Word Study #111 — Joy

Having dealt with the verb forms of these words in the study of “rejoicing” (#93), it may seem a bit redundant to return to the noun, “joy”. Several requests, and the prevalence of the concept among the beleaguered brethren of the early church, however, encouraged me to spend some time with the nouns as well, specifically augmenting the New Testament uses of agalliasis, euphrosune, and chara with their appearances in the Septuagint, which may aid in distinguishing between the terms. Especially interesting is the observation that euphrosune, which appears only twice in New Testament writings, is by far the most frequently used in the LXX – more than both of the others combined!

Bauer observes that agalliasis does not appear at all in “secular” writers, though he finds a few instances of referral to pagan deities, as well as Messianic contexts in the LXX. The distinctions show up much more clearly in the Septuagint than in the New Testament, although that impression may be colored by the handicap that my LXX concordance is much less comprehensive than Young’s.

Agalliasis seems to refer primarily to the euphoria of return from exile, of coronations, and of celebratory worship. Chara also refers to freedom from captivity – L/S connects it with good news, or joy at an event – but it also includes a strong sense of the presence of the Lord, especially in the psalms. Euphrosune describes pretty much any sort of a party – even the debauchery of Artaxerxes, and the celebrations of the defeat of Haman (Esther). It also appears in the prophets’ announcements (especially Isaiah and Jeremiah) that “the party’s over” and exile is on the horizon, as well as the celebrations at both the beginning and the completion of the rebuilding of wall and temple under Ezra and Nehemiah. Although euphrosune is frequently paired with one of the other words in celebrations of return from exile or defeat of enemies, it is also disparaged in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes as levity or frivolity.

In the New Testament, the situation is markedly different.. We have noted already that euphrosune appears only twice: one of which, (Ac.2:28)is an Old Testament quotation from Ps.15, and the other (Ac.14:17) is a part of Paul’s frantic attempt to prevent the offering of pagan sacrifice to him and Barnabas, in Lystra.
Agalliasis is used only five times: twice traditionally translated “joy” (Lk.1:44, Jude 24), and three times “gladness” (Lk.1:14 – paired with chara, Ac.2:46, Heb.1:9), all of which carry a celebratory air.
Chara, by contrast, appears 56x, (less than 20x in LXX), usually rendered “joy”, but 3x “gladness”. It is not clear why the traditional translators changed their word choice in Mk.4:16, Ac.12:14, and Phil:2:29.
L/S records uses of chara ever since the sixth century BC dramatists Aeschylus and Sophocles. They observe references to non-specific joy and delight, to the celebratory reaction to good news, and to enjoying an event, a thing, or a companion. Thayer notes that chara is the opposite of mourning,and suggests that an accompanying dative case identifies the cause and the genitive case the source of the “joy”. This can be a difficult call. There are many “causes” or “sources” of joy specifically mentioned, and not all are accompanied with a convenient genitive or dative case. For example:
Mt.2:10 – the Magi followed the star with “great joy”
Mt.13:20, Mk.4:16, Lk.8:13 – some people are said to have “received the Word with joy”
Mt. 13:44 – the finder of treasure sells all his belongings “with joy” to enable the purchase.

Then there is the “too-good-to-be-true” syndrome, which accompanies the joy of the disciples as the reality of Jesus’ resurrection dawns on them (Mt.28:8, Lk.14:41); and the exuberance of Rhoda upon recognizing that Peter is really at the door (Ac.12:14) after his miraculous release from prison.

The satisfaction of a job well done, or the faithfulness of one’s protegees (Lk.10:17, Ac.20:24, Rom.15:32, II Cor.7:13, Phil.1:24, 2:2, 4:1; I Thes.2:19,20; Heb.12:2, 13:17; III Jn.4) causes great joy.

I’m sure you can find more.

There is, however, another theme in the New Testament references to “joy” that is not found elsewhere, and this is especially significant. It is not at all surprising that all the healing and deliverance that accompanied Philip’s preaching in Samaria (Ac.8:8) should have resulted in “great joy in that city”, or that the report of many conversions should have brought “great joy to the all the brethren” (Ac.15:3) as Paul and his companions made their way to Jerusalem. But when the same reaction is reported among the disciples in Pisidian Antioch (Ac.13:51) after persecutors ran Paul and Barnabas out of town, one is made to realize that something quite different is going on here.
Might it just possibly be related to the prayer (Jn.17:13) accompanying Jesus’ parting conversation with his followers (Jn.16:20-24), as he bequeathed them his own joy, even on the way to his impending torture and death? Or to the power that enabled (Lk.24:52) their return to Jerusalem after his Ascension, “with great joy”, even though they were still mightily scared of the authorities there? Or to the strength to “endure joyfully” the confiscation of their possessions (Heb.10:34) and the “testings” of which James warned (1:2)?
None of these match well with any of the classical definitions.

And please note that none of these refers to any “pie in the sky” as a consolation prize!
James continues his admonition (1:3,4) by explaining that faithfulness under duress produces endurance (see #63), which is an essential component of maturity [completeness] in Kingdom living.
Peter (I Pet.1-3-9) indeed includes the anticipation of Jesus’ return in encouraging his readers to continue in faithfulness: but remember, as he speaks of joy in the “inheritance” provided by Jesus’ resurrection, that one receives an inheritance while he (the recipient) is living (see #79 and #80), not after his own death!

Bauer notes that the occasional use of chara (at least 10x) with a form of pleroma / pleroo (see #108) probably indicates the highest or most complete form of “joy”. Please check out Jn.3:29, 15:11, 16:24, 17:13, Ac,13:52, Rom.15:13, Phil.2:2, II Tim.1:4, I Jn.1:4, II Jn.12.
This is a joy born and nurtured in and by relationship, with the Lord Jesus and with each other.

This is the joy that Jesus prayed – and modeled – for his disciples, and that Paul and John both hold forth as the ultimate gift, in all its “fullness”[completeness]. Far exceeding the bounds of shallow celebration, or gloating over enemies, it is the very atmosphere of the Kingdom.

“May the God of hope [or, God, the source of hope] fill you all with all joy and peace, in faithfulness, so that you may overflow with hope [confidence] in [by] the power of the Holy Spirit!”(Rom.15-13)

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