The Last Word


Jesus Teaches

When Jesus taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer, did he conclude it with ‘Amen’? Depends whose Bible you’re reading.

Not only which Gospel – Luke 11:2-4 provides a shorter version of the prayer than Matthew 6:9-13 does, so predictably, Luke’s version doesn’t conclude with Amen. But in some translations (such as the New International Version), neither does Matthew’s. And yet in other translations (like the King James Version), Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer does end with Amen.

Curious, eh, men (and women)?

According to the NIV’s footnotes, the ‘Amen’ bit is present in some Greek manuscripts, but not others. I guess we can’t be sure whether Jesus used the word that day or not. Probably not a big deal, but interesting trivia, anyway.

But regardless of how often Jesus said the A-word during his ministry, His followers are big fans of it.

Saying amen when you finish saying a prayer is as automatic as clicking ‘Send’ when you finish typing an email – and sometimes we act as if it’s just as essential to the process. (I doubt that God is actually particularly flummoxed when we drop the ball on the word, though.)

In some churches, people say ‘Amen!’ every time the preacher says something interesting. We take that practice into our everyday conversations, too – giving an ‘Amen to that’ whenever someone makes a point we agree with.

This NBC sitcom from the late 1980s was pronounced Ay-men, not Ah-men.

The title of this NBC sitcom from the late 1980s was pronounced Ay-men, not Ah-men. Amen to that!

We’re also pretty picky about our amens, aren’t we? If you tend to say Ay-men, it sounds strange – and maybe a little wrong – when someone says Ah-men, doesn’t it? (And vice-versa, I assure you).

Yup, I’m an Ah-men man. At least when I’m praying.

Now and then, when I feel bold enough to do a sermon shout (usually actually a whisper), it’s usually an Ay-men. And yet, when someone (including me) says something I want to give to God as a prayer, I usually say ah-men. So for me, I guess ah-men is associated with prayer, while ay-men is suitable for holy affirmation (sometimes meant ironically – hmm, am I blaspheming when I do that?).

Curious, eh?



Speaking of curious, did you know that there are some who try to connect Amen with the ancient Egyptian god Amun (as in Tutankhamun), or the Hindu Sanskrit word Aum?

Me neither, until today. Now, there are some phonetic similarities here, but before we get too excited about this, Wikipedia says there’s no academic support for the Aum or Amun theories. I guess it’s like getting worked up about the fact that Son and Sun are homophones in English.

What is worth getting excited about, in my opinion, is the fact that in addition to being used in pretty much the same way in the three main Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), Amen is also the same word in many languages around the world! (Do some globe-trotting via Google Translate to see what I mean.) Some tongues add accents here or there – and some use a different second vowel – but by-in-large, Amen is Amen from Afrikaans to Zulu and most places inbetween.

I read or heard somewhere that this is because the word is nigh untranslatable. Amen has a certain je ne sais quoi that gets lost in translation, so rather than converting it to our own tongues, we simply adopt it (kinda like we Anglophones did with the French phrase je ne sais quoi).

Now, the practice of ‘stealing’ foreign words is common to human communication, but I’d be surprised if any other word shows up, unaltered, in so many languages around the globe. And I might be reaching, but it occurs to me that there could be more behind such staggering pervasiveness than mere human linguistic pragmatism.

Keep Calm and Say AmenBut whether its origins are humanly or heavenly, the power of Amen to transcend cultural boundaries is pretty impressive. Whether He deliberately orchestrated it or chooses to use human pragmatism for heavenly purposes, I see AGod at work in Amen.

OK, I’ve shared some perspectives and information about this wonderful word, but haven’t addressed the simple question of what it means. That’s partly because this question is much easier asked than answered.

As I said last spring in God Answers, it doesn’t mean ‘Over and out’, although we sometimes tend to act as if it does.

Common English interpretations of Amen include “verily” and “truly”. I’ve also heard it translated as ‘Let it be’ or ‘So be it’. Both of those concepts are contained in what I mean when I say Amen at the end of a prayer, but even put together they fall short of defining the word for me.

John Gishler

John Gishler

My favourite definition of the word came from The Rev. John Gishler, Spiritual Director of the Calgary Anglican Cursillo movement, in a talk I’ve heard him give a number of times over the years. According to John…

Amen = I’m in.

Amen to that.

Peace be with you.

†   †   †


About robpetkau

Communications professional by day, amateur musician by night, worship leader (at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Calgary) on weekends and aspiring Bible teacher in my dreams. Grateful husband to the woman who completes me. Doing-the-best-I-can dad to the son and daughter who keep me on my toes. Striving disciple of the GodMan who came, taught and died for me. Thanks for stopping by!
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5 Responses to The Last Word

  1. Jim says:

    So say we all!

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