not mean "barbecue." If I say, "I'm going to cook the meat on the grill" (oh, the wonders of the prepositional phrase!), I suddenly mean I'm going to barbecue it. I'm quite mystified that Pete doesn't get this. There's absolutely nothing to "resolve."

Brian Mattson