What does the word "amen" really mean? If you were like me, you learned to say it after "grace," thanking God for the food before you ate a meal. Can we go deeper?

Indeed we can. Amen in Hebrew (pronounced ah-MANE) is a particle adverb. It means "truly." It comes from the verb 'aman, meaning (in the Qal), "to confirm, support, or uphold"). The Niphal of 'aman means "to be established, to be faithful." The word passes into Greek unchanged, still pronounced "ah-MANE" (or in Byzantine and modern Greek, Russian, and other languages "ah-MEAN").

"'Amen" is a relatively rare word in the OT, occurring in only two dozen verses. On several occasions it is the official response indicating acceptance of the terms of God's law or covenant (Num 5:22; Deut 27:15-26; Neh 5:13; Jer 11:5). It is never an Israelite equivalent of 'Bravo' for a stirring performance..." (Word Biblical Commentary 27, p.54). In the NT, however, it appears about 130 times (and once as the name of Jesus (Rev 3:14—see Isa 65:16, the passage clearly in the background).

One might insist that we drop the term, since "truly" is just as good a word and more likely to be understood by more people. Or, to make it even more contemporary, how about "Right on!" or the British "Here, here." Even "Are you with me?" may come closer to the original root meaning. (But not in the sense of "Are you paying attention?"; rather "Do you believe this is true?")

I do not think it is wrong to use this "biblical" word today. After all, it passed into the New Testament unchanged, when the translators had every opportunity to render it with the appropriate Greek word. (Perhaps this is because the LXX, translated in the 3rd/2nd centuries BC, often retained amen, rather than translating it into Greek. Quite often, however, it was rendered by such terms as genoito–"may it be so." Hence Paul expects that in the context of worship, "amen" will occasionally be uttered (1 Corinthians 14:16, 2 Corinthians 1:20).

Finally, in its biblical context, amen is a somewhat solemn word, and this might suggest that we not overuse it. Amen? Amen!