This is a rhetorical figure, and not a figure of grammar, but it may be placed under the figures depending on omission, because in it something is omitted.

Apo-si-o-pee ‘sis is the Greek word ἀποσιώπησις (a becoming silent), from ἀποσιωπάω (aposiōpaō), to be silent after speaking, to keep silence, observe a deliberate silence.

The name of this figure may be represented in English by SUDDEN-SILENCE. The Latins named it RETICENTIA, which means the same thing. It is the sudden breaking off of what is being said (or written), so that the mind may be the more impressed by what is too wonderful, or solemn, or awful for words: or when a thing may be, as we sometimes say, “better imagined than described.”

Its use is to call our attention to what is being said, for the purpose of impressing us with its importance.

It has been divided under four heads, according to the character

Of the subject: —

                                                  1. Promise.

                                                  2. Anger and Threatening.

                                                  3. Grief and Complaint.

                                                  4. Enquiry and Deprecation.
     1. Promise: where some great thing is promised, too great to be conveyed in words.

Ex. 32:31, 32 —“And Moses returned unto the Lord, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin —; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.”

Here it seems that Moses was about to promise something on behalf of the people; but neither knew what promise he could make for them, nor how far he could answer for its fulfilment by them. His sudden silence is solemnly eloquent.

2 Sam. 5:8 —“And David said on that day, Whosoever getteth up to the gutter —.”
We learn from 1 Chron. 11:6 that the promise was fulfilled in Joab, who was made chief or captain. Hence these words have been supplied in the A.V., as we have explained above, under the figure of Absolute Ellipsis, page 53.

1 Chron. 4:10 —“And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed,
and enlarge my coast, and that thine hand might be with me, and that thou wouldest keep me from evil,
that it may not grieve me —.”

Then there is a sudden silence, as though it were impossible for Jabez to express the manner in which he would give God thanks and declare his praise for His great mercies. But the words that immediately follow seem to show that God was so much more ready to hear than Jabez was to pray, that without waiting for him to finish his prayer it is added, “And God granted him that which he requested.”


Dan. 3:15 —“Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery and dulcimer, and all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made —but if ye worship not,” etc.

Here Nebuchadnezzar was ready with his threat of the punishment, but he was careful not to commit himself to any promise.

Luke 13:9 has already been treated under the figure of Ellipsis: but beside the grammatical ellipsis, there is also the rhetorical: “And if it bear fruit —,” as though the vine-dresser would say, “I cannot say what I will not do for it: not only will I not cut it down, but I will continue to care for it and tend it!”
The A.V. has supplied the word, “well”!


     2. Anger and Threatening.

Gen. 3:22 —“And now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life,
and eat, and live for ever —Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden,” etc.

Here the exact consequences of eating of the tree of life in his fallen condition are left unrevealed, as though they were too awful to be contemplated: and the sudden silence leaves us in the darkness in which the Fall involved us. But we may at least understand that whatever might be involved in this unspoken threatening, it included this fact:—
I will drive him away from the tree of life!

Gen. 20:3 —“Behold, thou art but a dead man —for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man’s wife.”
Here, we must supply if thou dost not restore her; or, her husband will slay thee.
This is clear from verse 7.


Jas. 3:1 —“My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation —.”
He does not stop to specify what the many things are, in which those who occupy such positions may give cause of condemnation. This is also to be understood as if it continued “unless we give a right judgment,” etc. (Matt.7:2).

     3. Grief and Complaint.

Gen. 25:22 —“If it be so, why am I thus —?”
Rebekah’s words of grief and complaint are not completed. She could not understand why, if Jehovah was intreated and answered Isaac’s prayer, she should so suffer that the answer was almost as hard to be borne as her former condition.

Judges 5:29, 30 —There is a wonderful Aposiopesis here, where the mother of Sisera looks out of her lattice and wonders where Sisera is, and why he does not return. Her wise ladies answered her, “But she repeated her words to herself.” Her soliloquy ends in a sudden silence. Everything is left to the imagination as to how she bears it. All is lost in the sudden outburst of the song “So perish all thy foes, O Jehovah”! See under Homœopropheron.

Psa. 6:3 —“ My soul is also sore vexed; but thou, O Lord, how long —?”
The words are drowned in grief: “How long shall I be sore vexed? How long [before thou wilt arise?]” Thus his prayer is submitted to the will of God.

Luke 15:21 —“Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son —.”
It is as though, broken down by the grief which the utterance of these words brought into his heart, he could not continue, and say the rest of what, we are told, he had resolved to say in verse 19. Or it is also to show us as well, that the father’s joy to receive is so great that he would not wait for the son to finish, but anticipated him with his seven-fold blessing.
See under Polysyndeton.

Luke 19:42 —“If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things
which belong unto thy peace —! but now they are hid from thine eyes.”

The blessedness involved in this knowledge is overwhelmed by the tribulation which is to come upon the nation.

The continuation of the sense would probably be “How happy thou wouldest have been! How blessed! How safe! How secure! but now they are hid from thine eyes.”

     4. Enquiry and Deprecation.

Hos.9:14 —“Give them, O Lord: what wilt thou give —?”
As though unable to conceive the punishment deserved, the Prophet breaks off and goes back to the thought of verse 11.

John 6:62 —“And if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where he was before —?”
This has already been referred to under Ellipsis ( see p. 54 ). But something more is implied; more than can be supplied by any specific words, such as, “Will ye believe then?” For He did afterwards ascend up, but they still refused to believe!

Acts 23:9 —According to some ancient MSS. all the critical Greek texts read the verse,
We find no evil in this man: but, if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him —.”

Either the Pharisees were afraid to express their thoughts, or their words were drowned in the “great dissension” (verse 10) which immediately “arose.” For there is a sudden silence, which some copyists have attempted to fill up by adding the words μὴ θεομαχῶμεν (mee theomachōmen), “let us not fight against God”.



From “Figures Of Speech Used In The Bible” by E. W. Bullinger,
(Public Domain) pages 151-154. Adapted for website compatibility.
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