translating אמן “amen”

Working through some of Jeremiah lately I was prompted to think about the translation of the term אמן (“amen”). By way of reference I decided to see how a number of English translations rendered the term in two places — Jer 28:6 and Matt 5:18 (the latter uses the Greek transliteration ἀμήν). Here are the results:

Version Jer 28:6 Matt 5:18
LXX/GNT ἀληθῶς ἀμήν
NIV amen [I tell you the] truth
NASB amen truly
Mess Wonderful! Would that it were true. —
NLT amen [I tell you the] truth
KJV amen verily
ESV amen truly
Holman amen I assure you
NIRV amen [what I’m about to tell you is] true
TNIV amen truly

Now this turns out to be a little surprising! What you notice is that where the Greek has transliterated the Hebrew/Aramaic (i.e. in the NT where the transliteration ἀμήν is employed), English versions universally translate the term into English. OTOH, in the OT where the Greek (i.e. the LXX) translates the term with ἀληθῶς the English versions (almost) universally transliterate the term with “amen”!

Now as it turns out, “amen” (following the definition in English dictionaries) fits quite well in Jer 28:6. I wonder, however, whether the discrepant results manifest in most translations reflect a somewhat different translation methodology between OT and NT teams for each version. My suspicion is that OT translations tend to be more conservative. I know, for example, that the ESV OT only varied from the RSV where more than two-thirds of the final committee agreed the change was warranted and hence it remains a minimalist revision of the RSV.

The other question is whether using “amen” is helpful in modern English translations. Obviously the answer relates to the target audience for the translation, but outside of church circles (at least where I live) the term “amen” doesn’t really get used and may not be well understood. In such cases perhaps a more colloquial translation would be appropriate. If we were to follow the precedent of the LXX and Greek NT we would at least have “amen” in the NT passages and “truly” (or something similar) in the OT, rather than the other way around.

So, the next task is to find a good colloquial rendering for אמן in Jer 28:6…

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