About a month ago I wrote about Cliched Christianity and spoke of the danger of allowing words to lose their meaning. Today I would like to explore one word that has become little more than clich to many Christians.
I have chosen to begin at the end, so to speak, with the word "amen." I choose this word because my own realization of the clichs I use began with this word. I had spent a morning chatting and praying with a good friend and I posed the question of what the word "amen" actually means. We did a bit of research on the meaning of the word and its use in Scripture and found that it is used in a wide variety of ways. We settled on a working definition of the word as it pertains to closing a prayer as modeled by Jesus and the apostles. We decided that we could replace the word "amen" with a phrase such as "And we ask these things, trusting that as we have prayed in Your name, You will do them." So we prayed, agreeing that at the end we would say that phrase rather than say "amen." Finishing in prayer, I said "And God, we ask these things, trusting that as we have prayed in Your name, You will do them." We then both said, "Amen!" We looked at each other and broke into laughter, realizing just what a clich "amen" had become, that even when we tried to replace the word with something with more meaning, we were not comfortable closing our prayer without saying it. The word had taken on little more meaning than "prayer over."
"Amen," as I have said, is used in different ways in Scripture. The Hebrew word, amen, is used 30 times in the Old Testament and 126 in the New Testament and in its simplest form means "truly, indeed, or surely." The word transliterates into both Greek and English, meaning that we use the same word pronounced roughly the same way as the ancient Jews. As an aside, it is kind of neat to consider that we close our prayers now the same way the ancient Israelites, our Lord and the apostles did.
There are several ways in which the word is used in the Bible. Though similar, each has a slightly different meaning or use.
Affirmation of a curse
The first use of the word is in Numbers 5:22 where it is used as an affirmation of a curse. God spoke through Moses to tell the people about a test for adultery. As part of this process, a priest would tell a woman the curse that would befall her if she lied. The woman was to respond by saying "Amen. Amen." This response displayed agreement that the curse was a fair punishment for anyone who would lie before God. In Deuteronomy 27 we see many similar instances where the people were to agree to the curses God decreed for breaking His law by saying "Amen." Once again, their "amen's" showed submission to God's laws and affirmed that the consequences of sin were fair and just.
In this sense, then, the word was one of submission before God, acknowledging that His law was just.
Confirmation of the King's Decree
1 Kings 1:36 describes one of King David's advisors agreeing to the king's royal decree to crown his son Solomon as the next king by answering, "Amen! Thus may the Lord, the God of my lord the king, say." This use of the word carries a meaning of agreement and submission. In this use it is submission and agreement before a God-given authority and not directly to God Himself. But as with the last case, it is primarily a term of submission.
Approval of Prayer or Praise
In both the Old and New Testaments we see "amen" being used to approve of a prayer or praise. Of the five books within Psalms, four of them end with the word "Amen." As the congregation worshipped through the Psalms, they would end with "amen," showing their agreement with and approval of the praise they had offered to God (Ps 41:13, 72:19, 89:52, and 106:48). We see a similar use in 1 Corinthians 14:16. In this passage Paul is rebuking the church at Corinth for misusing the gift of tongues. He says "how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the 'Amen' at your giving of thanks…" Paul assumes the use of "amen" as an agreement of the thanksgiving being offered to God. He does not reprove them for using the word, but rather for not allowing others the opportunity to use it since they cannot agree with words they do not understand.
Another dramatic example of this is in the book of Nehemiah where the prophet Ezra reads Scripture to the people. They answer "'Amen, Amen!' while lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground" (Nehemiah 8:6) Their "amens" were a sign of their agreement with the convicting words that they had just heard and were an act of worship.
This use of amen is similar to how it is often used in preaching. A pastor may close his prayer by saying "…and God's people said…" at which point the congregation is to answer "amen." In this way the congregation is agreeing with what the pastor has prayed. They are agreeing with the thanksgiving and praise that has been offered to God.
Jesus used the word "amen" in a unique way. Many times in Scripture we read of Jesus beginning a proclamation with the words, "Truly, truly." This has also been translated as "Verily, verily" or "Truly I say to you." In the original language, the term Jesus uses is "Amen, Amen." There is nowhere else in ancient Christian or Jewish literature that the word is used in this way. This double use of the word recalls His divine authority. He uses the word twice as an indication that what He is about to say is authoritative because He is God. No one but Jesus has the right to use the word in this sense.
Authority Of Inspiration
Several of the letters that comprise the New Testament books end with the word "Amen." In this use it would appear to be an affirmation that the preceding words were God's words, inspired by Him, though written with human hands. The "amen" shows that the authority is not the human author's, but God's. It is the author's indication that he agrees with what God has just enabled him to write.
Wish For & Trust In Fulfillment of Prophecy
In Jeremiah 28:6 we read "Amen! The Lord do so; the Lord perform your words which you have prophesied…" In this sense the word is being used as an expression of faith that God will be faithful to the prophecies He has seen fit to provide.
God's Faithfulness - Christ Is The Amen
Revelation 3:14 says of Jesus that He is "The Amen, the faithful and true Witness." In this use, the meaning is to show that Jesus is trustworthy and faithful. Whatever He decrees will (or already has) come to pass. The word stresses that God is a "Faithful and True Witness." This seems to point back to Isaiah 65:16 which speaks of the "God of Truth." The word translated "truth" is actually the word "amen."
I would like to close with one final use of the word. 2 Corinthians 1:20 says "For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us." All the promises of salvation, all that we hold onto with faith and hope, are fulfilled in Christ. These promises are forever established in Christ so that we can all place our confidence in Him. God is faithful. Christ is our Amen.
Having studied this word, I hope you will use it appropriately, speaking a loud and hearty "amen" when suitable and possibly even withholding your "amen" when you cannot agree with what has been spoken. It is my hope that through this brief look at but one word, you realize how much depth can be contained in a single word. When we make light of a word, allowing it to become mere clich and to be uttered without thought, we deprive ourselves of the blessings that may be contained in that word. And far worse, we may even make light of the One to whom we speak.