Hermeneutics,  Law,  Old Testament

To Boil or Not to Boil: Exod 12:8-9 and Deut 16:7 in Contradiction?

Many people constantly accuse the Bible of having contradictions within it. One such alleged contradiction is in regard to the command not to boil the Passover lamb. In Exodus 12:8-9, Israel is forbidden to eat any of the lamb raw or to boil it in water. Similarly, in Deuteronomy 16:5-7, Moses’ instructions on eating the Passover include the command to cook it and eat it.

Photo of lamb symbolizing boil or not to boil

Although the apparent contradiction is not present in many English translations, the issue is that the Hebrew of Exodus 12:8-9 says not to “boil [מְבֻשָּׁל] in water,” while Deuteronomy 16:7 uses the same verb while saying, “boil [וּבִשַּׁלְתָּ] and eat.”

So the same verb (“to boil,” בשׁל) is used in both verses, but seemingly in contradiction. In Exodus 12:9 Israel is told not to בשׁל (boil) the meat. But in Deuteronomy 16:7 they are told to בשׁל (boil) it. Are these two passages a contradiction?

To answer this question we need to note that בשׁל does not inherently mean “to boil.” It means to cook, and the kind of cooking is based entirely on context. This is clearly demonstrated by 2 Samuel 13:8, where בשׁל is used of Tamar baking cakes.

Because the kind of cooking described by בשׁל is dependent on the context, we are usually dependent on prepositional phrases to define the kind of cooking. For example, in Exodus 12:9, 23:19, 34:26, and Deuteronomy 14:21 the word is used with corresponding prepositional phrases identifying in water or milk. Thus, the translation of “boil” is quite appropriate in these contexts. These passages indicate cooking something by bringing it to boil in the specified liquid.

In Deuteronomy 16:7, the command to cook the meat corresponds to the command in Exodus 12:9 not to eat it raw. There is no reason to assume the cooking in Deuteronomy 16:7 would be boiling since there is no prepositional phrase modifying what kind of cooking it would be. Therefore, there is no good reason that this should be viewed as a contradiction in Scripture.

photo credit: decade_null via photopin cc

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He loves studying the Bible and helping others understand it. He also runs the Bible Sojourner podcast.

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