Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Quick: who knows what the traditional prayer ending, "Amen," really means?

The answer in a moment, but first a bit of scholarship: The Jews prayed "Amen" centuries before Jesus's day (see, for example, Deuteronomy 27); and Muslims use a nearly identical Arabic word, "Amin," in worship. The New International Version of the Bible uses "Amen" in twenty-three verses of the Old Testament and twenty-nine of the Epistles and Revelation. Some translations use it in the Gospels as well, usually for words of Jesus that are rendered in other Bible versions as "I tell you the truth" or "Truly I say to you."

So does "Amen" mean "truthfully"? Keeping in mind that completely perfect translations from one language to another--at least any that can be fully expressed in less than a page--are virtually impossible for any word, "so be it" or "so be it, truly" is usually considered the closest English equivalent. But not "so be it" as in "my will be done" (as it might imply when used to close"gimme" lists disguised as prayers), nor "truly" as in "I know I am right." Jesus has the right to begin His pronouncements with "Amen" because He is all-knowing and all powerful; the best we can hope for is that our desires are in line with His.

Judging from the full list of NIV usages, the Scriptural precedent indicates we should say "Amen" mostly to express agreement with the will of God, or to acknowledge His justice, power, or some other divine quality. As such, the word should be spoken with a certain amount of awe and humility. Too often, we tack it mindlessly to the ends of prayers like a casual "see ya later."

The next time you pray, plan to say "Amen" like you mean it. It might make you more careful what you put in the rest of the prayer!

"Amen," let us pray: "So be it."
Your will, not our will, be done.
We trust You, Lord, and Your judgment;
We pledge our lives to Your Son.

"Amen," let us pray, "in Christ's Name."
Our Lord, Who knows what is best,
Works all things out for our blessing,
As we stand firm through each test.

"Amen," let us pray. Lord Jesus,
Keep us from flippancy when
We close our prayers to Your glory
With a great resounding Amen!

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