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First time post. I have a question regarding Genesis 1:7 and the subject of the pronoun of ויבדל. I am self-learning Hebrew and noticed in the NJPS they translate it "It" contrasted to "He". Both Elohim/ha'raqia being absent by ellipsis. I've consulted several grammars and syntax textbooks for help. I've also consulted every major commentary on Genesis and only found reference to this issue through Victor P. Hamilton and he chose Elohim but his reasoning is far from acceptable.

I'm leaning towards Elohim now where Initially I did not. I will save my observances unless asked for. I'd like to hear others' opinions. I also viewed English translations of targums, LXX, Samaritan and Syriac and found 2 or 3 that were rendered "it" but I'm not sure if it's definitive in the other language or if it was translator bias, as is English. I've chewed on this for two weeks. All input is considered valuable.

וַיַּ֣עַשׂ אֱלֹהִים֮ אֶת־הָרָקִיעַ֒ וַיַּבְדֵּ֗ל בֵּ֤ין הַמַּ֙יִם֙ אֲשֶׁר֙ מִתַּ֣חַת לָרָקִ֔יעַ וּבֵ֣ין הַמַּ֔יִם אֲשֶׁ֖ר מֵעַ֣ל לָרָקִ֑יעַ וַֽיְהִי־כֵֽן

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    – Dottard
    Nov 28, 2022 at 20:41

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The NJPS (in English) has this for Gen 1:7 -

God made the expanse, and it separated the water which was below the expanse from the water which was above the expanse. And it was so.

First, וַיַּבְדֵּ֗ל consists of a conjunction and a verb (to separate), there is no pronoun. Further, the verb is בָּדל and in Gen 1:7 - it features prominently in the first three days as

  • God divides the light from darkness (day 1)
  • God divides waters above from waters below (day 2)
  • God divides the sea from the land to create dry ground (day 3)

Thus, the verb appears in Gen 1:4, 6, 7, 14, 18. In the particular case of Gen 1:7, the verb is Hifil - Consecutive imperfect - third person masculine singular. Thus, if one wished to supply a pronoun, it would need to be "He" because the verb is masculine, based on the verb alone.

However, no such explicit pronoun is in the Hebrew text. The choice of pronoun depends on which noun is the antecedent.

  • If we assume "God"/elohim is the antecedent, then "he" would be the appropriate pronoun; ie, God id the separating
  • if we take the firmament/expanse to be the antecedent, the "it" is the appropriate pronoun.

Clearly, the latter has been assumed by the translators of the NJPS. By contrast, some versions avoid the problem and avoid the need for any inserted pronoun thus (BSB):

6 And God said, “Let there be an expanse between the waters, to separate the waters from the waters.” 7 So God made the expanse and separated the waters beneath it from the waters above. And it was so.

This is actually closer to the Hebrew which contains no pronouns.

APPENDIX - Gen 1:6

The text of Gen 1:6 provides another useful example to the above. A good literal translation of the verse is provided by NASB:

Then God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.”

Note that both the verb וִיהִ֣י ("and let") and מַבְדִּ֔יל ("divide/separate") are masculine singular. However, the subject of both these verbs is רָקִ֖יעַ ("firmament/expanse") which is also masculine. However, in English, impersonal nouns do not have gender and thus, the translators provide a neuter pronoun. An overly literal translation would end up being meaningless by saying:

Then God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let him (ie, the firmament) separate the waters from the waters.”

This is incorrect English.

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  • Thank you for the quick and thorough response. When I mentioned pronoun I was referring to the verb being masculine. I was viewing the Yod as a he/it. I will from now on refer to masculine/feminine. I'm aware בדל is used in the other verses and the subject is elohim. However, every single occurrence of that verb plus every other consecutive imperfect in all of chapter 1s 6 days contains a stated subject immediately after except for this one instance. I also don't understand the BSB versions providing a clearer translation as that translation supposes a lamed prefix to raqia without a vav. Nov 28, 2022 at 21:51
  • It's interesting to me he has left the antecedent subject out. If Genesis i compare genesis 1:28 to 1:7 ויברך אלהים אתם ויאמר אלהים...I would expect to see the same construction. I see 2 clues as to the antecedent from the narrator. One obvious, one im not sure about. The first is that in verse 6 the separator is to be the expanse, not Elohim. On the other hand, the 3rd clause in verse 7 contains לרקיע. If the raqia were the antecedent, could it seperate for/in regards to itsself? Nov 28, 2022 at 21:57
  • I guess what I'm wanting to know most is of there is a grammatical or syntactical rule that requires the antecedent be אלהים or if it must be determined on context alone. I'll repeat, I don't understand how avoiding it as the BSB does can be correct. I think based off what I have read and seen, that the nominal construction would be different if that were most accurate. It seems there is a specific causer of the separation, enforced more so by the hiphil construction. Nov 28, 2022 at 22:01
  • @Garland_Jones - here is my very literal translation: "Thus made God the firmament and divided between the waters ...". At only a slight stretch, we might translate, "Thus made God the firmament thus dividing between the waters ...". The choice of the antecedent is just that - a matter of choice between the immediate and ultimate cause of the dividing. It is the firmament that divides but God created the firmament to divide.
    – Dottard
    Nov 28, 2022 at 22:57
  • Thanks again. And forgive also my references to the bsb. I understand the "he" omission after seeing yours and reflecting back. I had the "to divide" from verse 6 in mind when I made those references about the BSB version versus the NASB/NJPS versions pronominal renderings. Nov 28, 2022 at 23:49

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