What Does "Amen" Mean and Why Do We Say It?

“Praise be to the LORD forever! Amen and Amen”. - Psalm 89:52

The word Amen is one of the most familiar and common words in the English language, yet at the same time it is a word that many of us don’t fully understand. Simple as it may seem, the word amen is actually brimming over with meaning and purpose.

Amen as a Closing to Prayer

Many of us know the word amen is as a closing to a prayer. When we say amen at the end of a prayer, do we really know why we say it or what it means? Amen is a Hebrew word that is essentially an affirmation of truth or agreement, meaning something like ‘so be it’, ‘it is so’, or ‘it is true’. When we end a prayer with the word amen, we are acknowledging that we believe God actively hears our prayers, and that our prayers will be answered by him in his time. Amen is an expression that all those things we just asked for in prayer, all the things we praised God for, all the questions, all the pain and the joy we express in prayer are founded in the truth of God.

Is Amen a Transliteration or a Translation?

It is quite possible that Amen is the best-known word by all peoples of the world. One reason is that amen is not translated, but transliterated, which makes it easy for all people everywhere to understand. Confused? It’s actually simple. When words flow from one language to the other, they are often translated into a word that fits that language. Most words in English don’t match up with words in other languages, which is why we have to translate between languages. For example, A newspaper in English is a periódico in Spanish.

A transliteration is when the word is pronounced the same way it was in the original language, and just given letters that makes sense in the new language. A few subtle differences notwithstanding, the word amen is one of the few words that is pronounced almost exactly the same way in every language in the world. This makes it understandable in every language, which is fitting considering that it holds such a strong meaning for us all. It also means that when we say ‘amen’, we are saying the same exact word that has been uttered as a confirmation of belief for thousands of years.

It means that we are speaking the same word spoken by the priests, prophets, and the Lord Jesus himself. There is certainly a beauty in this.

Amen as a Corporate Response

One of the interesting things about the word Amen is the different situations where we see it used in the Bible. One example is where Amen is used as a response of group affirmation. For example, in Deuteronomy 27:14-19 Moses is giving a unique instruction: he is giving the Levites rules for the people, and giving the people the proper response to those rules, which is to say Amen.

The Levites shall recite to all the people of Israel in a loud voice:
“Cursed is anyone who makes an idol—a thing detestable to the Lord, the work of skilled hands—and sets it up in secret.”
Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”
“Cursed is anyone who dishonors their father or mother.”
Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”
“Cursed is anyone who moves their neighbor’s boundary stone.”
Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”
“Cursed is anyone who leads the blind astray on the road.”
Then all the people shall say, “Amen!
“Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.”
Then all the people shall say, “Amen!
(bold emphasis added)

Many of us have heard the phrase, ‘all God’s people said amen!’ and this is likely where the phrase originates. When amen is used in this way, it is an affirmation that what was just said is true and good and worthy of our response. As we hear the truth of God’s Word, we should all be able to say amen!

How Amen Was Used by Jesus

The Bible gives us several examples of a unique way Jesus used the word amen which is generally hidden from us because of language differences. This unique usage of amen can be seen at the beginning of sentences when Jesus is about to lay out some truth to those listening.

Although the transliterated word amen is familiar to us, for some reason translators decided to translate this usage differently, and it is probably because it is used so differently. In the King James, it was translated as ‘verily’, and in most modern versions as, ‘I tell you the truth’, or ‘truly I tell you’. In every instance, it is the root for the Hebrew, ‘amen’, and is simply translated to give us a better meaning of what Jesus is saying and why.

Here are some examples:

And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”. Matthew 18:3

Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter” Mark 3:28

 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43

Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.” John 8:51
(bold emphasis added)

You may have noticed that Jesus uses amen to start a sentence, where almost everywhere else in Scripture it is used as an ending confirmation to what was just said. Why did Jesus use the word differently?

Jesus Refers to Himself as ‘Amen’

Jesus alone is the way the truth and the life. As such, Jesus alone could preface a sentence with an amen, signifying that what was about to come next was not only the truth, but also signified that he was the authority on that truth. Jesus used the word differently because Jesus is different from anyone who ever lived. No wonder it was said that “he taught as one who had authority” (Matthew 7:29).

In Revelation 3:14, Jesus actually refers to himself as ‘the amen’: “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.” (bold emphasis added)

Knowing that the word ‘amen’ is at its core a confirmation of truth, it is no surprise that the full and perfect confirmation of all that is true, all that is perfect and right, is seen in the person of Jesus himself.

Amen as Hope for the Future

The song “Amen” by Steven Curtis Chapman beautifully captures the true spirit of the word amen:

You say we are loved
You say we belong to you
Your grace is enough
Nothing more that we can do
You say we've been bought by your blood, by your blood
And all that we can say is amen

The Bible begins with the creation of all things, and quickly moves to the account of humanity being created in the Garden of Eden. The garden was where we were designed to be – a place of intimacy with God and one another, a place of peace, joy and fulfillment. Although sin tainted that perfection, through the blood of Christ we have hope for the future restoration of all things.

Because he alone is perfect, because he is God with us, because he is Truth, because he is the ruler of creation, and because he is the Amen, we have hope in him. The Bible ends with a vision of the future restoration of all things, and the final verse of Scripture is a longing for the day this occurs, when all is brought back as it should be.

“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End…He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.  -Revelation 22:12-13, 20


Jason Soroski photoJason Soroski is a homeschool dad and author of A Journey to Bethlehem: Inspiring Thoughts for Christmas and Hope for the New Year. He serves as worship pastor at Calvary Longmont in Colorado and spends his weekends exploring the Rocky Mountains with his family. Connect on TwitterInstagram, or at JasonSoroski.net.

Amen song lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, Songtrust Ave, Nathan Paul Chapman / Claude Kelly / Masha Alexandra Shirin

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/UnaDoradita

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