April 9, 2011 | 25 comments

I wonder sometimes if our kids don’t think that “amen” means “thank heavens that’s over!”

The English word “amen” comes from the Greek word “amen,” which appears 152 times in the NT and is translated as “verily” (101 times) and “amen” (51 times) in the KJV. Interestingly, when this phrase occurs in the Gospel of John, ‘amen’ always occurs twice: ‘verily, verily I say unto you . . .’ Modern translations usually use “truly.” (So when you say “amen” at the end of a talk or prayer, you are announcing publicly your assent to what has been said.)

In the gospels, it is always part of the phrase “Verily I say unto you,” spoken by Jesus. This is something like a form of verbal underlining; if you have ever had a teacher say, “you might want to write this down because this might be on the test,” then you know how verbal underlining works.

Here’s a complete list of occurrences in the gospels:

Matthew 5:18, 26; 6:2, 5, 16; 8:10; 10:15, 23, 42; 11:11; 13:17; 16:28; 17:20; 18:3, 13, 18; 19:23, 28; 21:21, 31; 23:36; 24:2, 34, 47; 25:12, 40, 45; 26:13, 21, 34

Mark 3:28; 8:12; 9:1, 41; 10:15, 29; 11:23; 12:43; 13:30; 14:9, 18, 25, 30

Luke 4:24; 12:37; 18:17, 29; 21:32; 23:43

John 1:51; 3:3, 5, 11; 5:19, 24, 25; 6:26, 32, 47, 53; 8:34, 51, 58; 10:1, 7; 12:24; 13:16, 20, 21, 38; 14:12; 16:20, 23; 21:18

JST Matthew 21:51, JST Mark 8:43, JST Luke 6:30, JST Luke 12:42, JST Luke 12:44, JST Luke 12:47, JST Luke 16:23

The Inspired Version adds ‘verily, verily I say unto you’ to Matthew 5:13, 14, 32; 7:21
The Inspired Version adds ‘verily, I say unto you’ to Matthew 23:20 and Luke 13:29
The Inspired Version adds ‘verily, I tell you’ to Luke 9:27
The Inspired Version adds ‘verily I testify unto you’ to John 5:37

It would make a lovely, low-key FHE (if you don’t have tiny kids) or personal scripture study session to mark all of these so that you remember that Jesus Himself ‘underlined’ them and then to ponder if any patterns emerge from those sayings that He chose to emphasize.

25 Responses to Amens

  1. Ben S on April 9, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    “The English word “amen” comes from the Greek word “amen,” which of course comes from Hebrew ‘mn, “to be firm, secure, dependable” and gets translated in its various forms as “faith, truth, believe, to establish, pillar (rare).”

    It’s a fun word to dig into.

  2. Ben S on April 9, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    I took my gloss there from Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, but there’s an brief Greek word study on it from John Welch in the Ensign, of all places!
    (scroll down)

  3. Suleiman on April 9, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    Don’t many linguists connect “Amen” to the Egyptian god “Amon?”

  4. Ben S on April 9, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    Suleimon, the Egyptian deity Amon is not related to this root. It’s one of those things that sounds obviously related in English (like Canaan and Cain) but actually isn’t.

  5. Jader3rd on April 9, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    Depends on who’s praying.

  6. Kevin Barney on April 9, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    The adverb amen is related to the Hebrew noun ‘emeth “truth.” An interesting circumstance with this word is that it begins with aleph, the first letter in the alphabet, then is followed by mem, which is in the middle of the alphabet, and concludes with taw, the last letter of the alphabet. So in a symbolic sort of way “truth” can be said to circumscribe the whole of knowledge, or is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come, that sort of thing.

  7. Julie M. Smith on April 9, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    Ben S and Kevin, thanks for those comments!

  8. Suleiman on April 9, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    Thank you.

  9. Jax on April 9, 2011 at 8:47 pm


    Lends weight to the phrase, “all truth can be circumscribed into one great whole” Thanks for the insight.

  10. Jones on April 9, 2011 at 10:08 pm

    I think your opening line is correct. Many children do feel the word is significant because it means _we are done having to sit still and bow our heads_. It is frequently said with such great enthusiasm by the young child. Of course, that could also be because so many of the words in the prayer don’t make any sense at all to them and when they hear the familiar word that they know they get to say, it really is a happy moment!

  11. RickH on April 9, 2011 at 11:17 pm

    So say we all.

  12. Keith on April 10, 2011 at 2:39 am

    Related to this (in a way) there’s good stuff on Jesus as the Amen in Pelikan’s _Jesus through the Centuries_. Here’s a link to a more devotional article

    To add to Kevin’s comment above, Christ calls himself the Truth. This may be one way to see all truth circumscribed in one person, who, himself, is the Way, Truth, Life, Light, etc.

  13. Joseph S. on April 10, 2011 at 9:09 am

    What about its use in D&C 121 – “Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man”? There it’s used in more the sense of ‘good riddance forever,’ which I think is more in line with the way kids say it at the end of a prayer: “Amen to that prayer and the words of that man.”

  14. Keith on April 10, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    The “Amen” in 121 is usually read as a kind of ending phrase (as suggested in #13) and I think that makes sense. But it can also be read as the traditional “truly” or “so it is”–in this case meaning something like “truly so it is with.” Paraphrased this way: When the Spirit of the Lord is grieved, it is withdrawn from the person, truly it’s the same thing [amen] with the Priesthood–the Spirit’s withdrawn and so too, in like manner, is the Priesthood. (Stephen Robinson’s Doctrine and Covenants commentary on this states this better, but I don’t have it here to quote from.)

  15. Naismith on April 11, 2011 at 6:26 am

    Thanks, this is fascinating.

  16. Chuck Whicker on April 14, 2011 at 9:26 pm

    I think we say amen too lightly, and too easily, and too thougtlessly. It’s also become too much of a custom to end our talks with “in the name of Jesus Christ.” In the early LDS, this was not done nearly so frequently, because people were cautious about taking the Lord’s name in vain in case there was something in their speech that was incorrect. Countless times I’ve recognized speeches in Sacrament meetings that included little nuances of worldly and false doctrine or ideology. I try to be cautious not to say “amen” when such speeches end in the name of Jesus Christ. It’s just a little thing, perhaps, but our usage of the Lord’s name should be more cautious.

  17. Grant on April 16, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    This is one time when I actually agree with Chuck. There are those times where I don’t say “amen” to a prayer, testimony, talk or lesson in church that I don’t think is quite appropriate or based on sound doctrine. For example, if Chuck were speaking in my ward on the Constitution, the Law of Consecration, Charity, or Living Prophets I probably wouldn’t say “amen.”

  18. Grant on April 16, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    But I’d still love him.

  19. Chuck Whicker on April 16, 2011 at 10:21 pm

    But the question is, would you be willing to go by the scriptural definition of these things, even if that definition opposes the definition of president Monson and the GA’s? The written word should be the standard by which you discern these men, as well as discerning me. Office does not guarantee against false teaching. The standard works are given us for the very purpose of discerning the teaching of our leaders, and of everyone else.

  20. Grant on April 16, 2011 at 10:33 pm

    Nope. I’m looking for messengers from my Father.

  21. Grant on April 16, 2011 at 10:42 pm

    How in the world would my or your interpretation of scripture give me any authority to dispute with my priesthood leaders or give me any power or authority for salvation? I might as well be a Protestant. I am committed to divinely authorized priesthood ordinances and teachings knowing all the time that they come through imperfect men just like me (well, I hope they’re better, but then I’m not really all that bad either). And if you think I’m some run-of-the-mill blind sheep, you certainly haven’t read my blog.

  22. Chuck Whicker on April 16, 2011 at 11:33 pm

    Here’s what Joseph Fielding Smith said on the subject: “My words, and the teaching of any other member of the Church, HIGH or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man’s doctrine. You cannot accept the books written by authorities of the church as standards in doctrine, only in so far as they accord with the revealed word in the standard works. Every man who writes is responsible, not the Church, for what he writes. If Joseph Fielding Smith writes something which is out of harmony with the revelations, then every member of the Church is duty bound to reject it. If he writes that which is in perfect harmony with the revealed word of the Lord, then it should be accepted”. (Answers to Gospel Questions, vol.2, p. 113-114). This statement agrees with all that Joseph taught on the subject, making us individually responsible to discern the modern prophets by comparing them against the written word. Don’t forget that high office in the church doesn’t give a man any more authority or right to be guided by the Holy Ghost than the common member.

  23. Chuck Whicker on April 16, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    Here’s another example. Paul was underneath Peter in his office, yet he “disputed” with Peter in a matter of doctrinal importance, being led by the Spirit to do so. Peter was humble enough to take it to the Lord, and so he got a revelation indicating that Paul was right. It was the matter over circumcision for the Gentiles, remember? Not that we need to go out and cause contention, but it’s important that we understand that our leaders are not automatically right. They must be discerned; their words must be discerned; we are commanded to be in tune with the Holy Ghost and be sufficiently enlightened to be a positive influence to them, and visa versa. They are obligated, by their office, to LISTEN to any legitimate concern that may come from a discerning member who is bothered by something they said. You are their equal, not in your authority to officiate, but in your right to divine revelation regarding any matter of importance.

  24. Grant on April 17, 2011 at 12:02 am

    Well, I’m going to say “amen” hoping it means, “thank heavens this is over.” (Oh, and I did like the explanations of the Hebrew letters and meaning above. Thanks, Kevin).

  25. Horse Wrangler on April 20, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    RE: 23 & 24
    A most recent example of this is furor over Elder Boyd K. Packer’s October 2010 Conference talk. What was said in the live broadcast was amended and edited in the written word in the Ensign. These changes reflected more than a matter of semantics, but were done so that the Church’s official position would be more accurately portrayed on that particular topic.


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