The Meaning of the English and Hebrew Word “Amen”

Some controversy has arisen over the English word “amen” used in a certain prayer where it was implied that “amen” somehow means “a man”. (To be fair, the person who said the prayer said he was making a pun.)

Just to clarify, the word “amen” in English comes from the same word in Biblical Hebrew, אמן. According to Wikipedia, it appears 30 times in the Tanach (the Hebrew Bible).

As you may know, the various words for “man” in Biblical Hebrew are totally different than “man” or “men”. So אמן is not related to adult males.

Rather, the word is used as an affirmation. When referring to a statement in the present or past, such as “Blessed is God”, it would mean something like “Yes, it is so”. When referring to something in the future it means “May it be so” or “May that happen”.

The shoresh (root) of amen is the same spelling: א-מ-ן. It appears as the root of many words, including “faith” (אמונה – eh-moo-NAH) and the related words “faithful” (נאמן – nə-eh-MAHN) and “believe” (mah-ah-MEEN). In Modern Hebrew, “reliable” is אמין – ah-MEEN.

But this root can also mean other things, especially in Modern Hebrew. For example, it can refer to training for or practicing a skill. Some common examples you might see are:

to train/coach someone: לאמן – lə-ah-MEHN
to practice: להתאמן – lə-heet-ah-MEHN
an artist/artisan: אומן – oo-MAHN

I suspect you might not have known that “amen” has so many related words in Hebrew. 🙂

On a deeper level, the Talmud (Shabbat 119b) states that the letters א-מ-ן stand for “אל מלך נאמן”, which means “God is a faithful king”.

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