Have you ever wondered why we say “amen” at the end of our prayers? Is it just a way of saying “OK, that’s it”?

“Amen” is related to the Hebrew for “truth”. When we say “amen” after someone offers a prayer, it means we concur with what has been said; we echo the requests and sentiments expressed on our behalf.

It’s likely that brothers and sisters in the early church also did this. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 14:16 about speaking in tongues, and how important it is to speak or pray in a language that others understand:

"If you are praising God with your spirit, how can one who finds himself among those who do not understand say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since he does not know what you are saying? You may be giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified."

We might not speak or pray in tongues (other languages), but if we’re asked to offer prayer on behalf of others, it’s important that they understand and agree with what we pray. Prayers ought to be addressed to God, offering praise, or thanksgiving, or asking him for something. Paul’s comment above implies that what we say should also edify (build up) those on whose behalf the prayer is offered. I’m sure we all appreciate it when someone offers a prayer on our behalf that expresses our feelings and requests more effectively than we could in our own words, so that we can sincerely and thankfully say “amen” to the prayer.

When we say “amen”, we’re using a Hebrew word that has been incorporated into the English language (the correct Hebrew pronunciation is actually awmane). The Greek text of the New Testament also borrows the word “amen” from the Hebrew. One writer tells us:

... “amen” is a most remarkable word. It was transliterated directly from the Hebrew into the Greek of the New Testament, then into Latin and into English and many other languages, so that it is practically a universal word. It has been called the best known word in human speech. The word is directly related – in fact, almost identical – to the Hebrew word for believe, or faithful. Thus, it came to mean “sure” or “truly”, an expression of absolute trust and confidence.

The very last word in the Bible is “Amen”; many New Testament letters close with “amen”. Sometimes an important saying or prayer in the body of a letter finishes with “amen”.

The gospels record more than seventy times that Jesus used the word “amen” to introduce key teachings. This isn’t always obvious in English translations, which use expressions such as “I tell you the truth” or “Verily I say unto you” to represent the phrase “Amen I tell you” in the original text. “Amen I tell you” emphasises that what Jesus is about to say is true and reliable.

In John’s gospel, Jesus always repeats the word “amen” for emphasis: “Amen amen I tell you”. The King James Version indicates this by repeating the word “verily”, as when Jesus says

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.”

Other Bible versions render these double amens of Jesus in other ways, such as “truly, truly, I say to you”, or “most assuredly, I say to you”. Although “amen” is a Hebrew word, it’s actually used more often in the Greek New Testament than in the Hebrew Old Testament.

Of the 24 times “amen” appears in the Old Testament, half are in the same chapter: Deuteronomy 27, describing how a series of curses was recited loudly by the Levites to all the people of Israel, who were commanded to say “amen” in response each curse. In fact, in the Old Testament the word “amen” is used most often in exactly this way: as a response, or a confirmation, following a statement, or a command to do something. In 1 Kings 1:36, for example, when King David gave instructions to Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet and Benaiah son of Jehoiada to anoint his son Solomon king of Israel,

"Benaiah son of Jehoiada answered the king, 'Amen! May the LORD, the God of my lord the king, so declare it.'”

Even today, we might hear a similar expression, when someone says “amen to that”.
But as we’ve seen from its use by the Lord Jesus, “amen” means more than just “I agree” or “roger, understood”. In Isaiah 65:16, the prophet writes

"Whoever invokes a blessing in the land will do so by the God of truth; he who takes an oath in the land will swear by the God of truth. For the past troubles will be forgotten and hidden from my eyes.”

The Hebrew word translated “truth” here is in both cases amen. Isaiah literally refers to “the God of Amen”.

The essential idea behind the word amen is of someone standing steady and upright, with his feet firmly planted on the ground – by contrast with someone whose stance is unstable, his feet slipping or stumbling. This notion of a man standing steady and upright developed into the metaphor of one who is faithful, trustworthy, loyal and dependable.

So the Hebrew word amen that we commonly – and perhaps unthinkingly – use to close a prayer can mean truth, faith or trust. Other closely related Hebrew words mean steady, stable, loyal, dependable.

We saw that amen is also used to describe the character of our heavenly Father: the God of truth, the God of Amen. It’s even used to refer to the Lord Jesus Christ. In Revelation 3:14, the apostle John is commanded to write to the angel of the church in Laodicea:

"These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation."
This title “the Amen” applied to our Lord sums up so many facets of his character: faithful and true, steady, unwaveringly loyal and dependable before God, his Father, and to his bride, the church.

We saw that Jesus, the Amen, the faithful and true witness, frequently emphasised the truth of his teachings using the formula “verily I say unto you”, or “I tell you the truth”: literally, “amen I say to you”.

The Greek word for “truth” occurs twenty times in John’s gospel, and seventeen times in his letters – showing the importance that he attaches to the truth of the gospel and the teachings of Jesus. John particularly contrasts truth with lies and falsehood. One example is in John 8:44, where Jesus told those who were questioning his authority and teaching,

"You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me!”

Similarly, in 1 John 2:3

"We know that we have come to know him [that is, Jesus] if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him”, but does not do what he commands, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

Indeed, if we claim that we know and follow Jesus, but don’t do what he commands, he may well deny knowing us at the judgement.

But, brothers and sisters, we have all responded amen to the call of Jesus, and his teaching, when we were baptised into his saving name; we undertook to follow “the way, the truth and the life”. Whenever we say amen at the end of a prayer, we should try to remember its wider meaning: acknowledging truth, showing faithfulness, and standing firm as witnesses to Jesus and to the word of God.

I’d like to conclude our thoughts by quoting from John chapter 6. As we find so consistently in John’s gospel record – four times in this chapter alone – Jesus emphasises the truth and importance of what he’s about to say by stating

ajmh;n ajmh;n [“amen amen”]: “verily, verily”, “I tell you the truth”.

Jesus says in John chapter 6, at verse 47,
"I tell you the truth
[amen amen I say to you], he who believes has everlasting life.
"I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

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