24 December 2019


AMEN ɑ.mɛn, eɪ.mɛn exclamation. Utterance of support or agreement.

Amen probably comes from the Hebrew verb אָמַן/amán, “to support, assure, trust.” Sorta the Hebrews’ way of replying, “True.” For the most part, we Christians use amen as a way to end our prayers. Like when you say “goodbye” on a phone conversation, or “over and out” on a radio conversation. My childhood Sunday school teachers even described it as “hanging up.”

Custom is, we gotta finish our prayers with amen. Or the popular incantation “In Jesus Name amen.” Or, if you want everyone else in the room to say amen along with you: “And all God’s people said…” (or “the church said,” or “we all said”) at which everyone was conditioned to reply, “Amen.” Sometimes the three-syllable “A-a-men.”

As you know, some Christian customs are more than just traditions: We gotta do them. They’re virtually commands. If you don’t end a prayer with amen, it confuses people. Wanna really throw off your prayer group? Next time you lead prayer, don’t bother to “hang up.” Just start speaking to them as you ordinarily would, and watch ’em get all agitated: “You didn’t say amen. You gotta say amen.” As if God ever gets confused. As if he thinks we’re still speaking to him unless we “get off the phone,” so to speak.

No, we don’t need to end prayers with amen. You realize even the Lord’s Prayer doesn’t end with amen? Lk 11.2-4 Yet Christians will still go bonkers if we skip amen. It’s become an obsessive-compulsive thing with them; it’s like someone who simply can’t knock an odd number of times, and has to knock twice or four times or six times, but never thrice. And you just knocked thrice. Some of ’em will even say an annoyed amen for you.

But this insistence on capping our prayers with amen, misses the entire point of the word. What’s amen mean again? True. Why would you say “True” at the end of a prayer? Because the rest of us are listening to it, and agree with its content: “What you said is true. What you requested is good. So be it. Amen.”

This being the case, having “all God’s people say amen” at the end of a prayer is appropriate. It’s not just the prayer leader trying to get recognition: It’s consensus. Do you agree with what was just prayed? I’d hope so. (That is, I’d hope the prayer leader didn’t pray anything inappropriate. It’d suck not being legitimately able to mean amen when we say it.)

This also being the case, do we need to cap our own prayers with amen? Seems a little redundant to agree with ourselves. Yet we do it anyway… ’cause it’s unthinking, brainless custom. You know, dead religion.

When did Jesus say amen?

Jesus says amen in the gospels all the time. And you probably never noticed it, ’cause bibles don’t translate it “amen.” They use other words.

KJV. “Verily.”
ESV, NIV, NRSV. “Truly.”
GNB, NJB, NLT. “Truth.”
NKJV. “Assuredly.”

Because Jesus uses amen to declare what he’s about to say is absolutely valid, as good as a promise. Not end his prayers. Here’s five instances from his Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew 5.18 KWL
“Amen! I promise you all: As long as the heavens and earth exist,
not one yodh nor one penstroke will ever be taken out of the Law till it’s achieved.”
Matthew 5.25-26 KWL
25 “Be quick to cooperate with your opponent—whoever you get in the way of—
lest your opponent turn you in to the judge, the judge to the bailiff, and you’re thrown into prison.
26 Amen! I promise you: You’ll never come out of there
till you work off your last quarter.”
Matthew 6.2 KWL
“So whenever you do charity, don’t toot your own horn,
like hypocrites do in synagogue and on the street, so they can be praised by people.
Amen! I promise you: They got their wages.”
Matthew 6.5 KWL
“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who really like standing in synagogues
and the corners of the main streets, praying so they might be seen by the people.
Amen! I promise you all: They got their credit.”
Matthew 6.16 KWL
“When you fast, don’t be like the sad-looking hypocrites
who conceal their faces so they look to people like they’re fasting.
Amen! I promise you all: They got their credit.”

Jesus prefaces his statements with amen (or “amen amen,” two of ’em, in John) because he wants it clear he’s making a statement we can utterly depend on. It’s why I translate these statements, “Amen, I promise you.”

Hence we should get the idea amen isn’t a word to be thrown around lightly. As so many hypocrites do.

Inappropriate amens.

See, amen means we agree. In responsive churches, like my Pentecostal church, whenever the pastor says something people agree with, you’ll hear people in the congregation say (or shout) “Amen!”

In fact there are certain Christians whom you can count on to say amen to pretty much everything their pastor says. Whether he makes any sense or not; whether she’s quoting bible in context or not. Popular culture tends to call these folks “the amen corner”—they’re the ones who can be counted on to go along with any harebrained thing you say or do. Like political devotees.

From what we’ve seen of the amen corner’s unkind, out-of-control lives, we know they’re not actually following Jesus. That’s why they’re so quick with the amens. That’s why they sit within earshot of the podium; if the sermon’s getting recorded, they’ll be heard on the audio. They’re sucking up because they’re trying to hide their sins. It’s more hypocrisy.

The rest of the church says amen when we actually agree. But not always. Too often we’re hypocrites too: We say amen when we oughta agree, but deep down we don’t necessarily.

Or we wanna look like we were paying attention. We say amen to some long-ass prayer we weren’t really listening to; meanwhile our minds were wandering, and we spent the last 15 minutes debating with ourselves whether to have Mexican or Chinese for lunch. ’Cause we like Chinese, and it’s less expensive; but the kids always want Mexican; but the kids have no taste, and all they ever order is quesadillas anyway, and that’s just cheese and tortillas and barely counts as Mexican food; and I’m the adult here dangit… oh wait, did they just say “In Jesus Name all God’s people said”? Gotta say amen now!

Not only should we never say amen to any prayer we don’t agree with: Sometimes we need to speak up. Sometimes the prayer leader needs correcting. Hopefully that’s very rare. But it can happen, and when it does, us saying amen to it means we’ve vocally agreed to a rotten prayer. Bad example for fellow Christians, and doesn’t honor God any.

I know; people don’t wanna make trouble. Which says all sorts of things about their lack of courage, or their church’s dysfunction. Either way, grow a spine. I’m not saying you have to stand up and proclaim anathema (the opposite of amen, which literally means “accursed”) upon such prayers. Just don’t blindly, or falsely, say amen. If you don’t mean it, don’t say it. Let your yes be yes, your no be no, Mt 5.37, Jm 5.12 and your amen be amen.

And privately get this stuff sorted out. Have an honest relationship with one another.