Why Do Christians Say "Amen"?
AMEN. We add it to our prayers almost by instinct, but do we really understand what it means? Is it merely a polite way to close a conversation in the same way we write “sincerely” before our name at the end of a letter? Would it surprise you to learn that Jesus, who used the word “amen” more than any other speaker in the Bible, never uses it to conclude a prayer? Does that mean that we shouldn’t? The truth is, “amen” is a wonderful word that is full of meaning. It’s a word that can enrich our prayers greatly if we will take the time to understand it.
“Amen” is a “transliteration.” This simply means that when English speaking people encountered the Bible, they didn’t already have a single word that really captured the concept well and so they created a new one by taking the ancient Hebrew sounds and coupling them with English letters. The English weren’t the only ones to have done that either: the Greeks did it as well, taking the Hebrew sounds of the Old Testament word and applying their own letters to create a word that could represent the concept in the New Testament. Those facts are not insignificant. They tell us that “amen” represents something that isn’t a part of normal human communication apart from the message of the Bible. It has come into our language through the Bible and so the only way to understand it is by looking at the ways that it is used in the Bible.
Amen actually started as a verb to convey the concept of belief. The first time it appears is in Genesis 15:6 where, after God promises a way-too-old couple that they will have a child, the Bible says that Abraham “Believed the LORD, and God counted it to him as righteousness.” The book of Romans refers to this exact phrase as evidence of the fact that Abraham was justified, declared righteous, by faith alone.
Throughout the Old Testament, “amen” continued to be used for belief.
Exodus 14:31 Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.
Psalm 78:32 In spite of all this, they still sinned; despite his wonders, they did not believe.
Habakkuk 1:5 “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.
Since only truly reliable things are worthy of belief, “amen” was also used to refer to things that are certain, rock-solid, trustworthy, reliable, or faithful.
Moses, for instance, was called “Faithful in all God’s house” (Numbers 12:7)
As Ahimalech the priest tried to reason with Saul, he reminded that irrational king that he didn’t have any servant as faithful as David (1 Sam 22:14).
Thus, “amen” ultimately points to God.
Deuteronomy 7:9 Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations,
He’s the “faithful” God, the “AMEN” God. The one who is absolutely reliable, who is rock-solid, who is unquestionable, above suspicion, incapable of failure. This faithfulness, then applies to all his words which are “very trustworthy” (Psalm 93:5).
That’s the way, when we come to the New Testament, we first encounter the word of interest.
Nearly 100 times in the gospels, Jesus says “amen.” But he doesn’t use it the way we normally do. Rather than concluding prayers with it, the Lord Jesus always starts with the word “amen”- sometimes even repeating it for emphasis. When he does, it’s usually translated “Truly, truly, I say to you….” And is followed by something that is absolutely certain, absolutely trust-worthy: absolutely worthy of your belief. Something like…
Matthew 5:18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
Matthew 18:3 “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
John 3:3 “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
John 8:51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”
John 8:58 “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
Do you see what he’s doing? He’s applying the truth that God’s words are ultimately reliable and entirely trustworthy to his own speech! Jesus doesn’t just USE the word “amen,” He IS the “AMEN!” He doesn’t just speak reliably, he IS reliability itself. And so Revelation 3:14 can actually use it as a name for Christ, calling him “the ‘Amen,’ the faithful and true witness…”!!!
It is that background that helps us understand the way God’s people use the word “amen.” Here are two ways we can apply this truth.
1. Amen is used to exalt God for revealing his incomparable glory.
It’s a confident declaration of things we know to be true because God has revealed them, particularly things we know to be true about God that set him apart as the King of Kings.
Psalm 72:19 blessed be his glorious name for ever: And let the whole earth be filled with his glory; Amen, and Amen.
Romans 1:25 Paul states that the Creator is blessed forever and then emphasizes that absolute truth by saying “amen.”
Romans 11:36 “to him be glory forever. Amen!”
It is entirely appropriate for us to use Amen as a verbal punctuation mark whenever someone speaks truth authoritatively, particularly truth about God’s nature! Think of it as spoken adoration!
2. It is an expression of our desire for things that we know God intends to do
In Deuteronomy 27, God instructs the people to specifically say “Amen” twelve times! He is warning his covenant people about the dangers of breaking that covenant through wicked behavior. He reveals candidly the curses that they will be taking upon themselves if they violate his righteous rules. At the end of each curse, he directs Moses to tall all the people to say “amen.” The study thus far helps us to understand what’s going on here, doesn’t it? By saying “amen,” they’re agreeing that God’s words are reliable and that they as a people will most definitely experience what God has said if they break the covenant. This is how we arrived at the definition that you’ve probably heard before: “so be it.” In other words, let the reliable words of the reliable God come to pass reliably as they are certain to do.
This is how ‘amen’ found its way to the end of our prayers. When believers pray for things they believe God intends to do and that would be good for His people, they conclude with “amen.”
Romans 15:33 May the God of peace be with you all. Amen.
Galatians 6:18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.
It expresses the will of the one praying, but can only be attached to things that we believe the LORD also intends to accomplish. In that way, it is a reminder that our prayers should be governed by scripture and that we ought to pray for the things God has revealed are his will: for the things we know glorify God!
Here’s hoping that the next time you pray, and rightly conclude with a hearty “amen,” you’ll mean it! To the king of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Tim. 1:17)