Genesis 1:16 says (according to the Complete Jewish Bible translation) "God made the two great lights — the larger light to rule the day and the smaller light to rule the night — and the stars." My question is what is the role of "stars" in that sentence? Is it saying that God made the two great lights and the stars, or is it staying that God made the smaller light to rule the night and the stars? The King James Version resolves the ambiguity by saying "And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also." But what's the reasoning for concluding that "stars" is the object of "made" as opposed to the object of "rule"? Is there any grammatical or other way to tell what "stars" is the object of?

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Thank You in Advance.

  • The dashes before and after the phrase "the larger light to rule the day and the smaller light to rule the night" are clearly being used to block off the phrase as a parenthetical. The first dash indicates that the grammatical structure of the main sentence is being interrupted and will continue after the next dash. So the clause that begins "God made the two great lights..." continues with "...*and the stars.*"
    – David H
    Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 0:18
  • @DavidH But that just indicates that, like the King James Version translators, the Complete Jewish Bible translators think that "stars" is the object of "made". My question is whether they're right. Is there anything in the original Hebrew to indicate the meaning? Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 0:48
  • I thought you were asking how to interpret the English translation you quoted. I was merely making the point that the translators definitely thought that 'stars' was the object of 'made'. I can't speak to the reasons the original Hebrew was parsed that way, or if it is ultimately correct.
    – David H
    Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 0:57

2 Answers 2


The Grammar is Clear

The grammar does indicate that stars should be a direct object of what is "made." The verse in Hebrew is this (remember Hebrew is read right to left):

And God made                                               וַיַּ֣עַשׂ אֱלֹהִ֔ים
two great lights                                  אֶת־שְׁנֵ֥י הַמְּאֹרֹ֖ת הַגְּדֹלִ֑ים
  the greater light to rule the day         אֶת־הַמָּאֹ֤ור הַגָּדֹל֙ לְמֶמְשֶׁ֣לֶת הַיֹּ֔ום
  and the lesser light to rule the night  וְאֶת־הַמָּאֹ֤ור הַקָּטֹן֙ לְמֶמְשֶׁ֣לֶת הַלַּ֔יְלָה 
and the stars                                            וְאֵ֖ת הַכֹּוכָבִֽים׃  

Notice two things that answer your question.

First, the phrase "to rule" is a prepositional phrase in the Hebrew, with the preposition ל ("to") prefixed on מֶמְשָׁלָה ("rule") making לְמֶמְשֶׁ֣לֶת (found in lines 3 & 4 above). So the word "rule" is not a verb here, but a noun referencing the idea of "rule" or "dominion."

Second, notice the repeated את (eth) at the beginning of lines 2-4 above (the last two have a וְ (waw; "and") prefixed to them. The את is the accusative marker which relates it to the verb in the sentence. The only verb in the sentence is עָשָׂה ("made"; in the text prefixed in the imperfect form וַיַּ֣עַשׂ) (recall that "rule" was a noun).


The accusative marker points the phrase back to the verb of the sentence, "make," and there is no ambiguity since the word "rule" is not a verb, but a noun functioning as the object of the preposition showing the purpose for the making of the two great lights.

  • Thanks. Out of curiosity, if the case of "stars" is accusative, what is the case of "night"? Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 14:28
  • 1
    @KeshavSrinivasan Biblical Hebrew does not actually have "case" markings (like Greek), but when labeled with case it is done based on "function" and "relation" in the sentence. The את is a special particle used as an accusative marker for various situations (often direct object) in relating a word to the verb. The noun "rule" expects something to be noted of what is ruled over, and so "night" here would be equal to an "objective genitive" relationship.
    – ScottS
    Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 14:50
  • OK, so there's not something in the Hebrew that indicates that "night" bears an objective genitive relation to "rule", it's just the fact that "night" comes right after "rule"? Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 14:57
  • @KeshavSrinivasan There is more than that. The word "rule" is in the construct state (see BDB that shows the ending ת [tau] rather than ה [hey] for the construct form of "rule"), while the word "night" is in an absolute state. That construction in Hebrew makes the genitive relation. That it is an objective genitive is from the context and demands of the verbal idea contained in the noun "rule" (which, again, expects it might be noted what is ruled).
    – ScottS
    Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 15:13
  • 3
    The LXX has translated this verse very literally and very correctly: καὶ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς τοὺς δύο φωστῆρας τοὺς μεγάλους τὸν φωστῆρα τὸν μέγαν εἰς ἀρχὰς τῆς ἡμέρας καὶ τὸν φωστῆρα τὸν ἐλάσσω εἰς ἀρχὰς τῆς νυκτός καὶ τοὺς ἀστέρας, with the words for “day” and “night” in the genitive case after εἰς ἀρχὰς.
    – fdb
    Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 15:42

We are specifically told that only two lights were made on the fourth day. Therefore the 'and the stars' statement would be a credit statement, telling everyone that the stars were made by the same God who made the sun and moon. Remember that at the time Moses wrote Genesis people everywhere believe in many different gods. In addition, if one traces 'heaven' and 'flying fowl' through Genesis 1 it is clear that 'heaven' refers to the atmosphere. We need to be careful that we don't confuse seeing the stars through the transparent heaven with the concept that heaven and the universe are the same thing. The host of heaven in Genesis refers to the flying fowl (living creatures), not the stars.

  • "We are specifically told that only two lights were made on the fourth day." This statement needs some justification.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Feb 20, 2021 at 22:42

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