Amen is used in Jewish, Christian and Islamic worship, as a concluding word, or as a response to a prayer. Amen is a declaration of affirmation first found in the Hebrew Bible, and subsequently in the New Testament. Common English translations of the word amen include “verily”, “truly”, and “so be it”. It is also used colloquially, to express strong agreement.
In English, the word amen has two primary pronunciations, ah-MEN (/ɑːˈmɛn/) or ay-MEN (/eɪˈmɛn/), with minor additional variation in emphasis (e.g., the two syllables may be equally stressed instead of placing primary stress on the second). With Anglophone North American usage the ah-men pronunciation is used in performances of classical music and in churches with more formalized rituals and liturgy.
The ay-men pronunciation is a product of the Great Vowel Shift (i.e., it dates from the 15th century); it is associated with Irish Protestantism and with conservative evangelical denominations generally. It also is the pronunciation typically used in gospel music.
Muslims pronounce “ah-meen” when concluding recitation of Al-Fatiha, the first surah, in prayer.
The usage of amen, meaning “so be it” (as found in the early scriptures of the Bible), is a word of Biblical Hebrew origin. The word originated in the Hebrew Scriptures, as a confirmatory response; it is found in Deuteronomy as a confirmatory response made by the people. Moreover, in the Books of Chronicles (16:36), it is indicated that around 1000 BC, the word was used in its religious sense, with the people responding “Amen” upon hearing the blessing, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel from now and unto all eternity”. The basic triconsonantal root from which the word is derived, is common to a number of languages in the Semitic branch of the Afroasiatic languages, including biblical Aramaic. The word was imported into the Greek from the Judaism of the early Church. From Greek, amen entered the other Western languages. According to a standard dictionary etymology, amen passed from Greek into Late Latin, and thence into English. Rabbinic scholars from medieval France believed the standard Hebrew word for faith emuna comes from the root amen. Although in English transliteration they look different, they are both from the root aleph-mem-nun. That is, the Hebrew word amen derives from the same ancient triliteral Hebrew root as does the verb ʾāmán.
Grammarians frequently list ʾāmán under its three consonants (aleph-mem-nun), which are identical to those of ʾāmēn (note that the Hebrew letter א aleph represents a glottal stop sound, which functions as a consonant in the morphology of Hebrew). This triliteral root means to be firm, confirmed, reliable, faithful, have faith, believe.
In Arabic, the word is derived from its triliteral common root word ʾĀmen (آمن), which has the same meanings as the Hebrew root word.
Popular among some theosophists,proponents of Afrocentric theories of history, and adherents of esoteric Christianity is the conjecture that amen is a derivative of the name of the Egyptian god Amun (which is sometimes also spelled Amen). Some adherents of Eastern religions believe that amen shares roots with the Hindu Sanskrit word Aum. Such external etymologies are not included in standard etymological reference works. The Hebrew word, as noted above, starts with aleph, while the Egyptian name begins with a yodh.
The Armenian word ամեն (amen) means “every”; however it is also used in the same form at the conclusion of prayers, much as in English. In French, the Hebrew word amen is sometimes translated as Ainsi soit-il, which means “So be it.”
The linguist Ghil’ad Zuckermann argues that, as in the case of Hallelujah, the word amen is usually not replaced by a translation due to the speakers’ belief in iconicity, their perception that there is something intrinsic about the relationship between the sound of the signifier (the word) and what it signifies (its meaning).
The word occurs in the Hebrew Bible 30 times; in Deuteronomy alone 12 times beginning at 27:15. The fixed phrase ‘Amen, Amen’ is seen 5 times – Psalm 41:13;72:19; 89:52; Numbers 5:22; Nehemiah 8:6. It is translated as ‘of truth’ 2 times in Isaiah 65:16. Three distinct Biblical usages of amen may be noted:
- Initial amen, referring back to words of another speaker and introducing an affirmative sentence, e.g. 1 Kings 1:36.
- Detached amen, again referring to the words of another speaker but without a complementary affirmative sentence, e.g. Nehemiah 5:13.
- Final amen, with no change of speaker, as in the subscription to the first three divisions of Psalms.
The word occurs 52 times in the Synoptic Gospels; the Gospel of John has 25. The uses of amen (“verily” or “I tell you the truth”, depending on the translation) in the Gospels form a peculiar class; they are initial and often lack any reference to a prior within the book’s referent. The use of the initial amen (whether single or double in form) to introduce solemn statements of Jesus in the Gospels had no parallel in contemporary Jewish practice. Raymond Brown says that Jesus peculiar and authentic reminiscent use of amen in the Fourth Gospel is an affirmation that what he is about to say is an echo from the Father.
In the King James Bible, the word amen is seen in a number of contexts. Notable ones include:
- The catechism of curses of the Law found in Deuteronomy 27.
- A double amen (“amen and amen”) occurs in Psalm 89 (Psalm 41:13; 72:19; 89:52), to confirm the words and invoke the fulfillment of them.
- Amen occurs in several doxology formulas in Romans 1:25, 9:5, 11:36, 15:33, and several times in Chapter 16. It also appears in doxologies in the Psalms (41:14; 72:19; 89:53; 106:48). This liturgical form from Judaism.
- It concludes all of Paul’s general epistles.
- In Revelation 3:14, Jesus is referred to as, “the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.” The whole passage reads as “And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God”.
- Amen concludes last book of the New Testament, at Rev. 22:21.
See also: Reciting amen
Although amen, in Judaism, is commonly used as a response to a blessing, it also is often used as an affirmation of other forms of declaration.
Jewish rabbinical law requires an individual to say amen in a variety of contexts. With the rise of the synagogue during the Second Temple period, amen became a common response, especially to benedictions. It is recited communally to affirm a blessing made by the prayer reader. It is also mandated as a response during the kaddish doxology. The congregation is sometimes prompted to answer “amen” by the terms ve-‘imru (Hebrew: ואמרו) = “and [now] say (pl.),” or, ve-nomar (ונאמר) = “and let us say.” Contemporary usage reflects ancient practice: As early as the 4th century BCE, Jews assembled in the Temple responded “amen” at the close of a doxology or other prayer uttered by a priest. This Jewish liturgical use of amen was adopted by the Christians. But Jewish law also requires individuals to answer amen whenever they hear a blessing recited, even in a non-liturgical setting.
The Talmud teaches homiletically that the word amen is an acronym for אל מלך נאמן (ʾEl melekh neʾeman, “God, trustworthy King”), the phrase recited silently by an individual before reciting the Shma.
Jews usually approximate the Hebrew pronunciation of the word: /ɑːˈmɛn/ ah-MEN (Israeli-Ashkenazi and Sephardi) or /ɔːˈmeɪn/ aw-MAYN (non-Israeli Ashkenazi).
The use of “amen” has been generally adopted in Christian worship as a concluding word for prayers and hymns and an expression of strong agreement. The liturgical use of the word in apostolic times is attested by the passage from 1 Corinthians cited above, and Justin Martyr (c. 150) describes the congregation as responding “amen” to the benediction after the celebration of the Eucharist. Its introduction into the baptismal formula (in the Eastern Orthodox Church it is pronounced after the name of each person of the Trinity) was probably later.
In Isaiah 65:16, the authorized version has “the God of truth” (“the God of amen” in Hebrew). Jesus often used amen to put emphasis to his own words (translated: “verily” or “truly”). In John’s Gospel, it is repeated, “Verily, verily” (or “Truly, truly”). Amen is also used in oaths (Numbers 5:22; Deuteronomy 27:15–26; Nehemiah 5:13; 8:6; 1 Chronicles 16:36) and is further found at the end of the prayer of primitive churches (1 Corinthians 14:16).
In some Christian churches, the “amen corner” or “amen section” is any subset of the congregation likely to call out “Amen!” in response to points in a preacher’s sermon. Metaphorically, the term can refer to any group of heartfelt traditionalists or supporters of an authority figure.
Amen is also used in standard, international French, but in Cajun French Ainsi soit-il (“so be it”) is used instead.
Amen is used at the end of the Lord’s Prayer, which is also called the Our Father or the Pater Noster.
Āmīn (آمين) is the Arabic form of Amen. In Islam, it is used with the same meaning as in Judaism and Christianity; when concluding a prayer, especially after a supplication (du’a) or reciting the first surah Al Fatiha of the Qur’an (salat), and as an assent to the prayers of others.
Notes and references
- Harper, Douglas. “amen”. Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 20 August 2007.
- Thurston, Herbert (1907). Catholic Encyclopedia. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company.. In Herbermann, Charles (ed.).
- “amen – definition of amen in English by Oxford Dictionaries”. oxforddictionaries.com. Retrieved 2 September 2015.
- “Two Ways of Pronouncing ‘Amen‘“.
- Paul Joüon, SJ, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew, trans. and revised by T. Muraoka, vol. I, Rome: Editrice Pontificio Instituto Biblico, 2000.
- Understanding Your Neighbor’s Faith, Philip Lazowski, (KTAV), 2004, page 43
- “Amen”. Jewish Encyclopedia. Archived from the original on 16 February 2008. Retrieved 19 February 2008.
- “Amen”. American Heritage Dictionary. Archived from the original on 21 April 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-26.
- “King James Bible Strong’s Hebrew Dictionary”. Archived from the original on 13 February 2008. Retrieved 26 February 2008.
- “COLLATION OF THEOSOPHICAL GLOSSARIES – Amen”. Archived from the original on 15 March 2008. Retrieved 12 March2008.
- “Origin of Amen”. 14 July 2017. Retrieved 28 June 2019.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia