This is the continuation of a post that started here, focusing on exception clauses in language. In the last installment (which you really should read before continuing), I discussed how some grammarians have viewed ἀλλά and εἰ μή as nearly interchangable. I provided an example of a clause with ἀλλά, and now for the εἰ μή counterpart. The following passage from Mark 6:4-5 has two of them. The excepted element serves to replace an element that precedes.
The negated statements in vv. 4 and 5 are not entirely true; exceptions to each statement are added in the apodosis. There actually is a context where a prophet is without honor: in his hometown among his relatives and his household. Jesus actually was able to perform miracles in Nazareth: he laid hands on a few sick people, healing them. The statements are essentially incomplete until one reads the apodosis; it is only after this that the statement is completely accurate. The incomplete proposition of the negated clause sets the stage to highlight the restricted element that follows.
Note that the same propositional information could have been communicated using only positive statements, thereby avoiding the complexity of the negation and restriction.
a) A prophet is without honor in his hometown.
b) Jesus was able to lay hands on a few sick people and heal them.
Both of these statements communicate the same information as the negated statements in Mark 6:4-5, but without the same rhetorical punch. The pragmatic effect of using the negation + restriction is to highlight the restricted element because of its significance to the discourse. The focus here is not on the fact that Jesus was dishonored, but on the location where it takes place. Of all the people who know him and should accept him, it is the hometown crowd. Think of how many small towns tout some native son’s achievements as their claim to fame. In the case of Jesus, they reject him. As a result, he was apparently limited in the works he was able to perform there. Using only the positive statements would not have focused the reader’s (or hearer’s, for cwc) attention on these significant elements in nearly the same way as in the biblical text.
Okay, here is the problem I ran into (forward-pointing reference): If both ἀλλά and εἰ μή introduce something that replaces what precedes, what is the difference between them? What is the distinct role that each plays? It vexed me for days. And then, it hit me… Can you figure it out? Leave a comment. Next installment out Wednesday.