By Ken McDaniel
“And the Levites shall speak with a loud voice and say to all the men of Israel: `Cursed is the one who makes a carved or molded image, an abomination to the Lord, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and sets it up in secret.’ And all the people shall answer and say, `Amen!’ ‘Cursed is the one who treats his father or his mother with contempt.’ And all the people shall say, `Amen!” Cursed is the one who moves his neighbors landmark.’ And all the people shall say, `Amen!’…” (Deut. 27:14-26).
Amen! What does it mean? When should it be used? Who should say it?
This is a word that has been in use for thousands of years. It comes from the Hebrew language from which it was transliterated, first into the Greek language, and then into English. From its origin to today, its meaning is virtually the same.
Wilson defines its Hebrew usage as, “let it be granted, let it be done, and unalterably confirmed” (Wilson’s Old Testament Word Studies).
Thayer defines it in its Greek usage as meaning primarily, “firm, metaphorically faithful.” He goes on to say that “it came to be used as an adverb by which something is asserted or confirmed: (a) At the beginning of a discourse, surely, or a truth, truly; so frequently in the discourses of Christ … `I solemnly declare unto you’ e.g. Mt. 5:18; Mk. 3:28; Lk. 4:24… (b) at the close of a sentence; so it is, so be it, may it be fulfilled …’ `It was a custom,’ he adds, `which passed over from the synagogues into the Christian assemblies, that when he who had read or discoursed had offered up a solemn prayer to God, the others in attendance responded Amen, and thus made the substance of what as uttered their own …”‘ (Thayer Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament).
The American Heritage Dictionary defines its English usage as, “Used at the end of a prayer or statement to ex-press assent or approval.” Thus Amen is used today as it was in times past as an affirmation of what has been prayed or stated, not simply to say, this is the end of the prayer. So when we say Amen to a prayer or statement, whether uttered by ourselves or someone else, we are saying, “This is true, or may it come to pass, may it be fulfilled.”
As the definition of Amen clearly evidences, proper use of the word is not limited to the closing of prayers. Since it is used to indicate both agreement and desire, it may be appropriately uttered when a statement is made that is true and that we strongly agree with or that we desire to come to pass (see 1 Kings 1:32-37; 1 Chr.16:36; Neh. 5:13 and others). Therefore, as long as all things are decent and in order, and the one or ones voicing agreement are sincere, Amen may be fittingly spoken during a sermon, a Bible study, close of a prayer, or at anytime.
The only ones who should utter amen, though, are those who wholeheartedly agree with what has been said, or who truly desire the same to come to pass. As Thayer pointed out, when one says Amen, he makes the substance of what has been said his own. For this reason one should not amen a prayer if he has not heard all that was spoken. How does he know for sure if he agrees with or desires it? Paul taught this principle in 1 Corinthians 14:16: “Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uniformed say `Amen’ at your giving of thanks, since he does not under-stand what you said?”
If, on the other hand, one does agree, he should not be ashamed or embarrassed to say amen. In Deuteronomy 27, God instructed the Israelites to do so. Consequently they did not hesitate. They made it their practice as did the early disciples.
Who then among us will say, “Amen!” When you strongly agree with what a teacher or preacher has said, will you say “Amen”? When you have heard all that was said in a prayer, and it is your desire, will you say, “Amen”? If you are sincere, don’t be afraid to voice your agreement.
Guardian of Truth XL: No. 18, p. 11
September 19, 1996