Friday, May 23, 2008

To Rick Brannan on Aposiopesis

I read Ricoblog with some regularity. Rick Brannan is a software engineer with Logos Bible Software, and blogs regularly about Greek. He is passionate about the Pastoral Epistles and Patristics. In his entry from yesterday, he called aposiopesis the word of the day. Rico just discovered the term in a commentary by R. T. France. I remember when I first discovered the term, so I wrote a piece about it. I think I'll leave a comment on Rick's blog pointing to this comment.


I have enjoyed following your blogs for a long time now. I first became acquainted with the term aposiopesis back in 1973, when I was taking a course on the book of Hebrews. The course was based on the English Bible, but I was a second year Greek student, so I ran into this phrase:

ὡς ὤμοσα ἐν τῇ ὀργῇ μου·εἰ εἰσελεύσονται εἰς τὴν κατάπαυσίν μου
in Hebrews 3:11; 4:3; 4:5 (apodosis only).

I was puzzled by the English translation:

“As I swore in My wrath,
They shall not enter My rest,” (NASB)

I may not have known very much Greek, but that didn't square with what I knew the Greek said. I searched for the answer, and found aposiopesis. I have been searching to figure out just where I found the term. In my search this morning, I have found A. T. Robertson's Word Pictures, where in his entry on Mark 8:12 mentions the usage of ει instead of ου being a case of aposiopesis, imitating the Hebrew use of im. Robertson calls Mark 8:12 (ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, εἰ δοθήσεται τῇ γενεᾷ ταύτῃ σημεῖον) the only instance of aposiopesis in the NT, except for quotations from the LXX (citing the above-mentioned references from Hebrews). Interestingly, he does not mention aposiopesis in his comments in Hebrews.

BDF §372(2a) references this usage of ει with the indicative of reality as the manner in which the Hebrew particle אִם was translated.

Something curious happened about three years later. My younger sister was enrolled in the same Hebrews course. She had also studied Greek, and noticed the "if they shall enter into my rest" in the passages. As I mentioned, the course was based on the English Bible. Her instructor was really not all that proficient in Greek. My sister asked him the question, "Why does the Greek say 'if they shall enter' when the English says 'they shall not enter'?" He responded, you'll have to ask the Greek teacher that. Instead of asking the Greek teacher, she asked me. I glibly responded, "That's just a case of aposiopesis."

Now, more than 30 years later, I am teaching Greek at the same institution. Aposiopesis has been one of my favorite, lesser known figures of speech found in the Bible.

Thanks for your good work at Logos, and for helping many of us use technology to further our study of the NT text.



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