Mark 6:8 εἰ μή Conditional Statement Grammar

How do I work out the meaning of a Greek text? How can I best understand the forms and vocabulary in this particular text?
Forum rules
This is a beginner's forum - see the Koine Greek forum for more advanced discussion of Greek texts. Please quote the Greek text you are discussing directly in your post if it is reasonably short - do not ask people to look it up.

When answering questions in this forum, keep it simple, and aim your responses to the level of the person asking the question.
William Lim
Posts: 13
Joined: March 16th, 2015, 7:26 pm

Mark 6:8 εἰ μή Conditional Statement Grammar

Post by William Lim » January 20th, 2016, 10:27 am

Hi all,

Found this paper by:
Charles E. Powell, Ph.D. and John Baima, Clauses in the NT: Interpretation and Translation
https://bible.org/article/%CE%B5%E1%BC% ... ion#P8_317

It says:
Powell p.1 wrote:It is often observed in the grammars that the use of εἰ μή with the verb omitted means “except” or “but” and is considered a substitute for ἀλλά.1 This was also common in classical Greek and probably arose as an unconscious abbreviation of the conditional clause because its verb was the same as the main verb in the apodosis.2 The idiom shows three characteristic features. First, there is an ellipsis of the verb in the protasis that is supplied from the principal clause, often the same verb. Second, there is a negative comparison between the two clauses. And third, the protasis always follows the apodosis.3

(Note: the text seemed unformatted so I formatted ajllav with ἀλλά, and eij mhv with εἰ μή)

So it seems like Powell notes as the 3rd characteristics of εἰ μή (if not): as a conditional sentence idiom, there must be an apodosis clause (main clause/consequence) immediately before εἰ μή and a protasis clause (dependent clause/condition) immediately after εἰ μή.

1) So with Mark 6:8, would the following break down be correct?:

( apodosis ) εἰ μὴ ( protasis )
(καὶ παρήγγειλεν αὐτοῖς ἵνα μηδὲν αἴρωσιν εἰς ὁδὸν) εἰ μὴ (ῥάβδον μόνον, μὴ ἄρτον, μὴ πήραν, μὴ εἰς τὴν ζώνην χαλκόν), (SBL)
(And commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey,) save (a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse:) (KJV)

2) Now, if I wanted to insert a relative clause into mark 6:8, would the following be a grammatical use of εἰ μὴ?
( apodosis ) (relative clause) εἰ μὴ ( protasis )
(καὶ παρήγγειλεν αὐτοῖς ἵνα μηδὲν αἴρωσιν εἰς ὁδὸν) (ἥν βλέπω) εἰ μὴ (ῥάβδον μόνον, μὴ ἄρτον, μὴ πήραν, μὴ εἰς τὴν ζώνην χαλκόν),
(And commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey), (which I see), save (a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse:)


Thanks,
Much appreciated,
Will
0 x



Jonathan Robie
Posts: 3740
Joined: May 5th, 2011, 5:34 pm
Location: Durham, NC
Contact:

Re: Mark 6:8 εἰ μή Conditional Statement Grammar

Post by Jonathan Robie » January 20th, 2016, 3:39 pm

That article seems to conflate the meaning of conditional sentences in Greek with formal logic, I don't think that generally reflects real natural language usage, and I don't think the article demonstrates that it does.

I suspect this is something that Rod Decker wrote about a few years ago:
There is relatively little written in the grammars on the idiomatic use of εἰ μή. I spent some time working through all the examples in Mark this evening; here’s my summary. It’s limited to Mark and to the use as an idiom (i.e., it does not include use in a conditional statement, etc.).

What have I missed? Or botched?!
εἰ μὴ is an idiom which means “except.” It is used in slightly different ways grammatically. One common construction is seen in Mark 2:7 in which a noun (or sometimes a string of nouns) is appended in either nominative or accusative case which functions as the subject or direct object of an elliptical statement restating the preceding clause and which assumes the same verb, but which states an exception to that first clause. In this verse, the elliptical statement is, “One is able to forgive sin—God.” For other similar statements using a nominative, see 10:18 and 13:32; for an accusative, 5:37; 6:8; 11:13. Other times, but less commonly, the exception is fully stated (e.g., 6:5; 9:9; 13:20), or a prepositional phrase is used (e.g., 6:4), which sometimes repeats the same preposition as the first clause, but specifies a subset excluded from the original statement (e.g., 9:29). (There are other uses of εἰ μή that do not occur in Mark; see Smyth, §2346; BDF, §376; MHT 1:171.)
For reference, here’s Mark 2:7, Τί οὗτος οὕτως λαλεῖ; βλασφημεῖ· τίς δύναται ἀφιέναι ἁμαρτίας εἰ μὴ εἷς ὁ θεός;
Here are the verses in Mark he refers to in that list.

Here are the resources he refers to that are available online:
0 x
ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
http://jonathanrobie.biblicalhumanities.org/

Jonathan Robie
Posts: 3740
Joined: May 5th, 2011, 5:34 pm
Location: Durham, NC
Contact:

Re: Mark 6:8 εἰ μή Conditional Statement Grammar

Post by Jonathan Robie » January 20th, 2016, 3:54 pm

Just found an article by Bill Mounce that addresses this, tells where to look in BDAG, and specifically addresses Mark 6:8:
Bill Mounce wrote:Idioms can really be a pain, can’t they? Idioms are phrases in which the individual words don’t bear their normal meaning, but together they have a special meaning. The trick is to learn which words form idioms.

Take for example Mark 6:8. “He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts” (εἰ μὴ ῥάβδον μόνον, μὴ ἄρτον, μὴ πήραν, μὴ εἰς τὴν ζώνην χαλκόν). I received a question the other day that wondered why μὴ ῥάβδον was not translated “no staff” like the rest of the terms in the list.

The key is the εἰ, which when combined with μή, forms an idiom translated “except.” So the first four words are properly translated as “except a staff.” NASB explicitly translates μονον as “except a mere staff.”

So how are you supposed to know that ει μη is an idiom? There are several clues. One is, how would you translate the εἰ if it were not an idiom? “If” does not make sense here. As a general rule, when the gloss you know for a word does not fit into a context, you should check a lexicon to see if there is another meaning that does fit.

But thankfully, we have a great friend in BDAG. This is a wonderful Greek lexicon; it is not only the standard in the field, it is almost the only one in the field. There are some shorter lexicons that are cheaper and easier to carry, and there is the mammoth Liddell and Scott, but for basic, serious Greek work you must have access to this text.

BDAG lists idioms near the end of the entry. So if you look up εἰ, scan to the bottom and at entry 6 you find the rather cryptic “In combination w. other particles, w. the other particles foll.” It means that when ει is used in combination with other particles it means …,” and then BDAG lists those meanings. Entry “i” under εἰ μή has “except, if not.”

So the moral of the story is first of all to pay attention to common idioms, perhaps keeping a list as you come across them. And when the “normal” translation of a word doesn’t fit (especially if it is a particle followed by another particle), check out BDAG.
Moulton-Howard-Turner notes that this is not the only meaning:
Moulton-Howard-Turner wrote:εἰ μή is three times as common in NT as εἰ oὐ, but we soon see that it is restricted to three uses: (1) in protasis of unreal conditions; (2) meaning except, much like πλήν; (3) with δέ, meaning otherwise, without verb expressed. Lk 9:13, with a deliberative subjunctive following, is exceptional.
0 x
ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
http://jonathanrobie.biblicalhumanities.org/

William Lim
Posts: 13
Joined: March 16th, 2015, 7:26 pm

Re: Mark 6:8 εἰ μή Conditional Statement Grammar

Post by William Lim » January 21st, 2016, 1:12 am

Jonathan Robie wrote:That article seems to conflate the meaning of conditional sentences in Greek with formal logic, I don't think that generally reflects real natural language usage, and I don't think the article demonstrates that it does.
Hi Johnathan,

Powell's summary of the idiomatic use of εἰ μή was referencing Boyer’s article (the one that Rod references as well, and which you have supplied). Boyer himself gave other possible meanings of εἰ μή in that article. However, can't we tell that the idiomatic use of εἰ μή is intended when all three idiomatic characteristics are present?
Jonathan Robie wrote:I suspect this is something that Rod Decker wrote about a few years ago:
There is relatively little written in the grammars on the idiomatic use of εἰ μή. I spent some time working through all the examples in Mark this evening; here’s my summary. It’s limited to Mark and to the use as an idiom (i.e., it does not include use in a conditional statement, etc.).

What have I missed? Or botched?!
εἰ μὴ is an idiom which means “except.” It is used in slightly different ways grammatically. One common construction is seen in Mark 2:7 in which a noun (or sometimes a string of nouns) is appended in either nominative or accusative case which functions as the subject or direct object of an elliptical statement restating the preceding clause and which assumes the same verb, but which states an exception to that first clause. In this verse, the elliptical statement is, “One is able to forgive sin—God.” For other similar statements using a nominative, see 10:18 and 13:32; for an accusative, 5:37; 6:8; 11:13. Other times, but less commonly, the exception is fully stated (e.g., 6:5; 9:9; 13:20), or a prepositional phrase is used (e.g., 6:4), which sometimes repeats the same preposition as the first clause, but specifies a subset excluded from the original statement (e.g., 9:29). (There are other uses of εἰ μή that do not occur in Mark; see Smyth, §2346; BDF, §376; MHT 1:171.)
For reference, here’s Mark 2:7, Τί οὗτος οὕτως λαλεῖ; βλασφημεῖ· τίς δύναται ἀφιέναι ἁμαρτίας εἰ μὴ εἷς ὁ θεός;
Here are the verses in Mark he refers to in that list.
Sorry it wasn't clear to me exactly what Rod was trying to say... was he saying that
1) the idiomatic meaning of εἰ μή is restricted to Mark and that εἰ μή used outside of Mark tends not to be the idiom?
or
2) the idiomatic meaning of εἰ μή in Mark is restricted (so, Mark usually does not to use εἰ μή as an idiom)?

Does Rod think that εἰ μή in Mark 2:7 is not in idiomatic use?
Mar 2:7 Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only? (KJV)

if we looked at
τίς δύναται ἀφιέναι ἁμαρτίας εἰ μὴ εἷς ὁ θεός;

and τίς was seen as 'anyone' rather than 'who' (normally regarded as 'who' an interogative pronoun) then we could read:
anyone is able to forgive sins if not (only) one, that is God, is able to forgive sins.
so:
τίς δύναται ἀφιέναι ἁμαρτίας (anyone is able to forgive sins) - apodosis (main clause/consequence)
εἷς ὁ θεός ((only) one, that is God, is able to forgive sins.) - protasis clause (dependent clause/condition)

and all three idiom conditions are met:
1) ἀφιέναι (forgive) omitted/ellipsis in protasis
2) negative contrast between apodosis and protasis
3) apodosis first then protasis after εἰ μή

But even if τίς is 'who', still it seems 2 conditions (1 and 3) are met. So it still looks idiomatic enough.

Lastly, in the list of Mark verses Rod refers to, all verses seems idiomatic to me, how is it not (if that is what Rod intended to say)?

Thanks,
Will
Last edited by William Lim on January 21st, 2016, 1:22 am, edited 1 time in total.
0 x

William Lim
Posts: 13
Joined: March 16th, 2015, 7:26 pm

Re: Mark 6:8 εἰ μή Conditional Statement Grammar

Post by William Lim » January 21st, 2016, 1:21 am

Jonathan Robie wrote:Just found an article by Bill Mounce that addresses this, tells where to look in BDAG, and specifically addresses Mark 6:8:
Bill Mounce wrote:Idioms can really be a pain, can’t they? Idioms are phrases in which the individual words don’t bear their normal meaning, but together they have a special meaning. The trick is to learn which words form idioms.

Take for example Mark 6:8. “He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts” (εἰ μὴ ῥάβδον μόνον, μὴ ἄρτον, μὴ πήραν, μὴ εἰς τὴν ζώνην χαλκόν). I received a question the other day that wondered why μὴ ῥάβδον was not translated “no staff” like the rest of the terms in the list.

The key is the εἰ, which when combined with μή, forms an idiom translated “except.” So the first four words are properly translated as “except a staff.” NASB explicitly translates μονον as “except a mere staff.”

So how are you supposed to know that ει μη is an idiom? There are several clues. One is, how would you translate the εἰ if it were not an idiom? “If” does not make sense here. As a general rule, when the gloss you know for a word does not fit into a context, you should check a lexicon to see if there is another meaning that does fit.

But thankfully, we have a great friend in BDAG. This is a wonderful Greek lexicon; it is not only the standard in the field, it is almost the only one in the field. There are some shorter lexicons that are cheaper and easier to carry, and there is the mammoth Liddell and Scott, but for basic, serious Greek work you must have access to this text.

BDAG lists idioms near the end of the entry. So if you look up εἰ, scan to the bottom and at entry 6 you find the rather cryptic “In combination w. other particles, w. the other particles foll.” It means that when ει is used in combination with other particles it means …,” and then BDAG lists those meanings. Entry “i” under εἰ μή has “except, if not.”

So the moral of the story is first of all to pay attention to common idioms, perhaps keeping a list as you come across them. And when the “normal” translation of a word doesn’t fit (especially if it is a particle followed by another particle), check out BDAG.
Moulton-Howard-Turner notes that this is not the only meaning:
Moulton-Howard-Turner wrote:εἰ μή is three times as common in NT as εἰ oὐ, but we soon see that it is restricted to three uses: (1) in protasis of unreal conditions; (2) meaning except, much like πλήν; (3) with δέ, meaning otherwise, without verb expressed. Lk 9:13, with a deliberative subjunctive following, is exceptional.
Hi Jonathan,

Mounce agrees that Mark 6:8 is an idiomatic use of εἰ μή which I think is Moulton-Howard-Turner's 2nd use which is 'except'. Doesn't Boyer, Powell and Mounce all argue/agree that the 'except' meaning is derived from the idiom?

Anyway, as Mark 6:8 is an idiomatic use of εἰ μή, then I think my initial 2 questions posed are still open for answers.

Thanks,
Kind regards and God Bless,
Will
0 x

Eeli Kaikkonen
Posts: 477
Joined: June 2nd, 2011, 7:49 am
Location: Finland
Contact:

Re: Mark 6:8 εἰ μή Conditional Statement Grammar

Post by Eeli Kaikkonen » January 21st, 2016, 5:31 am

William Lim wrote:
1) So with Mark 6:8, would the following break down be correct?:

( apodosis ) εἰ μὴ ( protasis )
(καὶ παρήγγειλεν αὐτοῖς ἵνα μηδὲν αἴρωσιν εἰς ὁδὸν) εἰ μὴ (ῥάβδον μόνον, μὴ ἄρτον, μὴ πήραν, μὴ εἰς τὴν ζώνην χαλκόν), (SBL)
(And commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey,) save (a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse:) (KJV)
Yes, why not, except that the last part μὴ ἄρτον, μὴ πήραν, μὴ εἰς τὴν ζώνην χαλκόν logically continues μηδὲν. It's not part of apodosis.
2) Now, if I wanted to insert a relative clause into mark 6:8, would the following be a grammatical use of εἰ μὴ?
( apodosis ) (relative clause) εἰ μὴ ( protasis )
(καὶ παρήγγειλεν αὐτοῖς ἵνα μηδὲν αἴρωσιν εἰς ὁδὸν) (ἥν βλέπω) εἰ μὴ (ῥάβδον μόνον, μὴ ἄρτον, μὴ πήραν, μὴ εἰς τὴν ζώνην χαλκόν),
(And commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey), (which I see), save (a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse:)
This is impossible to prove without extensive search in TLG, but based on my instinction I would say yes. I don't see a reason why it wouldn't be "grammatical" use of εἰ μὴ, "except" – provided that "which I see" refers to "nothing", not to "[he] commanded".
0 x


Jonathan Robie
Posts: 3740
Joined: May 5th, 2011, 5:34 pm
Location: Durham, NC
Contact:

Re: Mark 6:8 εἰ μή Conditional Statement Grammar

Post by Jonathan Robie » January 21st, 2016, 12:25 pm

Eeli Kaikkonen wrote:
William Lim wrote:1) So with Mark 6:8, would the following break down be correct?:

( apodosis ) εἰ μὴ ( protasis )
(καὶ παρήγγειλεν αὐτοῖς ἵνα μηδὲν αἴρωσιν εἰς ὁδὸν) εἰ μὴ (ῥάβδον μόνον, μὴ ἄρτον, μὴ πήραν, μὴ εἰς τὴν ζώνην χαλκόν), (SBL)
(And commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey,) save (a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse:) (KJV)
Yes, why not, except that the last part μὴ ἄρτον, μὴ πήραν, μὴ εἰς τὴν ζώνην χαλκόν logically continues μηδὲν. It's not part of apodosis.
I agree.
Eeli Kaikkonen wrote:
2) Now, if I wanted to insert a relative clause into mark 6:8, would the following be a grammatical use of εἰ μὴ?
( apodosis ) (relative clause) εἰ μὴ ( protasis )
(καὶ παρήγγειλεν αὐτοῖς ἵνα μηδὲν αἴρωσιν εἰς ὁδὸν) (ἥν βλέπω) εἰ μὴ (ῥάβδον μόνον, μὴ ἄρτον, μὴ πήραν, μὴ εἰς τὴν ζώνην χαλκόν),
(And commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey), (which I see), save (a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse:)
This is impossible to prove without extensive search in TLG, but based on my instinction I would say yes. I don't see a reason why it wouldn't be "grammatical" use of εἰ μὴ, "except" – provided that "which I see" refers to "nothing", not to "[he] commanded".
I don't think this particular sentence makes sense. I'm having a hard time developing an intuition on this, partly because I'm having difficulty creating a sentence that makes sense with a relative clause in that position. I don't know if that should tell me that (1) this isn't possible for some reason I do not know, or (2) I am not a native speaker of Hellenistic Greek (that is already well known). I suspect that kind of construction might be awkward rather than ungrammatical, but I also don't trust my intuition here.

So I'd like to see some examples before I would be confident saying yes here.
0 x
ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
http://jonathanrobie.biblicalhumanities.org/

William Lim
Posts: 13
Joined: March 16th, 2015, 7:26 pm

Re: Mark 6:8 εἰ μή Conditional Statement Grammar

Post by William Lim » January 22nd, 2016, 2:29 am

Hi Eeli and Johnathan,
Eeli Kaikkonen wrote:
William Lim wrote:
1) So with Mark 6:8, would the following break down be correct?:

( apodosis ) εἰ μὴ ( protasis )
(καὶ παρήγγειλεν αὐτοῖς ἵνα μηδὲν αἴρωσιν εἰς ὁδὸν) εἰ μὴ (ῥάβδον μόνον, μὴ ἄρτον, μὴ πήραν, μὴ εἰς τὴν ζώνην χαλκόν), (SBL)
(And commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey,) save (a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse:) (KJV)
Yes, why not, except that the last part μὴ ἄρτον, μὴ πήραν, μὴ εἰς τὴν ζώνην χαλκόν logically continues μηδὲν. It's not part of apodosis.
Yeah, you're right. Only ῥάβδον μόνον (only a staff) should have been part of the protasis. Translations agree. Thanks for pointing that out.
Eeli Kaikkonen wrote:
2) Now, if I wanted to insert a relative clause into mark 6:8, would the following be a grammatical use of εἰ μὴ?
( apodosis ) (relative clause) εἰ μὴ ( protasis )
(καὶ παρήγγειλεν αὐτοῖς ἵνα μηδὲν αἴρωσιν εἰς ὁδὸν) (ἥν βλέπω) εἰ μὴ (ῥάβδον μόνον, μὴ ἄρτον, μὴ πήραν, μὴ εἰς τὴν ζώνην χαλκόν),
(And commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey), (which I see), save (a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse:)
This is impossible to prove without extensive search in TLG, but based on my instinction I would say yes. I don't see a reason why it wouldn't be "grammatical" use of εἰ μὴ, "except" – provided that "which I see" refers to "nothing", not to "[he] commanded".
Mmmm, doesn't the εἰ μὴ idiom require an apodosis clause directly before εἰ μὴ? So by inserting a relative clause just before εἰ μὴ, the relative clause becomes the apodosis. Would you agree with this?

I actually wanted 'which I see' to refer to 'the journey' (so that's why the relative pronoun is fem.,Sg, Acc.). Yeah, I know it sort of doesn't make much sense, it was meant to be an easy example. I was trying to express something like the journey which I envision/see/foresee. The point was more about the grammar of εἰ μὴ's sentence structure.

So, hopefully that helps, John.

Thanks,
Will
0 x

Eeli Kaikkonen
Posts: 477
Joined: June 2nd, 2011, 7:49 am
Location: Finland
Contact:

Re: Mark 6:8 εἰ μή Conditional Statement Grammar

Post by Eeli Kaikkonen » January 22nd, 2016, 7:02 am

William Lim wrote: Mmmm, doesn't the εἰ μὴ idiom require an apodosis clause directly before εἰ μὴ? So by inserting a relative clause just before εἰ μὴ, the relative clause becomes the apodosis. Would you agree with this?

I actually wanted 'which I see' to refer to 'the journey' (so that's why the relative pronoun is fem.,Sg, Acc.). Yeah, I know it sort of doesn't make much sense, it was meant to be an easy example. I was trying to express something like the journey which I envision/see/foresee. The point was more about the grammar of εἰ μὴ's sentence structure.
Yeah, I was wondering about the feminine. A relative clause could be part of the apodosis. As I interpreted it would be, and as you meant it, it would also be. And this is what I meant about the grammaticality: adding a relative clause doesn't affect the grammaticality/ungrammaticality of the sentence. If there's a problem somewhere, it's in the descriptions about εἰ μὴ or the understanding of them. It's a more general problem, I think. The "rules" describe the conditions under which a construction/meaning can appear, but either they aren't comprehensive or they are easily misinterpreted if the interpreter isn't relatively fluent in the language (sometimes even if he is fluent).
0 x

Post Reply

Return to “What does this text mean?”