What does it mean to say the word amen at the conclusion of a prayer? Should we say amen to every prayer, or only at the end of those we agree with?
What does it mean to say amen?
In January 2021 a U.S. congressman and minister ended his prayer on the first day of the new congress saying, “amen and a-woman.” He said this apparently to recognize the women serving in Congress, but it caused a stir among many, especially those who knew what the word amen actually means.
Surprisingly, saying “amen and a woman” is not something brand-new. Dictionary.com states, “The joke ‘amen and a woman’ dates back to the 1850s.”
But was the congressman using it as a joke, or has the meaning of the word amen been lost? Is it just a word used without much thought when people say or do something they feel is religious? Is it a joke?
In the Bible we see the first mention of this word translated amen in Numbers 5:22: “Then the woman shall say, ‘Amen, so be it.’” Other Bible translations, such as the American Standard Version, say, “Amen, Amen.”
Why would the Bible say the word amen twice? We will consider that, but first, what is the definition of amen?
The meaning of amen
The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon defines the word amen as “verily, truly.” It is also translated as “so be it.”
So the word amen literally means “so be it.” Now it may make more sense when you read verses like Numbers 5:22 (mentioned above) and Psalm 89:52, which says: “Blessed be the LORD forevermore! Amen and Amen” (truly and so be it).
When amen is written twice, it is for emphasis to make a point.
More definitions of amen
Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words states, “‘Amen’ said by God, ‘it is and shall be so,’ and by men, ‘so let it be.’”
The word amen is used by a diversity of religions. Britannica.com says amen is an “expression of agreement, confirmation, or desire used in worship by Jews, Christians, and Muslims. The basic meaning of the Semitic root from which it is derived is ‘firm,’ ‘fixed,’ or ‘sure,’ and the related Hebrew verb also means ‘to be reliable’ and ‘to be trusted.’ The Greek Old Testament usually translates amen as ‘so be it’; in the English Bible it has frequently been rendered as ‘verily,’ or ‘truly.’
“In its earliest use in the Bible, the amen occurred initially and referred back to the words of another speaker with whom there was agreement. It usually introduced an affirmative statement.”
All too often the word amen is used carelessly today. People shout it out during a sermon or after a bold statement, in some cases not really knowing what it means. Dictionary.com tells us, “It is spoken to express solemn ratification or agreement.”
How should the word amen be used today?
Amen was not exclusively a religious word, and so it is not wrong to use it in secular or even lighthearted settings when used truthfully. It is not a sacred word.
However, today, it is mostly used in a religious context.
When Christians gather for a private meal, a prayer (what is sometimes called a “blessing” or “saying grace”) is often asked over the food. This is a prayer to God, thanking Him for our blessings and asking Him for a blessing on the meal. Someone may say something like, “Thank You for this food, and please bless it to nourish our bodies.”
In John 14:13 Jesus said, “Whatever you ask in My name, that I will do.” Because of this, many times today people will conclude a prayer by saying, “In Jesus Christ’s name, Amen!”To say amen at the conclusion of that prayer would be saying, “I agree,” or, “So be it,” because we are agreeing with the one giving the prayer to God. We want the food to nourish us and strengthen us.
Sometimes the one giving the prayer may add something like, “Please bless those who prepared this today,” asking God to bring a blessing on the ones who fixed the food. In this case saying amen also shows gratitude to the host.
We should be careful not to carelessly say the word amen at the end of just any prayer. For instance, if you didn’t hear a prayer that was being made, but then chime in at the end with “amen,” you could be agreeing to a prayer that you may not really agree with. What if something irreverent was said, or if something was stated that is contrary to your beliefs? You would be agreeing to something that you didn’t believe or feel appropriate. It would be best in that situation to not say anything at all.
The New Bible Dictionary states of amen: “It is used . . . as a liturgical formula in which a congregation or individual accepts both the validity of an oath or curse and its consequences.”
That puts responsibility on us to be careful about stating “amen” if we don’t know what was said or if we disagree for some reason.
Consider an even deeper significance of amen
In John 14:13 Jesus said, “Whatever you ask in My name, that I will do.” Because of this, many times today people will conclude a prayer by saying, “In Jesus Christ’s name, Amen!”
So, in addition to being sure that we are in agreement with what is being asked or said in a prayer, we also need to be sure that what is being asked or said is in agreement with God’s will.
Notice what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
So, we need to ask according to God’s will, and we need to do God’s will.
The bottom line is that saying “amen” means you agree to a statement or prayer, as if you personally said it. If you believe and agree with what is said in a prayer, then at its conclusion, it is appropriate to say “amen.”
Amen is not a word to be taken lightly in making a request before God.
Notice one more passage from near the end of Paul’s last letter to Timothy: “And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen!” (2 Timothy 4:18).
To that I say, “Amen!”