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"Verily I say unto you" is common in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but John consistently uses the double "Verily, verily (Gk.amen, amen). (3:3, 3:5, 3:11, 5:19, 5:24, 25, 6:26, 32, 47, 53, 8:34, 51, 58, 10:1, 7, 12:24, 13:16, et al.) Was he closer to Jesus and recognized a stronger inflection in Jesus's voice. Was this simply a Johanine idiosyncrasy? Or personal literary device in a more philosophical book?

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  • Nobody knows how exactly the Lord said this or that phrase, His words were not recorded on a recorder. It is John, sensing in Holy Spirit, the importance of the phrase, underscores it with double "verily". Why not the other evangelists? I guess a matter of taste and style, nothing else. Apr 27, 2023 at 5:23
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    I explained Lenski's answer more in an edit to my answer because it assumes the reader knows more Biblical background than is always the case.
    – Perry Webb
    Apr 28, 2023 at 0:57

6 Answers 6

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I wanted to directly address you question of why John used a double amen and the Synoptics only a single. In general, the commentaries point out this fact, but usually give no indication as to why the difference. Lenski is the only one I found addressing your question, and his answer is what I suspect:

The best one can say is that Jesus used the double “Amen” when he spoke Aramaic, just as John reports; and that the synoptists, when reporting this in the Greek, deemed the single ἀμήν sufficient for the readers.

See Lenski's fuller discussion in the appendix.

Perhaps more detail about Greek and Hebrew/Aramaic would help. In Hebrew/Aramaic repetition is used for emphasis, sometimes with even a comparative sense (three times for superlatives, eg. holy holy holy and holy of holies are both superlatives). This is not the case with Greek. (Your computer will underline the repetition as making a mistake.) Thus, Lenski's explanation says John was closer to Jesus' Hebrew/Aramaic. This might also explain why John's Greek is simpler, but not his theology.

§ 118. Affirmative force is given in various ways, e.g. — (1) By casus pendens, Gen. 3:12 the woman … she gave me, 42:11 (§ 106). (2) By expression of pron. either alone or with vav, גַּם, &c. Gen. 4:4; 20:5, Is. 14:10. (3) By inf. abs. (§ 86). (4) By repetition of words, Is. 38:19, the living, the living. Ecc. 7:24 deep, deep, who shall find it? Is. 6:3, Jer. 7:4. Affirmative particles are אֲבָל [amen] truly,... -- Davidson, A. B. (1902). Introductory Hebrew grammar Hebrew syntax (3d ed., p. 164). T&T Clark.

Appendix -- Commentaries

This promise is introduced by a formula of assurance which Jesus often used: a double “amen” as a seal of verity and, “I say to you,” as the stamp of final authority. In “Amen” we have the transliterated Hebrew word for “truth” or “verity,” an adverbial accusative in the sense of ἀληθῶς, “verily,” and so rendered in our versions. In Hebrew it is placed at the end to confirm a statement or to seal an obligation, it is like our liturgical Amen. “All search in Jewish literature has not brought to light a real analogy for the idiomatic use of the single or the double ἀμήν on the part of Jesus.” Zahn, Das Evang. d. Matthaeus, 361. This means the use at the head of the statement. The best one can say is that Jesus used the double “Amen” when he spoke Aramaic, just as John reports; and that the synoptists, when reporting this in the Greek, deemed the single ἀμήν sufficient for the readers. The supposition that John’s double ἀμήν is intended to produce the sound of the Aramaic words for “I say” is unlikely and leaves unexplained why he still adds to the two amen: λέγω ὑμῖν. In our Gospel the double amen occurs 25 times and always introduces statements of the greatest weight. -- Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The interpretation of St. John’s gospel (pp. 174–175). Augsburg Publishing House.

Verily, Verily (Ἀμην, ἀμην [Amēn, amēn]). Hebrew word transliterated into Greek and then into English, our “amen.” John always repeats it, not singly as in the Synoptics, and only in the words of Jesus, an illustration of Christ’s authoritative manner of speaking as shown also by λεγω ὑμιν [legō humin] (I say unto you). Note -- Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Jn 1:51). Broadman Press.

[2611 a] It is in interesting question whether Jn has any symbolic allusion to twofold attestation in his remarkable use of ἀμὴν ἀμήν (instead of the Synoptic single ἀμήν) and ἀπεκρίθη κ. εἶπεν (instead of the Synoptic ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν) as introductions to utterances of Christ. In both of these, his deviation from Synoptic usage must have seemed very strange to readers of the earlier Gospels. -- Abbott, E. A. (1906). Johannine Grammar (p. 454). Adam and Charles Black.

“Amen, Amen”) occurs 25 times in John and always calls attention to important affirmations: 1:51; 3:3, 5, 11; 5:19, 24–25; 6:26, 32, 47, 53; 8:34, 51, 58; 10:1, 7; 12:24; 13:16, 20–21, 38; 14:12; 16:20, 23; 21:18. Interestingly this double “Amen” does not occur in the Synoptic Gospels. -- Blum, E. A. (1985). John. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, pp. 276–278). Victor Books.

[The Synoptists use the single Amen more than 50, John the double—25 times, even in parallel passages, as Matth. 26:21, 34; John 13:21, 38. Bengel explains the repetition in John from the fact that Christ spoke both in His and in the Father’s name. Probably it is a more emphatic assertion of the superiority of Christ above all preceding prophets. The double Amen could with full propriety only be used by Him who is the personal truth (John 14:6), the Amen (Rev. 3:14), the God of Truth (in Hebr. Amen, Isa. 65:16), and in whom all the promises of God are Yea and Amen (2 Cor. 1:19).—P. S.] -- Lange, J. P., & Schaff, P. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: John (pp. 96–97). Logos Bible Software.

Whenever Jesus introduced a saying with the words Most assuredly (literally “Amen, amen”), He was always about to say something very important. -- MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments (A. Farstad, Ed.; p. 1473). Thomas Nelson.

Jesus’ final words are introduced by a solemn formula that will occur a further 24 times in this Gospel—Truly, truly, I say to you. The first two words translate the repetition in the Greek text—Ἀμήν, ἀμήν—and underscore the truth and authority of what follows. The Greek term is a transliteration of Hebrew, in which the ‘Amen’ was a formulaic expression, frequently used liturgically, that confirmed and strengthened a preceding statement. It could sometimes be doubled for special emphasis (cf. Num. 5:22; Neh. 8:6; Pss 44:14; 72:19). The Synoptics have Jesus employ the single Amen in a striking position—before the assertion that is to be stressed. This occurs 31 times in Matthew, 13 times in Mark and six in Luke. Only John uses the double Amen formula, and in his narrative this usage depicts Jesus as giving his word of honour and, in contexts where he is portrayed as the chief witness in God’s lawsuit, this is the equivalent to his swearing an oath to the truth of his testimony. Frequently, though by no means always, the formula signals the Johannine adaptation of a saying of Jesus which is deeply embedded in early Christian tradition and has a Synoptic version -- Lincoln, A. T. (2005). The Gospel according to Saint John (p. 122). Continuum.

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I suggest a combination of answers.

On the one hand, the appearance of AMEN in all the gospels shows that it must must have been a well-known feature of the way Jesus spoke in public. But the repeated version might well be reported by someone who was sufficiently close to him, for a longer period of time, to have noticed that particular verbal tic. In other words, it could be a sign of authenticity.

At the same time, a close examination of the passages in John shows that EVERY time Jesus says AMEN AMEN it is the signal that he is saying something very significant which needs to be examined closely..

I will demonstrate that by listing them. “Truly, truly, I say to you; you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man” (ch1 v51).

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (ch3 v3).

“Truly, truly I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees his Father doing” (ch5 v19)

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life” (ch5 v24).

“Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of Man, and those who hear will live” (ch5 v25)

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” (ch6 v26)

“Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven” (ch6 v32).

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you”. (ch6 v53)

“Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (ch8 v34).

“Truly, truly I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” (ch8 v51).

“Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (ch8 v58).

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in another way, that man is a thief and a robber; but he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep” (ch10 vv1-2).

“Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep” (ch10 v7)

“Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (ch12 v24).

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater things than these will he do, because I go to the Father” (ch14 v12).

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (ch16 v20).

“In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father, he will give it to you in my name” (v23).

“Truly, truly I say to you, when you were young you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands and another will gird you and carry you where you would not” (ch21 v18).

In other words, John's use of it may also be a literary device. It seems to me that the "Truly, truly" statements are as important as the "I am" statements (which sometimes appear in the same context).

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The double "Amen" is a Hebraism from the OT as follows:

  • Num 5:22 - and this water that brings a curse shall go into your stomach, to make your belly swell up and your thigh shrivel.” And the woman shall say, “Amen, Amen.”
  • Neh 8:6 - Then Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. And all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” with the raising of their hands; then they kneeled down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.

There is a slight variation on this, used only in the Psalms when praising YHWH concerning His eternity:

  • Ps 41:13 - Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, From everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen.
  • Ps 72:19 - And blessed be His glorious name forever; And may the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen and Amen.
  • Ps 89:52 - Blessed be the LORD forever! Amen and Amen.

Such a formula was used as almost a personal oath of veracity to certify the truth of what is being said. John, and only John, reports this formula in the mouth of Jesus 25 times as the OP has already observed. No one is sure why this should have been the case that the other three evangelists did not report this. See appendix below. However, here are some suggestions.

  • In almost every case that John reports these words, they are unique to John; ie, the other evangelists do not report the same speech of Jesus.
  • In every case, Jesus utters a very significant theological truth, most often about what we now describe as "Christology"; the most famous being His statement, "Before Abraham was, I Am". (John 8:58)

Thus, John makes a significant contribution to the records and understanding of Jesus.

APPENDIX - "Amen Amen, I say to you ..." in John

  • John 1:51 - And He says to him, "Amen Amen, I say to all of you, you will see the heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man."
  • John 3:3 - Jesus answered and said to him, "Amen Amen, I say to you, except anyone be born from above, he is not able to see the kingdom of God."
  • John 3:5 - Jesus answered, "Amen Amen, I say to you, unless anyone be born of water and of the Spirit, he is not able to enter into the kingdom of God.
  • John 3:11 - Amen Amen, I say to you that we speak that which we know, and we bear witness to that which we have seen, and you people do not receive our witness.
  • John 5:19 - Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, "Amen Amen, I say to you, the Son is able to do nothing of Himself, if not anything He may see the Father doing; for whatever He does, these things also the Son does likewise.
  • John 5:24, 25 - Amen Amen, I say to you that the one hearing My word and believing the One having sent Me, he has eternal life and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. Amen Amen, I say to you that an hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those having heard will live.
  • John 6:26 - Jesus answered them and said, "Amen Amen, I say to you, you seek Me not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were satisfied.
  • John 6:32 - Therefore Jesus said to them, "Amen Amen, I say to you, Moses has not given you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven.
  • John 6:47 - Amen Amen, I say to you, the one believing has eternal life.
  • John 6:53 - Therefore Jesus said to them, "Amen Amen, I say to you, unless you shall have eaten the flesh of the Son of Man, and shall have drunk His blood, you do not have life in yourselves.
  • John 8:34 - Jesus answered them, "Amen Amen, I say to you that everyone practicing the sin is a slave of the sin.
  • John 8:51 - Amen Amen, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word, he shall never see death, to the age."
  • John 8:58 - Jesus said to them, "Amen Amen, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am."
  • John 10:7 - Therefore Jesus again said to them, "Amen Amen, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.
  • John 10:1 - "Amen Amen, I say to you, the one not entering in by the door to the fold of the sheep, but climbing up another way, he is a thief and a robber.
  • John 12:24 - Amen Amen, I say to you, unless the grain of wheat, having fallen into the ground, should die, it abides alone; but if it should die, it bears much fruit.
  • John 13:16 - Having said these things, Jesus was troubled in spirit, and He testified and said, "Amen Amen, I say to you that one of you will betray Me."
  • John 13:20, 21 - Amen Amen, I say to you, the one receiving whomever I shall send, receives Me; and the one receiving Me, receives the One having sent Me." Having said these things, Jesus was troubled in spirit, and He testified and said, "Amen Amen, I say to you that one of you will betray Me."
  • John 13:38 - Amen Amen, I say to you, unless the grain of wheat, having fallen into the ground, should die, it abides alone; but if it should die, it bears much fruit.
  • John 14:12 - Amen Amen, I say to you, the one believing in Me, the works that I do, also he will do. And he will do greater than these, because I am going to the Father.
  • John 16:20 - Amen Amen, I say to you, that you will weep and will lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be grieved, but your grief will turn to joy.
  • John 16:23 - And in that day, you will ask of Me nothing. Amen Amen, I say to you, whatever you may ask the Father in My name, He will give you.
  • John 21:18 - Amen Amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you dressed yourself and walked where you desired; but when you shall be old, you will stretch forth your hands, and another will dress you and will bring you where you do not desire."
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    Both Jews and Christians used amen at the end of someone's statement, while Jesus used it at the beginning of his statements.
    – Perry Webb
    Apr 26, 2023 at 23:25
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    @PerryWebb - true - that is the personal characteristic of Jesus' speech because He had authority.
    – Dottard
    Apr 26, 2023 at 23:54
  • @Perry Webb. Good observation. Adding "amen" at the end simply means one agrees with the other person's statement. But placed at the beginning highlights the person's "authority" who is doing the speaking. So it astonished the crowds who noted "He spoke with authority, not as the scribes," but infuriated the the rabbis! Placement seems to be important; thanks for this insight.
    – ray grant
    Apr 27, 2023 at 21:20
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Reporting the word 'truly', fully gives the sense and the meaning. It is accurate reporting and stating only the one word (rather than two) does not detract at all from the concept of what was being conveyed in word.

Such a report may come from witness statements, given by word of mouth or written down.

Reporting the words 'truly, truly' conveys the exact speech, at that point in time, and indicates that the narrator was actually present, themselves, and heard the words with their own ears.

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  • See the other answer for much useful information.
    – ray grant
    Apr 28, 2023 at 20:55
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Jesus and his Israelite contemporaries were Hebrew speakers, heavily influenced by the Hebrew mode of expression. In Hebrew, repetition of a word gave it emphasis, almost in a sense of "for sure" or "without question".

For example, when God tells Adam that the day he eats of the forbidden fruit he will "surely die" (Genesis 2:17), the Hebrew says he will "die die" (muwt muwt). Often throughout the Old Testament the English translation of "surely" stands in place of a repeated word in Hebrew like this.

When the "amen" is repeated by Jesus, the repetition itself is emphasis to indicate that the saying is certain and true, apart from the actual meaning of the word "amen."

John was writing more specifically for the church, for those who understood the Hebraism. The other gospel writers wrote for a broader audience, and may have omitted the repeated-word Hebraism as being less understandable to their audience.

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One might argue that the phrase is an aspect of verisimilitude in that it was put into the narrative to make Jesus emphasize His authority. In another post an inquiry is made in relationship to whether the phrase was sourced from a rabbinical tradition, orators or a nemesis of the poets.

Whether the author of John’s Gospel either highlighted the occasional mystical “spiritual” (See Eusebius H.E. VI.14.5) style of Jesus with the precise words that he uttered (ipsissima verba), or simply made up words and put them into the narrated mouth of Jesus as a type of voice (ipsissima vox) is subject to debate.

Many have pointed out that the way Jesus “sounds” in John is very different than the way he “sounds” in the Synoptics. One might argue that this is proof of homiletical embroidery. However, it is possible the phrases might be a true reflection of Jesus having a multifaceted personality and communication style. The three epistles of John would than echo those words of Jesus, with what “the disciple Jesus loved” really resonated with. As a reciprocal analogy, it would be like those in a marriage taking on the mannerisms and language of their spouse. Or, those being mentored by a public speaker imitating the style of their mentor.

Traditional scholars would argue that the earlier Gospels have been redacted to fit the unique purpose of their writing. They would appeal to the so-called cases of a "Johannine Thunderbolt" as evidence of such redactions. As a modern example of how this often takes place, a legal scholar notes:

Rarely do we tell a story or recount events without a purpose. Every act of telling and retelling is tailored to a particular listener; we would not expect someone to listen to every detail of our morning commute, so we edit out extraneous material... -“The Problem with Eyewitness Testimony,” Barbara Tversky, prof. of psychology and George Fisher, prof. of law in the Stanford Journal of Legal Studies. A talk at Stanford Law School April 5, 1999.

On one hand, memory studies have shown that transmission is very rarely verbatim, except sometimes in ritual settings.

However, according to the Mishna, it was the Jewish custom to memorize a Rabbi's teaching as a ritual of sorts. It was taught that a good pupil was like a "plastered cistern that loses not a drop." (Mishna Aboth, II.8.)

The author of the Gospel John describes Jesus as a Rabbi so this ideal of a high level memory recall, which may have even included little details like inflections, would have likely been part of an early spiritual formation expectation.

Jesus, as a Rabbi, would have wanted his disciples to have good memory recall. The facilitation of long term memories would have been enhanced by linking events experienced to an out of the ordinary idiosyncrasy in speaking - e.g. it would be like us saying things like, "get it, get it, get it, get it."

The Muratorian Fragment is dated to around 180 AD. Here’s what it says about John’s Gospel: 

The fourth of the Gospels is that of John, [one] of the disciples. To his fellow disciples and bishops, who had been urging him [to write], he said, 'Fast with me today for three days, and what will be revealed to each one let us tell it to one another.” On the same night, it was revealed to Andrew, [one] of the apostles, that John should write down all things in his own name while all of them should review it.' (Muratorian Canon of Rome, nos. 9–16)

Did any of the reviewers, besides Andrew, have first hand historical memories of the stronger inflections that was noticed about Jesus?

The answer is there were at least two witnesses (Jude & Symeon). As relatives of Jesus, according to 2nd century historian Hegesippus, they lived until the time of Trajan's rule. These followers of Jesus would have been familiar with Jesus' idiosyncrasy in speaking. Also, those recalling Rabbi Nicodemus' testifying about his night time encounter with Jesus would have likely recalled whether he mentioned Jesus using strong inflections in his evening encounter.

John's Gospel mentions that it was part of Jesus' expectation that His Spirit would help in the process of memory recall. However, that would be a group process. See John 14:26; 16:13. Memory studies have demonstrated that if someone mentions some facet of an event to another witness, that facet is more likely to be remembered subsequently. There is also an aspect of the collective memory processes in which a group of people working together will be able to retrieve more details of a particular event, than any one member of the group working alone.

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