Amen and Amen!

by Lois Tverberg

Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting even to everlasting. And let all the people say, “Amen.” Psalms 106:48

It is interesting to note that the most widely known word on all the earth, across the most languages, is the word “Amen,” a Hebrew word. Jews, Christians and Muslims all use this word in prayer, and it generally moves unchanged from language to language. Even in the Greek of the New Testament, the word was written literally as “amen” rather than a Greek translation being used.

The word “amen” is related to the Hebrew words “emunah” (faith, belief, trust) and “emet” (truth). It means something like, “This I affirm,” or “Let it be so.” It was used throughout the Old Testament as a response, as when blessings or curses were read as part of a covenant, and all the people said “Amen.” When psalms were sung, the people would respond, “Amen.” The leader didn’t say it – it was a way of the people to proclaim their agreement with the liturgy they heard. (See today’s verse.) In Jewish prayer today, this is still done. After the leader recites the prayer, the audience follows with “Amen,” in effect saying, “I affirm this prayer also, let it be so for me too.”

Some scholars believe that there has been confusion in our understanding of Jesus’ use of “amen.” He often began speaking with an “amen,” which has been thought to be a way to emphasize his own words. In the King James, it is translated “verily” and modern translations remove it altogether, and substitute “I tell you the truth.”

Robert Lindsay, a scholar of the first century Jewish context of Jesus, believes that Jesus actually used “amen” as it was used by the rest of h is society – as a response of affirmation of something else that precedes his words. For instance, when the centurion tells him that by just saying the word, Jesus can heal from afar, Jesus says, “Amen! I tell you, I have not seen such great faith in Israel.” (Matthew 8:10) The beginning “amen” is an exclamation of enthusiasm in reaction to hearing the man’s statement of faith. Jesus responded to the people and situations around him with a loud “amen” sometimes, and didn’t just underline his own teachings with that word.

“Amen” isn’t just the natural end of a prayer, it is a way of saying “I most certainly agree!” Whether we say it at the end of our own prayers, or use it to agree with the prayer of another, may all our prayers reflect this wholehearted agreement with the words we have prayed, and our response of faith to God’s answers.

Photo by Steve Harvey on Unsplash

Amen and Amen!

by Lois Tverberg

Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting even to everlasting. And let all the people say, “Amen.” Psalms 106:48

It is interesting to note that the most widely known word on all the earth, across the most languages, is the word Amen, a Hebrew word. Jews, Christians and Muslims all use this word in prayer, and it generally moves unchanged from language to language. Even in the Greek of the New Testament, the word was written literally as “amen” rather than a Greek translation being used.

The word amen is related to the Hebrew words emunah (faith, belief, trust) and emet (truth). It means something like, “This I affirm,” or “Let it be so.” It was used throughout the Old Testament as a response, as when blessings or curses were read as part of a covenant, and all the people said “Amen.” When psalms were sung, the people would respond, “Amen.” The leader didn’t say it — it was a way of the people to proclaim their agreement with the liturgy they heard (see the above verse). In Jewish prayer today, this is still done. After the leader recites the prayer, the audience follows with “Amen,” in effect saying, “I affirm this prayer also, let it be so for me too.”

Some scholars believe that there has been confusion in our understanding of Jesus’ use of amen. He often began speaking with an amen, which has been thought to be a way to emphasize his own words. In the King James, it is translated “verily” and modern translations remove it altogether, and substitute “I tell you the truth.”

Robert Lindsay, a scholar of the first century Jewish context of Jesus, believes that Jesus actually used amen as it was used by the rest of his society — as a response of affirmation of something else that precedes his words. For instance, when the centurion tells him that by just saying the word, Jesus can heal from afar, Jesus says, “Amen! I tell you, I have not seen such great faith in Israel.” (Matthew 8:10) The beginning amen is an exclamation of enthusiasm in reaction to hearing the man’s statement of faith. Jesus responded to the people and situations around him with a loud amen sometimes, and didn’t just underline his own teachings with that word.

“Amen” isn’t just the natural end of a prayer, it is a way of saying “I most certainly agree!” Whether we say it at the end of our own prayers, or use it to agree with the prayer of another, may all our prayers reflect this wholehearted agreement with the words we have prayed, and our response of faith to God’s answers.

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Further reading:

See Listening to the Language of the Bible, by Lois Tverberg and Bruce Okkema, En-Gedi Resource Center, 2004. This is a collection of devotional essays that mediate on the meaning of biblical words and phrases in their original setting.

For a friendly, bite-sized Bible study of five flavorful Hebrew words, see 5 Hebrew Words that Every Christian Should Know, by Lois Tverberg, OurRabbiJesus.com, 2014 (ebook).

Da’at Elohim – Knowledge of God

by Lois Tverberg

“For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6)

When English speakers use the verb “to know,” we think of knowing in terms of the mental grasp of facts. In Hebrew, the word for “to know,” yadah, is much broader and will enrich our understanding of the scriptures. Many languages have two different verbs to express the idea of knowing a fact (information) as opposed to knowing a person (relationship). Hebrew tends toward the second idea: having a relationship with a person, and even extending it to mean to care about someone, even to be intimate sexually. For instance, the very literal King James version reads,

And Adam knew (yadah) Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain.
(Genesis 4:1)

This idea is especially important when we learn about the biblical concept called the “knowledge of God,” da’at elohim. A Westerner opens the Bible and wants to prove God’s existence and develop a theology about God’s nature, and would call that “knowledge of God.” But the Hebraic view is that “knowledge of God” is having a life in relationship with him. This is true spiritual wisdom: to know the Lord’s will and live it out. We can see this thinking when we compare Christian Bibles to a Jewish translation. In the NIV we read,

The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him – the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD. (Isaiah 11:2)

but in the Jewish Tanakh it reads,

The spirit of the LORD shall alight upon him: a spirit of wisdom and insight, a spirit of counsel and valor, a spirit of devotion and reverence for the LORD. (Isaiah 11:2)

In this verse, da’at is translated as devotion. They see knowledge of God as intimacy with God, knowing him as a son does his father, and a wife her husband. We should think of that when we evangelize – are we trying to fill peoples’ heads with facts, or bringing people to know him personally?

Our ministry has always struggled with how to explain that we are educational, but devotional in nature, that we want to bring people closer to the Lord by understanding the Bible in its context. A verse we felt the Lord had given us was, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:9, also Habakkuk 2:14). When we read it in the Jewish translation, we finally understood why. It says that the earth “shall be filled with devotion to the LORD as water covers the sea.”

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Further reading:

See Listening to the Language of the Bible, by Lois Tverberg and Bruce Okkema, En-Gedi Resource Center, 2004. This is a collection of devotional essays that mediate on the meaning of biblical words and phrases in their original setting.

For a friendly, bite-sized Bible study of five flavorful Hebrew words, see 5 Hebrew Words that Every Christian Should Know, by Lois Tverberg, OurRabbiJesus.com, 2014 (ebook).