Amen is a universal word that has been transliterated into other languages like Greek and English. This means that the word being used today to close a prayer or incorporate into worship is the same spoken word that the church fathers of a few thousand years ago used.
Transliteration is not the same as translation. Translation is to take a word like “agua” in Spanish and convert it to the equivalent in English “water”. Water and agua are not the same word when spoken.
Transliteration is the method of keeping the original spoken word, but converting the written version into the alphabet of the target language in a way that the spoken sounds the same or similar. Amen is the English transliteration of the original Hebrew word אָמֵן. The Hebrew is transliterated as ‘amen. The same is true with the Greek to English. ἀμήν is the Greek and the transliteration into English is amēn.
If the Greek word for Amen had been translated we would not have the word Amen we would have the meaning of the word within the context of the passage. That brings us to the question. What does Amen mean anyway?
Here is an example so that the word might be clearly defined. In this example Ezra is working to restore the Israelite community in Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile. Part of that work included reminding the people of God about the Laws given to Moses. To that end he organizes a time to read from the scriptures to the people.
And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Nehemiah 8:5-7 ESV
Amen translated from this text means “so be it” or “let it be so”. The people listening to the words Ezra is reading from the book of the law are agreeing with the contents not just to Ezra. They are agreeing with God himself as they bow and worship the Lord in that assembly. Within the context of worship and in relationship to the Creator Amen carries the weight of a promise that what is not possible for man is possible for God. Paul defines it this way.
For all the promises of God find their Yes in [Christ]. 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 1:20-22 ESV
God has promised many things to many people. Paul is telling us here that all those promises are fulfilled in Christ. Abraham was promised descendants as numerous as the stars (Genesis 26:4). That promise is realized in Jesus.
Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. Galatians 3:7-9 ESV
When we say Amen Paul is telling us that we are saying “Yes” let it be so to God. The “Yes” is fulfilled in Jesus because he is the final answer, solution, and reason for any hope we have. Through Jesus God has restored the relationship.
Now that we know what Amen means within the context of the Biblical narrative do we continue on in our selfish ambition ignoring God as if he does not exist? Or do we like the Paul agree to the “Yes” in Jesus and trust him as the solution to everything with our Amen?
Revised and Updated: Originally posted on Human Effort April 10th 2013