It has been on my radar for some time now that the English speaking church uses language that might be seen as arbitrary. There are a few words that have a history of being used for thousands of years, and we merely say them without an understanding of what they mean. For example, the next time you are in service and the worship band leads you in the repeating chorus, “Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah,” are you merely caught up in the emotion of rhythmic guitars, hands raised, and the unity of the congregational voice? Or do you bring to the song, and its words, a comprehension that unites the church across the ages? There are a few words we use continually because we have always used them, and I would like to discuss two of them here. The two I would like to focus on are: Hallelujah, and Amen. Hopefully with the understanding of these “traditional” words you will come to see that these words bind the community of Christians together through time, and hopefully you feel a bit more secure in speaking these languages and understanding how they relate to God.
Hallelujah: This word comes from an ancient, rarely spoken language that a majority of the Bible is written in. This word is Hebrew, and in fact it is two Hebrew words combined together to form one phrase. The first word, transliterated, is Hallelu, which is the command, “praise!” This word as it is spoken, Hallelu, is in the imperative form which has a strong commanding emphasis. The second part of the word is “jah” which is the shortened form of Yahweh. Because Jews are forbidden to speak the name of God, they often shorten it to “jah.” Thus, when we speak hallelujah, we are really saying, “praise God!” So, when you are repeating the chorus in your favorite worship song, or reading through the psalms, you can understand you are not just uttering a word that sounds good, or speaking a word you heard your grandparents and parents sing, but you are praising God in the original language the Old Testament was written in. Pretty cool. Hallelujah.
Amen: This word is fascinating. The English word, Amen, is a transliteration of the Greek, which transliterated it from the Hebrew. The word means “So be it!” Most often this is used, today, at the end of prayers. It is as though the things we pray, the will of God on earth, we are affirming God’s actions by saying “So be it!” We use it, like the Hebrew and the Greek, as an affirmation to a declaration. When you close a prayer with this four letter word, you are invoking God’s will to be done. This word, in some more charismatic, free speaking churches, is used as an affirmation of the pastor’s teaching. When the pastor expounds a great biblical truth someone from the pews may say, “Amen!” and follow it up with a throaty, “mmmhhhmmm.”
For a use of amen in the Old Testament see 1 Kings 1.36. The New Testament use is interesting, because Jesus uses it to begin his discourse. In the Gospel of John, if you have a more literal translation of the Bible, like the NASB or the ESV, you will read over and over again Jesus saying, “Truly, truly I tell you…” see John 3.11. This form of amen is not used too often in our church culture today because we are affirming what God has revealed in His Word, Jesus was affirming his own statements as truth. The next time you close a prayer with “Amen” remember that you are submitting to the will of God in your life. “Lord, I do not know why this sickness has come upon me, but I trust in your grace and sovereign hand. Lord, please be with me through my pain so that I may glorify your name, amen.” This prayer is not a prayer for a cure, because we do not know if it is in God’s decree that you be cured, but we do know and find comfort in the fact that God is sovereign and your sufferings are on purpose for the glory of His son, Jesus Christ. “May you be magnified through the life you have given me Lord, amen.”
It is my hope that the next time you are in public worship and you use these words, that you see them not as flippant words to throw around, or something that you say because you have always said it. I hope that you praise God and submit to His will in all you do, and may these words from “dead” languages be a reminder of the saints who have gone before us, suffering and glorifying God by the authority of His will.