How to Say ‘But’ in Biblical Hebrew: A Translator Looks at Genesis

Image: ©Tavis Bohlinger

by Joshua Jensen

Here’s something you probably never thought to count: The ESV uses the word ‘but’ 4,205 times. That’s nearly once for every 7 verses. That’s a lot. (The NASB has ‘but’ slightly more times, the NIV slightly fewer. But they’re all in the same range.)

So what are translators looking at in the Hebrew when they say ‘but’ in English? To help my own work as a Bible translator, and hopefully the work of other translators, I did an exploratory study in the Hebrew of Genesis to find out. Here I present some of the results from that study.1


Since English translations differ as to where they use the word ‘but’, I narrowed my investigation to those verses in Genesis where the ESV, NIV, and REB all use the conjunction ‘but’ in the same verse and in the same clause. This way I knew I would be looking at unambiguous instances: cases where English translators independently decided that ‘but’ was just the right word.

In Logos, I searched for ‘but’ in each translation, saved the results as passage lists, then merged the intersections of those lists, resulting in a list of 78 verses. I then worked through the final merged list and eliminated 8 verses that weren’t true matches2 and another instance where ‘but’ is used as a preposition rather than conjunction. In the end, I found 69 instances where the ESV, NIV, and REB all converge in using ‘but’—a considerably more manageable corpus of verses than the ESV’s 152 total uses of ‘but’ in Genesis.3 In what follows, I will call these 69 examples my “corpus” or “the English Translations (ET’s) of Genesis.”

But it’s not enough to have an undifferentiated list, since English ‘but’ performs a few different functions. You probably know this if you studied Spanish (‘pero’ versus ‘sino’) or German (‘aber’ versus ‘sondern’). So I then went through those 69 instances of ‘but’ and categorized them according what kind of (English) ‘but’ they were. I used three categories that linguists argue can be found in the languages of the world: adversativecontrastive, and corrective. Let me explain.

3 Kinds of English ‘but’

As I mentioned, both Spanish and German (along with many other languages) have two conjunctions corresponding to English’s ‘but’. Spanish ‘sino’ and German ‘sondern’ are used in a very special construction, what has sometimes been called correction, where a negated clause is followed by its correct alternative. Consider, for example, Gen. 45:8a (all citations are from the ESV, unless otherwise indicated):

So it was not you who sent me here, but God.

Here the corrective ‘but’ introduces the alternative to what is denied in the previous clause: “not you … but God.” Sometimes a whole clause (rather than a single word or phrase) follows corrective ‘but’, as in Gen. 24:37b-38a:

You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I dwell; but you shall go to my father’s house …

After accounting for corrective ‘but’s’, there are still two more types (both types are covered by Spanish ‘pero’ and German ‘aber’). This two-way distinction is a little trickier, and there’s some overlap, but it’s a distinction worth making, in particular because it roughly corresponds to distinctions we’ll find in Hebrew (and they show up in Greek, too).

First, adversative ‘but’. Adversative ‘but’ is used when the text leading up to ‘but’ raises an expectation, and what comes after the ‘but’ denies or contradicts it. A few examples—with my intrusive comments—might help:

Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them [so you’d think he’d greet them as a brother], but [contrary to what you might think] he treated them like strangers (Gen. 42:7a).

Laban felt all about the tent [obviously expecting to find his idols], but [contrary to what he expected] did not find them (Gen. 31:34b).

As you see in Gen. 31:34b above, it might not be the reader’s expectations that are denied but the expectations of a character in the story. Sometimes it’s not so much an expectation as an intention or instruction that is contradicted with adversative ‘but’:

[The angels] said, “No; we will spend the night in the town square.” But [contrary to the angels’ stated intention] [Lot] pressed them strongly (Gen. 19:2b-3a).

So Esau said, “Let me leave with you some of the people who are with me.” But [refusing his brother’s offer] [Jacob] said, “What need is there?” (Gen. 33:15a).

Finally, besides corrective ‘but’ and adversative ‘but’, there’s contrastive ‘but’. With contrastive ‘but’, there’s not necessarily any denial or contradiction, but instead a comparison between two entities that are different in some way. The contrast might be between two time periods:

Twelve years they had served Chedorlaomer, but [in contrast to the previous twelve years] in the thirteenth year they rebelled (Gen. 14:4).

Or it might be between two people (or groups of people):

And his brothers were jealous of him, but [in contrast to the jealousy of Joseph’s brothers] his father kept the saying in mind (Gen. 37:11).

Or the contrast could be between two of nearly any other sort of entity.

So that’s what we’re dealing with in English: corrective ‘but’, adversative ‘but’, and contrastive ‘but’.

Back to Methods

After getting my list of ‘but’s’ in English translations of Genesis down to 69, I exported my passage list to Excel, where I could label each instance as either correctiveadversative, or contrastive (and use Excel’s COUNTIF function to tell me how many of each I had). Here’s a link to a spreadsheet where you can look at my verse list for yourself, complete with my categorization of each example by type of ‘but’.

I then went to the Hebrew of each instance to do what I set out to do in the beginning: figure out what Hebrew words or grammatical constructions stand behind the various sorts of ‘but’ in English. Note that I say constructions: there is no word in Hebrew that is the direct equivalent of English ‘but’. As we go along, I’ll defend that claim (since we all learned ‘but’ as a possible gloss of the Hebrew conjunction ו). But first, my results.

Hebrew Forms Corresponding to English ‘but’

The following table shows what Hebrew forms underly the 69 instances of ‘but’ in my corpus of English translations of Genesis (“ET’s”). (Any Hebrew form with 2 or fewer hits is lumped into “misc.”)

Table 1: Hebrew Forms Underlying ‘but’ in English Translations of Genesis

Hebrew Forms‘but’ in ET’sExamples
wayyiqtol26Then he said, “Let me go […].” But Jacob said [וַיֹּאמֶר], “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” (Gen. 32:26 [27])
waw-disjunctive22Isaac loved Esau […], but Rebekah loved  [וְרִבְקָה אֹהֶבֶת] Jacob. (Gen. 25:28)
ולא5Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen [וְלֹא שְׁמַעְתֶּם]. (Gen. 42:22b)
w-qatal3Behold, I am about to die, but God will be [וְהָיָה אֱלֹהִים] with you. (Gen. 48:21b)
ואם־לא / ואם־אין3If you will send our brother with us, we will go down […]. But if you will not [וְאִם־אֵינְךָ] send him, we will not go down. (Gen. 43:4-5a)
כי כי־אם / אם־לא3So it was not you who sent me here, but God. [כִּי הָאֱלֹהִים] (Gen. 45:8a)

The Hebrew form underlying the largest number of ‘but’s’ in ET’s—26 of them—is the wayyiqtol, which is the standard form used for narrating past time events in the Hebrew Bible. To put that number 26 in perspective, note that there are 2,108 instances of the wayyiqtol in Genesis (according to the morphological marking in the Lexham Hebrew Bible). In other words, the wayyiqtol is translated with ‘but’ in my corpus of ET’s just 1.2% of the time. 

The Hebrew waw-disjunctive—in which a phrase (often noun or prepositional) intervenes between ו and the verb—accounts for another 22 instances of ‘but’ in ET’s of Genesis. There are hundreds of waw-disjunctives in Genesis, so it’s clear that far fewer than 10% are translated with ‘but’ in ET’s.4

The Hebrew form ולא (conjunction + negation) accounts for 5 instances of ‘but’ among the 69 occurrences in my corpus, out of a total of 53 instances of ולא in Genesis. So about 10% of the ולא’s in Genesis are translated with ‘but’ in the ET’s.

An additional 3 instances of ‘but’ in the ET’s are translations of w-qatal in the Hebrew.5 There are a total of 218 w-qatal’s in Genesis (making no distinction for waw-sequential forms), so about 1.4% of all the w-qatal’s in Genesis are translated with ‘but’ in the ET’s.

A final 3 differentiated instances of ‘but’ are translations of כי־אם (complementizer + conditional; there are 9 total in Genesis6), plain כי (complementizer; there are 290 כי’s in Genesis7), or אם־לא (conditional + negator; there are 15 אם־לא’s in Genesis).

The remaining 7 instances of ‘but’ in ET’s represent: וְעַתָּה ‘and/but now’ (1x), preverbal (fronted) noun without prefixed waw (2x), וָאַיִן ‘and/but neg-existential’ (1x), וְגַם ‘and/but also’ (1x), וְאַיֵּה ‘and/but where?’ (1x), and plain לָמָּה ‘for what, why?’ (1x). Of these, what I say below about ולא should apply to ואין (both are instances of waw + negation); and I will briefly address ועתה below (in a footnote).

But it’s not enough to have a list of forms that are occasionally translated with ‘but’ in English. We want to know two things: (1) do any of these forms correspond closely to any of the three types of ‘but’ meanings in English, and (2) why are these forms only sometimes translated as ‘but’ in English?

Going Deeper: Forms and Meanings

The first question turns out to be pretty simple to answer: Yes! There’s an overwhelming—though by no means perfect—correspondence of particular Hebrew forms to particular meanings of English ‘but’. In what follows, I’ll look at the forms in Table 1 in relation to the three types of ‘but’, and I’ll also move outside my narrow corpus to provide some additional context. I’ll use the ESV to do this, since it is the most liberal of the three translations in its use of ‘but’.

Correction ‘but’: כי, כי־אם, and אם־לא

Let’s start with correction ‘but’. Recall that this sort of ‘but’ requires a negation in the preceding clause, and that ‘but’ introduces the (correct) alternative (e.g., “no longer Jacob, but Israel”). There are only 3 instances of correction ‘but’ that overlap in the 3 ET’s of Genesis I looked at:

  • Gen. 24:38, where ‘but’ translates אם־לא;
  • Gen. 32:28 [29], where it translates כי־אם;
  • and Gen. 45:8, where it translates plain כי.

Let’s look at these one at a time. 

The first of these, אם־לא, is only rarely found with the meaning ‘but’. In the 130 instances where the two words occur together in the Hebrew Bible, they almost always mean ‘if not’ (which can also be translated ‘unless’). There are only two places where they introduce an alternative to a preceding negative: in Gen. 24:38 (“[do not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites…] but to the house of my brother you shall go” [my translation]) and Ps. 131:2 (“[my heart is not lifted up …] but I have calmed and quieted my soul”).8 אם־לא is never translated by the ESV with an adversative or contrastive ‘but’ in the Old Testament: only corrective.

Like אם־לא, the word כי־אם is translated as (corrective) ‘but’ once in the Genesis corpus (32:28 [29], “your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel), but unlike אם־לא, the word כי־אם is frequently translated as ‘but’ throughout the rest of the Old Testament, too: 76 total times in the ESV, out of a total of 119 occurrences.9 All of the 76 times that כי־אם is translated as ‘but’ are instances of corrective ‘but’, never contrastive or adversative.

Finally, plain כי can also be translated as corrective ‘but’. Although it is translated as ‘but’ only once in my Genesis corpus (Gen. 45:8, “it was not you who sent me here, but God”), it is translated as ‘but’ throughout the entire OT (ESV) 115 times. Of these 115 instances, I find only 17 where it has a contrastive or adversative meaning.10 The remaining 98 instances are all corrective ‘but’, where כי introduces the correct alternative to a previous negation.

Students of Hebrew are no doubt familiar with these meanings for כי and כי־אם. But it would be easy to miss that fact that this so called “contrastive” meaning is almost exclusively reserved for a specific type of construction: one in which there is a previous denial, and כי or כי־אם introduces the asserted alternative. It would be better to talk about the “corrective” meaning of כי or כי־אם (as I’ve done here) rather than the “contrastive” meaning.

An important question remains: are there any other Hebrew words or constructions that are used for corrective ‘but’? Sort of. Consider Leviticus 19:18: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge [לֹֽא־תִקֹּ֤ם וְלֹֽא־תִטֹּר֙] … [against] your own people, but you shall love [וְאָֽהַבְתָּ֥] your neighbor as yourself.”11 Here the second clause or phrase (the correct alternative), which is introduced in English with ‘but’, is a clause beginning with a w-qatal verb following a negated yiqtol (see, too, Lev. 19:14, 20b-21a): in other words, a simple waw-consecutive. Other standard clause-combining strategies are also available for the “correct alternative” clause (see Lev. 19:15, 17; see, too, Exod. 1:17 for a simple wayyiqtol), none of which is marked in any way: in other words, the correct alternative is simply conjoined or juxtaposed to the negative clause without any special construction. Thus, though these don’t show up much in Genesis, it appears to me that it is quite frequent for English translations to have corrective ‘but’ where the Hebrew has simple waw-consecutive or clause juxtaposition. 

Contrastive ‘but’: The waw-disjunctive

Looking at the second row of Table 1, we see the waw-disjunctive, which accounts for 22 of the 69 instances of ‘but’. Of these 22 instances, 18 (about 80%) can be categorized as contrastive ‘but’, where two people or things are contrasted with each other (e.g., Gen. 40:21, 22: “He restored the chief cupbearer … but the chief baker he hanged [וְאֵ֛ת שַׂ֥ר הָאֹפִ֖ים תָּלָ֑ה],” my translation). This shouldn’t come as a surprise, because one of the functions of the waw-disjunctive is to contrast the topic of the second clause with the topic of the previous clause (see, e.g., Juöun-Muraoka §155.nb; what’s said there about subjects applies to other grammatical positions, too). There are two things to notice here:

First, contrast is not the only use of the waw-disjunctive. In particular, the waw-disjunctive can be used to introduce a new scene (Gen. 3:1); or it can interrupt a sequence of events, either to give background information (Gen. 37:3), or to discuss a roughly simultaneous event (Gen. 22:5). And there are (arguably) other uses, too.

Second—and please don’t miss this—when the waw-disjunctive is translated into English with a contrastive ‘but’, the ‘but’ meaning does not come from ו. The ו is a simple coordinating conjunction. The contrast comes entirely from the construction. In other words, ‘but’ is not a meaning of ו: the glosses we all learned in first-semester Hebrew are a crutch, not an analysis.

Another Hebrew construction that’s regularly translated into English with contrastive ‘but’ is what I’ll call the alternative clause: a clause offering a hypothetical alternative to the previous clause. This will often consist of a preceding positive instruction, then a warning if the instruction is disobeyed. For example, Gen. 20:7: “[R]eturn the man’s wife […]. But if you do not return [וְאִם־אֵֽינְךָ֣ מֵשִׁ֗יב] her, know that you shall surely die.” In such cases two (possible) situations are contrasted, and the second is often presented with ואם, which introduces the alternative (contrasting) possibility. There are three such cases in my Genesis corpus (see the fifth line of Table 1). These alternative clauses are similar to waw-disjunctives in that two things are being contrasted, in this case, not entities but situations.

Are there other Hebrew constructions that are routinely translated with contrastive ‘but’ in English translations besides the waw-disjunctive and (the occasional) ואם? The answer is: not as far as I know.12 Take a look at Proverbs, the book of contrasts, and you’ll see the waw-disjunctive constantly. It’s not that Solomon loved chiasmus (though no doubt he did); but the waw-disjunctive is the ordinary way to contrast the topic of a clause with the topic of the previous clause.

Adversative ‘but’: the ‘but’ that isn’t there!

The remaining lines in the Table—wayyiqtol, ולא, and w-qatal—look like a list of “unremarkable Hebrew constructions,” and that’s exactly what they are. When these forms are translated with ‘but’, what sort of ‘but’ is it? All of them are adversative, every one of them.

We can take wayyiqtol and w-qatal together: these are simply cases of (typically sequential) ו-conjoined clauses. Usually translations use the additive (unmarked) conjunction ‘and’; sometimes they add ‘then’; occasionally they convert one of the clauses into a subordinate clause; and often they simply put a period and start a new sentence, with no conjunction at all. In a tiny handful of cases—say, when the second clause is particularly unexpected, or strongly contradictory to the previous clause—then the English translations use ‘but’. Nevertheless, the meaning of ו does not include adversity or contrast. It is not polysemous. There is no ‘but’ meaning. The appearance of ‘but’ in English translations is attributable only to the translator’s sense that in English the adversity or contradiction needs to be flagged with an adversative ‘but’. That’s a fine thing to do. Biblical Hebrew doesn’t have a conjunction like that,13 so it’s not surprising that Hebrew authors almost never overtly mark adversity. But we must remember that adversative ‘but’s’ are a feature of the translation, not the original.

Alert readers might say, “Yes, but what about ולא. Surely that’s an overt way to mark contrast or adversity!” I wondered the same thing.14 So I looked at every instance of ולא in Genesis. There are 53 of them: 36 of those precede a suffix-form verb (qatal), 16 precede a prefix-form verb (yiqtol), and 1 stands between nouns (Gen. 27:12, “I shall bring upon myself a curse and not a blessing [קְלָלָ֖ה וְלֹ֥א בְרָכָֽה]”). This example, Gen. 27:12, is a good paradigm case: in the expression “a curse and not a blessing,” the ולא introduces a noun phrase that elaborates on (rather than contradicting) the previous phrase. This is the normal way that ולא is used: to introduce an elaboration. Gen. 30:40 (which I’ve picked at random) is a great example with clauses rather than two noun phrases: “He put [וַיָּֽשֶׁת] his own droves apart and did not put [וְלֹ֥א שָׁתָ֖ם] them with Laban’s flock.” There’s no adversity here: just a restatement of what it meant for Jacob to put his own animals apart. This also illustrates the most common grammatical context for ולא in Genesis: wayyiqtol … wlo qatal; if there were no negation, it would simply be wayyiqtol … wayyiqtol, but the negation has to precede the verb, so ו is prefixed to the negation, and the verbal form is the non-initial qatal. There are 24 of these in Genesis, and an additional 9 qatal … wlo qatal, which is nearly the same thing.

Of 53 instances of ולא in Genesis, only 18 are adversative or contrastive, and of those, the ESV uses an adversative ‘but’ or ‘yet’ in only 8 cases (recall that the ESV is quite generous in its deployment of the word ‘but’). In most or all of these cases, the ולא precedes a verb communicating what would have been the next event in a sequence, except that the event didn’t happen—the dove did not find a resting place, Laban did not find his gods. In Hebrew, this is stated simply and directly, without any special marking (except the negation, which has to be there anyway). The case of ולא is thus no different from the wayyiqtol’s and w-qatal’s discussed above. Hebrew truly does not have an adversative conjunction, and it almost never uses a special construction to mark an adversative relationship between clauses.

Summary of Findings

So what have we seen? 

For negation + correction (not X but Y), Hebrew uses special vocabulary in a special construction:  negation (most often לֹא or אַל  or אַ֫יִן) followed, typically, by כִּי or כִּי־אִם, but sometimes by a simple ו-connected form (or simple juxtaposition).

For marked contrastive comparison of two entities, Hebrew normally fronts the phrase referring to the second contrasted entity, prefixed with ו, before the verb: the waw-disjunctive.

An adversative relation between clauses is almost never marked in Hebrew, though on rare occasions a waw-disjunctive or כִּי might be used (or אוּלָם, which shows up only 19 times in the Hebrew Old Testament). 

Translating ‘but’

I’ll conclude with a few reflections for students and translators.

For students: never forget that (as Daniel Stevens has memorably said) “Hebrew words do not mean English words, just as French words do not mean English words.” In particular, ו doesn’t mean ‘but’, just like it doesn’t mean ‘and’. English glosses for Hebrew words are placeholders on the way to deeper linguistic understanding. For function words like ו, what matters are the morphological and syntactic conditions that license the word’s appearance, and the semantics of the relation that holds between words or phrases or clauses conjoined by ו.

For Bible readers: it’s worth reflecting on the fact that the translations most routinely associated with formal equivalence (say, the NASB and ESV) use the word ‘but’ rather more than less formal translations (like the NIV and REB). I suspect that this is because translations like the NIV and REB are more open to omitting conjunctions altogether, to using clause combining strategies other than simple coordination, and to varying the contrastive and adversative words used (such as ‘yet’ and ‘rather’ and ‘instead’). More formal translations do all of these things, too, but in smaller doses.

For translators (and here I’ll get personal, since I’m a translator): this study has highlighted two things to me. First, I’ve realized that flagging to readers that something is unexpected or oppositional is quite common in English writing—the adversative use of ‘but’—but it’s almost entirely absent from Biblical Hebrew. If my job as a translator is, as much as possible, to show readers of the translation how something is communicated in addition to what is communicated, I can achieve greater congruence with the Hebrew—and greater subtlety—by reducing the ‘but’s’.

Second, it’s become clear to me that even quite formal English translations sometimes come up short in fully capturing the contrasts that are highlighted in the Hebrew. To illustrate, consider the following two pairings in which the REB beats the ESV hands down for style, largely because the REB, the more dynamic translation, has paid attention to Hebrew word order (contrastive fronting), whereas the ESV has relied on ‘but’ to do all the work, resulting in a bland rendering.

Gen. 3:2-3
מִפְּרִ֥י עֵֽץ־הַגָּ֖ן נֹאכֵֽל׃ …
וּמִפְּרִ֣י הָעֵץ֮ אֲשֶׁ֣ר בְּתוֹךְ־הַגָּן֒ אָמַ֣ר אֱלֹהִ֗ים לֹ֤א תֹֽאכְלוּ֙ מִמֶּ֔נּוּ וְלֹ֥א תִגְּע֖וּ בּ֑וֹ פֶּן־תְּמֻתֽוּן

We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 
but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ (ESV)

We may eat the fruit of any tree in the garden, except for the tree in the middle of the garden. God has forbidden us to eat the fruit of that tree or even to touch it; if we do, we shall die. (REB)15

Gen. 40:21-22
וַיָּ֛שֶׁב אֶת־שַׂ֥ר הַמַּשְׁקִ֖ים עַל־מַשְׁקֵ֑הוּ וַיִּתֵּ֥ן הַכּ֖וֹס עַל־כַּ֥ף פַּרְעֹֽה׃
וְאֵ֛ת שַׂ֥ר הָאֹפִ֖ים תָּלָ֑ה

He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.
But he hanged the chief baker. (ESV)

The cupbearer was restored to his position, and he put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand; 
but the baker was hanged. (REB)

These sorts of details—conjunctions and word order—may seem inconsequential, but even the smallest particulars matter. I don’t mean to say that conjunctions and word order will make one translation more faithful than another, but rather that the accumulation of small details can yield a translation that is a pleasure to read, or one that isn’t.

And that matters, because the Bible is a book for reading.

Suggested Reading

Andrej Malchukov’s 2004 article “Towards a Semantic Typology of Adversative and Contrast Marking” (Journal of Semantics 21.177–198) is a great place to start learning about the different kinds of ‘but’ discussed in this article. You can download the article free here.

Aaron Hornkohl’s MA thesis on the pragmatics of X+verb structure is a good introduction to the linguistic analysis of the waw-disjunctive (though he never uses that term) and other fronting structures. Excerpts from that paper can be downloaded here.

Additional references can be found at the end of my talk handout here.

Joshua Jensen is a Bible translator working in northeast Cambodia, where he lives with his wife and six kids. Joshua’s writing has appeared in Bible Study Magazine, The Bible Translator, Themelios, Mere Orthodoxy, and the Theopolis blog.

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  1. This article summarizes and extends work that I presented at the 2021 Bible Translation Conference. The handout for that talk is available at my Academia page here.
  2. Sometimes different translations use ‘but’ in the same verse but in different clauses in that verse. This was the case for the 8 verses that weren’t true matches.
  3. I’m simplifying my process somewhat, giving the final, ideal way to replicate the research. 
  4. I include under waw-disjunctive only those cases where the author had a choice as to the position of the intervening phrase. Because the negator לא(5 instances of ‘but’) and conditional אם (3 instances) must precede the verb, they are not included. I also don’t include the one instance of וְעַתָּה ‘and now’ because עַתָּה is almost invariably pre-verbal in the Hebrew Bible.
  5. All three are waw-sequentials; one of those is 1st person and thus has the form w-qataltí; the other two are 3rd person, so the accent isn’t helpful.
  6. In LHB, run a search on כִּי־אִם (rather than searching for two separate lemmas in proximity).
  7. The count of 290 כי’s is inclusive of the 9 instances of כי־אם.
  8. In spite of the correction use of ki-im being so rare in Biblical Hebrew, this usage is standard for the Modern Hebrew contraction אֶלָּא, which Ernest Klein’s 1987 Etymological Dictionary notes is derived from im-lo (thanks to Daniel Kaufman for pointing this out to me).
  9. These 119 occurrences are those places where כִּי־אִם is a compound unit. There are 15 additional instances where the two separate words כִּי אִם occur with the meaning “for if.” You can search for כִּי־אִם translated as ‘but’ in the ESV using the INTERSECTS operator: using a search template to build the search will help avoid mistakes!
  10. For example, in Ex. 33:3 we have adversative ‘but’: “Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but [כי] I will not go up among you.” In Job 4:5 we have contrastive ‘but’: “[you have made firm the feeble knees], but [כי] now it has come to you.”
  11. Thanks to Aaron Hornkohl for pointing this out to me.
  12. Here we might mention וְעַתָּה ‘and now’, which is sometimes translated ‘but now’, indicating that there’s a contrast between a previous time and the present. But the majority of וְעַתָּה’s appear to me to be simple continuations, without contrast between the past and the present. So contrast is not part of the semantics of וְעַתָּה, but instead a function of the meaning of the preceding context together with the meaning of the clause containing וְעַתָּה.
  13. Jochen Danneil has pointed out אוּלָם as a possible candidate. It undeniably has an adversative meaning, but its status as a conjunction seems suspect to me (I suspect it’s an adverb). But even if it is a conjunction, it is marginal: it occurs only 19 times in the entire Old Testament.
  14. Thanks, in particular, to Michael Lyons for encouraging me to pay closer attention to ולא.
  15. You might have noted that there’s a fronting in verse 2 that both REB and ESV have ignored, a fronting that creates a natural congruence with the serpent’s words. This fronting, along with the one in verse 3, is reflected—and to good effect—in the literary translation of Genesis 1-11 by Samuel Bray and John Hobbins, as well as the literary translation of the Jewish translator Everett Fox.
Written by
Tavis Bohlinger

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger is Editor-in-Chief of the Logos Academic Blog and Creative Director at Reformation Heritage Books. He holds a PhD from Durham University and writes across multiple genres, including academia, poetry, and screenwriting. He lives in Grand Rapids with his wife and three children.

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Written by Tavis Bohlinger