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Before starting my blog about pursuing joy, I spent time gaining a deeper understanding of biblical joy. And while I shared a brief summary of my findings (read here), I wanted to start the new year by laying out foundations for biblical joy. Today we will look at the biblical definition of joy.

The Basics

25 different Hebrew words and 10 Greek words make up over 150 references to joy in the Bible.

(Ever had a hard time defining biblical joy? This explains why!) Within the 35 different words for joy, two main definitions emerge.

2 Main Biblical Definitions of Joy

1. Gladness (in the Lord)

If asked to define joy, most people would give a word similar to gladness, such as happiness, contentment, or delight. While these words define the emotion of joy, none reflect the source of the emotion.

Author and minister S.D. Gordon does a good job explaining why joy is uniquely defined, and how it differs from happiness:

“Joy is distinctly a Christian word and a Christian thing. It is the reverse of happiness. Happiness is the result of what happens of an agreeable sort. Joy has its springs deep down inside. And that spring never runs dry, no matter what happens. Only Jesus gives that joy. He had joy, singing its music within, even under the shadow of the cross.”

Simply stated, happiness is tied to our circumstances while joy is not.

Think of verses like Matthew 5:11-12 and James 1:2-3 which tell us to find joy in trials and suffering; this is only possible because joy comes from gladness in the Lord alone.

2. Rejoice

Rejoicing describes the outward expression of our internal joy.

In the Bible, rejoicing takes the form of leaping, shouting, singing, playing music and dancing. The Psalms in particular describe forms of rejoicing.

Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the Lord.” Psalm 27:6

Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him. Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.” Psalm 33:1-3

Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.” Psalm 47:1

Notice how the two main definitions of biblical joy are connected; rejoicing flows out of gladness in the Lord and our gladness in the Lord increases the more we rejoice.

With an understanding of the biblical definition of joy, we can now explore what the Bible says about joy. Join me next week for part 2 in foundations of biblical joy.

Are you looking for more on this topic? (Or just wondering where I found this information?) Check out Blue Letter Bible which offers a free online concordance, lexicon, and dictionaries. 

Read part of foundations in biblical joy next: What Does the Bible Say About  Joy?

Linking up at Grace & Truth

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