Genesis 1:6 ויאמר אלהים יהי רקיע בתוך המים ויהי מבדיל בין מים למים׃

(KJV) And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.

(YLT) And God saith, 'Let an expanse be in the midst of the waters, and let it be separating between waters and waters.'

When God divides the light and the darkness in Genesis 1:4, notice that it is written בין האור ובין החשך. This same schema "ben X uben Y" is used throughout the scriptures when X and Y are being separated/distinguished. But Genesis 1:6 introduces another schema, "ben X la-Y." Are the two schemas equivalent in meaning? At first glance, they appear to be, but I'm not totally convinced.

The schema "ben X la-Y" seems like it could be directed, whereas "ben X uben Y" looks more symmetric. Perhaps "ben X la-Y" could mean distinguishing X from Y whereas "ben X uben Y" could mean distinguishing X and Y? I must admit, however, these would be virtually indentical in meaning.

If there is no difference, why would the Author of Genesis 1:6 prefer "ben mayim la-mayim" instead of "ben mayim uben mayim?"

  • Interesting point. Distinguishing X from Y is, in my view, different from distinguishing X and Y, and I think it has meaning that should be observed, if your assessment is supportable.
    – Nigel J
    Jul 14, 2018 at 12:11

2 Answers 2


Good eye for detail. I was unable to word a question sufficiently to see whether there is a grammar rule for "bin" usage. So, below are just preliminary observations.

Perhaps it's a case of comparing unlike things / like things: apples and oranges vs apples to apples

Lev. 11:47 - ...between the~unclean and~between the~clean....

Deut. 17:8 - ...matter for~(the)~~judgment between blood to~blood...

2Chr. 19:10 - ... in~cities-of~them between blood to~blood, between law to~instruction, to~statutes and~to~judgments

Ezek. 42:20 - ...to-separate-of between the~holiness to~profane... (which seems to be a range?). Also Ezek. 44:23.

Then again...Jonah 4:11 - ...human who not he-knows between right-(hand)-of~him to~left-of~him.... (?)

  • +1 for these observations! It might be worthwhile to note that it makes sense that Ezekiel 44:23 uses the structure "ben holy la-profane uben unclean la-clean" in order to show what is being distinguished from what. It would be awkward to use the other schema. But, for now let's turn back to the hypothesis that, in ordinary circumstances, "ben X uben Y" compares apples and oranges while "ben X la-Y" compares apples to apples. I don't think Jonah 4:11 is inconsistent with this, because it is comparing a hand to a hand. I think Ezekiel 42:20 may be a counterexample though. How is it a "range?" Jul 14, 2018 at 17:29
  • 1 Kings 3:9 seems to also be a counterexample. Jul 14, 2018 at 17:33
  • No longer thinking 'range'. Did further study and there are at least 14 other instances of "to" coupled with unlike terms (ie. between good to~bad). I'm convinced it is wholly intentional and references the unique spiritual composition of Benjamin/Benjamites. Quite a rich vein your observation opened. Thanks.
    – tblue
    Jul 17, 2018 at 19:46

The two schemas are not equivalent.

The final schema completes the work of preparing the earth for life. After this there is a planet whose surface has both water and dry land surrounded by the heavens. Prior to this there was no dry land. In other words, the second work divided waters which were on the surface (from the second day). The division created something new, but what was new was not a division within the waters. Rather is was the dry land now in the midst of the waters. Or, stated differently, the work of dividing the waters did not change the make up of the waters.

The theory of a single land mass called Pangaea which surfaced in the early 1900's, helps to visualize this work of creation: a planet which originally was all water, now had a land mass surrounded by water. The point is the water, although divided, was still the same.

This differs from the first schema which resulted in two "bodies" of water: one on the surface of the earth (which is divided on the third day) and one above the firmament called heaven(s), which separated the two waters.

The work of division was essentially the same and yet the results were slightly different. The first resulting in two bodies; the second in land surrounded by one of the bodies of water from the previous day.

An apple and orange can be use to illustrate. The first division resulted in two different: an apple and an orange. The second divided only the orange. After the second work, the dry land is called "Earth" and the waters "Seas." At the end of the third day there are waters (apple) above the heaven(s) and seas (orange) beneath.

The variation in language is necessary to correctly describe the physical process.

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