Tracing the origin of the threefold amen

“Amen” is something we are all familiar with. It means as much as “so be it”. But there is a way to intensify this declaration of affirmation: the threefold amen that concludes divine services in the New Apostolic Church. Where does this come from? What does it mean?

There is far more to the word “amen” than just simple agreement. The word is said to be of Hebrew origin and is also translated as “to consent, strengthen, to anchor oneself”. The word goes back to the verb aman meaning “to be firm, reliable, faithful, sure”. The Hebrew word for “faith” has the same root.

Single and double use in the Bible

Amen is a response. In the Old Testament it never served as an affirmation of one’s own words, but was used to respond to and affirm statements, prayers, and blessings spoken by others. It does, however, occur in the Apocrypha as a conclusion to a personal prayer in the book of Tobit, although only in the tradition of the first extant Greek translation (the Septuagint). But also in the New Testament, amen expresses acceptance and approval, or appropriation, of what one has heard (especially in Revelation).

The twofold amen is also well known in the Bible. We find it in the Psalms (41: 13; 72: 19) and especially as a response from the congregations such as in the book of Nehemiah, “And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. Then all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen!’” (Nehemiah 8: 6).

A special case is the twofold amen that Jesus often uses to introduce many of His statements and which is often translated as “For assuredly, I say to you” (Matthew 10: 23; 19: 28). This, like the prophetic formula “Thus says the Lord” in the Old Testament, is an expression of the divine authority behind what is being said. And thus Revelation 3: 14 mentions amen as one of the names of Jesus, “These things says the Amen …”

Threefold amen in divine service

Most of the Bibles we are familiar with do not record a threefold amen. This is something that only seems to have come up in the divine services of the early Christians. The Coptic Church, for instance, concluded the Benedictus—the song of thanksgiving uttered by Zechariah in Luke 1: 68–79—with the threefold amen. Concerning the baptismal rite of the Eastern Church, something similar has been handed down, “In the name of the Father, Amen; and the Son, Amen; and the Holy Spirit, Amen.”

There are other examples of threefold repetitions of a formula. In Isaiah 6: 3 we find “Holy, holy, holy”. And, according to a letter by Bishop Clement from the first century, the same formula was also likely used in the church in Corinth. Repeating “Kyrie eleison” three times (“Lord, have mercy!”) marked the conclusion of Coptic and Ethiopian liturgies.

The threefold amen is widely used by many churches—whether Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant—at different points of worship. The New Apostolic Church has adopted it as a conclusion for its divine services— like the Catholic Apostolic Church.

Its significance for our profession of faith

What does the threefold Amen refer to? There are a number of possible explanations. Conceivable is an affirmation of the three divine service elements word, sacrament, and blessing. Or it could be a response to the benediction that immediately precedes it. The benediction first used in our Sunday services was from Numbers 6: 24 (“The Lord bless you and keep you”) and was replaced in the early 1940s with 2 Corinthians 14 (“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ”). With a view to history, what is most likely with is that the threefold amen is a reference to the Trinity of God.

That the threefold amen should be sung emphatically at the end of a divine service, is something that a music expert from Southern Germany already recommended in a circular in the 1950s that was sent to all congregations at the time, “The joyful and faithful response to the preceding divine service cannot be decisive, unified, and joyful enough.”

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Andreas Rother
Divine service