Use of the Word Amen
R. Dean Anderson, Jr.
Extracted from Ordained Servant vol. 7, no. 4 (Oct. 1998), pp. 81-84.
Here in the Reformed churches (Liberated) in the Netherlands we are in the process of re-thinking many aspects of our liturgy. One of the areas under study is the liturgical use of the word "amen." Many churches these days are following the advice of our last Synod and introducing a communal "amen" into the worship services. For this reason the local sessions of the churches I serve (in the villages of Katwijk and Valkenburg) will also be studying the appropriateness of a communal "amen" in worship. The reason for my short study concerning the use of the small word "amen" in the Bible is the ongoing discussion about changes in the liturgy in our churches. As a result of decisions taken at the recent synod at Berkel, these matters will also need to be discussed in the local congregations of Katwijk and Valkenburg. I must confess that prior to this study I would not have suspected that I would reach the conclusions which are presented here. I must also add that this brief article is not necessarily the last word on this matter. However, I do believe that I have raised some food for thought.
The Meaning of "Amen"
The word "amen" comes from a Hebrew root which in its various verbal forms can mean: to support, to be loyal, to be certain, and to place faith in. The cognate particle "amen" is commonly translated as "truly."
It is remarkable that this word is generally not translated in the (Greek) New Testament. The Greek speaking churches in the first century after Christ, appear to have been confronted with a Hebrew word that they could not easily translate. The word "amen" is certainly not the only Hebrew word which the new churches used in its original form. Consider only the word "Abba" (= father); although the use of this word is always immediately followed by a translation (Mark 14:36; Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6). With the word "amen" this is not considered necessary. Yet Luke does sometimes translate this little word when it is used by the Lord Jesus in a very special manner; namely, at the beginning of a sentence in order to emphasize His words (see note). Luke then sometimes uses the translation, "truly" or "verily" (Luke 4:25; 9:27; 12:44; 21:3). Further, in Rev 1:7 and II Cor 1:20, and possibly Luke 12:5, "amen" is translated as "yes" (= "even so"). In the Septuagint (the current Greek translation of the Old Testament in the time of the Lord Jesus) outside of the apocryphal books, the word "amen" is left untranslated only three times (1 Chron 16:36; Neh. 5:13; 8:6). Once it is translated as "truly" and every other time as "may it be so." The very literal Greek translation of Aquila (2nd century after Christ) always translates "amen" as "truly."
The translation "may it be so" is supported in the Old Testament itself where the word "amen" is followed by the words "may the Lord do so" (1 Kings 1:36; Jer. 28:6).
Beyond these indications about the meaning of "amen" we must also look at the use of this word. The context in which a word is used is very important in determining its meaning.
Use in the Old Testament
The first thing that strikes us in the Old Testament is the limited use of the word "Amen." We meet it only thirty times, five times as a double word, so that there are only twenty-five passages where we find it. The use of the word can be categorized under four headings of which the first two are by far and away the most important.
1. Acceptance of a curse expression (16 times) When priests (or other officebearers) uttered a curse-formula on behalf of the Lord then the addressee(s) accepted the consequences of it with the word "Amen." See Numb. 5:22; Deut. 27:15-26; Neh.5:13; Jer: 11:5.
2. Concurrence with an expression of praise to the Lord (10 times). "Amen" is also used after a baruch (praise) formula by the person speaking the formula (Ps 41:14; 72:19; 89:53) as well as all those who hear it (Ps 106:48; 1 Chron. 16:36; Neh 8:6). This type of praise-formula has a standard structure and always begins with the word Baruch: translated as "Blessed/Praised be....."
3. Concurrence with a prophecy or an announcement made by an other person (2 times. In Jer 28:6 Jeremiah expresses agreement (sarcastically) with the (false) prophecy of Hananiah in the words: "Amen! The Lord do so." In 1 Kings 1:36 Benaiah concurs with David's announcement that Solomon will be anointed as king. He literally says: "Amen! May the Lord, the God of my lord the king, say so." The fact that both these passages appear to translate the word amen may give the impression that we are dealing with exceptional situations.
4. As a characteristic of God. In Is. 65:16 the Hebrew text twice speaks of "the God of (the) Amen." Because some think this difficult to translate many often chose to correct the text to "the God of truth."
Equally important as the texts where we find the word "amen" are the places where it is not used. Two points are noteworthy. First, we note that, although "amen" is often used in signification of accepting a curse-formula, it is never used to accept a blessing! Secondly, "amen" is never used to conclude a prayer.
Use in the New Testament
In the New Testament the word "amen" is used 129 times (statistics according to the 4th edition of Nestle/Aland). This number can, however, be deceptive. Ninety-nine times it is used by our Lord Jesus Himself in a very unusual manner. He often begins a sentence with this word or uses it to give emphasis to what He is saying (e.g. Matt. 7:28-29). As our present study concerns the liturgical use of the word "amen" we will not delve further into Jesus' manner of speaking.
Beyond the foregoing this word is used thirty times. When we apply the same categories as we used for the Old Testament then we see the following:
1. Acceptance of a curse expression. There are no examples of curse-formulas in the New Testament. This category is thus not applicable.
2. Concurrence with an expression of praise for the Lord (23 times). A statement of praise (at times, but not always, in the same form as used in the Old Testament) is often concluded with an "amen" by the person expressing it (Rom.1:25; 9:5; 11:36; 16:27; Gal. 1:5; Eph. 3:21; Phil.4:20; 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16; 2 Tim. 4:18; Heb. 13:21;1 Pet. 4:11; 5:11; 2 Pet. 3:18; Jude 1:25; Rev. 1:6; 7:12) as well as by those present who hear it (1 Cor. 14:16; 2 Cor. 1:20; Rev. 5:14; 7:12; 19:4.).
In addition to the texts already cited we may add Matt. 6:13 where, according to many manuscripts, an expression of praise (followed by "amen") concludes the Lord's Prayer.
3. Concurrence with a prophecy or an announcement made by an other person (2 times). In Rev.1:7 and 22:20 we find a prophecy / announcement concluded with an amen. In the first passage the amen is expressed by the one making the announcement, John, himself. In the second passage John utters an amen to the word of the Lord Jesus. In Rev.1:7 the word "amen" is used in addition to its translation "yes." In Rev.22:20 John repeats the words with which he concurs. As in the Old Testament so also here the impression is given that this is an extraordinary use of the word "amen."
4. As a characteristic of God. The texts from Isaiah discussed above appear to receive an echo in Rev.3:14 where "the Amen" is used as a title for Jesus.
In addition to these categories we may add two more:
5. Confirmation of a blessing formula. A blessing formula (greeting) is often confirmed with a concluding "amen" by the person passing on the blessing (cf. Rom. 15:33; Gal. 6:18). Many manuscripts also add an "amen" to the following texts: Rom. 16:24; I Cor. 16:24; 2 Cor. 13:14; Phil.4:23; Col. 4:18; 1 Thess. 5:28; 2 Thess.3:18; 2 Tim. 4:22; Tit. 3:15; Philemon 1:25; Heb. 13:25; 1 Pet. 5:14; Rev. 22:21.
Seeing that these texts are all at the end (or nearly at the end) of a letter it is difficult to decide if they should be separated from the following category. Such difficulty is increased when we notice that blessings at the beginning of letters (e.g. Rom 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3 etc.) are never concluded with the word "amen"!
6. As a conclusion. Just as in the previous category the word "amen" was used as a conclusion, it is also used as such in many manuscripts of the first two letters of John (without a preceding word of praise or blessing). The same goes for Mark 16:9 in the so-called short ending of that gospel. This use for the word amen was frequently employed in the early Christian church. In this way the "amen" marks the end of the story or letter.
The most frequent use of the word "amen" is to affirm praise to the Lord. This may be expressed by the speaker as well as the hearers.
It is a remarkable fact that the word "amen" is never used in the Bible to affirm a blessing directed at oneself. I would suggest that this would be considered haughty and therefore inappropriate. If someone is so kind as to say something good about me it would be very rude to respond with "Amen, it is true and certain"! This would certainly apply to a blessing received from the Lord. The practice, which is becoming more and more popular, of allowing the whole congregation to say "amen" after the blessing at the end of the worship service ought to be rejected. If an "amen" is uttered after the blessing then it should be spoken by the minister/elder as a kind of conclusion in line with the examples in category 5 above.
Equally remarkable is the fact that "amen" is not used to conclude any prayers in the Bible. In the Lord's Prayer the "amen" affirms the expression of praise that concludes the prayer. I do not know when, in the course of the centuries, it became common to use "amen" as a conclusion for prayer." For us it has a practical advantage since we pray with our eyes closed. In Bible times men prayed by lifting up their eyes toward heaven with outstretched arms. This meant that everyone could see when the prayer was finished. That is not so easy when everyone has their eyes shut.
In the early Christian church by far the majority of prayers ended with an expression of praise concluded with an accompanying "amen" (following the example of the Lord's Prayer), and that is possibly a good idea for us. While not required, it is appropriate to conclude our prayer with an expression of praise. The concluding "amen" would then also receive a richer meaning.
I also have a few remarks with regard to our liturgy. If it is inappropriate to say "amen" after a blessing directed toward ourselves then the "amen" after the votum is also inappropriate. The votum ("Our help is in the name of the Lord ...") is expressed by the minister/ elder on behalf of the congregation. The congregation expresses its dependency on God, His goodness and grace by which He desires to be our help. It would, however, be possible for the whole congregation to utter the votum!
The expression of "amen" after the greeting at the beginning of the service does not follow bibical examples either. When it occurs it is a result of the uses noted in category 5. It certainly may not be expressed by the congregation since the greeting brings a blessing intended for the congregation itself.
In the liturgies in use by us at present we do not have a separate place for a spoken expression of praise for the Lord. That does not mean that we cannot find expressions of praise for the Lord in our worship services (consider the psalms, prayers, etc.) , but it does not form a separate part of the liturgy. This is was not so in the synagogue services around the time of the Lord Jesus. They began with such an expression of praise. This use of a praise formula in Christian form was copied by the apostles who often begin their letters in this way (cf. 2 Cor 1:3-5; Eph. 1:3-14; 1Peter 1:3-5). The most well known baruch (praise) formula in the New Testament is probably the first half of the so-called Song of Zachariah (Luke 1:68-75). I would like to suggest to the deputies for liturgy that a praise formula (possibly from the aforementioned texts) could follow the greeting.
In this way we could give form to a part of the liturgy from the Jewish synagogue which was used by the apostles and is often echoed in the psalms (e.g. Ps 72:18-18; 144:1-2; etc.). If this element remains absent in the liturgy, it is still possible to let the sermon end with an expression of praise. It would be very fitting for the whole congregation to conclude such an expression of praise with their "amen." The texts listed above show that both in the Old as well as in the New Testament it was common for the whole congregation to communally express their "amen."
Dr. R. D. Anderson was born in New Zealand where he also received his education through the University level. He then attended the seminary of the Canadian Reformed Churches in Ontario Canada before going on to complete his doctorate at the seminary of the Liberated Reformed Churches in the Netherlands. He is currently serving as Pastor of the Reformed Churches (Liberated) in Valkenburg and Katwijk in the Netherlands. We appreciate his contributions to the pages of Ordained Servant.
 Note that I do not wish to suggest that the use of other wordforms from the same root are necessarily trustworthy indicators for the meaning of a word. On this point see J. Barr, Semantics of Biblical Language [OUP, 1961] 100-106.
 For the sake of completeness, the word "amen" is used 6 times untranslated in the apocryphal books.
 Respectively, aleethoos (Jer. 35:6, MT 28:6) and genoito.
 The suggested emendation only concerns the vowels which (in Hebrew) do not belong to the original text. Instead of "ameen"the reading "omen" is suggested. In Isa. 25:1 the word omen ("truth") is used, but it is a hapax (i.e., a word that only occurs once). In addition, it should be noted that the Septuagint and Aquila both read ameen instead of omen at Isa. 25:1.
 It is unfortunate that this use of the word "amen" is disguised in most Bible translations. Even if it would sound strange to our ears to read: "Amen, amen, I say unto you ...", we ought to realize that it would have sounded just as strange to a Greek reader of the Gospels!
 It is sometimes suggested that where "amen" is used in passages like Rom. 15:33; 16:24 and Gal. 6:18 Paul is thinking of the congregations who would have spoken this "amen." Paul, however, never indicates this in any way in his letters. It is a theory. In order to make this theory plausible, it must first be demonstrated that there was an established practice whereby a communal "amen" was spoken after the giving of the blessing. This is not easy. The only information which we have from the first century AD is 1 Cor. 14:16 where we learn that it was the practice (at least in Corinth) to say a communal "amen" after a praise-formula (Blessed/ Praised be the Lord ..."). From the second century AD we learn that it was the practice (at least in Rome, but see also Dionys. Alex. in Eus. HE. 7.9.4) to say a communal "amen" after the praise-formula at the end of the thanksgiving prayer in the Lord's Supper liturgy (Just. 1 Apol. 65.3). We do not possess any other information from this century concerning the "amen" in the worship service. It may be mentioned that in the worship services of the great synagogue in Alexandria around the middle of the second century AD it was the practice to say a communal "amen" after a praise-formula (Tosefta, Sukka 4.6).
From the much later source, the Babylonian Talmud (eighth century AD) we learn that an "amen" was communally spoken after each of the three sections of the Aaronic blessing (Sota 39b that Jews around the time of the third century AD no longer felt any objection to an "amen" after a blessing-formula may be deduced from Mishnah, Sota 7.5).
All things considered, there is no real evidence for a communal "amen" after blessing-formulae in the time of the New Testament. A theory concerning such an "amen" in Paul's letters can therefore not be made plausible.
 The earliest example that I know of is to be found in the apocryphal book Tobit 8:8.
 The earliest example that I know of is to be found in the apocryphal book Tobit 8:8.
 For Jewish practice see the tract Berakoth in the Mishnah.