In current usage, the term "amen" has become little more than a ritualized conclusion to prayers. Yet the Hebrew and Greek words for amen appear hundreds of times in the Bible and have several uses. Amen is a transliteration of the Hebrew word amen [em'a]. The verb form occurs more than one hundred times in the Old Testament and means to take care, to be faithful, reliable or established, or to believe someone or something. The idea of something that is faithful, reliable, or believable seems to lie behind the use of amen as an exclamation on twenty-five solemn occasions in the Old Testament. Israel said "amen" to join in the praises of God ( 1 Chron 16:36 ; Neh 8:6 ; and at the end of each of the first four books of Psalms, 41:13 ; 72:19 ; 89:52 ; 106:48 ).
Amen is never used solely to confirm a blessing in the Old Testament, but Israel did accept the curse of God on sin by it (twelve times in Deut. 27, and in Neh 5:13 ), and once Jeremiah affirms God's statements of the blessings and the curses of the covenant with an amen ( Jer 11:5 ). It can also confirm a statement made by people ( Num 5:22 ; 1 Kings 1:36 ; Neh 5:13 ). These kinds of uses lie behind the popular, basically correct, dictum that amen means "So be it."
Amen has other uses. Jeremiah mocks the words of a false prophet with an amen (28:6). Because God is trustworthy, Isaiah can call him "the God of amen, " in whose name his servants should invoke blessings and take oaths ( Isa 65:16 ; see also Rev 3:14 ). But Jesus' use of amen is the most striking innovation.
Jesus introduces his teaching by saying amen lego humin [ajmhvnlevgwuJmi'n], that is, "truly I say to you, " on nearly seventy occasions in the Gospels (thirty times in Matthew, thirteen in Mark, six in Luke, and twenty in John, where the amen is always doubled). Where the prophets often said, "Thus says the Lord, " Jesus often says, "Amen I say to you." Although some scholars see the formuLam merely as a method of giving emphasis to a statement, in actuality it constitutes a significant part of Jesus' implicit teaching about himself. We ought to consider Jesus' use of the term "amen" alongside his other implicit claims to deity, such as his claim of the right to forgive sins and to judge humankind, and his custom of performing miracles on his own authority. No mere human has the right to forgive sins, yet Jesus forgave sins. God is the judge of humankind, yet Jesus judges. God's agets ascribe the will and the glory to God when they perform miracles, yet Jesus performed miracles on his own authority. Likewise, prophets never spoke on their own authority. They say, "Thus says the Lord." Or, like Paul, they say they received a revelation from heaven. But Jesus says, "Truly I say to you" dozens of times, asserting that his words are certainly true because he says them.
Jesus often uses the formuLam when he corrects errors or is engaged in disputes. When Jesus instructed Nicodemus, for example, he appealed not to Scripture but to his own authority, saying "Amen, amen, I say to you" (John 3:3, 5; see also Matt 6:2, 5, 16; 18:3; Luke 13:35; John 5:19, 24, 25; 6:26, 32, 47, 53). Amen lego humin also punctuates the teaching of truths unknown in the Old Testament, and seasons startling sayings for which Jesus offers no proof other than his own authority. Here the amen implies that Jesus' words, like the Father's, are true merely because he utters them (Matt 24:34; 26:13; Mark 3:28; Luke 12:37; John 10:1). So in Matthew 5 Jesus comments on the Old Testament or Jewish interpretations of it six times in the chapter, saying, "You have heard that it was said , but I tell you." He concludes the first section with the amen in 5:26, and by so doing asserts that his authority exceeds the Jewish interpreters', and even brings a revelation that surpasses that of the Old Testament law itself.
In this way, whenever Jesus says "amen lego humin" [ajmhvnlevgwuJmi'n], he shows awareness of his authority, his deity. This evidence of Jesus' messianic self-consciousness is important because it resists skeptical attacks on the faith. Critics try to exclude many texts that present Christ's deity on the grounds that they are unauthentic. But implicit claims to deity, whether they be Jesus' use of the amen or other ones, appear in virtually every paragraph of the Gospels, and cannot be explained away.
Paul's use of amen returns to the Old Testament world, except that he utters amen only to bless, not to curse. Many times Paul's letters burst into praise of God the Father or God the Son and seal the confession with the amen (Rom 1:25; 9:5; 11:36; Gal 1:3-5; Eph 3:21; Php 4:20; 1 Tim 1:17; 6:16; 2 Tim 4:18). A doxology appears at or near the end of several letters, and all close with the amen. Other letters end with a blessing on his readers, again completed with amen (1 Col 16:23-24; Gal 6:18). Paul also invites his readers to say amen to the promises of God (2 Col 1:20; see also Rev 22:20). Amen also closes spontaneous doxologies in Revelation; there, however, the object of praise is more often the Son than the Father (1:6-7; 5:14; 7:12; 19:4). In all this Paul and Revelation resemble the Jewish custom of the day, in which Jews said amen when they heard another bless the Lord whether in private prayer (Tobit 8:8) or in worship. But they surpass it in the sheer spontaneity and enthusiasm of their praises.
Several other New Testament epistles follow Paul by praising God and/or calling on him to bestow the grace the readers need (Heb 13:20-21; 1 Pet 4:11; 5:10-11; 2 Pet 3:17-18; Jude 24-25; Rev 22:21). As in Paul, these final words often recapitulate the main themes of the letter, which the writer seals with the amen that both declare and pleads, "So be it! May God indeed be praised for bestowing the gifts his people need."
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
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[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary
[S] indicates this entry was also found in Smith's Bible Dictionary
Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Amen'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".