Verily, verily I say unto thee
It’s a phrase that sounds quintessentially “King James” – quintessentially 17th century. But, as with so many “King James” phrases, it originates with Tyndale in the 16th century.
“Verily” (meaning truly) translates the word “Amen” which is a Hebrew word left untranslated in the Greek New Testament. So, most literally, Jesus says “Amen, Amen I say to you.”
Only Jesus speaks like this in the Bible. Countless times He says “Amen, I say to you”. In John His sayings double the certainty: “Amen, Amen I say to you.” And on every occasion it’s the preface to His teaching.
A moment’s thought will reveal how remarkable this is.
If we ever say “Amen” it’s a response to what someone else has said or prayed. And it’s usually after their saying. And only if it’s really good do we repeat it: “Amen, Amen!”
But when Jesus speaks He gives Amens to His own sayings: 30 times in Matthew alone! And in John’s Gospel He gives a double Amen to 25 of His own teachings!
What is Jesus doing by prefacing His teaching with “Amen, Amen”? Well let me put words to what this means. Jesus is basically saying:
“You don’t stand in judgment on my word. I won’t even wait for your Amen. Your Amen could only ever be the faint echo of my own Amen! You do not and cannot stand in judgment on my word. Before you’ve even heard a syllable of it, I tell you on my own authority that this is truth. This is the only authentication or approval these words ever could or should have – my own. This is true because I say it, not because you have some vantage point from which to assess these words. Let my Amen recalibrate everything you consider to be truth. You must simply accept my words as the gold standard of truth because it is I who speak them. In short: It doesn’t matter what you think – this is the truth, deal with it!”
Who speaks like this? Only God’s Faithful and True Amen (Revelation 3:14). Jesus does not need our votes of confidence. He is Himself the true response to God. He is our response to God. Our Amens are belated at best.
We are about to study Christ’s most famous teaching – the sermon on the mount. As we do so we are not sitting back to assess His words, wondering whether we can give our Amen to Christ. Instead we receive His Amens in glad submission.
May we hear His word in the Spirit in which it was spoken – as truth itself. (John 17:17)