As my regular, very intelligent, highly esteemed, and most worthy readers know, I spent a lot of time dealing with the conjunction αλλα in 2008; the results of which are in the paper I wrote for the 2008 national ETS meeting (paper here).
Today I was doing a quick read the text of First Thessalonians (reconciling English with Greek) and I noticed some good examples of αλλα, so I thought I’d blog them. There are 13 examples. I’ll list each briefly and offer (hopefully brief) comments. Actually, I only got through eight before I stopped (not enough time), but hopefully you get the picture.
My basic premise is that αλλα indicates either correction or replacement. That is, the item following αλλα corrects or replaces the item preceding; and that additionally these items are contrasted such that the latter item is highlighted. In other words, the second item in the contrast is the more important information; it is what the structure puts in the spotlight. After the Greek is a very quick and not well thought out translation of relevant text (but not all of the Greek, I’m trying to work quickly here). Also, since I am working quickly, note I haven’t proofed/revised/rewritten anything, this is pretty much a raw dump — please offer feedback on whatever you see.
1 Thess 1:5
ὅτι τὸ εὐαγγέλιον ἡμῶν οὐκ ἐγενήθη εἰς ὑμᾶς ἐν λόγῳ μόνον ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐν δυνάμει καὶ ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ καὶ ἐν πληροφορίᾳ πολλῇ καθὼς οἴδατε οἷοι ἐγενήθημεν ἐν ὑμῖν δι ̓ ὑμᾶς
that our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much certainty,…
Here the correction is in how the gospel came to the Thessalonians: It didn’t just come in word, but it came (that’s the correction) in power, with the Holy Spirit, and with much certainty (and that’s the important part). It was more than mere words. This “not only/but also” is a frequent formula and typically indicates correction.
1 Thess 1:8
ἀφ ̓ ὑμῶν γὰρ ἐξήχηται ὁ λόγος τοῦ κυρίου οὐ μόνον ἐν τῇ Μακεδονίᾳ καὶ ἐν τῇ Ἀχαΐᾳ ἀλλ ̓ ἐν παντὶ τόπῳ ἡ πίστις ὑμῶν ἡ πρὸς τὸν θεὸν ἐξελήλυθεν ὥστε μὴ χρείαν ἔχειν ἡμᾶς λαλεῖν τι
For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth not only in Macedonia and in Achaea but in every place your faith, that which is in God, has gone out, so that we have no need to say anything
Again, we have correction and the “not only/but also” formula. The word of the Lord didn’t just go through Macedonia and Achaia; it went everywhere the news about the Thessalonians went. The important part is how this news has spread.
1 Thess 2:1-2
Αὐτοὶ γὰρ οἴδατε ἀδελφοί τὴν εἴσοδον ἡμῶν τὴν πρὸς ὑμᾶς ὅτι οὐ κενὴ γέγονεν ἀλλὰ προπαθόντες καὶ ὑβρισθέντες καθὼς οἴδατε ἐν Φιλίπποις ἐπαρρησιασάμεθα ἐν τῷ θεῷ ἡμῶν λαλῆσαι πρὸς ὑμᾶς τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν πολλῷ ἀγῶνι
… that it was not in vain, but after we had already suffered and been poorly treated, just as you know, in Philippi, we had the courage in our God to speak to you the gospel of God, in much opposition/conflict.
Here Paul is clarifying/correcting that his (and Timothy, and Silas, see the prescript (1Th 1.1) arrival in Thessalonica was not in vain or in error; but that it was — after what happened in Philippi — indeed meant to happen. Paul is saying that it wasn’t an accident, instead it was intended of God for them to bring the Thessalonians the gospel in this way, after the incident(s?) in Philippi. Note the next clause group is another αλλα statement.
1 Thess 2:3-4
ἡ γὰρ παράκλησις ἡμῶν οὐκ ἐκ πλάνης οὐδὲ ἐξ ἀκαθαρσίας οὐδὲ ἐν δόλῳ ἀλλὰ καθὼς δεδοκιμάσμεθα ὑπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ πιστευθῆναι τὸ εὐαγγέλιον οὕτως λαλοῦμεν οὐχ ὡς ἀνθρώποις ἀρέσκοντες ἀλλὰ θεῷ τῷ δοκιμάζοντι τὰς καρδίας ἡμῶν
For our appeal does not from error, or from impurity, or with deceit, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so that we speak not as people-pleasers but as to God, the tester of our hearts.
Here there are two different αλλα statements. Paul is first clarifying the source; the word he brings comes not deceitfully but in fact they have been “approved” by God to do this. That’s pretty much the opposite of deceit. Secondly, as to motive, Paul corrects that they come not to please people, but to please God. The important bits are that Paul’s message comes from God, and that Paul speaks not so that people will be pleased, but so that the one who tests Paul’s heart will be pleased with the results of the test.
1 Thess 2:7
δυνάμενοι ἐν βάρει εἶναι ὡς Χριστοῦ ἀπόστολοι ἀλλὰ ἐγενήθημεν νήπιοι ἐν μέσῳ ὑμῶν ὡς ἐὰν τροφὸς θάλπῃ τὰ ἑαυτῆς τέκνα
While we could have made demands as Christ’s apostles, instead we became as infants in your midst, as a nursing mother cherishes her own children.
The first portion of the αλλα statement may actually run up to the start of v. 5 (see Runge, Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament) but this is enough to get the idea. Note the contrast between making demands as apostles and instead being as infants. While they could’ve made demands, they instead took the more gentle route, and this is what Paul desires to highlight in the context. He gets their attention with the first statement, and then turns it on its head with the second (now more salient) statement.
1 Thess 2:8
οὕτως ὁμειρόμενοι ὑμῶν εὐδοκοῦμεν μεταδοῦναι ὑμῖν οὐ μόνον τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τοῦ θεοῦ ἀλλὰ καὶ τὰς ἑαυτῶν ψυχάς διότι ἀγαπητοὶ ἡμῖν ἐγενήθητε
In this way longing for you, we determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own souls/life
The correction is in what was shared. They didn’t just share the gospel (cf. 1Th 1.5 above) but they shared their whole lives, so it was evident how the gospel had affected them. This again, by heightening the contrast, puts the spotlight on the second portion of the statement. If you’re preaching this, the important part is that Paul/Timothy/Silas shared their whole souls/lives with the Thessalonians. That’s how they were able to model the gospel to them.
1 Thess 2:13
Καὶ διὰ τοῦτο καὶ ἡμεῖς εὐχαριστοῦμεν τῷ θεῷ ἀδιαλείπτως ὅτι παραλαβόντες λόγον ἀκοῆς παρ ̓ ἡμῶν τοῦ θεοῦ ἐδέξασθε οὐ λόγον ἀνθρώπων ἀλλὰ καθώς ἐστιν ἀληθῶς λόγον θεοῦ ὃς καὶ ἐνεργεῖται ἐν ὑμῖν τοῖς πιστεύουσιν
… you accepted it not as the word of men but just as it truly is, the word of God
Again, remember my premise: correction or replacement is involved, and the second item is highlighted (prominent) in the current context. Here there is contrast innate between “the word of men” and “the word of God”. Paul had gone to pains earlier (using αλλα) to note the source of their preaching and the motive of their preaching (cf. 1Th 2.3-4 above): It was from God, to please God. Note also the “just as it truly is” statement. This puts even more prominence/importance on the second half of the structure.
So, to recap my position on αλλα, which I’m hoping the above discussion has made evident:
- it indicates correction or replacement
- it involves comparison/contrast between two items: the first premise and the following correction or replacement of that premise
- as such, the correction/replacement is the more important information. If you’re preaching, that is the thing you should focus on, because that is what the author (here Paul with some help from Silas and Timothy) has highlighted in the immediate context.