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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Amen (2)

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AMEN.—Like the Greek ἀμήν, this is practically a transliteration of the Heb. אָמִן, which itself is a verbal adjective connected with a root signifying make firm, establish. In the last instance, and as we are concerned with it, it is an indeclinable particle. Barth treats it as originally a substantive (= ‘firmness,’ ‘certainty’). For the derivation, cf. our English ‘yes,’ ‘yea,’ which is also connected with an old verbal root of similar significance.

As a formula of solemn confirmation, asseveration and assent, it was established in old and familiar usage amongst the Jews in the time of our Lord. Its function is specially associated with worship, prayer, the expression of will and desire, the enunciation of weighty judgments and truths. For modes in which Amen is used may be distinguished—(1) Initial, when it lends weight to the utterance following. (2) Final, when used by the speaker himself in solemn confirmation of what precedes. (3) Responsive, when used to express assent to the utterance of another, as in prayers, benedictions, oaths, etc. (4) Subscriptional, when used to mark the close of a writing, but hardly amounting to much more than a peculiar variant of ‘Finis.’

The subscriptional Amen requires but a brief notice. No instance of it is found in the OT; and as regards the closing Amen in the several Scriptures of the NT there is for the most part a lack of textual authority. The Authorized Version, following the TR [Note: R Textus Receptus.] , in most instances has it; the Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 in most instances omits it. Where it is found, in the Epistles and the Apocalypse, it is rather due to the fact that these writings close with a doxology, prayer, or benediction. The variations of authority in such cases seem to a large extent capricious: else why. e.g., Amen at the end of 1 Corinthians and not at the end of 2 Corinthians? The closing Amen in each of the Gospels, though without authority, is a genuine instance of the subscriptional use of later times. This use has a further curious illustration in the practice of copyists of MSS [Note: SS Manuscripts.] who wrote 99 at the end of their work, this being the total numerical value of the characters in ἀμήν. For the purposes of the present article it will be necessary to examine the whole Biblical usage of ‘Amen.’

1. Amen in the OT.—The formula is found in (a) the Pentateuch (Numbers 5:22, Deuteronomy 27 passim) as a ritual injunction (LXX Septuagint γένοιτο throughout). (b) In 1 Kings 1:36, 1 Chronicles 16:36, Nehemiah 5:13, Jeremiah 11:5; Jeremiah 28:6 it is mentioned as being actually used (LXX Septuagint in 1 Kings 1:36 γένοιτο οὕτως, Jeremiah 28:6 ἀληθῶς, elsewhere ἀμήν). (c) In the Psalms (Psalms 41:13; Psalms 72:19; Psalms 89:52; Psalms 106:48) we meet with its liturgical use (LXX Septuagint γένοιτο). The most common equivalent for Amen in the LXX Septuagint is γένοιτο; and with this may be compared St. Paul’s familiar μὴ γένοιτο, the negative formula of dissent and deprecation.

No clear instance of the use of an initial Amen occurs. Hogg thinks we have such in 1 Kings 1:36, Jeremiah 11:5; Jeremiah 28:6; but in each of these cases it will be found that the Amen is a responsive assent to something that precedes. It is true that the LXX Septuagint rendering in Jeremiah 28:6 (ἀληθῶς) shows that the translators were inclined to regard this as an instance of an initial Amen; but even here the term is really an ironical response to the false prophecy of Hananiah in Jeremiah 28:2-4. Almost all the instances, indeed, in which Amen is met with in the OT are examples of the responsive use; the only considerable instances of the final use being found at the end of each of the first three divisions of the Psalter. In the Apocrypha we have further instances of the responsive Amen in Tobit 8:8 and in Judith 13:20; Judith 15:10 (Authorized and Revised Versions in the latter book renders ‘So be it’). The doubled formula (‘Amen, Amen,’ cf. Judith 13:20) thus used is naturally explained as an expression of earnestness. It may here be added that among the Jews at a much later period Amen has a responsive and desiderative use in connexion with every kind of expression of desire and felicitation; e.g. ‘May he live to see good days: Amen!’

2. Amen in the Gospels.—We must set aside the instances of subscriptional Amen (see above) as without authority. In Matthew 6:13 some ancient authorities support the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer with doxology and Amen; but it can hardly be doubted that Amen here, along with the doxology which it closes, is not original, but due to liturgical use (see ‘Notes on Select Readings’ in Westcott-Hort’s NT in Greek, ad loc.). In all the other instances in the Gospels it is the initial Amen that is found, given always and only as a usus loquendi of Christ in the formula, ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν (σοι), according to the Synoptists, and ἀμὴν ἀμήν λέγω ὑμῖν (σοι), according to St. John.

Now, whilst final Amen as a formula of conclusion or response remains unaltered throughout in NT in the various versions, it is of interest to notice the different ways in which this initial Amen is treated. The Vulgate, e.g., invariably keeps the untranslated form, and reads Amen (or Amen, Amen) dico vobis. The modern Greek equivalent is ἀληθῶς (ἀληθῶς ἀληθῶς); and with this accords our Authorized and Revised Versions ‘Verily,’ and also Luther’s Wahrlich. And, indeed, among the Synoptists themselves there are indications that an initial Amen has sometimes been replaced by another term. This is specially so in the case of St. Luke, who has only 6 instances of ἀμήν as against 30 in St. Matthew , , 13 in St. Mark. We have, e.g., ναί in Luke 11:51 for ἀμήν in the parallel Matthew 23:36; ἀληθῶς in Luke 9:27 (cf. Matthew 16:28, Mark 9:1). All this goes to show that this use of Amen on the part of Jesus was quite a peculiarity.

The very λέγω ὑμῖν alone would have been noticeable as a mode of assertion: the addition of ἀμήν does but intensify this characteristic, as an enforcement and corroboration of the utterances that are thus prefaced. The Heb. אָמן, which in our Lord’s time was usual only in responses, thus appears to have been taken by Him as an expedient for confirming His own statement ‘in the same way as if it were an oath or a blessing.’ Formulae of protestation and affirmation involving an oath were in use among Rabbinical teachers to enforce teachings and sayings, and with these the mode of Jesus invites comparison and contrast.

The attempt of Delitzsch to explain this Amen (particularly in the double form) through the Aramaic אָמַינָא ‘I say,’ cannot be sustained. Jannaris, again (. Times, Sept. [Note: Septuagint.] 1902, p. 564), has ventured the suggestion that ἀμήν thus used is a corruption of ἦ μήν (εἶ μήν); but interesting and ingenious as this may be, it lacks confirmation, and amongst the instances of the use of ἦ μήν which he adduces from the LXX Septuagint, the papyri, etc., not one suits the case here by showing any such construction as ἦ μὴν λέγω ὑμῖν in use.

A parallel between Amen and our ‘Yes’ has been already suggested: and in the NT we similarly find ἀμήν and ναί closely associated (2 Corinthians 1:20, Revelation 1:7), whilst we have before noticed how in St. Luke ναί is found as a substitute for ἀμήν. It may not therefore be out of place here to suggest that we have an illustration and analogy as regards the use of an initial Amen in the use of an introductory ‘Yes’ sometimes found in English (see, e.g., Shakspeare, 2 Hen. IV. i. iii. 36; Pope, Moral Essays, i. 1).

The double Amen, which occurs 25 times in St. John, and is peculiar to that Gospel, has provoked much curiosity as to how it is to be explained. If Jesus used as a formula in teaching now ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν and again ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, it is very strange that the Synoptics should invariably represent Him as using the former, and the Fourth Gospel invariably as using the latter. Why not instances of both promiscuously through all the Gospels if the two were thus alike used?

The statement that the Johannine form ‘introduces a truth of special solemnity and importance’ (as Plummer in Camb. Gr. Test. for Schools, etc., ‘St. John,’ note on ch. John 1:51) is quite gratuitous, as a comparison of the sayings and discourses of our Lord will show. It is too obviously a dictum for the purpose of explanation. The truth is, if we have regard to the exclamatory character of ἀμήν as a particle in this special use, there is nothing surprising in its being thus repeated; and we have the analogy of the repeated Amen in responses, as noticed above. Why St. John alone should give the formula in this particular way is a further question. If a consideration of the phenomena connected with the composition of the Fourth Gospel leads to the conclusion that in the form in which the utterances of Jesus are there presented we have not His ipsissima verba, we may most naturally regard the repetition of ἀμήν as a peculiarity due to the Evangelist, and (taking the evidence of the Synoptists into account) not necessarily a form actually used by Jesus.

3. Amen in the rest of the NT.—In the numerous instances in which Amen occurs in the NT outside the Gospels, it is almost entirely found in connexion with prayers, doxologies, or benedictions, as a solemn corroborative conclusion (final use). In addition, we have the responsive use of Amen illustrated in 1 Corinthians 14:16 (see below, s. ‘Liturgical use’) and Revelation 5:14 : and ἀμήν in Revelation 22:20 is responsive to the ἔρχομαι ταχύ preceding. Extra-canonical writings furnish plentiful examples of the same use. Two instances, again, of an introductory Amen in the Apocalypse (Revelation 7:12; Revelation 19:4), as a form of exultant acclamation, are interesting, but are quite distinct from the initial Amen in the utterances of Jesus in the Gospels.

Amen as a substantive appears in two forms: (1) τὸ ἀμήν, (2) ὁ ἁμήν. We meet with the former in 1 Corinthians 14:16 and 2 Corinthians 1:20. In both cases there appears to be a reference to a liturgical Amen. In the latter passage, indeed, it might be contended that ἀμήν is merely in correspondence with ναί, both simply conveying the idea of confirmation and assurance; but if we follow the better supported reading (as in Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885) the presence of such a reference can hardly be denied.

The use of ὁ ἀμήν as a name for our Lord in Revelation 3:14 is striking and peculiar. The attempt, however, to explain it by reference to 2 Corinthians 1:20 is not satisfactory. The curious expression ‘the God of Amen’ (Authorized and Revised Versions ‘the God of truth’) in Isaiah 65:16 is not sufficiently a parallel to afford an explanation, for the Amen in this case is not a personal name, but the Authorized and Revised Versions furnishes a satisfactory equivalent in the rendering ‘truth.’ Surely, however, there need be little difficulty about the use of such a term as a designation of Jesus. Considering the wealth of descriptive epithets applied to Him in the NT and other early Christian writings, and also the terminology favoured by the author of the Apocalypse, we must feel that this use of Amen, if bold, is not unnatural or unapt, so suggestive as the term is of truth and firmness. Another but very different use of Amen as a proper name may be mentioned. Among certain of the Gnostics ἈΜήΝ figured as the name of an angel (Hippolytus, Philosophumena, ccxviii. 79, ccciv. 45).

4. Amen in liturgical use

(a) Jewish.—In the Persian period Amen was in use as ‘the responsory of the people to the doxology of the Priests and the Levites’ (see Nehemiah 8:6, 1 Chronicles 16:36, Psalms 106:48). In the time of Christ it had become an established and familiar formula of the synagogue worship in particular, the response used in the Temple being a longer form: ‘Blessed be the Name of the glory of His kingdom for ever and ever!’ In still later times a formula of response was used which was apparently a combination of the synagogue Amen with the Temple responsory: ‘Amen: praised be the great Name for ever and ever!’ In the synagogue service the Amen was said by the people in response to the reader’s doxology. (In the great synagogue of Alexandria the attendant used to signal the congregation with a flag when to give the response). Amen was also the responsory to the priestly blessing.

Responsive Amen at the end of prayers was evidently an old custom among the Jews. In later times they are said to have discouraged this, because Amen at the end of every prayer had become the habit of Christians. The use of Amen in this connexion was thus considerably restricted; but certain synagogue prayers were still specified as to be followed by the Amen.

The Rabbis in their liturgical exactness rigorously determined the sense of Amen, and, among other things, enjoined that every doxology, on whatever occasion, must be followed by this response. Curious sayings were current among them, emphasizing the significance and value of Amen. Should, e.g., the inhabitants of hell exclaim ‘Amen!’ when the holy Name of God is praised, it will secure their release (Yalk. ii. 296 to Isaiah 26:2).

(b) Christian.—This use of Amen was undoubtedly borrowed by the Christians from the Jewish synagogue, as, indeed, other liturgical features were. St. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 14:16 are of special interest here. The reader is so to recite his prayers that the ignorant should have the boon of answering the Amen to the doxology. The ἰδιώτης (הֶדִיוֹמ) for whom he pleads is similarly considered by the Rabbis, and they give the same instruction. It cannot be maintained that the term εὐχαριστία used here by St. Paul has that special and, so to speak, technical sense which it afterwards acquires as applied to the Lord’s Supper, and that so ‘the Amen’ (τὸ ἀμήν) intended is specifically the response connected with the observance of that institution. At the same time, the whole reference clearly indicates that Amen as a responsory in Christian worship was already a regular and familiar usage.

It is, however, in connexion with the Eucharist, in the special sense of the term, that the Fathers particularly mention the responsive Amen, and refer to it as said after the doxology with which the long Prayer of Consecration closed. Justin Martyr (Apol. 2), Tertullian (de Spectaeul. 25), Dionysius of Alexandria (ap. Euseb. Historia Ecclesiastica), and Chrysostom (Hom. 35 in 1 Cor.) make such reference. This prayer, of course, was at first said aloud, so as to be heard by all; but in the course of time (after the 8th cent.) the custom grew for the officiating minister to say it sotto vocc. Even then, such importance was attached to the response of the people that the priest was required to say the closing words (‘world without end’) aloud, so that then the ‘Amen’ might be said. This in the West: in the Greek Church it was similarly required that the words of the institution should be said aloud, though the first part of the prayer was said inaudibly, so that the people might hear them and make their response. A writer of the 9th cent. (Florus Magister), referring to this usage, says: ‘Amen, which is responded by the whole church, means It is true. This, therefore, the faithful respond at the consecration of so great a mystery, as also in every prayer duly said, and by responding declare assent.’ A similar use of Amen at the end of the Exhortation (which is not a prayer), commencing the second part of the eucharistic service (see Book of Common Prayer), and at the end of the corresponding ‘Preface’ in the old Gallican Liturgy, may also be pointed out.

Jerome has an interesting reference to the loud congregational Amen, which he describes as resounding like thunder (‘ad similitudinem cœlestis tonitrui’—Com. ad Galat.). This corresponds to a synagogue custom of uttering the ‘Amen with the full power’ of the voice (Shab. 119b).

The modern practice of singing Amen at the close of hymns in public worship is partly due to a musical demand for a suitable cadence to conclude the tune: but it is also in harmony with the most ancient practice of closing hymns with doxologies, which naturally carried an Amen with them. The discrimination observable in some hymnals, whereby hymns containing a prayer or a doxology are closed with Amen and others not, arises from misapprehension. Amen not only means ‘So be it,’ but equally ‘So it is,’ and should thus be suitable as a conclusion to all hymns that are appropriate for Christian worship.

(c) Mohammedan.—Among the Mohammedans Amen is used liturgically, but only to a slight extent. It is universally used by them after every recital of the first Sura of the Koran—the so-called Surat al-Fâtihat (= Preface or Introduction). This brief, prayer-like form is held in great veneration, and has among them a place corresponding to that of the Paternoster amongst Christians.

Literature.—The Bible Dictionaries, s.v.; Jewish Encyclopedia, s.v.; Berakhoth i. 11–19; H. W. Hogg, Jewish Quart. Review, Oct. 1896; articles in Expository Times, by Nestle (Jan. 1897), and Jannaris (Sept. [Note: Septuagint.] 1902); Dalman, Die Worte Jesu (English translation 1902, p. 226ff.); Scudamore, Notitia Eucharistica.

J. S. Clemens.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Amen (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/a/amen-2.html. 1906-1918.

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