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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Joy (2)

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JOY.—In the Greek of the NT there are two verbs, with their corresponding nouns, used to express the idea of joy. These are ἀγαλλιᾷν, ἀγαλλίασις, and χαίρειν, χαρά.

The word ἀγαλλιᾷν conveys rather the idea of exultation or exuberant gladness, and is a favourite with St. Luke, who has been called the ‘most profound psychologist among the Evangelists.’ It is in the pages of his Gospel also that we find the most frequent mention of circumstances of joy attending the proclamation and reception of the gospel message, and the whole character of his writing reveals our Lord in the most joyous relation to His own disciples and to the world at large. The Gr. word for ‘gospel’ (εὐαγγέλιον) means ‘good tidings,’ or, as it is described in Luke 2:10, in the message of the angel to the shepherds, ‘good tidings of great joy’ (εὐαγγελίζομαι ὑμῖν χαρὰν μεγάλην). In the case of the angel messenger to Zacharias, the two words are combined in his greeting. Thus at the very outset the idea of joy attends the prophecy of even the harsher ministry of John the Baptist. ‘Thou shalt,’ says the angel, ‘have joy and gladness (χαρὰ καὶ ἀγαλλίασις), and many shall rejoice (χαρήσονται) at his birth’ (Luke 1:14). Another strange attendant circumstance of the joy of these days that preceded our Lord’s incarnation is the utterance of Elisabeth, who, when Mary, the predestined mother of the Messiah, comes to visit her, cries out in an ecstasy of wonder and joy, ‘Behold, when the voice of thy salutation came into mine ears, the babe leapt in my womb for joy’ (Luke 1:44). In the same scene there immediately follows the song of thanksgiving known in the Church as the Magnificat (wh. see), which is pervaded by the spirit of joy, and in which the word ‘rejoiced’ occurs at the very outset (Luke 1:47).

When we turn to the historical account of the beginnings of the proclamation of the gospel, we find that, according to Jn.’s narrative, when John the Baptist declared the coming of the Greater than himself, he heralded His advent in the words, ‘He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled’ (John 3:29).

This statement is rather remarkable in the light of the accounts of the Baptist’s ministry given in the Synoptics. There the ascetic note is much more prominent, and it is our Lord who says that, because John came ‘neither eating nor drinking,’ the people supposed he had a devil (Matthew 11:18 || Luke 7:33). Whether we are to think that the Fourth Evangelist had carried back the conception of his Lord’s ministry into the prophetic description of it given by His forerunner or not, it is difficult to decide. In any case, the statement here attributed to John the Baptist stands alone, and is not characteristic of his general attitude or of the question which, according to Mt. and Lk., he addressed at a later time to our Lord Himself.

In the parables in which the secret of the Kingdom is itself set forth by our Lord, we meet the word ‘joy’ several times. In the interpretation of the parable of the Sower we are told: ‘He that was sown upon the rocky places, this is he that heareth the word, and straightway with joy receiveth it’ (Matthew 13:20), a striking characterization of the temper of those who eagerly adopt a new idea, but are just as ready to exchange it for some more recent fashion. It is a temper that our Lord describes in another place, when, discussing the ministry of His forerunner, He says: ‘He was the lamp that burneth and shineth, and ye were willing to rejoice for a season in his light’ (John 5:35). Joy of a deeper and more permanent character is that of the man who found a treasure hidden in his field, and ‘in his joy he goeth and selleth all that he hath and buyeth that field’ (Matthew 13:44). This is the true and evangelical temper of a proper reception of the gospel message. In Luke 15 joy is given a higher place and a yet more spiritual significance. In the three famous parables that fill that chapter, the joy of God’s own heart is set forth under the images of the shepherd with his sheep, the woman with her precious coin, and the father with his restored son. Joy, says our Lord, in the two former cases, fills all heaven, even increasing the gladness of the angels in sympathy with their King; while the exuberant picture of the joy of the household at the prodigal’s return gives a still more tender and touching picture of the Divine Fatherhood. The reward promised to the faithful servant in the parable of the Talents is to enter into ‘the joy of his Lord’ (Matthew 25:21). The meaning of this is obviously that the servant should he partaker in the richer and fuller joy that is his Lord’s portion, which may probably be the joy that comes from the exercise of higher responsibilities, and the opportunities of fuller usefulness (see the Comm. in loc).

In the narrative in Lk. descriptive of the return of the seventy disciples from their mission in Galilee, we read (Luke 10:17) that they ‘returned with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us in thy name.’ It may be that our Lord regarded this as too much akin to the shallow joy which He had exposed in the parable of the Sower, or, at any rate, as detrimental to the more serious thought with which He wished their minds to be filled; for He replied (Luke 10:20): ‘Howbeit in this rejoice not that the spirits are subject unto you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’ The keynote thus given to the real joy of the disciple is the assurance of his belonging to the Kingdom of God, a joy, therefore, that is ‘with trembling.’ According to Lk.’s account, it is at the same moment that we read of Christ’s rejoicing, but the parallel in Mt. does not bear out the same historical connexion (cf. Luke 10:21 and Matthew 11:25).

Iu Lk.’s narrative also there is the unique expression, ‘He rejoiced in the Holy Spirit.’ What exactly is meant by this phrase it is most difficult to say, and some have even supposed it to be a forestalling of the strange experiences of the Christian Church after Pentecost. This does not seem very probable, and it may be that Lk. is only expressing with greater fulness and exactitude the truth that it was through the inspiration of the Spirit that our Lord was able clearly to thank His Father for the manner in which His mighty works were done, as well as to perform these works themselves.

In the passage in which Lk. gives his setting of the Beatitudes, he puts very strongly the blessing of suffering for righteousness’ sake, the words being, ‘Rejoice in that day, and leap: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven’ (Luke 6:23).

In Jn. there is a very striking use of the verb ‘rejoice’ in a passage of great difficulty (John 8:56). It occurs in the reported controversy of our Lord with the Jews, where He tells them, ‘Your father Abraham rejoiced (ἠγαλλιάσατο) to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad’ (ἐχάρη). The force of the Greek implies that Abraham ‘exulted that he should see,’ that is, presumably, in the promises that were made to him, while the actual seeing of it, of which the Lord speaks, is possibly an assertion of Abraham’s living with God, as in Christ’s similar use of the text, ‘I am the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob,’ to prove the reality of the doctrine of the resurrection.

We must next turn to a class of passages contained in the closing addresses of our Lord to His disciples, as recorded in the Fourth Gospel, where much stress is laid upon our Lord’s own joy and the disciples’ share in it. The clear declaration of His commandments is to effect the purpose of their partaking in His own joy of obedience, and to secure the permanence and completeness of their own glad following of the Divine will (John 15:11). Again, the natural sorrow at His approaching departure is to be a sorrow like that of a woman in her birth-pangs,—a sorrow, that is, which is not only full of purpose, but is a necessary element in a great deliverance; and the joy that will succeed not only causes forgetfulness of the previous suffering, but abides, while the pain is only a passing and comparatively unimportant experience (John 16:20-24).

And, finally, in the great prayer of intercession contained in John 17, our Lord requests that the joy which was His own peculiar possession should find its full accomplishment in the hearts of His disciples (John 17:13). The joy thus foretold and interceded for is noted by the Evangelist as a possession of the disciples immediately after the resurrection. In Matthew 28:8 we are told that the women departed from the tomb ‘with fear and great joy,’ while the effect of the gladness is noted by Lk., with a truthfulness to human experience that is most remarkable, as being itself a ground of scepticism (see Luke 24:41). This joy was not only the possession, but the abiding possession of the early Church, as frequent notes in the Book of Acts prove; and many passages in St. Paul’s Epistles speak of joy as one of the true fruits of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 13:52 and Galatians 5:22).

While the passages above examined contain most of the instances in which the words ‘joy’ or ‘rejoice’ are used in the Gospels, there remain very many passages in which the idea is prominent. Our Lord’s own description of Himself, for instance, as the Bridegroom when He is vindicating the liberty of His disciples to abstain from the ascetic practices of the Pharisees, shows how He conceived His mission and ministry (see Mark 2:18-22). Many of the parables, other than those already named, set forth the inherent joy of the Kingdom, as, for example, those of the Wedding Supper and the Ten Virgins. The Lord’s Supper itself was a feast of joy, for, according to Lk.’s account (Luke 22:15), our Lord said, ‘With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer,’ thus indicating that He had eagerly and gladly anticipated it; and in the further words that He speaks on that occasion He indicates that there is only to be a pause in the joy which will be resumed and heightened in other surroundings. ‘I will not,’ He continues, ‘drink from henceforth of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God shall come,’ or, as Mt. phrases it (Matthew 26:29), ‘until that day when I drink it new with yon in my Father’s kingdom.’

There must have been much in our Lord’s intercourse with the people that led them to see in Him a helper of their joys rather than a restraint upon their merriment. He was, for example, an honoured guest at a wedding feast (John 2:1), and at many a social meal (cf. Luke 14:1 and John 12:2); and when He decided to abide at the house of Zacchaeus, we are told that the latter ‘received him joyfully.’ In His triumphal entry into Jerusalem the people gladly welcomed Him (Luke 19:37), and the children cried joyfully in the Temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’ (Matthew 21:15). All these more or less exuberant outbursts of spontaneous joy greatly offended the Pharisees and other formal religionists; and while it would not be correct to say that our Lord designedly arranged circumstances in which the contrasts would be clearly manifested, still the conditions in which they were so displayed were admirable parables in action of some of the deepest truths of His kingdom.

There is much beauty, as well as truth, in the imaginary description of Renan: ‘He thus traversed Galilee in the midst of a continual feast. When He entered a house it was considered a joy and a blessing. He halted in the villages and at the large farms, where He received open hospitality. In the East when a stranger enters a house it becomes at once a public place. All the village assembles there, the children invade it, they are put out by the servants, but always return. Jesus could not suffer these innocent auditors to be treated harshly. He caused them to be brought to Him and embraced them.… He protected those who wished to honour Him. In this way children and women came to adore Him’ (Life of Jesus, ch. xi.).

The joy that emanated from our Lord’s person and presence during His earthly ministry was without question a great part of its power. His attitude stood in such clear contrast to the general character of the religious people round about Him, that the consciousness of it must have been felt by all the onlookers; but in addition to this fact was the whole teaching about His kingdom, which, as set forth in parable and precept, was to be a kingdom of gladness. In this latter respect it came into line with what the prophets had described as the marked characteristic of the Kingdom of God, and also with what the Jewish apocalypses pictured as the outcome of the Messiah’s advent. That a more earthly conception of joy filled the hearts of many of the disciples there is little reason to question, but a great deal of our Lord’s teaching was directed to spiritualize their hopes and to deepen their insight into the true character of spiritual joy.

Literature.—The Comm. on the passages referred to, esp. the Introductions to Lk. by Plummer and Adeney; art. ‘Joy’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible; Bruce, Galilean Gospel, chs. 7. 12.; Farrar, Life of Christ, new ed. 1894, 225 ff.; J. W. Diggle, Short Studies in Holiness, 1900, 111 ff.; G. Matheson, Studies in the Portrait of Christ, 1st series, 272 ff.; J. Moffatt in Expos, Times, ix. (1898) 334.

G. Currie Martin.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Joy (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/j/joy-2.html. 1906-1918.

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Friday, August 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20
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