Saying “amen” in public worship | Sam Waldron

by | Feb 26, 2024 | Biblical Worship, Practical Theology, Systematic Theology

*Editors Note: This article was originally written and published on the CBTS blog in 2015. Due to its usefulness, it is being republished now (2024).

As we consider the biblical teaching on this subject, I want you to consider with me the purpose of the amen, the proof for the amen and the practicality of the amen.


I. The Purpose of the Amen

What does it mean?

The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says:  “The  derivative ‘men’ “verily” is carried over into  the New Testament in the word amen which is our English word “amen.” Jesus used the word frequently (Mt 5:18, 26 etc.) to stress the certainty of a matter. The Hebrew and Greek forms come at the end of prayers and hymns of praise (Psa 41:13  [H 14]; Psa 106:48; 2Tim 4:18; Rev 22:20  etc.). This indicates that the term so used in our prayers ought to express certainty and assurance in the Lord to whom we pray.… ‘men’. Verily, truly, amen. (Generally, the same in ASV, RSV.) The word expresses a certain affirmation in response to what has been said. It is used after the pronouncement of solemn curses (Num  5:22; Deut 27:15ff; Neh 5:13; Jer 11:5) and after prayers and hymns of praise (1Chr  16:36; Neh 8:6; Psa 41:13 [H 14], etc.).  Twice the term is used to describe the Lord  (Isa 65:16), and once simply to approve the words of a man (1Kings 1:36). Finally, Jeremiah uses the term once sarcastically in response to the false prophets (Jer 28:6).”

When was it said?

After Curses—Number 5:22; Deuteronomy 27:15-26; Nehemiah 5:13; Jeremiah 11:15.  Nehemiah 5:13 is exemplary:  “I also shook out the front of my garment and said, ‘Thus may God shake out every man from his house and from his possessions who does not fulfill this promise; even thus may he be shaken out and emptied.’ And all the assembly said, ‘Amen!’ And they praised the LORD. Then the people did according to this promise.”

After Praises—Psalm 41:13; 72:19; 89:52; 106:48; 1 Corinthians 16:14.  Psalm 41:13 affirms: “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, From everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen.”

After Proclamations—Jeremiah 28:6; Revelations 1:7; Revelation 22:20.  Revelation 1:7 records:  “BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.”

After Benedictions—1 Corinthians 16:24; Galatians 6:18. Galatians 6:18 says:  “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brethren. Amen.”

After Doxologies—Romans 1:25; 9:5; 11:36; 16:27; Galatians 1:5; Ephesians 3:21; Philippians 4:20; 1 Timothy 1:17; 6:16; 2 Timothy 4:18; Hebrews 13:21; 1 Peter 4:11; 1 Peter 5:11; 2 Peter 3:18; Jude 1:25; Revelations 1:6 (15 times in the NT doxologies conclude with amen.)  Romans 16:27 reads:  “to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.”

This list of times when the amen was used in the Bible explains why we say it when we do in our services.  We say amen in response to the Word when it is read or preached.  We say it in response to the prayers when God is petitioned and thanked and blessed.  We say it after the singing of the praise of God.  We should say amen in response to the benediction.  We say amen and we ought to say amen at these times.  It is biblical.

Why was it said?

This word expresses hearty agreement with what has just been said. This agreement may take various forms and the amen may have several, slightly different meanings depending on the nature of what has just been said. To divine truth it responds, It is so. To divine promises it responds, Let it be so. To divine predictions it responds, It will be so. In a word, the amen embodies the response of the heart of faith to the Word of God.


II. The Proof for the Amen

One is fighting both human tradition and the dulling effects of sin when he calls people to say the amen in worship. Here, then, I want to prove to you that it must by divine warrant have its place in our corporate worship. I have three arguments.

The Saying of the Amen was Part of the Corporate Worship of the Old Testament. Now I know that even in stating this argument, I raise questions. Is not our worship to be regulated by the ordinances of the New Testament, you may ask? It is true that there is a change in the outward forms of corporate worship in the New Covenant, but it is not true that the Old Testament has nothing to teach us about how to worship God. Should we ignore the first four of the Ten Commandments in understanding how we ought to worship God? Of course not! The ceremonies and types and shadows of the Old Covenant have been done away, but does this mean that the teaching of the Old Testament is irrelevant to us? Absolutely not! Much in the Old Testament is relevant. The question is simply this. Is saying the amen a part of the ceremonial shadows of the Old Testament? We can see how the levitical priesthood is. We can see how the blood sacrifices are typical and shadowy. But how is the saying of the amen is typical, ceremonial, and shadowy? I don’t think it is. Consider the following supporting passages:  Deuteronomy 27:15-26; 1 Chronicles 16:36; Nehemiah 8:6; and Psalm 106:48.

The Saying of the Amen is Part of the Corporate Worship of Heaven. The worship of the church should be and is very much the anticipation of the worship of heaven and the new age. But we know plainly that the amen is heard in the worship of heaven. See Revelation 5:14; 7:12, and 19:4.

The Saying of the Amen was Part of the Corporate Worship of the Apostolic Church. 1 Corinthians 14:16 is the key passage here: “Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the ‘Amen’ at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying?” This verse comes in a passage that has for its very theme the giving of general rules for the conduct of the worship of the church. Verses 1-26 lay out the rule of edification and conclude with the exhortation: Let all things be done for edification. Verses 27-40 lay out the rule of order and conclude with the exhortation: But let all things be done properly and in an orderly manner. Verse 16 assumes that the saying of the amen in response to the worship of God’s people when they blessed and thanked God was a normal and even mandatory part of their worship. Paul uses the fact that people were supposed to say amen as the very premise of his argument against people speaking in tongues without translating in public worship. Saying the amen was such a normal and natural and necessary part of the corporate worship of the apostolic church that Paul could assume it as the very premise of his argument in this chapter. The saying of the amen was and is clearly to be part of the worship of the New Testament church. Some traditionalists feel very uncomfortable when anyone breaks the dead silence of their traditional worship. They are apt to say that someone saying the amen is unedifying or disorderly. You can see what Paul would have thought of that idea. In the very chapter where he is emphasizing the importance of the rules of edification and order in corporate worship, he assumes that there will be and ought to be vocal amens punctuating the praise of God.


III. The Practicality of the Amen

What are the practical implications of all this? First, it is the corporate duty of the people of God to respond with vocal amens to all appropriate public expressions of praise petition and proclamation in the worship of God. Second, this whole matter instructs us concerning the nature of true biblical worship:  (1) True worship in the church should be an expression of corporate unity. (2) True public worship should manifest sacred involvement. (3) True worship involves an emotional response to the truth. (4) True worship demands a heart of faith and holy confidence. Third, the saying of the amen or the inability to say it appropriately from the heart is an indication of our spiritual condition before God. Richard Sibbes remarked:  “Amen is a short word, but marvelously pregnant, full of sense and full of spirit.  It is a word that seals all the truths of God, a word that seals all the truths of God’s promises and seals every particular promise of God.  It is never likely to arise in the soul unless there is first an almighty power from heaven to seize on the powers of the soul to subdue them and make it say amen. There is such an inward rising of the heart and innate rebellion against the blessed truth of God that unless God by His strong arm bring the heart down, it never will nor can say amen.”

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