“The Amen”

"Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying?"

(1 Corinthians 14:16) 

The word "amen" (Greek: αμεν) is a fascinating word. You would be hard pressed to find anyone on earth unfamiliar with it. But what does "amen" mean? Is it a ritualistic way to validate our prayers? Or is it merely a way of signing off and telling God, "Okay, my prayer is over now"? Let's take a quick tour through the Bible to find out.

First off, it's helpful to note that the word "amen" was transliterated (instead of translated) directly from the Hebrew into the Greek New Testament. Transliteration is the conversion of a text from one language to another where the original word is copied phonetically, as opposed to translation, where a new word is provided that best fits the original word's meaning. "Amen" continued to be transliterated into Latin and straight into English and many other translations. This means that "amen," unlike most other words, has remained virtually unmolested through the ages to become a practically universal word. It has been called "the best known word in human speech."

The Greek word for "amen" is almost identical to the Hebrew verb "to believe" ('aman), or to confirm or be faithful (Gen. 15:6). Thus, "amen" came to mean "sure" or "truly," an expression of absolute trust and confidence. Therefore, when "amen" is used before a discourse it is testifying to the trustworthiness of what is about to be said. For example, when Jesus said, "For truly, (lit. "amen") 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," (Mt. 5:18) he was testifying to the absolute truthfulness of his declaration.

When the word is used at the end of a discourse it is an affirmation of what has been said. This is generally how we use it today. In this case, "amen" means "so it is," "so be it" or "may it be fulfilled." It was a custom in the synagogues to voice the "amen" in response to a prayer or the reading of holy Scriptire that was passed on to Christian assemblies (1 Cor. 14:13-16). When the "amen" is voiced after a prayer, a reading of Scripture, a lesson from the Word, or a prophecy, the offerors made the substance of what was said their own. By way of verbal affirmation, the congregants joined themselves to what was said. One man could voice a prayer, but when the group offered up their collective "amen," God received it from all.

But "amen" is not some magic mantra that ensures God's acceptance of our communication. It is a reminder to us who utter it that the message must be brought into conformity with God's will. "Amen" is a direct reference to Jesus, who taught us to pray, "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Mt. 6:10). Jesus modeled his life after submission to his Father's will. His prayer in Gethsemane ended with, "Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done" (Lk. 22:42; cf. Jn. 4:34; 8:29). This humble attitude of surrender drove Jesus to endure the shame of the cross, to experience death itself and, through death, eternal life and glory (Phil. 2:5-11). Thus, Jesus himself is the ultimate "Amen" whose life is in perfect agreement with God's will. Indeed, this is how he refers to himself to the church at Laodicea, "The Amen, the faithful and true Witness" (Rev. 3:14; cf. 1 Cor. 1:20).

The apostle Paul made this same point to the Corinthians. He had made plans to visit them (1 Cor. 4:19) but his plans didn't work out (2 Cor. 1:12-16). He truly meant to visit them but decided it was in their best interest to wait, giving them time to get their act together and repent (2 Cor. 1:23-24). Sadly, Paul's enemies used this against him to say he couldn't be trusted so he was put in the delicate position of defending his integrity to a group of Christians who owed him their spiritual life! He rejected the idea that he was the kind of person who would say "Yes" and mean "No" because he modeled his life after Jesus, God's ultimate "Yes and Amen."

"...I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace. I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea. Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee." (2 Corinthians 1:15-22)

There was no duplicity in Paul's heart, his word or the message he preached because he modeled his life after Christ, God's "Amen" whose name is "Faithful and True" (Rev. 19:11) and who embodies "The Word of God" (Rev. 19:13; Jn. 1:1-2, 14). All of God's promises in the Old Testament find their "Yes" or fulfillment in Jesus (Lk. 24:44). Jesus is God's final, definitive proof that he is faithful to keep his promises (Jn. 14:6; 16:13). The gist of Paul's argument is this: "If the promises of God find their certainty in Jesus, then you can rely on me as his chosen apostle and on the message he has commissioned me to preach."

Following Christ means living "amen" lives. We must be people committed to keeping our word (Mt. 5:33-37). We must not "boast in [our] arrogance" but instead pray, "if the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that" (Jas. 4:15). We should also have confidence that God will hear and answer our prayers when "we ask anything according to his will" (1 Jn. 5:14). The next time you voice the "amen" understand it is not a mere formality to be observed but a solemn affirmation of your agreement. The "amen" is a reminder of our Savior, "The Amen, the faithful and true Witness," and how every aspect of our lives must come under his gracious rule. Are you living an "amen" life?