One thing I'm doing to get an idea of how αλλα functions is examining synoptic parallels for instances of non-negative αλλα. Do the parallels also use αλλα? If not, are they using different structures to communicate the same thing, or are they communicating different things?
Here's my initial rough draft for the instance in Mt 9.18.
Mt 9.18 (|| Mk 5.23 || Lu 8.41-42)
18 Ταῦτα αὐτοῦ λαλοῦντος αὐτοῖς ἰδοὺ ἄρχων εἷς ἐλθὼν προσεκύνει αὐτῷ λέγων ὅτι
Ἡ θυγάτηρ μου ἄρτι ἐτελεύτησεν
ἀλλὰ ἐλθὼν ἐπίθες τὴν χεῖρά σου ἐπ’ αὐτήν καὶ ζήσεται
(Mt 9.18, NA27)
18 While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying,
“My daughter has just died,
but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.”
(Mt 9.18, ESV)
The parallels in Mark and Luke disclose that the “ruler” in this instance is Jairus. His daughter has died; he desires Jesus to heal her and restore her to life. In this case, there is a degree of contrast involved in the context. Jairus is asking for Jesus to move his daughter from the state of death (τελευτάω, aorist active indicative) back into the state of life (ζάω, future middle indicative). The underlying contrast is both lexical (contrast between death and life) and grammatical (between the aorist and future tenses). In this instance, αλλα functions as a hinge between the two contrasting statements, heightening the contrast and shifting focus onto the apodosis: Jairus believes that if Jesus comes and touches her, she will live.
The differences between the synoptic accounts of this event are notable. Here are the Markan and Lukan accounts:
23 καὶ παρακαλεῖ αὐτὸν πολλὰ λέγων ὅτι
Τὸ θυγάτριόν μου ἐσχάτως ἔχει
ἵνα ἐλθὼν ἐπιθῇς τὰς χεῖρας αὐτῇ
ἵνα σωθῇ καὶ ζήσῃ (Mk 5.23, NA27)
23 and implored him earnestly, saying,
“My little daughter is at the point of death.
Come and lay your hands on her,
so that she may be made well and live.” (Mk 5.23, ESV)
41 καὶ ἰδοὺ ἦλθεν ἀνὴρ ᾧ ὄνομα Ἰάϊρος
καὶ οὗτος ἄρχων τῆς συναγωγῆς ὑπῆρχεν
καὶ πεσὼν παρὰ τοὺς πόδας τοῦ Ἰησοῦ παρεκάλει αὐτὸν εἰσελθεῖν εἰς τὸν οἶκον αὐτοῦ
42 ὅτι θυγάτηρ μονογενὴς ἦν αὐτῷ ὡς ἐτῶν δώδεκα καὶ αὐτὴ ἀπέθνῃσκεν
Ἐν δὲ τῷ ὑπάγειν αὐτὸν οἱ ὄχλοι συνέπνιγον αὐτόν (Lu 8.41-42, NA27)
41 And there came a man named Jairus,
who was a ruler of the synagogue.
And falling at Jesus’ feet, he implored him to come to his house,
42 for he had an only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she was dying.
As Jesus went, the people pressed around him. (Lu 8.41-42, ESV)
In the Markan and Lukan accounts, Jairus initially represents his daughter as being sick unto the point of death but still alive; information of the girl’s death comes later from a servant who arrives on the scene (Mk 5.35 || Lu 8.49). In Matthew she is represented as being dead throughout Jesus and Jairus’ interaction.
In Mark, Jairus’ request is twofold: “so that she be made well and live”. The request in Luke is much more subtle: “he implored [Jesus] to come to his house”. But recall that in Matthew, the request is not to make Jairus’ daughter well, but for Jesus to place his hands on her so that she may live again.
Matthew, compressing the event of Jesus and Jairus’ initial interaction, packs all of the contrast and drama of the event into Jairus’ request that Jesus, by touching his daughter, restore her life from death. Jairus by his statement shows that he thinks Jesus is able to, with his very touch, restore the dead to the living. Mark and Luke both spread this aspect of the drama out. First, Jairus requests that Jesus heal his daughter (Mark only refers to Jesus healing through touch; Luke has Jairus requesting that Jesus simply come to his house to heal, with means unspecified). Then the interlude with the healing of the woman with the issue of blood, who is healed through touching Jesus’ garment, which shows the power of Jesus to heal by touch. Only after this do Mark and Luke update the reader with the further information that Jairus’ daughter has died. They both do this by focusing on the hopelessness of the situation; now that the daughter has died there is no reason to further bother Jesus. But Jesus overhears this report (Mk 5.36 || Lu 8.50) and goes to Jairus’ house anyway, where his touch—in all accounts he takes the daughter by the hand—restores her to life.
In Matthew, then, Jairus’ request is initially larger and more hopeless. Instead of asking Jesus to heal his daughter from a grave illness, he asks that his dead daughter be restored to life. Each synoptic account uses different grammatical means to make this request: Mark focuses on means, requesting Jesus’ touch to reverse the slide from death back toward life. Luke focuses on Jairus’ method of request, passionately imploring that Jesus come to his house to heal his dying daughter. Matthew’s version, with αλλα in a non-negative context, relies on the contrast between death and restoration to life to quickly establish the impossibility of the situation. Mark and Luke reinforce/increase the hopelessness later (and thus increase the drama) by the introduction of the servant with news that Jairus' daughter has, in fact, died.
All three instances end up in the same place, with Jesus’ touch restoring Jairus’ daughter to life. Matthew’s use of αλλα in a non-negative context is the only instance that places all of the contrast at the head of the story, previous to the healing of the woman with the issue of blood.
(end of what I wrote this AM)
Which account do I like best? Actually, I like Mark's version the best because of the progression:
- Jairus: Your touch will heal my daughter, so she will live.
- Jesus: Whoa, who touched me?
- Woman: I did. And I'm healed.
- Jesus: Your faith has made you well.
- Jairus' servant: Don't waste your time bothering Jesus, Jairus, your daughter is dead.
- Jesus: Don't fear, only believe.
- Jesus goes to house.
- Mourners: You're too late, she's dead.
- Jesus: She's not dead, she's only sleeping.*
- Jesus: Takes her by the hand, asks her to rise, and she does.
The whole thing starts with Jairus stating Jesus' touch will heal. Then the woman with the issue of blood touches Jesus' garment and is healed. Then we find out that Jairus' daughter is dead. Then it's confirmed she's dead. Then his touch raises the dead girl; though Jesus is quick to teach it isn't necessarily his touch, it is the belief—the belief of the woman with the issue of blood that she'd be healed, and the belief of Jairus (stated at the start of this episode) that Jesus could make his daughter better. I think that ties it better together than Matthew's or Luke's versions of the story. I'd take Matthew as a close second. Mark creates more suspense/drama with the progression from gravely ill to dead; Matthew front-loads the contrast (using lexical and grammatical means, and marking it even more by using αλλα) and the drama, making Jairus' faith in Jesus to heal seem even greater.
* Resisting urge to write, "She's only mostly dead ..."