The origin and the meaning of – ‘Amen’

by Tuvia Pollack

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, From everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen.”
Psalm 41:13

You have often heard the word “Amen” but what does it mean, and where does it come from? It actually appears a lot more in the Bible than you think – it’s just that is translated in most cases. All of these Hebrew words actually derive from the same root as “Amen”:

  • Emunah – Faith, faithfulness, steadfastness
  • Amanah – Indeed, correct, for sure, contract
  • Oman – Artist
  • Omen – Foster parent
  • Ne’eman – Faithful

As we can see, the word “Amen” carries within it not only faith, but certainty and steadfastness. It is often used in psalms, prayers and blessings as a “yes this is true” or “yes I agree.” In some cases, the Torah even commands people to say “Amen” in legal procedures when committing to fulfill something. We see that especially in Deuteronomy 27, but also in Numbers 5:22.

Other words derived from it, like Emunah, Amanah, Oman, etc appear all over the Bible. Here are a few examples, where I have used the Hebrew original instead of the English translation. I have picked verses with various of the above meanings – faithfulness, steadfastness, contract, artist, foster parent:

“Besides, she AMANAH is my sister, the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife.” Genesis 20:12

“But Moses’ hands were heavy. Then they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other. Thus his hands were EMUNAH until the sun set.” Exodus 17:12

“Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream. Not so, with My servant Moses, He is NE’EMAN in all My household.” Numbers 12:7

The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail.They are new every morning; Great is Your EMUNAH. Lamentations 3:22-23

“How beautiful are your feet in sandals, O prince’s daughter! The curves of your hips are like jewels, The work of the hands of an OMAN.” Song of Solomon 7:2

“Now on the sealed AMANAH were the names of: Nehemiah the governor, the son of Hacaliah, and Zedekiah,” Nehemiah 10:1

“He was OMEN Hadassah, that is Esther, his uncle’s daughter, for she had no father or mother. Now the young lady was beautiful of form and face, and when her father and her mother died, Mordecai took her as his own daughter.” Esther 2:7

“O Lord, You are my God; I will exalt You, I will give thanks to Your name; For You have worked wonders, Plans formed long ago, with EMUNAH OMEN.” Isaiah 25:1

“Because he who is blessed in the earth will be blessed by the God of AMEN; And he who swears in the earth will swear by the God of AMEN; Because the former troubles are forgotten, and because they are hidden from My sight!” Isaiah 65:16

In the New Testament, the word “Amen” transcribed from Hebrew into Greek, is used the same way as in Psalms to end blessings and prayers. But there is one more use – but only by Jesus himself. Whenever Jesus says “truly I say to you,” the original Greek actually uses the Hebrew word Amen – “Amen I tell you.” Why in the beginning of the sentence? And why is it doubled to “Amen, amen I tell you” in the gospel of John?

The Finnish author and scholar Risto Santala wrote about this in his book “The Messiah in the New Testament in the light of Rabbinical writings” (1992):

“Critics have long considered the words of Jesus, “Truly, truly, I tell you”, to be rather strange. In the Greek original the Hebrew words amen, amen are used, in a way which is not found in either the Old Testament or the Rabbinic literature. ‘Amen’ there is found at the end of prayers and speeches, whereas Jesus used it to introduce what he had to say. In the early 1960’s a fragment from a deed of transaction was found in which a contemporary of Jesus solemnly states “Amen, amen, ani lô ashem”, ‘Truly, truly, I am innocent’. Jesus seems to have borrowed this grave formula of his from a juridical oath. In Hebrew the words for ‘faith’ and ‘amen’ are derivatives of the same root. The word ‘amen’ is indeed the only permissible affirmation: ‘You can believe this; it is true!’ “

As Santala points out, “Amen” was used in the times of Jesus in a binding legal way – and he used that formula to convey spiritual truths about who he is. He is binding himself under an oath that what he says is true – also when he says “Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” John 8:58

We saw above how Isaiah calls God “Amen,” often translated as “God of truth.” In the same way, Jesus uses “Amen” as a term about himself in Revelation 3:14: “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this:”

Strong’s concordance connects the Hebrew word for truth, “Emet,” to the same root as Amen as well, making even stronger the case that this word, with which God identifies himself, carries the meaning of absolute truth, steadfastness and certainty.

Merriam-Webster defines the English word “faith” as “firm belief even in the absence of proof,” but the Hebrew word for faith, Emunah, is directly connected to the steadfastness and truth of the “God of Amen” who has proved his faithfulness to us, over and over again.