How the word ‘Amen’ came about

Amen is a transliteration of the Hebrew word 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.

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. Israel said “amen” to join in the praises of God ( 1 Chronicles 16:36, Nehemiah 8:6 and at the end of each of the first four books of Psalms, 41:13, 72:19, 89:52, 106:48).

Amen has other uses.

Jeremiah mocks the words of a false prophet with an Amen. Because God is trustworthy, Isaiah can call him “the God of amen, ” in whose name his servants should invoke blessings and take oaths (Isaiah 65:16, Revelation 3:14) But Jesus’ use of amen is the most striking innovation.

Jesus introduces his teaching by saying Amen 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).

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, Matthew 6:2-16, 18:3, Luke 13:35, John 5: 19-25, 6:26-53. 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.

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 ( Romans 1: 25, 9:5, 11:36,Galatians 1: 3-5 Ephesians 3:21, Philippians 4:20, 1Timothy 1:17, 6:16, 2Timothy 4:18).

Amen also closes spontaneous doxologies in Revelation; there, however, the object of praise is more often the Son than the Father. 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 or in worship.