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Among the literal translations of Gen 1:16 we have three forms typified by:

  • NASB: God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also.
  • ESV: And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars.
  • LSV: And God makes the two great luminaries, the great luminary for the rule of the day, and the small luminary—and the stars—for the rule of the night;

We have the following types of translations

  1. God also made the stars making stars the object of the earlier verb
  2. The lesser light rules the night and the stars
  3. The lesser light and the stars (together) rule the night

Are any of these tenable? If not, what is the correct translation?

A closely related question does not appear to properly address this question or to answer it. Is "stars" the object of "made" or "rule" in Genesis 1:16?

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  • I think the linked question does pretty much cover this. Your third option, is covered by the stars being the object of 'make', isn't it? – curiousdannii Feb 20 at 22:43
  • @curiousdannii - yes but this one answered the question for fully and the previous one left gaps and did not discuss the other options. – Dottard Feb 20 at 23:20
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The lesser light rules the night and the stars

This translation is not so tenable. The Hebrew conjunction for items in a simple series is the prefix וְ. In this verse, the conjunction is

And [He made]
וְאֵ֖ת (wə·’êṯ)
Conjunctive waw | Direct object marker
Strong's Hebrew 853: Untranslatable mark of the accusative case

If the verb is "rules", the prefix should be וְ. Here the implied verb is further away: it is "made", so וְאֵ֖ת is used instead.

The lesser light and the stars (together) rule the night

This translation is supported somewhat by Jeremiah 31:35

This is what the LORD says, he who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night

But then you'd run into the problem that "stars" is the direct object. It is not a subject/actor. This brings us to the first interpretation: God also made the stars making stars the object of the earlier verb.

Of the three translations, this is the most tenable.

In https://biblehub.com/genesis/1-16.htm, 15 out of 26 versions use "made the stars".

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All languages have these types of parsing ambiguities that must be resolved via context or with the introduction of punctuation. In the MT, this punctuation would be the Masoretic cantillations, which group words into related groups of meanings to resolve exactly these types of ambigiuties. I've shown the cantillations for the verse in question, which suggest the appropriate reading is that the lesser light rules the night, with stars being another thing that God made rather than something that is ruled by or rules with the lesser light, as they are excluded from that Zaqef Qaton.

enter image description here

Of course the Masoretic markings were added much later than the Old Testament, and you can disagree with them, but seeing as how you are not going to find doctrinal guidance one way or another, going with the masorah is a safe bet.

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