An Often Mistranslated Word:
Amen

by Jim Myers

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                    One word seems to not only be the most mistranslated word in the New Testament, but the English translators also never put it in the right place - or they just leave it completely out. The Greek word that receives all of this abuse is below.

a

h

n

It has been translated in many ways, below are some of the most common:

(1) truly, truly
(2) verily, verily
(3) believe me
(4) I solemnly tell you
(5) I promise you
(6) in solemn truth
(7) I tell you the truth

                    Look at what happens when we take some verses from the New Testament and substitute the above translations of the Greek word above. I will set the context by using Luke 4:23, followed by verse 24 with the substitutions - choose the one you like best.

And he said unto them, You will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal yourself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in your country. And he said, Truly I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country.

or

And he said, Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country.

or

And he said, Believe me when I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country.

or

And he said, I solemnly tell you, No prophet is accepted in his own country.

or

And he said, I promise you, No prophet is accepted in his own country.

or

And he said, In solemn truth I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country.

or

And he said, I tell you the truth, No prophet is accepted in his own country.

Translation or Transliteration?

                   When English translators encounter this Greek word they have three options:

(1) translate it
(2) transliterate it
(3) ignore or just leave it out

                   If they choose to translate it they select an English meaning for the Greek word.  But if they choose to transliterate it they simply convert the Greek letters into English letters which are their equivalents and write that word in their translation. In this situation it would have been much better if they had decided to transliterate instead of trying to translate it. Below is the transliteration of the Greek word. 

Greek Letter

a

h

n

Transliteration

a

m

e

n

Do you recognize the transliteration?

                    Do you recognize the word "amen"?  Did you know that it was a transliteration, not a translation. Many English words find their origins in the Bible as transliterations. Unfortunately, seldom does the actual meaning come along with the new word. Other examples of transliterations are "angel" and "hypocrite."

                   Now let me let you in on a little secret about the Greek word. It is actually a transliteration of the Hebrew word which would also be transliterated into English as "amen." In other words, our English word is a transliteration of a Greek word that is a transliteration of a Hebrew word!

A Correct Cultural Understanding

                  The word amen is derived from the Hebrew word aman.  In Hebrew, when worshipers say, "Aman," they are affirming, endorsing, or supporting the matter. In other words, they are saying, as it were, "this is worthy of trust; it is reliable, solid, stable, permanent, lasting; I affirm that it as true; may God bring it to pass."

                    Holladay’s Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon defines the Hebrew word (page 20b) as follows:

surely!, solemn formula by which the hearer a) accepts the validity of a curse or oath, b) accepts a salutary message, or c) joins himself to a doxology.

                   The meaning of "amen" actually brought the correct meaning with it into English. In many churches when the pastor is preaching and makes an important point, it will be followed by one or more "amens" from people in the congregation.

                    They said "amen" to show that they were "in agreement" with the pastor’s statement - they affirmed his point. This is exactly the way we see the word used in the Bible.

Deuteronomy 27

[New Revised Standard Version]

14 Then the Levites shall declare in a loud voice to all the Israelites:

15 "Cursed be anyone who makes an idol or casts an image, anything abhorrent to the LORD, the work of an artisan, and sets it up in secret."

All the people shall respond, saying, "Amen"

16 "Cursed be anyone who dishonors father or mother."

All the people shall say, "Amen!"

17 "Cursed be anyone who moves a neighbor's boundary marker."

All the people shall say, "Amen!"

18 "Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind person on the road."

All the people shall say, "Amen!"

19 "Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice."

All the people shall say, "Amen!"

                    Here we see the "Curses" portion of the "Blessings and Curses" being accepted by Israel during the Exodus. This was, in effect, a covenant between the people and their God. To this day, Jews are obligated to say "Amen" in response to a recited blessing. (For some more examples, look in any Jewish prayer book.)

                   In addition to acceptance, the word "amen" also fulfills the role of "affirmation." That is the real subject of this article. In many translations Jesus begins his speech with "Verily, verily I say unto you" or "Truly, truly I say unto you." These phrases have been a tradition for so many years that we never think to question them. Jesus didn’t say either of those phrases and if the translators had simply transliterated the Greek word and written "amen," most of us could have figured out the correct meaning. Let’s take another look at our example from Luke 4:23-24:

23 And he said unto them, You will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal yourself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in your country. 24 And he said, Amen! I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country.

                    One of the reasons that some of the confusion exists is because of the versification system that inserted chapter and verse breaks. Many times these give the false illusion that the reader is supposed to stop at the end of a verse. The first English Bible to divide the Scriptures into verses was published in 1560. Now let’s take another look at the above verses, but without verse numbers.

And he said unto them, You will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal yourself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in your country. And he said, Amen! No prophet is accepted in his own country.

                    Using "amen" instead of "verily" makes a significant difference. Below is another example. Keep in mind that when Jesus uses "amen" he is responding to the previous statement by a) affirming it, and b) elaborating and strengthening it. Please look the verses up in your Bible to see how the translators translated them. The King James Version or Revised Standard Version will be given first, followed by the corrected translation.

King James Version - Matthew 5:17-18

17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. 18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

Corrected Version

Think not that I am come to destroy the Torah,or the Prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. Amen! Till heaven and earth pass, one Yod* or one small mark shall in no wise pass from the Torah till all be fulfilled.

New Revised Standard - Matthew 5:25-26

25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

Corrected Version

Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen! You will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

King James Version - Matthew 6:1-5

1 Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. 2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: 4 That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly. 5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

Corrected Version

Take heed that you do not your alms before men, to be seen of them; otherwise you have no reward from your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when you do alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the actors do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have honor of men. Amen! They have their reward.

But when you do alms, let not your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret himself shall reward you openly. And when you pray, you shall not be as the actors, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets so that they may be seen of men. Amen! They have their reward.

King James Version - Matthew 6:15-16

15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. 16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

Corrected Version

But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Moreover when you fast, be not, as the actors, of a sad countenance; for they disfigure their faces so that they may appear unto men to fast. Amen! They have their reward.

Revised Standard Version - Matthew 8:8-10

8 The centurion answered, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this,' and the slave does it." 10 When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, "Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith."

Corrected Version

The centurion answered, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this,' and the slave does it." When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, "Amen! In no one in Israel have I found such faith."

New Revised Standard - Matthew 10:12-15

12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. 15 Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

Corrected Version

As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Amen! It will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

Now It’s Your Turn

                    Get a sheet of paper and correct the following verses.  All these verses are from the King James Version.  E-mail your answers to us if you would like to have them reviewed.

(1) Matthew 10: 22 And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved. 23 But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.

(2) Matthew 13: 16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. 17 For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.

(3) Mark 8: 11 And the Pharisees came forth, and began to question with him, seeking of him a sign from heaven, tempting him. 12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and saith, Why doth this generation seek after a sign? verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation.

(4) Mark 8:38+9:1: 8:38 Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. 9:1 And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.

                    A correct translation makes it much easier to understand Jesus’ words. Get a concordance and find other verses with "verily" and "truly." E-mail and tell us what you found.                        

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