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“Verily” or “Amen”—What Did Jesus Say?
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Date First Published: December 03, 2013
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In translating the Greek texts of the Gospels into Hebrew, Dr. Lindsey found that many passages could be rendered literally with almost no change of word order. The result was a Hebrew version that often sheds fascinating light on the meaning of Jesus’ words, so much so that Lindsey came to believe the Greek sources Matthew, Mark and Luke used were rendered very literally from Hebrew originals. This Hebraic perspective sometimes explains Gospel passages that have long been considered difficult or ambiguous. In the following article,Lindsey presents one example of what has been considered a uniquely idiosyncratic expression of Jesus, but which a Hebraic perspective reveals to be a familiar phrase from the Scriptures.
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very reader of the Gospels knows the phrase, “Verily, I say unto you,” or “Verily, verily, I say unto you.”[1] According to the standard English translations of the Old and New Testaments, it seems that Jesus alone used such a preamble. Most Christians, long accustomed to such expressions in the Bible, take it for granted that “Jesus talked that way.”

What struck me first about “Verily I say unto you”[2] was that the Greek text simply transliterated the Hebrew amen for “verily.”[3] That in itself is not altogether surprising, for elsewhere in the New Testament, notably in the epistles of Paul, amen often comes at the end of an expression of praise to God. Paul speaks of God as the Creator “who is blessed forever! Amen!” (Rom. 1:25), and exclaims “To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever! Amen!” (1 Tim. 1:17). Honorific amen responses also appear several times in the Book of Revelation. All of this is in perfect accord with occasional Old Testament usage[4] and with present-day practice in synagogues and churches.[5]

Puzzling to me, however, was that amen came at the beginning of something that Jesus was quoted as saying. There are no other instances in the New or Old Testaments of a statement beginning, “Amen, I say to you.” In Hebrew literature amen is always a response. For example, the Psalmist writes, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! Amen and amen” (Ps. 41:14). In Numbers 5:22 one reads that before the priest gave her the “bitter water,” a wife suspected of infidelity had to listen to his words and respond, “Amen, amen.”[6] Again and again we hear the phrase, “And the people all said, ‘Amen’” (Deut. 27:16-26). Amen is used exclusively in biblical literature as a response—except for Jesus’ mode: “Amen, I say to you.”

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  • [1] The latter phrase appears only in the Gospel of John, e.g., John 1:51; 3:3, 5.
  • [2] This is the KJV’s rendition of ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν (amen lego ymin, lit., amen, I say to you). The RSV renders the phrase, “Truly, I say to you.” The NIV renders it, “I tell you the truth,” while the NKJV translates, “Assuredly, I say to you.” The expression appears twenty-six times in Matt., eleven times in Mark and six times in Luke (Luke 4:24; 12:37; 18:17, 29; 21:32; 23:43 [ἀμὴν σοι λέγω, amen soi lego]). In John we always find the amen doubled in this expression, that is, “Amen, amen, I say to you” (20 times).
  • [3] The Hebrew word אָמֵן (amen, surely) was transliterated to Greek as ἀμήν (amen), rather than being translated.
  • [4] For example, Deut. 27:15 and 1 Chron. 16:36.
  • [5] Perhaps amen entered the early Greek-speaking congregations mainly on account of a predilection to keep liturgical words alive even when transferring material from one language to another.
  • [6] This is a good example of amen’s meaning. The NIV renders, “So be it.”
3 Comments
1 Comments
  1. very helpful.
    I put together a harmony of the Rich Ruler, and noted the use of Amen in Mathew, seemingly without something positive for it to be a response to.

    24 And Yĕ­shua, having looked at him and having looked around, said to his disciples, ‘Amen!,’ “I say to you, How hard it is for those who hold fast to wealth to enter the kingdom of the Al­mĭgh­ty!

    I was thinking here that Mark implies he looked at his disciples before he said Amen. Could Amen be a response to observing those who HAD listened to Yeshua already. I ask, because I am uncertain about this possibility, and am tempted to translate it ‘truly, I say to you.’ I course I have no idea how to make it work as a response with only Matthew’s words.

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